Vector.ai’s productivity platform for freight forwarders raises $15M A round led by Bessemer

With supply chains under constant stress because of the pandemic, freight forwarding has become one of the hottest startup sectors in the last two years. Indeed, International freight forwarding is now a $199 billion market. And the evidence is mounting.

In November last year, digital freight forwarder Forto raises another $50M in a round led by Inven Capital. In April this year, Nuvocargo raised $12M to digitize the freight logistics industry. In May, Zencargo, with a freight forwarding platform, raised $42 million. In June, freight forwarder sennder raised $80M at a $1B+ valuation. In July Freightify landed $2.5M to make rate management easier for freight forwarders.

And today, Vector.ai, which says it helps freight forwarders improve productivity via its AI platform, has raised $15 million in a Series A led by US VC Bessemer Venture Partners. It was joined by existing investors Dynamo Ventures and Episode 1. Bessemer’s investment is yet another sign that US VC continues to make incursions into the UK and European tech scene.

Vector now plans to accelerate its international expansion plans as an automated system for freight forwarders.

The problem it’s tackling is this: Freight forwarders lose time to repetitive administrative tasks as they execute shipments, such as hunting through customer emails etc, rather than concentrating on higher-value activities. Vector.ai says it’s machine learning platform can automate these tasks.

Its customers now include Fracht, EFL, NNR Global Logistics, The Scarbrough Group, Steam Logistics and Navia Freight, as well as other top-10 freight forwarders.

James Coombes, Co-Founder, and CEO of Vector.ai, commented: “Most employees within freight forwarders spend the majority of their time communicating with the 10-25 different entities that might be associated with a given shipment and coordinating freight movement and documentation. Communication usually runs through email and attachments… The volume of freight continues to rise globally – and with the added burden of Brexit and pandemic disruptions such as the recent port closure in China – freight forwarders are facing staffing shortages, steep wage increases, and shipping delays that continue to cost companies money in lost revenue and spoiled goods. They cannot afford to keep wasting time on low-level processing, which is why we created the technology to automate basic tasks.”

Mike Droesch, Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, said: “Vector.ai is one of the early leaders in an emerging category of freight forwarding workflow automation and digitization tools. It has built an intuitive and industry-focused product – which is already winning over some of the largest freight forwarders.”

Vector competes with Shipamax out of the UK which has raised $9.5M, RPA Labs out of the US which has raised $1.2M and slync.io also in the US which has raised $75.9M.

#articles, #bessemer-venture-partners, #china, #europe, #goods, #inven-capital, #logistics, #machine-learning, #mike-droesch, #partner, #tc, #transport, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vector

Why regulators love Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles

Nuro’s delivery autonomous vehicles (AVs) don’t have a human driver on board. The company’s founders Dave Ferguson (president) and Jiajun Zhu’s (CEO) vision of a driverless delivery vehicle sought to do away with a lot of the stuff that is essential for a normal car to have, like doors and airbags and even a steering wheel. They built an AV that spared no room in the narrow chassis for a driver’s seat, and had no need for an accelerator, windshield or brake pedals.

So when the company petitioned the U.S. government in 2018 for a minor exemption from rules requiring a rearview mirror, backup camera and a windshield, Nuro might have assumed the process wouldn’t be very arduous.

They were wrong.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

In a 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) “[wondered] about the description of pedestrian ‘crumple zones,’ and whether this may impact the vehicle’s crash-worthiness in the event of a vehicle-to-vehicle crash. Even in the absence of passengers, AAMVA has concerns about cargo ejection from the vehicle and how Nuro envisions protections from loose loads affecting the driving public.”

The National Society of Professional Engineers similarly complained that Nuro’s request lacked information about the detection of moving objects. “How would the R2X function if a small child darts onto the road from the passenger side of the vehicle as a school bus is approaching from the driver’s side?” it asked. It also recommended the petition be denied until Nuro could provide a more detailed cybersecurity plan against its bots being hacked or hijacked. (R2X is now referred to as R2)

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance Automotive Innovation), which represents most U.S. carmakers, wrote that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) should not use Nuro’s kind of petition to “introduce new safety requirements for [AVs] that have not gone through the rigorous rule-making process.”

“What you can see is that many comments came from entrenched interests,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “And that’s understandable. There are multibillion dollar industries that can be disrupted if autonomous vehicles become successful.”

To be fair, critical comments also came from nonprofit organizations genuinely concerned about unleashing robots on city streets. The Center for Auto Safety, an independent consumer group, thought that Nuro did not provide enough information on its development and testing, nor any meaningful comparison with the safety of similar, human-driven vehicles. “Indeed, the planned reliance on ‘early on-road tests … with human-manned professional safety drivers’ suggests that Nuro has limited confidence in R2X’s safe operation,” it wrote.

Nuro-R2-specs-infographic

Nuro’s R2 delivery autonomous vehicle. Image Credits: Nuro

Despite such concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro the exemptions it sought in February last year. Up to 5,000 R2 vehicles could be produced for a limited period of two years and subject to Nuro reporting any incidents, without a windshield, rearview mirror or backup camera. Although only a small concession, it was the first — and so far, only — time the U.S. government had relaxed vehicle safety requirements for an AV.

Now Estrada and Nuro hope to use that momentum to chip away at a mountain of regulations that never envisaged vehicles controlled by on-board robots or distant humans, extending from the foothills of local and state government to the peaks of federal and international safety rules.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

Regulate for success

“I don’t think any of the credible, big AV players want this to be a free-for-all,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “We need the confidence of a clear regulatory framework to invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to manufacture vehicles at scale. Otherwise, it’s really going to limit our ability to deploy.”

#alliance-of-automobile-manufacturers, #auto-safety, #automation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #california, #dave-ferguson, #department-of-defense, #ec-1, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #google, #government, #lyft, #national-highway-traffic-safety-administration, #national-science-foundation, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-department-of-transportation, #united-states

Cities can have flying cars if they start working on infrastructure today

Nearly everyone knows the pain of sitting in traffic watching valuable minutes tick by. Just as bad is the maddening search for a parking spot, or even just a safe place to hop out of the backseat of an Uber on a dense, buzzing city street.

For emergency medical providers, these headaches can literally mean life or death. Who among us hasn’t stared up at the sky behind a sea of red taillights, wishing we could rise above the gridlock and get to whatever corner of the city in a fraction of the time?

The truth is, flying cars are a reality. The aviation technology exists and early-stage regulatory review is underway in both the U.S. House and the Senate to bring eVTOLs — electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles — to market.

What doesn’t exist is a place to land them. The promise of urban air mobility is the promise of superlative convenience — a trip to the airport that would regularly take 90 minutes door-to-door whittled down to 10. For this promise to be realized, eVTOL landing points must be as accessible as taxi lines — think a five-minute walk (or one-minute elevator ride) from your office.

And sure, we’ve seen office buildings and hospitals on the outer edges of cities build heliports on their roofs. But the truth is, helicopters’ external rotors make them too noisy and too dangerous to land in tight spaces. Heliports have to be on the outer borders of cities — they need the extra space for safety (and noise) concerns.

Urban flight today

I have over 25 years of experience as a helicopter pilot. I know that urban air travel is nothing new. However, noise ordinances, space constraints and safety measures needed to make commercial helicopter flights viable have largely limited their use.

Existing VTOLs are much better designed for repeated commercial use, but they still don’t solve for noise. Most importantly, they do not eliminate the risks associated with external moving mechanical components and large wingspans.

Instead of looking to airports as the model for advanced air mobility, we should look to metro hubs that are accessible to everyone, with multiple departures and arrivals per day.

These VTOLs also require far more space for takeoff and landing — which means intracity travel won’t be feasible without massive infrastructure investments, a fact pointed out by countless urban air mobility analysts and even folks at NASA. For it to work, cities would have to turn a huge percentage of their rooftops into miniairports, which would require years of disruption.

That isn’t the only option, though. Engineers are developing compact VTOLs with the agility of a helicopter and the size and relative safety (and interior machinery) of a car. These vehicles have the best chance to prove the viability of VTOLs. Imagine an ambulance arriving at the scene of an accident via air — landing in a parking-spot-sized space directly next to the accident — and swiftly moving the injured to a hospital in another part of the city.

Instead of looking to airports as the model for advanced air mobility, we should look to metro hubs that are accessible to everyone, with multiple departures and arrivals per day. However, this kind of passenger turnover only works at scale if there are numerous eVTOLs coming and going — just like a train station. This just isn’t feasible unless most of those eVTOLS are smaller than a passenger van.

Consider the ground, not just the skyline

Decades from now, city infrastructure will look very different. Vertiports within the city that can accommodate VTOLs of all sizes and distance capabilities will be commonplace in the modern metropolis. But these train stations for the sky require enormous vision and forward thinking on the part of city planners, civil engineers, policymakers and politicians, as well as citizens demanding alternative forms of transportation.

Current prototypes require dramatic resurfacing of the city’s skyline for safe takeoff and landing at scale, but it does not have to be this way. The street infrastructure required to bring VTOLs to city dwellers is too often overlooked.

Cities need to consider the spaces and cases for VTOLs. We need to think about the city as we know it now — how can we design a vehicle that fits naturally within the environment that already exists? Is there space to create a vehicle that coexists with the city’s people as well as its birds? One quiet enough that anyone would welcome on their apartment rooftop?

Big vision, small footprint

A smaller eVTOL isn’t just more agile and safer in dense spaces, it also allows for more vehicles per square foot, more flights per hour, and more people moved across town per day in a more affordable way.

Before we can build the vertiport of the future, we must first use what already exists today to prove the case for urban air mobility. We need to be deliberate in matching the technology to the infrastructure that city dwellers know and expect, not vice versa. This means an eco-friendly VTOL that can land not just on helipads, piers and parking lots, but literally anywhere an SUV might fit.

Size alone is not enough. We must think about alternative fuel sources. Batteries are one, but they’re also inefficient, and the ecological impact of battery production, storage and disposal make them far from perfect. Some VTOL developers have proposed hydrogen as a fuel source; I welcome this and encourage more investment toward innovation in hydrogen-powered aviation. The larger commercial aviation market is already taking big steps toward hydrogen-fueled airliners, and VTOL developers have no excuse not to do the same.

Finally, we have to start with a truly efficient VTOL that can have the biggest impact in the shortest time frame, and where time is of the essence: Emergency services. The promise of flying cars to improve people’s lives must be made apparent and available in the most essential of use cases first.

This will not only make an immediate, positive impact, it will also help pave the way for acceptance, infrastructure and large-scale commercialization for VTOLs of every size and use case. Indeed, it will realize the dream of the flying car.

#aircraft, #column, #emerging-technologies, #flying-car, #mobility, #mobility-technologies, #opinion, #tc, #transport, #transportation, #uber, #urban-air-mobility, #urban-mobility, #vtol

Calgary’s parking authority exposed driver’s personal data and tickets

If you parked your car in one of the thousands of parking spots across Calgary, there’s a good chance you paid the Calgary Parking Authority for the privilege. But soon you might be hearing from the authority after a recent security lapse exposed the personal information of vehicle owners.

The parking authority oversees about 14% of the paid parking spots in the Calgary region, and lets drivers pay to park their cars by a parking kiosk, online, or through the phone app by entering their vehicle’s license plate and their payment details.

But a logging server used to monitor the authority’s parking system for bugs and errors was left on the internet without a password. The server contained computer-readable technical logs, but also real-world events like payments and parking tickets that contained a driver’s personal information.

A review of the logs by TechCrunch found contact information, like driver’s full names, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses and postal addresses, as well as details of parking tickets and parking offenses — which included license plates and vehicle descriptions — and in some cases the location data of where the alleged parking offense took place. The logs also contained some partial card payment numbers and expiry dates.

None of the data was encrypted.

Because the server’s data was entangled with logs and other computer-readable data, it’s not known exactly how many people had their information exposed by the security lapse. (In 2019, the Calgary Parking Authority issued more than 450,000 parking tickets, up by 69% in five years.)

Security researcher Anurag Sen found the exposed server and asked TechCrunch for help in reporting it to its owner. The server was secured on Tuesday, a day after TechCrunch contacted the authority.

A spokesperson for the authority confirmed that the server was exposed since May 13, though data seen by TechCrunch shows records dating back to at least the start of the year. The authority also told TechCrunch that the exposure was due to human error and that it was investigating its logs to determine if anyone else had access to the server.

“We at the CPA take this very seriously,” said Moe Houssaini, the acting general manager for the Calgary Parking Authority, told TechCrunch in a statement. “Any public access has been disabled and we are actively investigating to determine what exact data was impacted and what unauthorized access may have occurred. We apologize to our customers and will be reaching out to all individuals who may have been impacted. Protecting the security of our systems and privacy of our customers is a top priority of the CPA. It was an isolated error, and the database has now been secured. We are reviewing our procedures to ensure that this does not happen again,” said Houssaini.

The Calgary Parking Authority recently made headlines after it canceled more than a thousand parking tickets for drivers who were attending a COVID-19 vaccination center in the city.

Earlier this year, New York-based cashless parking startup ParkMobile reported a data breach that saw personal account information and license plates on some 21 million customers taken by hackers. The company blamed the breach on a vulnerability in an unspecified piece of third-party software.

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#automotive, #calgary, #computer-security, #data-breach, #driver, #geico, #new-york, #parking, #parkmobile, #privacy, #securedrop, #security, #spokesperson, #transport

VanMoof X3 e-bike review: Transportation revelation

Like some of the best consumer tech from the last decade, I didn’t know I needed an e-bike until I was on one, breezing down the bike lane contemplating my newfound freedom.

Before buying a Nintendo Switch, I would have never guessed how much a candy-colored gaming console that I could pop out of a dock and into my backpack for long flight would fill me with joy. An e-bike, particularly this e-bike, the VanMoof X3, feels like that.

I live in Portland, Oregon, land of ample bike lanes and naked bike rides. When I first moved here, I biked everywhere, but that habit slowly dissolved over the years. First, I bought a car for weekend camping trips, which slowly became weekday errand running.

A few years later, I got diagnosed with a chronic illness and suddenly found myself much less confident in what my body could do and where it could comfortably take me. Over time, my bike would only see a handful of rides a season on beautiful days, when I’d always sigh and think I wish I biked more — it makes me feel good!

Before testing the X3, I’d find excuses to drive short distances instead of riding my bike. What if I got tired and didn’t feel like biking home? What if it starts pouring rain? What’s if it’s too hot? What if I’m too sweaty when I get to the office? Riding an e-bike erases most of those concerns outright.

The X3 is an effortless enough ride that I can still zoom to work if it’s 95+ degrees out. It’s fast enough that I can get out of a surprise rainstorm quickly if need be. If I don’t want to be sweaty at the start of the day, I can lean on sweet, sweet electricity to whisk me away, rolling up to my office without breaking a sweat.

And it can’t go unstated that going fast on a bike — the whole time, with as much or little effort as you feel like putting in — is really, really fun. If you haven’t had a chance to try an e-bike, know that the sensation of effortlessly zipping around, electricity near-imperceptibly humming beneath you, is difficult to describe and best experienced first-hand.

VanMoof’s handsome pair of high tech bikes, the X3 and its larger cousin the S3, are far from the only options on the market, so some of their pluses would hold true for any electric bike. But that doesn’t make the VanMoof interchangeable either. The VanMoof X3 has a very specific look, feel and feature set that will perfectly suit a certain kind of rider (myself included) but other e-bike shoppers will still want to play the field. We’ll get into that — here goes!

VanMoof X3 e-bike

Matrix display shows battery life, speed and other key info.

APPEARANCE

I tested the VanMoof X3 over the S3 not by choice — its geometry is a little wacky looking in pictures — but because I’m 5’4″. The X3, which fits anybody from 5′-6’5″, is a little smaller and less traditional looking than the S3, which suits anyone taller than 5’8″. The X3 has 24″ wheels rather than the S3’s 28″ wheels and it has a little bungee-corded platform in the front where presumably you could carry something, but I still have no idea what (You can also buy an add-on front basket that slots in there and looks very cute.)

Like most e-bikes, the X3 is much, much heavier than a normal road or commuter bike. The listed weight is 45.8 lbs and you’ll feel every pound of it if you ever need to carry it very far. I live in a standalone house in Portland, Oregon and had to carry the X3 down a very short front step to ride it — totally fine!

I used to live in a fifth floor walkup in Brooklyn and carrying it up or down that would have been impossible. If you can’t store the X3 (or most any e-bike) around ground level with access to a charger, it might not be a good fit for you. (Note that in our pictures, the small platform above the chain area is where an optional external battery pack, discussed later, sits. The platform is removable.)

Though on paper I’d prefer the look of the S3, the X3 doesn’t look strange at all IRL, whether parked or with somebody riding it. It’s cute, futuristic but not conspicuous and gets plenty of compliments. My wife described its aesthetic as “Death Star chic” and while I don’t totally know what that means, she’s not wrong. On the way to my office a sanitation truck driver rolled down his window to bellow “HEY—THAT’S A REALLY COOL BIKE.” Thanks, my dude!

VanMoof X3 e-bike

The current generation of VanMoof e-bikes are coated in matte paint and you can choose between a classic, sexy matte black or a pleasantly cheery matte light blue. A previous version of the bikes used glossy coating, but apparently the matte is supposed to be more scratch resistant. The paint does seem pretty tough though it’s not totally bombproof. Somehow the handlebars picked up a little nick in the paint, though I still have no idea where it came from or what did it (owls?).

Something important to note is that neither the VanMoof X3 or S3 look like e-bikes. They don’t have an ugly bulge jutting out from the frame and the top tube and down tube are both thick but uniform — and not so thick you’d think twice about it.

The electronic components are nestled away in the frame and even the drivetrain is tucked away and enclosed. And while there’s a deeply cool LED matrix display embedded in the top tube, only the rider really sees it. For anyone looking for an e-bike that doesn’t scream e-bike!!!! the VanMoof is one of the best choices if not the best choice you could make. It’s an awesome looking bike — not just an awesome looking e-bike.

VanMoof X3 in the city of roses.

RIDING

The VanMoof X3 is a nice-looking bike — you get it. But what about, you know, the biking? I can confidently report that from the first time you hop on it to your twentieth commute to work, the X3 is an absolute joy to ride.

As an e-bike newcomer I had reservations. Would the electric assistance cheapen the magic of riding a bike? Do I really want a bike doing the shifting for me? As it turns out, quite the opposite and yes, absolutely.

The VanMoof X3 (and its sibling the S3) give you an electric boost while pedaling — you’ll still be pedaling but it feels enticingly easy and you’ll go faster with less effort. The bike also features a Turbo Boost button on the right-side handlebar that gives you a big boost on top of the smoother normal electronic assistance, up to 20 miles per hour in the U.S.

You can choose the amount of help that you want. Using the VanMoof app, which we’ll get to, or a physical button, you can select what level of power assist you’d like from zero to four. Zero is you pedaling a heavy-ass bike alone with no help (it sucks) and four makes everything feel so easy there’s almost no way to break a sweat.

In my time testing the bike, I’d use “two” when I felt like getting a bit of a workout with extra pep in my pedal, four when I was in a hurry to get to my co-working space in the mornings and three the rest of the time, like riding to brunch on a weekend. Being able to choose the level of pedal assistance is a huge perk and it makes the bike feel flexible for different uses.

VanMoof X3 e-bike

The kick lock button, back wheel and enclosed chain.

Whatever mode you’re on, the turbo boost button is a killer feature. It flattens steep hills and makes it feel way safer to zip across busy intersections where you’re not sure drivers are paying attention. It’s fun and awesome for safe, defensive city riding.

It takes a little bit to get used to the automatic electronic shifting but that’s silky smooth too. I initially assumed that, like many things that worked perfectly well before having some extraneous “smart” high-tech nonsense draped over them (fridges! lamps! vibrators!) the technology would fail just often enough to be a nuisance.

After a long period of testing, I can report that the X3 rides as smooth and seamless as ever. Every once in a while I’d crunch down on the pedal or a gear won’t catch right away but it’s super rare. You can even use the app to customize when the bike shifts up and down and it’s worth playing around with that to find something that feels just right.

What else? The X3’s maximum assisted speed is in the U.S. is 20 mph (32km/hr), but anyone in Europe will be limited to 15.5 mph (25km/hr). The U.S. speed feels great and it’s painless to get up to 20mph and maintain that speed with the X3 in a way I’d have to destroy my quads to manage otherwise, even on my zippy non-electric road bike.

Beyond that, the seat is very comfy and the ride is pleasantly upright and natural. After riding the X3 for a while I had a hard time going back to hunching over on my (adorable) little Bianchi and pined for the comfy ride I’d gotten so used to.

VanMoof X3 e-bike

Tail light from the future.

VALUE

The VanMoof X3 is an excellent value, all things considered. The company has a weird habit of tinkering with its pricing, but after a redesign and a colossal price drop in 2020 ($3,398 to $1,998 at the time) the bikes feel very well priced. Now they’re retailing for $2,298 — $300 more than the previous price but still a fine deal for anyone looking for a very full-featured e-bike without spending more than around $2,000.

That’s not very much more than you’d spend on a regular bike, sans electricity and many, many cool bells and whistles. And if you’re into higher end bikes, it could even be a lot less. It’s also substantially less than the high end of e-bike competition, which the VanMoof bikes feel like they compete with, even with the wallet-friendlier price tag.

Still, it’s kind of stressful that VanMoof is quietly messing around with the pricing with the bikes already out in the wild. It would suck to plan to buy one only to see the price shoot up before you’d pulled the trigger.

The company should be more transparent about this, giving set future dates for planned price changes. There also seem to be updates within generations of the bikes, so an X3 you buy now might differ from an X3 you could buy in 2020. That’s confusing and all of it should be made clearer somewhere obvious on the website.

vanmoof-app

The VanMoof app’s in-app ride tracking and summary stats.

RANGE

One of the biggest considerations with an e-bike (or an e-anything!) is range. VanMoof says the X3’s range is 37 miles using “full power” and up to 93 miles in economy mode. If you’re getting 93 miles out of the battery, you probably aren’t even using the pedal assistance at all, so you can just toss that number out. The low end estimate of 37 miles might be a little generous for someone who’s using the bike on the fourth power assistance level and smashing the turbo boost regularly, but 35-45 miles feels about right from my testing (usually mode 3 or 4, occasionally 2, light use of turbo button).

The range feels good. Even using the X3 most days out of the week, charging is infrequent enough to never feel annoying. In my case, that meant daily short rides (2.5-5 miles, usually) and the occasional longer ride (10-20 miles). If you’re using the X3 or S3 to commute to work somewhere that’s farther away, you’re going to find yourself plugging in more. Even so, I never got into a situation where I was concerned that I’d run out of battery far from home. And even if you do, you can still pedal the bike — it’s just really heavy. Most people will probably charge up overnight, but you can fill up the battery in four hours if you need to.

Something to note is that you’ll plug in a wall charger directly to the bike to charge it. For anyone who can’t charge and store the X3 on ground level, know you’ll have to carry the whole dang bike to an outlet. The lack of a removable battery might be a strike against the VanMoof bikes for folks who live in walk-ups or small apartments, but for people with somewhere easy to store it, this wasn’t something I thought twice about.

While the built-in range is totally adequate for a lot of use cases, VanMoof just introduced an external add-on battery pack for both the X3 and S3. The battery slots into a little platform, pictured below and mounted on our test bike, and it extends the X3’s range considerably. VanMoof sells the PowerBank accessory for $348. The thing isn’t small — it weighs six pounds — but VanMoof says it’ll give you anywhere from 28 to 62 miles of extra range. Again, almost nobody is going to hit the high end of this, but even at the low end it almost doubles the bike’s existing range.

External PowerBank via VanMoof

The PowerBank is big and pretty clunky. It doesn’t look awful, but it definitely makes the X3 look like an e-bike. It’s not elegant like the removable battery on the Cowboy, another extremely handsome e-bike, but it’s ok. If everything else about a VanMoof suits you perfectly but you need more range, it’s great to have the option, even if you’ll be shelling out for it.

VanMoof X3 e-bike

TECH FEATURES

The tech bells and whistles are something that really makes the VanMoof X3 and S3 stand out from the crowd. The X3’s price feels reasonable for a reliable, great-looking e-bike, but on top of that you’ll be getting an electric steed with some pretty sweet tricks:

  • Matrix display: On the bike’s top tube an array of LED lights built into the metal displays your speed, battery life and other useful info. This is a killer feature, it’s extremely cool!
  • Alarm. You can activate an alarm that will *literally growl* at anyone who jostles your bike. It’s intense and really loud.
  • Kick lock. You can kick a small physical button to alarm the bike and lock the back wheel. If you live in a city with bike theft, someone could still toss the bike in a truck easily so this isn’t a single security solution (use a normal lock!)
  • Find My on iOS. If you’re an iOS user you can track your bike’s whereabouts easily. It’s a nice feature, though ideally if your bike is well-locked you aren’t going to be messing with this much.

Vanmoof Find My iOS

VanMoof support for “Find My” app in iOS

  • Lights. The VanMoof X3 has great built-in lights, front and back.
  • App: Surprisingly, the app is actually pretty good. You can customize lots of small things (bell noise, alarm on or off, shifting preferences), use it to track your rides and more. You also don’t have to be connected to the bike with the app to do the most essential stuff, liking riding it, unlocking it and changing your level of electric assistance. I had an occasional connectivity problem with the app (usually on Android) but this was easily resolved and never kept me from biking anywhere, though it did mean some rides weren’t automatically tracked.

VanMoof X3 e-bike

Overall, something great about the X3 is that the tech features aren’t just fancy tricks — they really enhance the experience. And even so, they’re optional. You can ride the bike and benefit from the power assistance without using the app. You can use a regular lock and skip the alarm system if you choose to, or use a physical button code to disable it manually. You can change the power assistance mode with the same button. This is all huge and lets you use the e-bike how you want to. Personally, I’d never buy an e-bike that required connectivity, a phone or an app to operate it; that’s just asking for trouble.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Shipping and Assembly: The VanMoof X3 and S3 come in the mail in a big box. The assembly process was almost painless — except for this one really fiddly bit you have to slide into another fiddly bit which took me the better part of an hour and some searching on the VanMoof subreddit (not the only one with this problem!)

Extra Support: VanMoof offers three paid plans to keep your bike in working order and in your possession. You can buy a three-year maintenance plan for $348, a three-year theft recovery plan for $398 or a combined plan for $690 (broken down via VanMoof below).

VanMoof support plans

Maintenance: Where you live should be a major consideration when thinking about buying a VanMoof. In my time testing it for reliability over an extended period, I was surprised at how few problems came up. I had to mess around with re-centering the front wheel at some point because a brake pad was rubbing, but aside from occasional app connectivity issues, that was pretty much it. Of course, significant wear and tear means any bike could benefit from a pro tune up from someone who knows the model.

VanMoof has full-fledged stores in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Tokyo. Beyond its flagship stores, the company relies on an expanding network of service centers and “certified workshops” to maintain its bikes, so be sure to check what’s near you. Personally, I’d want to be near enough to a VanMoof store or at least a service center to guarantee my $2,000+ investment and its many, many technological bits could be maintained in perfect health. Nobody wants to ship a bike back for repairs, especially a heavy, technologically complex one.

Prior to testing out the X3, e-bikes aren’t something I’d thought a lot about. I first heard of VanMoof a couple of years ago when a close friend and much more serious biker than me bought one for towing her dog (the goodest girl) on a long work commute. We rode to the farmer’s market together and her bike looked very cool, but I was skeptical that something with so much technology under the hood could prove reliable over time.

Bikes are mechanical and simple — that’s something wonderful about them! Could an e-bike really translate the joyful simplicity of biking into something much more high tech? As it turns out, yes. After test riding the VanMoof X3 to get a sense of its reliability over time and how its features hold up in normal day-to-day use, I regret my early skepticism.

I don’t know if I can overstate how much riding an e-bike, specifically this e-bike, enhanced my life in small ways for the better while I tried it out. Biking more — and e-bikes do get people biking more — makes me happier and healthier. Biking more has helped me ease out of the intensely sedentary pandemic period into new habits that make me feel more connected to the world around me. I’m seeing my city with fresh eyes, biking to new neighborhoods I’ve never explored and appreciating all of the little things I took for granted. My only e-bike regret is not hopping on one sooner.

#android, #e-bike, #e-bikes, #electric-bicycle, #micromobility, #reviews, #tc, #transport, #transportation, #vanmoof

Widespread AV adoption starts with driver assistance systems consumers can trust

In the past year, many of the conversations around autonomous vehicles (AVs) have been dominated by the same question: When will self-driving cars be the norm on public roads?

While industry leaders talked a big game on AVs monopolizing our roads back in 2016, today some experts have put widespread Level 4 adoption over a decade away. However, even that timeline only works if automakers overcome significant barriers — both technical and behavioral. The challenge of bringing AVs to consumers will be tougher than anticipated, with a central part of the effort being focused on earning the public’s trust.

Consumer confidence and mass adoption of AVs go hand in hand. To meet the projected timelines and start building this critical trust today, automakers should accelerate the adoption of autonomous capabilities into advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

The challenges facing current ADAS technologies

The truth is that consumers do not yet trust the ADAS capabilities in their vehicles. A 2021 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey found that 80% of drivers wanted current vehicle safety systems, like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance, to work better, noting the lack of confidence consumers feel around current offerings.

While consumers seem to be aware that AV technologies are advancing quickly, this lack of trust from users will be a major barrier to full adoption and can pose a threat to the industry — no matter how far along the technology develops.

Despite significant recent advancements in the industry, including announcements from Cruise gaining permission to give rides in driverless test vehicles to passengers in California, AAA studies indicate that still only one in 10 drivers would be comfortable riding in a self-driving car. While consumers seem to be aware that AV technologies are advancing quickly, this lack of trust from users will be a major barrier to full adoption and can pose a threat to the industry — no matter how far along the technology develops.

To aid in building the public’s confidence, the industry must focus today on more advanced and reliable ADAS to meet consumer demands. However, current offerings face major challenges that must be resolved before the majority of consumers will get on board:

  1. Lack of reliability in common adverse conditions: Technologies including lidar and camera are limited to what they can “see” around them. These systems can be easily obstructed by snow, dirt and debris covering the vehicle’s sensors. Additionally, without clear, crisp lane markings — in the event of snow, heavy rainfall or off-road conditions — or strong GPS signals, the typical sensors tracking vehicle location will not function properly.
  2. Poor detection: There have been several cases where ADAS technologies have been unable to detect degraded lane markings, pedestrians, other vehicles or common on-road objects, resulting in injury and even death for drivers and pedestrians.
  3. Low understanding by the general public: While some ADAS features are designed to operate independently, there is still a consistent lack of public knowledge when it comes to understanding how to best utilize the systems’ abilities to maximize safety. This lack of awareness poses an unnecessary threat to drivers who inadvertently misuse the technology as well as to those with whom they share the roads.

Addressing these challenges and creating better automated driving experiences for consumers is a critical step to mass adoption of future AV technology. The most immediate opportunity to move the needle with consumer acceptance in this area is to target improving reliability and user experience — especially with dynamic vehicle safety systems. To do so, automated and autonomous vehicles need improved sensors and software that enhance today’s systems and, as a result, boost consumer confidence in the safety of automated capabilities.

A fresh perspective on vehicle positioning

In the last decade, the industry has made various advancements in positioning systems, which locate a vehicle to the centimeter on roadways and are critical additions to traditional hardware stacks. As a result, experts have been placing bets on technologies such as ground-penetrating radar and novel mapping techniques as the final missing piece to robust vehicle positioning due to their ability to operate in adverse driving conditions and navigate highly dynamic environments.

While it is clear there are different avenues AVs can take to increase their reliability on the road, automakers are still trying to determine which approach can unlock the change in performance required for broad adoption.

When taking a closer look at the differentiators that make these technologies stand out, a common thread is how they address three critical issues: the absence of roadside features such as on open highways, within parking lots or when a car is boxed in by trucks and vision is limited; the reliance of camera-based systems on clear, consistent lane markings; and quickly changing environments in which the scene on the surface looks different from one moment to the next and HD maps quickly become unusable. These common challenges have left consumers frustrated with inconsistent and unreliable ADAS features.

One way to overcome these critical gaps is to explore other avenues for reliable vehicle positioning such as ground-penetrating radar — which allows vehicles to determine their precise location in adverse weather or in rough terrain, amid poor GPS availability and other common barriers faced by automated systems today — to show improved autonomy is possible. By adding these novel approaches into vehicles, automakers can create more reliable and accurate ADAS features — safeguarding the automated driving experience.

Leaning on ADAS as a vehicle for consumer confidence and mass AV adoption

A recent study from Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) found that consumers familiar with ADAS technology were more likely to feel positive about autonomous cars and that 75% who currently own a vehicle with ADAS features say they are excited about future safety technology. This shows consumer engagement in today’s ADAS features can lead to more positive attitudes on tomorrow’s AV adoption.

As an industry, where do we go from here? Many are finding that there is a unique opportunity to resolve the future issues of autonomous vehicle operations by attacking them head-on in present-day ADAS systems — where they will otherwise be a future problem that will block mass adoption.

We need to address these critical issues with ADAS technologies and create better driving experiences to earn the public’s trust. By using higher-performing ADAS as a pathway to mass AV adoption, we can arrive at the destination safely.

The industry, along with consumers, can build a safe autonomous future.

#adas, #automation, #automotive, #av, #column, #opinion, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transport, #transportation

The Accellion data breach continues to get messier

Morgan Stanley has joined the growing list of Accellion hack victims — more than six months after attackers first breached the vendor’s 20-year-old file-sharing product. 

The investment banking firm — which is no stranger to data breaches — confirmed in a letter this week that attackers stole personal information belonging to its customers by hacking into the Accellion FTA server of its third-party vendor, Guidehouse. In a letter sent to those affected, first reported by Bleeping Computer, Morgan Stanley admitted that threat actors stole an unknown number of documents containing customers’ addresses and Social Security numbers.

The documents were encrypted, but the letter said that the hackers also obtained the decryption key, though Morgan Stanley said the files did not contain passwords that could be used to access customers’ financial accounts.

“The protection of client data is of the utmost importance and is something we take very seriously,” a Morgan Stanley spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are in close contact with Guidehouse and are taking steps to mitigate potential risks to clients.”

Just days before news of the Morgan Stanley data breach came to light, an Arkansas-based healthcare provider confirmed it had also suffered a data breach as a result of the Accellion attack. Just weeks before that, so did UC Berkely. While data breaches tend to grow past initially reported figures, the fact that organizations are still coming out as Accellion victims more than six months later shows that the business software provider still hasn’t managed to get a handle on it. 

The cyberattack was first uncovered on December 23, and Accellion initially claimed the FTA vulnerability was patched within 72 hours before it was later forced to explain that new vulnerabilities were discovered. Accellion’s next (and final) update came in March, when the company claimed that all known FTA vulnerabilities — which authorities say were exploited by the FIN11 and the Clop ransomware gang — have been remediated.

But incident responders said Accellion’s response to the incident wasn’t as smooth as the company let on, claiming the company was slow to raise the alarm in regards to the potential danger to FTA customers.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand, for example, raised concerns about the timeliness of alerts it received from Accellion. In a statement, the bank said it was reliant on Accellion to alert it to any vulnerabilities in the system — but never received any warnings in December or January.

“In this instance, their notifications to us did not leave their system and hence did not reach the Reserve Bank in advance of the breach. We received no advance warning,” said RBNZ governor Adrian Orr.

This, according to a discovery made by KPMG International, was due to the fact that the email tool used by Accellion failed to work: “Software updates to address the issue were released by the vendor in December 2020 soon after it discovered the vulnerability. The email tool used by the vendor, however, failed to send the email notifications and consequently the Bank was not notified until 6 January 2021,” the KPMG’s assessment said. 

“We have not sighted evidence that the vendor informed the Bank that the System vulnerability was being actively exploited at other customers. This information, if provided in a timely manner is highly likely to have significantly influenced key decisions that were being made by the Bank at the time.”

In March, back when it was releasing updates about the ongoing breach, Accellion was keen to emphasize that it was planning to retire the 20-year-old FTA product in April and that it had been working for three years to transition clients onto its new platform, Kiteworks. A press release from the company in May says 75% of Accellion customers have already migrated to Kiteworks, a figure that also highlights the fact that 25% are still clinging to its now-retired FTA product. 

This, along with Accellion now taking a more hands-off approach to the incident, means that the list of victims could keep growing. It’s currently unclear how many the attack has claimed so far, though recent tallies put the list at around 300. This list includes Qualys, Bombardier, Shell, Singtel, the University of Colorado, the University of California, Transport for New South Wales, Office of the Washington State Auditor, grocery giant Kroger and law firm Jones Day.

“When a patch is issued for software that has been actively exploited, simply patching the software and moving on isn’t the best path,” Tim Mackey, principal security strategist at the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center, told TechCrunch. “Since the goal of patch management is protecting systems from compromise, patch management strategies should include reviews for indications of previous compromise.”

Accellion declined to comment.

#accellion, #arkansas, #bank, #business-software, #california, #colorado, #computer-security, #computing, #data-breach, #governor, #healthcare, #information-technology, #investment-banking, #kroger, #law, #morgan-stanley, #qualys, #security, #security-breaches, #singtel, #spokesperson, #synopsys, #transport, #university-of-california

Nowports raises $16M to build the OS for LatAm’s shipping industry

Nowports, an automated digital freight forwarder in Latin America, has raised $16 million in Series A funding.

Mouro Capital — a venture capital fund focused on fintechs and adjacent businesses that is backed by Banco Santanderled the round for the Monterrey, Mexico-based startup. Foundation Capital also participated in the financing, which included participation from existing backers Broadhaven Ventures, InvestoVC, Monashees, Base10 Partners and Y Combinator.

A number of angels also put money in the round, including Justo.mx founder Ricardo Weder, Luuna’s Carlos Salinas from Luuna and Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen. The investment brings Nowports’ total raised since its 2018 inception to over $24 million.

Nowports raised its initial seed round in 2019 after graduating from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 batch with a mission to innovate the freight forwarding industry by helping companies improve the import process. Its software and services track freight shipments from ports to destinations across Latin America. Over time, it has expanded its offerings and now also automates insurance policies for, and provides financing, to its clients. 

“In this way, we allow our clients to import and export more, which helps them grow their businesses and improves the foreign trade conditions of the region,” said Nowports CEO and co-founder Alfonso de los Rios.

2020 was a good year for Nowports, which saw its revenue climb by 605% compared to 2019.

“Our 2021 goal is 400% to 600%,” de los Rios told TechCrunch.

The company currently has offices in Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay. Nowports plans to use its new capital in part to expand its 160-person team to China, according to de los Rios. It also plans to expand its logistics and financial services and to “solidify its most important routes.”

Image Credits: CEO and co-founder Alfonso de los Rios / Nowports

“With platforms, algorithms with AI and integrations, our platform allows companies to take control of their shipments and plan and predict the best timing to move the freight based on the needs of their own company,” he said at the time of the company’s seed raise. “Our goal with the series A is to position ourselves as the biggest digital freight forwarder in the region and expand our venture financing solution.”

Tens of millions of containers are imported and exported from Latin America each year, and nearly half of them are either delayed or lost due to mismanagement. And, an estimated 50% of shipping containers suffer delays due to disorganized processes or errors during transport, which ends up costing companies billions per year. It’s a big opportunity. And, Nowports pledges to shippers that its digital management software will keep track of each container. 

“Slow, inefficient, and manual processes in international logistics are disassociated from today’s technological world”, said Nowports co-founder and COO Maximiliano Casal. “Customers are looking for solutions that can improve their logistics processes adapted to current challenges of international trade.”

The two co-founders of Nowports met at a program at Stanford University, with de los Rios hailing from a family with deep ties to the shipping industry. He and Casal linked up and the two began plotting a way to make the deeply inefficient industry more modern and transparent. To familiarize himself with the market for which he’d be developing a technology, Casal worked with a freight forwarder in Kansas City that had been operating for more than 30 years.

Michael Sidgmore, co-founder and partner of seed round lead investor Broadhaven Ventures, described the team as “visionaries in the freight forwarding industry who see the ability to build the operating system for the shipping industry, much like Carta has done for equity ownership.”

The need to track and digitize the supply chain process was never more apparent than with the recent blockage of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given, which became a meme that represented the impacts of inefficiencies in the supply chain, Sidgmore said. 

“Nowports has created industry leading technology to help its customers know when to turn starboard or port side,” he added.

Chris Gottschalk, senior advisor of Mouro Capital, said the Nowports platform brings both “transparency and technology” to a global client base.

#articles, #base10-partners, #chile, #china, #co-founder, #colombia, #finance, #financial-services, #foundation-capital, #freight-forwarding, #funding, #fundings-exits, #insurance-policies, #justin-mateen, #kansas-city, #latin-america, #logistics, #mexico, #mouro-capital, #nowports, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #ricardo-weder, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #transport, #uruguay, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Motorway’s auction platform for second-hand cars raises $67.7M Series B led by Index Ventures

Motorway, is a UK startup that allows professional car dealers to bid in an auction for privately-owned cars for sale. The startup has had rapid success by removing a lot of friction in the process. It’s now raised £48m / $67.7m in a Series B round led by Index Ventures, along with new investors BMW i Ventures and Unbound. Existing investors Latitude and Marchmont Ventures also participated. The funding will be used to extend its platform and grow the current 160-strong team.

The startup allows consumers to sell their car for up to £1,000, by uploading its details via a smartphone. Over 3,000 professional car dealers then bid for the vehicle in a daily online auction. The highest offer wins the car, which is then collected for free by the winning dealer inside 24 hours. 

Motorway says it has sold 65,000 cars since its launch in 2017 and seen sales hit £50m in May 2021 alone, £2.5m of transactions a day, and more than 4,000 completed car sales a month. With only 5% of all vehicles in the UK sold online right now, there is plenty of headroom for this market to grow.
 
Tom Leathes, CEO of Motorway, said: “For half a century, inefficient offline processes have led to bad deals and a bad experience for both car sellers and car dealers. Motorway has fundamentally changed a broken experience where everyone ends up dissatisfied – and we’ve transformed it with a superior online experience where everybody wins. Cutting out the middlemen leaves both the consumer and car dealer with a better deal, all from home and without the stress. Our incredible growth so far is testament to our focus on delivering more value through technology – and this investment will provide us with the fuel to take Motorway to the next level.”
 
Danny Rimer, Partner at Index Ventures, said: “We’re always looking to invest in companies that are truly disrupting an industry and meeting a real customer need. We have found that in Motorway. The team has built an incredibly powerful platform, underpinned by great technology and a deep understanding of the challenges both consumers and car dealers face. Motorway has quickly become the first port of call for tens of thousands of people selling their car.” 
 
Motorway previously raised £14m in venture funding since it was founded by Tom Leathes, Harry Jones and Alex Buttle in 2017.

Speaking to me over interview Leathes added: “COVID has been a real accelerator of something that was already happening. The car industry is moving online and that’s partly about people buying their next car online, but it’s also about dealers changing their behavior, how they do business, where they buy their cars. It forced that change which they resisted for a long time, and now they’re embracing it, so it’s a fundamental shift in the industry. And this is why we see such a massive opportunity to provide the rails to help both sides of the marketplace to move online.”

Rimer added: “It’s rare that you have founders who have worked together across multiple successful and less successful startups who have that scar tissue and success, and are now going for a much bigger opportunity. The business model is really an important one for us because instead of owning inventory and then having to get rid of your inventory, sort of like the difference between Nat-a-Porter and Farfetch. Motorway’s marketplace is just like Farfetch – they don’t have any inventory, which means that just by merely making that platform happen for buyers and sellers, they win. So there’s a lot less risk associated with what the money is going to be used for when building the business.”

#auction, #car-dealership, #car-sales, #ceo, #danny-rimer, #europe, #farfetch, #motorway, #smartphone, #tc, #transport, #united-kingdom

SoftBank, Uber, Tencent set to reap rewards from Didi IPO

After years of speculation, Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-sharing behemoth, finally unveiled its IPO filing in the U.S., giving a glimpse into its money-losing history.

Didi didn’t disclose the size of its raise. Reuters reported the company could raise around $10 billion at a valuation of close to $100 billion.

Cheng Wei, Didi’s 38-year-old founder owns 7% of the company’s shares and controls 15.4% of its voting power before the IPO, according to the prospectus. Major shareholder SoftBank Vision Fund owns 21.5% of the company, followed by Uber with 12.8% and Tencent at 6.8%.

The nine-year-old company, which famously acquired Uber’s China operations in 2016, is more than a ride-hailing platform now. It has a growing line of businesses like bike-sharing, grocery, intra-city freight, financial services for drivers, electric vehicles and Level 4 robotaxis, which it defines as “the pinnacle of our design for future mobility” for its potential to lower costs and improve safety.

Didi set up an autonomous driving subsidiary that banked $500 million from SoftBank in May last year. The unit now operates a team of over 500 members and a fleet of over 100 autonomous vehicles.

For the twelve months ended March, Didi served 493 million annual active users and saw 41 million transactions on a daily basis.

Didi had been operating in the red from 2018 to 2020, when it finished the year with a $1.6 billion net loss, but managed to turn the tide in the first quarter of 2021 by racking up a net profit of $837 million, which it recognized was primarily due to the investment income from the deconsolidation of Chengxin, its cash-burning grocery group buying initiative, and an equity investment disposal.

Revenue from the quarter also more than doubled year-over-year to $6.6 billion. China accounts for over 90% of Didi’s revenues as of late. The company has tried to expand its presence in a dozen overseas countries like Brazil, where it bought local ride-hailing business 99 Taxis.

Of its mobility revenues in China, more than 97% came from ride-hailing between 2018 and 2020. Taxi hailing, chauffeur and carpooling, a lucrative business that was revamped following two deadly accidents, made up a trifling share.

Didi plans to spend 30% of its IPO proceeds on shared mobility, electric vehicles, autonomous driving and other technologies. 30% will go towards its international expansion and another 20% will be used for new product development.

#asia, #automation, #carsharing, #china, #didi, #didi-chuxing, #funding, #robotaxi, #robotics, #softbank, #softbank-group, #transport, #transportation, #uber

United Airlines agrees to purchase 15 Boom supersonic airliners

United Airlines is the first official U.S. customer for Boom Supersonic, a company focused on making supersonic commercial flight a reality once again. Boom unveiled its supersonic sub-scale testing aircraft last year, and intends to start producing its Overture full-scale commercial supersonic passenger jet beginning in 2025, with a planned 2029 date for the beginning of commercial service after a few years of flight testing, design refinement and qualification.

United agreed to purchase 15 of the Overture aircraft, provided they meet United’s “safety, operating and sustainability requirements,” and the agreement also includes an option for the airline to purchase an additional 35 after that. United is obviously interested in the benefits of supersonic flight, which aims to reduce travel times by half, but it’s also looking to boost its sustainability profile with this deal with Boom.

Boom’s goal is to be the first commercial aircraft that runs on net-zero carbon footprint fuel right from day one. The company is focused on sourcing and using 100% sustainable aviation fuel, and part of the arrangement between the two companies includes United working in collaboration with the startup to develop and improve production sources for that sustainable fuel.

U.S. airlines committed jointly to a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and as part of that they agreed to partner with government and other stakeholders to accelerate the development and commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel, so this team-up with Boom could be a key driver of those aims for United long-term.

#aerospace, #aircraft, #airline, #aviation, #boom-supersonic, #boom-technology, #concorde, #driver, #sound, #tc, #transport, #united-airlines, #united-states

ChargerHelp co-founder, CEO Kameale C. Terry is heading to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Thousands of electric vehicle charging stations will be built around the country over the next decade. ChargerHelp!, founded in January 2020 by Kameale C. Terry and Evette Ellis, wants to make sure they stay up and running.

The idea for the on-demand repair app for EV charging stations came to Terry when she was working at EV Connect, where she held a number of roles including director of programs and head of customer experience. She noticed long wait times to fix non-electrical issues at charging stations due to the industry practice to use electrical contractors.

“When the stations went down we really couldn’t get anyone on site because most of the issues were communication issues, vandalism, firmware updates or swapping out a part — all things that were not electrical,” Terry said in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year.

After Terry quit her job to start ChargerHelp!, she joined the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she developed a first-of-its-kind EV Network Technician Training Curriculum. Shortly after, Terry and Ellis were accepted into Elemental Excelerator’s startup incubator and have landed contracts with major EV charging network providers like EV Connect and SparkCharge.

The company uses a workforce-development approach to hiring, meaning that they only hire in cohorts. Workers receive full training, earn two safety licenses, are guaranteed a wage of $30 an hour and receive shares in the startup, Terry said.

We’re excited to announce that Kameale Terry will be joining us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event that is scheduled June 9. We’ll be covering a lot of ground with Terry, from how she developed her EV repair curriculum to what she sees in the company’s future.

Each year TechCrunch brings together founders, investors, CEOs and engineers who are working on all things transportation and mobility. If it moves people and packages from Point A to Point B, we cover it. This year’s agenda is filled with leaders in the mobility space who are shaping the future of transportation, from EV charging to autonomous vehicles to urban air taxis.

Among the growing list of speakers are Rimac Automobili founder Mate RimacRevel Transit CEO Frank Reig, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler and Remix/Via co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu, who will come together to discuss how (and if) urban mobility can increase equity while still remaining a viable business.

Other guests include Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma, Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, GM‘s VP of Global Innovation Pam FletcherScale AI CEO Alexandr WangJoby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation FundQuin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct CapitalZoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel LiHuan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at the door. Grab your passes right now and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders.

#alexandr-wang, #aurora, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ceo, #chargerhelp, #charging-station, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicle-charging-station, #electric-vehicles, #ev-connect, #events, #frank-reig, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #revel-transit, #rimac-automobili, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #sparkcharge, #startups, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #transport, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #weride, #zoox

See what’s new from Wejo, CMC, iMerit, Plus, oVice, & Michigan at TechCrunch’s mobility event

We’re in the final run-up to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on October 9, and the great stuff just keeps on coming. We’ve stacked the one-day agenda with plenty of programming to keep you engaged, informed and on track to build a stronger business. You’ll always find amazing speakers — some of the most innovative minds out there — on the main stage and in breakout sessions.

Dramatic pause for a pro tip: Don’t have a pass yet? Buy one here now for $125, before prices go up at the door.

“I enjoyed the big marquee speakers from companies like Uber, but it was the individual presentations where you really started to get into the meat of the conversation and see how these mobile partnerships come to life.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

We have another exciting bit of news. We’re hosting pitch session for early-stage startup founders who exhibit in the expo at TC Sessions: Mobility. Each startup gets five minutes to pitch to attendees in a breakout session. Remember, this conference has a global reach — talk about visibility! Want to pitch? Buy an Early Stage Startup Exhibitor Package as we only have 2 packages left.

Alrighty then…let’s look at some of the breakout & main stage sessions waiting for you at TC Sessions: Mobility 20201.

Innovating Future Mobility for Global Scale

Wednesday, October 9, 10:00 am -10:50 am PDT

Learn how the CMC’s model of bringing their Clients’ new technologies to market is new and innovative, going beyond a typical demonstration or pilot program, to the point of product launch and sustaining market viability. Hear from an expert panel about how the CMC’s programming is unique, innovative, and game-changing.

  • Neal Best, Director of Client Services, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Bill Brandt, Business Development Advisor, Zeus Electric Chassis
  • Mark Rawson, Chief Operating Officer, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Scott Ungerer, Founder and Managing Director, EnerTech Capital

Public-Private Partnerships: Advancing the Future of Mobility and Electrification

Wednesday, October 9, 10:45 am -11:05 am PDT

The future of mobility starts with the next generation of transportation solutions. Attendees will hear from some of the most innovative names on opportunities that await when public and private entities team up to revolutionize the way we think about technology. Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer, will be joined by Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer of May Mobility.

  • Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer, May Mobility
  • Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer, State of Michigan

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Delivering Supervised Autonomous Trucks Globally

Wednesday, October 9, 12:40pm – 1:00pm PDT

Plus is applying autonomous driving technology to launch supervised autonomous trucks today in order to dramatically improve safety, efficiency and driver comfort, while addressing critical challenges in long-haul trucking — driver shortage and high turnover, rising fuel costs, and reaching sustainability goals. Mass production of our supervised autonomous driving solution, PlusDrive, starts this summer. In the next few years, tens of thousands of heavy trucks powered by PlusDrive will be on the road. Plus’s COO and Co-Founder Shawn Kerrigan will introduce PlusDrive and our progress of deploying this driver-in solution globally. He will also share our learnings from working together with world-leading OEMs and fleet partners to develop and deploy autonomous trucks at scale.

  • Shawn Kerrigan, COO and Co-Founder, Plus

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Wednesday, October 9, 11:00 am – 11:50am

Data will play a vital role in solving the critical edge cases required to gain city approval and deploy autonomous transportation at scale. Pilot projects are underway across the U.S. and cities such as Las Vegas are leading the way for progressive policies, testing and adoption. But, how do these projects involving a limited number of vehicles gain city approval, expand to larger geographic areas, include more use cases and service more people? Join our expert panel discussion as we examine the progress, challenges and road ahead in harnessing data to enable multiple modes of autonomous transportation in major cities across the U.S.

  • Chris Barker, Founder & CEO, CBC
  • Radha Basu, Founder & CEO, iMerit
  • Michael Sherwood, CIO, City of Las Vegas

Making Mobility Data Accessible to Governmental Agencies to Meet New Transportation Demands

Wednesday, October 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

Wejo provides accurate and unbiased unique journey data, curated from millions of connected cars, to help local, state, province and federal government agencies visualize traffic and congestion conditions. Unlock a deeper understanding of mobility trends, to make better decisions, support policy development and solve problems more effectively for your towns and cities.

  • Brett Scott, VP of Partnerships

Will Remote Work Push Japan’s Rural Mobility Forward?

Wednesday, October 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

With remote work becoming the new normal and the mass movement from the city to the Japanese countryside, the trend of private car ownership is growing day by day. During this session, we’ll be hearing from Sae Hyung Jung, serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of oVice. oVice is an agile communication tool that facilitates hybrid remote and virtual meetups. Most notably, a hope that can trigger a sudden expansion in the Japanese mobility and vehicle infrastructure.

  • Sae Hyung Jung, Founder & CEO, oVice

#automation, #california, #car-ownership, #ceo, #chief, #chief-operating-officer, #driver, #flashparking, #may-mobility, #michigan, #mobility, #nina-grooms-lee, #officer, #plus, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #tc, #technology, #transport, #uber, #vp

The motorcycle ride-hailing wars in Nigeria and Uganda is SafeBoda’s to lose

On April 16, Uganda-based two-wheel ride-hailing platform SafeBoda announced that it had completed 1 million rides in Ibadan, a southwestern city in Nigeria. This might not seem spectacular from a global perspective because it took the startup a year and two months to achieve but it’s a noteworthy feat in African markets.

Ibadan is one of the cities where SafeBoda operates. The company, which first launched in Uganda, is disrupting the offline market of local motorcycles referred to as boda-bodas in Uganda and okadas in Nigeria.

In 2017, SafeBoda officially started operations in Kampala and almost immediately began to deal with the threat posed by new entrants at the time: uberBODA and Bolt boda.

Uber and Bolt are two of the most well-known ride-hailing companies in the markets in which they operate. Uganda was the first African country the pair decided to test out their two-wheel ride-hailing ambitions and it was the second market globally after Thailand for Uber. So given the clout and money these companies hold, most people anticipated they would give SafeBoda a run for its money. But that didn’t happen.

According to Alastair Sussock, co-CEO of SafeBoda, who founded the company with Ricky Rapa Thomson and Maxime Dieudonne, SafeBoda was clocking about 1,000 rides daily at the time. He argued that even though the company’s volumes were one of the best, there was a misrepresentation in the media that SafeBoda wasn’t in the league as other platforms.

“Everyone thought Uber and Bolt would enter Africa to revolutionize the informal boda market,” Sussock told TechCrunch. “There was mention of other players, some of which have folded now, but no one mentioned SafeBoda although we were actually doing quite good stuff. And that energized us to prove the perception wrong, which was that SafeBoda didn’t really exist”.

Strategy, hard work and a large Series B investment followed the next couple of years, which has established SafeBoda as a market leader in Uganda. Sussock said the company now completes about 40,000 rides a day. Uber and Bolt barely complete 10,000 rides in the country.

SafeBoda

Ricky Rapa Thomson, Alastair Sussock, and Maxime Dieudonne

So what has been pivotal to this growth? Before founding SafeBoda, Rapa Thomson was also a boda rider. As the company’s director of operations, he’s pivotal in making sure the company adopts localized methods with its riders. And despite its exciting features, pieces of equipment and safety measures employed, what stands out is how SafeBoda adapts to the boda boda community. This has been responsible for the 80% year-on-year retention the company currently enjoys, Sussock said.

“We tend to localize our product and take a local approach where we hire local guys to be part of the team. They help to have boots on the ground and of course, what you see with Nigeria, is not as much a dissimilar story,” the co-CEO added.

When starting in Nigeria, most two-wheel ride-hailing startups begin from Lagos, the nation’s hotbed of commerce and transport. In recent times, the city has had entrants like Opera’s OPay, Gokada and MAX.ng. These startups, like SafeBoda, are heavily backed by U.S., Chinese and Japanese investors. They have been at loggerheads with each other to capture on-demand mobility market share in Africa’s most populous country.

SafeBoda first hinted at a possible expansion into Nigeria in 2019. All the aforementioned ride-hailing companies were already in operation and it appeared as if SafeBoda was a very late entrant. But according to Babajide Duroshola, the country head for SafeBoda in Nigeria, the team knew it was going to thrive in spite of the timing and what competition looked like. “For us, it was a no-brainer decision to come into Nigeria and do the same thing that we did at Kampala, which is to grow quickly and make SafeBoda a household name,” he said to TechCrunch

When time came to reveal which city it was going to start with, it was Ibadan, not Lagos. SafeBoda caught everyone unawares with the decision and subsequently faced heavy backlash. This was in December 2019 but fast-forward to February 2020; it proved to be a masterstroke because in one fell swoop, the Lagos State government rendered bike-hailing operations obsolete with new regulations. For the next couple of months, SafeBoda was the only reliable source of two-wheel ride-hail service in the country. While the regulations forced others to pivot into asset financing for bikes and logistics services, SafeBoda was waxing strong with its ride-hailing operations in Ibadan.

In its first five months, SafeBoda had completed more than 250,000 rides and onboarded thousands of drivers. Once again, adopting a local strategy and community building proved vital to the seemingly modest but explosive growth it experienced in a market no company had really tested.

“One of the things that really separated us from all the other guys in the market was a localization play. The fact that we could connect with and employ these people who were okada drivers right off the streets to become part of our operations team was very key,” Duroshola said.

The country manager added that SafeBoda’s progress showed other two-wheel operators that a market outside Lagos existed. “Lagos is the commercial capital. There’s a lot of money in the city and income per household is high. But then, it is not a true representation of Nigeria. We saw that if you really want to scale across the country, Ibadan was actually a very good place to start because it had all the kinds of people you’d typically find in Nigeria.”

The ease of doing business for a ride-hailing platform in Ibadan is also easier than in Lagos. The latter is known for endorsing NURTW, a transport group known to legally extort riders daily or weekly in the city. Such activities are prohibited in Ibadan giving SafeBoda a smooth path to achieving scale and allowing its drivers to work effectively.

A year in the city has rewarded the company with over 2,500 drivers and 40,000 customers. Together, they performed more than 750,000 trips in SafeBoda’s first year, which has since surpassed more than 1 million trips.

SafeBoda’s progress in Uganda and Nigeria makes it one of the most active players in Sub-Saharan Africa. The company has completed more than 35 million rides across both countries, with over 25,000 registered riders. It also claims to hold more than 80% market share in the two countries.

Despite this success, SafeBoda struggled in its third market, Kenya — a market it expanded to and left before Nigeria. The company had onboarded over 1,500 riders in less than a year, but it wasn’t growing at the pace it wanted. The pandemic made SafeBoda’s struggles obvious and per this report, riders’ dissatisfaction with pricing caused an upheaval that sent the company out of the Kenyan market.

In addition to rider troubles, Sussock noted that Kenya’s motorcycle taxi market wasn’t as highly dense as Uganda and Nigeria which, according to him, contributed to the exit.

“We were the market leader in Kenya, and we were doing like the most rides in Kenya. But it was still quite small in terms of volume compared to Uganda. And we knew what the potential would be in Nigeria, which we hadn’t done at the time. So it was just quite clear that Kenya, while very developed for tech, and developed per capita, was just really quite hard to scale in terms of motorcycle taxi transportation,” he said.

SafeBoda

Image Credits: SafeBoda

SafeBoda isn’t ruling out a return to the East African market. But with the East African market out of the way for now, it has the resources to focus ride-hailing efforts on Uganda and Nigeria. The ultimate goal, however, is to scale its super app play.

In Uganda, it is already in motion. SafeBoda offers on-demand food, grocery, pharmacy, essentials and beverages delivery services, of which more than 500,000 orders have been completed. This model is inspired by the Go-Pay model at GoJek, where two-wheel ride-hailing was an entry point to high-frequency wallet spend behavior.

The Asian multi-service company is one of the investors in SafeBoda via its GoVentures arm. Other backers include Transsion Holdings, Beenext, and serial entrepreneur Justin Kan.

SafeBoda has no real competition in the bike-hailing wars in Uganda and Nigeria as it stands. The company’s challenge remains the large offline market, where more than 1.5 million rides are completed daily in Uganda alone. The plan for SafeBoda is to convert more of this base to its existing online market share. Additionally, it wants to expand into P2P, merchant and bill payments and grow its on-demand business in Uganda. Its plan in Nigeria? Maintaining its core transport business before venturing into payments and deliveries.

#africa, #kenya, #nigeria, #safeboda, #startups, #tc, #transport, #transportation, #uganda

Cowboy launches the Cowboy 4 e-bike, with a step-through version and built-in phone charger

E-bike startup Cowboy has launched the Cowboy 4, its newest generation of urban electric bikes. The bike will come in two different frames, a traditional frame, and a step-through.
The C4 is basically an upgrade on the previous version 3, while the ‘C4 ST’ is a step-through model which the company is predicting will appeal to young people used to city bikes.

The C4 and C4 ST are both priced at £2,290/€2,490 inclusive of mudguards and are available for pre-order with a €100/£100 deposit starting from today cowboy.com, with deliveries starting in September 2021.

Cowboy has raised $46.1M in venture capital and largely extent competes with VanMoof (which raised $61.1M) and Furo Systems (£750K) to a lesser extent. The basic differences between the three are that Cowboy is moving closer to leverage the cloud and apps as its main differentiation, VanMoof tends to built things (like a screen) into the bike (and has an app), and Furo is more about ease of maintenance, and weight.

Cowboy says both bikes feature 50% more torque via their automatic transmission. There are no gears to change, with the engine kicking in as you turn the cranks. The removable battery weighs 2.4kg, giving the bike a range of up to 70km.

The heaviest version of the bikes is 19.2 kg including battery and both will hit 25 km/h (15 mph).

Adrien Roose, Cowboy Co-Founder and CEO said in a statement: “The Cowboy 4 completely redefines life in and around cities. By designing two frame types featuring our first-ever step-through model, an integrated cockpit, and a new app, we are now able to address a much larger audience and cater to many more riders to move freely in and around cities,” he added. “Our mission is to help city dwellers move in a faster, safer and more enjoyable way than any other mode of urban transportation. Be it wandering through the city or staying fit, it’s a reconnection with your senses and a rediscovery of the simple thrill of riding a bike.”

The step-through model is optimized to suit riders 160-190cm in height, while the normal C4 will accommodates riders 170-195cm tall.

Mike Butcher meets Cowboy's Adrien Roose

Mike Butcher meets Cowboy’s Adrien Roose

Doing a very quick test of the new bikes in a London basketball court and around local streets, I found both bikes to be very nippy on the off and a pleasure to ride. Cowboy is probably right – the step-through version is likely to appeal to a wide variety of riders.

Roose said the bike has been custom-designed. Only the saddle and the carbon belt are made by third-party companies Selle Royal and Gates, respectively. The brake cables are now integrated into the handlebars and stem, brakes and pedals have new angles, and the rear wheel has a ‘dropout’ design.
Cowboy will offer a custom-designed series of accessories starting with a rear rack and kickstand. The C4 and C4 ST will come in Absolute Black, Peyote Green, and Sand Dune, and are available to pre-order now, with deliveries beginning in September. Both models will feature pre-fitted mudguards.

The bikes also now feature a wireless charging mont on the stem featuring a built-in Quad Lock mount to hold the rider’s smartphone and wirelessly charge it via the bike’s internal battery.

Tanguy Goretti, Co-Founder, and VP Software added: “The new Cowboy app [will show] remaining battery range, air quality en route and a wide range of live fitness stats.”

The app also has a new navigation screen, 3D map rendering layout, turn-by-turn directions, air quality index for routes, live fitness data, leaderboard rankings; a new community feature offering the ability to join curated group rides across capital cities in Europe.

Cowboy is also offering a free repair network across Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Austria and Luxembourg; 6 days a week customer support; and a subscription plan operated in partnership with Qover which includes theft detection, theft insurance throughout Europe.

#austria, #belgium, #cowboy, #electric-bicycle, #europe, #france, #germany, #luxembourg, #micromobility, #mike-butcher, #netherlands, #smartphone, #tc, #transport, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital

China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.

Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.

“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”

Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.

The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.

“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.

By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.

“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”

The lidar camp

Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.

“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.

“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.

The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.

Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.

Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.

Supply challenges

While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.

Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.

Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”

Taking on robotaxis

Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.

“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.

“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.

“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”

Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.

“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”

5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.

#alibaba, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #baic, #bosch, #cars, #china, #cloud-computing, #driver, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #founder, #huawei, #lasers, #li-auto, #lidar, #livox, #machine-learning, #nio, #norway, #nvidia, #qualcomm, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #semiconductor, #shenzhen, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-government, #united-states, #wu, #xavier, #xiaopeng, #xpeng

Biden infrastructure plan proposes spending $174B to boost America’s EV market

President Joe Biden has earmarked $174 billion from his ambitious infrastructure plan to build out domestic supply chains for electric vehicles, noting the imperative for United States automakers to “compete globally” to win a larger share of the EV market.

The funds are just one part of Biden’s plan, which calls for an ambitious $2 trillion infrastructure investment across multiple sectors. The Fact Sheet for the plan includes six references to China – one of these in reference to the size of the Chinese EV market, which is two-thirds larger than the domestic U.S. market. Chinese manufacturer Foxconn, Apple’s main supplier, said in February it was considering producing EVs at its Wisconsin plants – just weeks after tentatively agreeing to manufacture an EV for startup-turned-SPAC Fisker.

To ensure Americans actually purchase these domestically manufactured EVs, Biden also plans to establish sales rebates and tax incentives for the purchase of American-made EVs, though the size of the credit has not been released. Customers can already cash in a $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs, but it is not available to automakers that have sold more than 200,000 electric cars – people looking to purchase a Tesla, for instance, would not qualify for the credit. It’s unclear whether the new tax credit would raise or abolish the sales limit for automakers.

The plan also proposes using some of the funds to build a national EV charging network of 500,000 stations by 2030. A recent survey from Consumer Reports found that the availability of public charging stations was a major concern deterring people from looking into an EV for their next vehicle purchase.

On the transit side, Biden’s administration said the funds will also go towards replacing 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrifying at least 20 percent of school busses, through a new program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan places a huge emphasis on providing good-paying jobs to American workers, but it still has a long way to go. It must be approved by Congress before becoming law.

#automotive, #battery-electric-vehicles, #charging-station, #china, #congress, #consumer-reports, #electric-car, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #environmental-protection-agency, #foxconn, #green-vehicles, #joe-biden, #president, #transport, #transportation, #united-states, #wisconsin

Volkswagen really is becoming ‘Voltswagen’ in the U.S.

Automaker Volkswagen wants you to know it’s serious about electric vehicles — so serious, in fact, that it’s officially rebranding around a pun in the U.S. The company revealed in a press release that it’s changing its name from “Volkswagen of America” to “Voltswagen of America” in a press release today. News this could happen leaked late Monday, but many speculated it might be an April Fool’s joke that got out a bit early, but the automaker seems serious about switching the official brand from May 2021 onwards given the official release on its newsroom.

Voltswagen (neé Volkswagen) says that the reason behind the change is to firmly demonstrate its commitment “future-forward investment in e-mobility,” which said more simply, implies that it’s super serious about its electric drivetrain plans. In a more literal sense, ‘Volkswagen’ is actually from the German for ‘the people’s car,’ which suggests that Voltswagen is a car for… volts?

Sort of, but not really, says VW (hey that still works!):

“We have said, from the beginning of our shift to an electric future, that we will build EVs for the millions, not just millionaires,” explained VW CEO and President Scott Keogh in the release announcing the swap. “This name change signifies a nod to our past as the peoples’ car and our firm belief that our future is in being the peoples’ electric car.”

This announcement comes just as Volkswagen has begun shipping its all-electric SUV, the ID.4, in the U.S. It ha a price tag of $33,995, before either federal and tax incentives, so that is indeed on the more affordable side of the existing U.S. electric vehicle market, with even more options set to come for cost-conscious consumers in future as the company spurs uses its commitments of lowering emissions by achieving one million global EV sales by 2025, and playing host to a lineup of mover 70 models across VW and its subrands worldwide by 2029.

Voltswagen branding will include use of a higher blue tone on the VW logo for all-electric vehicles, while gas cars will retain the more traditional dark blue look. The actual word ‘Voltswagen’ will be used on EVs in addition to the initials logo, with the icon graphic itself will be the sole branding on gas cars in the U.S. going forward.

#america, #cars, #electric-car, #electric-vehicle, #evs, #tc, #transport, #united-states, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #voltswagen, #vw

Hyundai IONIQ 5 will be Motional and Lyft’s first robotaxi

Motional will integrate its driverless technology into Hyundai’s new all-electric SUV to create the company’s first robotaxi. At the start of 2023, customers in certain markets will be able to book the fully electric, fully autonomous taxi through the Lyft app.

The Hyundai IONIQ 5, which was revealed in February with a consumer release date expected later this year, will be fully integrated with Motional’s driverless system. The vehicles will be equipped with the hardware and software needed for Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities, including LiDAR, radar and cameras to provide the vehicle’s sensing system with 360 degrees of vision, and the ability to see up to 300 meters away. This level of driverless technology means a human will not be required to take over driving.

The interior living space will be similar to the consumer model, but additionally equipped with features needed for robotaxi operation, according to a Motional spokesperson. Motional did not reveal whether or not the vehicle would still have a steering wheel, and images of the robotaxi aren’t yet available.

Motional’s IONIQ 5 robotaxis have already begun testing on public roads and closed courses, and they’ll be put through more months of testing and real-world experience before being deployed on Lyft’s platform. The company says it’ll complete testing only once it’s confident that the taxis are safer than a human driver.

Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai $4 billion joint venture aimed at commercializing driverless cars, announced its partnership with Lyft in December, signaling the ride-hailing company’s primary involvement in Motional’s plans. The company recently announced that it began testing its driverless tech on public roads in Las Vegas. Hyundai’s IONIQ 5 is Motional’s second platform to go driverless on public roads.

#aptiv, #automation, #driver, #emerging-technologies, #hyundai, #hyundai-motor-company, #las-vegas, #lyft, #mobility, #motional, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #technology, #transport

Polestar, ChargePoint introduce seamless charging in new partnership

A new alliance between Swedish electric performance automaker Polestar and EV infrastructure startup ChargePoint takes aim at the charging experience with the debut of an in-car app that will let customers seamlessly charge their Polestar 2 model vehicles.

Seamless charging—being able to pull up to a charging station, plug in and let the vehicle handle billing and payment—has been dominated by Tesla through its branded Supercharger network. Most other EV drivers have to pay for charging using an RFID card or smartphone, and the convenience level is on-par with a traditional gas station. The partnership eliminates the need for these extra items at ChargePoint’s more than 130,000 stations. The app will embed directly into Polestar 2’s in-car “infotainment system,” which runs on Google’s Android Automotive OS.

There have been some inroads into seamless charging elsewhere, most notably by Electrify America, the entity established by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel-emissions scandal. It introduced an in-car payment technology dubbed Plug&Charge last November that will allow 2021 models of the Porsche Taycan, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Lucid Air to seamlessly charge at its stations.

The partnership also takes aim at the buying experience, another area that Tesla’s cornered with its branded Wall Connector home charger. Polestar 2 drivers will now be able to order the $699 ChargePoint Home Flex home charger alongside the purchase of a Polestar 2 and arrange for home installation prior to vehicle delivery.

It’s a blueprint for future collaboration between the two companies, ChargePoint senior VP Bill Loewenthal said in a statement. The partnerships may be the start of many more alliances between automakers and EV infrastructure companies who see user experience as a key part of their value proposition.

#android, #automotive, #cars, #chargepoint, #charging-stations, #ecotality, #electric-vehicles, #electrify-america, #ev, #ford, #gas-station, #greentech, #li-auto, #mobility, #mustang, #polestar, #smartphone, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #united-states

From the ashes of nearly a billion dollars, Ample resurrects Better Place’s battery swapping business model

A little over thirteen years ago, Shai Agassi, a promising software executive who was in line to succeed the chief executive at SAP, then one of the world’s mightiest software companies, left the company he’d devoted the bulk of his professional career to and started a business called Better Place.

That startup promised to revolutionize the nascent electric vehicle market and make range anxiety a thing of the past. The company’s pitch? A network of automated battery swapping stations that would replace spent batteries with freshly charged ones.

Agassi’s company would go on to raise nearly $1 billion (back when that was considered a large sum of money) from some of the world’s top venture capital and growth equity firms. By 2013 it would be bankrupt and one of the many casualties of the first wave of cleantech investing.

Now serial entrepreneurs John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah are reviving the battery swapping business model with a startup called Ample and an approach that they say solves some of the problems that Better Place could never address at a time when the adoption of electric vehicles is creating a far larger addressable market.

In 2013, there were 220,000 vehicles on roads, according to data from Statista, a number which has grown to 4.8 million by 2019.

Ample has actually raised approximately $70 million from investors including Shell Ventures, the Spanish energy company Repsol, and the venture capital arm of the $10 billion money manager, Moore Capital Management. That includes a $34 million investment first reported back in 2018, and a later round from investors including Japan’s energy and metals company, Eneos Holdings that closed recently.

“We had a lot of people that either said, I somehow was involved in that and was suffering from PTSD,” said de Souza, of the similarities between his business and Better Place. “The people who weren’t involved read up about it and then ran away.”

For Ample, the difference is in the modularization of the battery pack and how that changes the relationship with the automakers that would use the technology.

“The approach we’ve taken… is to modularize the battery and then we have an adapter plate that is the structural element of the battery that has the same shape of the battery, same bolt pattern and same software interface. Even though we provide the same battery system.. .it’s same as replacing the tire,” said Hassounah, Ample’s co-founder and chief executive. “Effectively we’re giving them the plate. We don’t modify the car whatsoever. You either put a fixed battery system or an Ample battery plate. We’re able to work with the OEMS where you can make the battery swappable for the use cases where this makes a lot of sense. Without really changing the same vehicle.”

Ample’s currently working with five different OEMs and has validated its approach to battery swapping with nine different car models. One of those OEMs also brings back memories of Better Place.

It’s clear that the company has a deal with Nissan for the Leaf thanks to the other partnership that Ample has announced with Uber. Ample’s founders declined to comment on any OEM relationships.

It’s clear that Ample is working with Nissan because Nissan is the company that inked a deal with Uber earlier this year on zero-emission mobility. And Uber is the first company to use Ample’s robotic charging stations at a few locations in the Bay Area, the company said. This work with Nissan echoes Better Place’s one partnership with Renault, another arm of the automaker, which proved to be the biggest deal for the older, doomed, battery swapping startup.

Ample says it only takes weeks to set up one of its charging pods at a facility and that the company’s charging drivers on energy delivered per mile. “We achieve economics that are 10% to 20% cheaper than gas. We are profitable on day one,” said Hassounah.

Uber is the first step. Ample is focused on fleets first and is in talks with multiple, undisclosed municipalities to get their cars added to the system. So far, Ample has done thousands of swaps, according to Hassounah with just Uber drivers alone.

The cars can also be charged at traditional charging facilities, Hassounah said, and the company’s billing system knows the split between the amount of energy it delivers versus another charging outlet, Hassounah said.

“So far, in the use cases that we have, for ride sharing it’s individual drivers who pay,” said de Souza. With the five fleets that Ample expects to deploy with later this year the company expects to have the fleet managers and owners pay for. charging.

Some of the inspiration for Ample came from Hassounah’s earlier experience working at One laptop per child, where he was forced to rethink assumptions about how the laptops would be used, the founder said.

“Initially i worked on the keyboard display and then quickly realized the challenge was in the field and developed a framework for creating infrastructure,” Hassounah said.

The problem was the initial design of the system did not take into account lack of access to power for laptops at children’s homes. So the initiative developed a charging unit for swapping batteries. Children would use their laptops over the course of the day and take them home, and when they needed a fresh charge, they would swap out the batteries.

“There are fleets that need this exact solution,” said de Souza. But there are advantages for individual car owners as well, he said. “The experience for the owner of a vehicle is after time the battery degrades. With ours as we put new batteries in the car can go further and further over time.” 

Right now, OEMs are sending cars without batteries and Ample is just installing their charging system, said Hassounah, but as the number of vehicles using the system rises above 1,000, the company expects to send their plates to manufacturers, who can then have Ample install their own packs.

Currently, Ample only supports level one and level two charging, but won’t offer fast charging options for the car makers it works with — likely because that option would cannibalize the company’s business and potentially obviate the need for its swapping technology.

At issue is the time it takes to charge a car. Fast chargers still take between 20 and 30 minutes to charge up, but advances in technologies should drive that figure down. Even if fast charging ultimately becomes a better option, Ample’s founders say they view their business as an additive step to faster electric vehicle adoption.

“When you’re moving 1 billion cars, you need everything… We have so many cars we need to put on the road,” Hassounah said. “We think we need all solutions to solve the problem. As you think of fleet applications you need a solution that can match gas in charge and not speed. Fast charging is not available in mass. The challenge will not be can the battery be charged in 5 minutes. The cost of building  charges that can deliver that amount of power is prohibitive.”

Looking beyond charging, Ample sees opportunities in the grid power market as well, the two founders said.

“Time shift is built into our economics… that’s another way we can help,” said de Souza. “We use that as grid storage… we can do demand charge and now that the federal mandate is there to feed into the grid we can help stabilize the grid by feeding back energy.. We don’t have a lot of stations to make a significant impact. As we scale up this year we will.”

Currently the company is operating at a storage capacity of tens of megawatts per hour, according to Hassounah.

“We can use the side storage to accelerate the development of swapping stations,” de Souza said. “You don’t have to invest an insane amount of money to put them in. We can finance the batteries in multiple ways as well as utilize other sources of financing.” 

Ample co-founders John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah. Image Credit: Ample

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