Universal Hydrogen raises $20.5M Series A to help launch hydrogen aviation

The race to decarbonize aviation got a boost this Earth Day with the announcement of a $20.5 million Series A round by Universal Hydrogen, a San Francisco-based startup aiming to develop hydrogen storage solutions and conversion kits for commercial aircraft.

“Hydrogen is the only viable path for aviation to reach Paris Agreement targets and help limit global warming,” said founder and CEO Paul Eremenko in an interview with TechCrunch. “We are going to build an end-to-end hydrogen value chain for aviation by 2025.”

The round was led by Playground Global, with an investor syndicate including Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Airbus Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Sojitz Corporation and Future Shape.

The company’s first product will be lightweight modular capsules to transport “green hydrogen,” produced using renewable power to aircraft equipped with hydrogen fuel cells. The capsules will ultimately be available in different sizes for aircraft ranging from VTOL air taxis to long-distance, single-aisle planes.

“We want them to be interchangeable within each class of aircraft, a bit like consumer batteries today,” says Eremenko.

To help kickstart the market for its capsules, Universal Hydrogen is developing one such plane itself, a modified 19-seat turboprop capable of regional flights of up to 700 miles. The effort is a collaboration with Plug Power, which will supply the hydrogen and fuel cells, and seed investor magniX, which develops motors for electric aircraft.

Eremenko hopes to have the plane flying paying passengers by 2025, and ultimately to produce kits for regional airlines to retrofit their own aircraft.

“We want to have a couple of years of service to de-risk hydrogen certification and passenger acceptance before Boeing and Airbus decide on the airplanes they are going to build in the early 2030s,” says Eremenko. “It’s imperative that at least one of them build a hydrogen airplane or aviation is not going to hit its climate goals.”

Universal Hydrogen is not alone in betting on hydrogen. ZeroAvia in the U.K. is developing its own regional fuel cell aircraft on an even more ambitious timeline, and Airbus in particular has been working on hydrogen aircraft concepts.

Eremenko hopes that producing a simple and safe hydrogen logistics network will soon attract new entrants.

“It’s like the Nespresso system. We have to make the first coffee maker or nobody cares about our capsule technology, but we don’t want to be in the coffee maker business. We want other people to build coffee with our capsules.”

Universal Hydrogen will use the Series A funds to grow its current 12-person team to around 40 and accelerate its technology development.

30kW sub-scale demonstration of Universal Hydrogen’s aviation powertrain, with Plug Power’s hydrogen fuel cell and a magniX motor.


#aviation, #flight, #hydrogen-fuel, #playground-global, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #universal-hydrogen


Bosch sees a place for renewable fuels, challenging proposed European Union engine ban

Bosch executives on Thursday criticized proposed EU regulations that would ban the internal combustion engine by 2025, saying that lawmakers “shy away” from discussing the consequences of such a ban on employment.

Although the company reported it is creating jobs through its new businesses, particularly its fuel cell business, and said it was filling more than 90% of these positions internally, it also said an all- or mostly-electric transportation revolution would likely affect jobs. As a case in point, the company told reporters that ten Bosch employees are needed to build a diesel powertrain system, three for a gasoline system — but only one for an electrical powertrain.

Instead, Bosch sees a place for renewable synthetic fuels and hydrogen fuel cells alongside electrification. Renewable synthetic fuels made from hydrogen are a different technology from hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cells use hydrogen to generate electricity, while hydrogen-derived fuels can be combusted in a modified internal combustion engine (ICE).

“An opportunity is being missed if renewable synthetic fuel derived from hydrogen and CO2 remains off-limits in road transport,” Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner said.

“Climate action is not about the end of the internal-combustion engine,” he continued. “It’s about the end of fossil fuels. And while electromobility and green charging power make road transport carbon neutral, so do renewable fuels.”

Electric solutions have limits, Denner said, particularly in powering heavy-duty vehicles. The company earlier this month established a joint venture with Chinese automaker Qingling Motors to build fuel cell powertrains in a test fleet of 70 trucks.

Bosch’s confidence in hydrogen fuel cells and synthetic fuels isn’t to the exclusion of battery-electric mobility. The company, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive and industrial components, said its electromobility business is growing by almost 40 percent, and the company projects annual sales of electrical powertrain components to increase to around €5 billion ($6 billion) by 2025, a fivefold increase.

However, the German company said it was “keeping its options open” by also investing €600 million ($721.7 million) in fuel cell powertrains in the next three years.

“Ultimately Europe won’t be able to achieve climate neutrality without a hydrogen economy,” Denner said.

Bosch has not been immune from the effects of the global semiconductor shortage, which continues to drag into 2021. Board member Stefan Asenkerschbaumer warned that there is a risk the shortage “will stifle the recovery that was forecast” for this year. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company executives told investors earlier this month that the situation may persist into 2022.

#automotive, #bosch, #electric-vehicles, #european-union, #regulation, #renewable-fuels, #synthetic-fuels, #tc, #transportation


Audi spinoff holoride collects $12m in Series A led by Terranet AB

Holoride, the company that’s building an immersive XR in-vehicle media platform, today announced it raised €10 million (approximately $12 million) in its Series A investing round, earning the company a €30 million ($36 million) valuation. 

The Swedish ADAS software development company Terranet led the round with €3.2 million (~$3.9 million), followed by a group of Chinese financial and automotive technology investors, organized by investment professional Jingjing Xu, and educational and entertainment game development company Schell Games, which has partnered with holoride in the past to create content. 

Holoride will use the fresh funds to search for new developers and other talent both as it prepares to expand into global markets like Europe, the United States and Asia, and in advance of its summer 2022 launch for private passenger cars. 

“This goes hand-in-hand with putting more emphasis on the content creator community, and as of summer this year, releasing a lot of tools to help them build content for cars on our platform,” Nils Wollny, holoride’s CEO and founder, told TechCrunch. 

The Munich-based company launched at CES in 2019. TechCrunch got to test out its in-car virtual reality system. Our team was surprised, and delighted, to find that holoride had figured out how to quell the motion sickness caused both by being a passenger in a vehicle, and by using a VR headset. The key? Matching the experience users have within the headset to the movement of the vehicle. Once holoride launches, users will be able to download the holoride app to their phones or other personal devices like VR headsets, which will connect wirelessly to the car itself, and extend their reality.  

“Our technology has two sides,” said Wollny. “One is the localization, or positioning software, that takes data points from the car and performs real time synchronization. The other part is what we call our Elastic Software Development Kit. Content creators can build elastic content, which adapts to your travel time and routes. The collaboration with Terranet means their sensors and software stack that allow for a more precise capture and interpretation of the environment at an even faster speed with higher accuracy will enable us in the future for even more possibilities.”

Terranet’s VoxelFlow™ software, which was originally designed for ADAS applications, will help holoride advance its real time, in-vehicle XR entertainment. Terranet’s CEO Par-olof Johannesson, describes VoxelFlow™ as a new paradigm within computer vision and object identification, wherein a combination of sensors, event cameras and a laser scanner are integrated into a car’s windshield and headlamps in order to calculate the distance, direction and speed of an object.

Terranet’s VoxelFlow™ uses computer vision and object identification via a combination of sensors, event cameras and a laser scanner, which are integrated into a car’s windshield and headlamps, in order to calculate the distance, direction and speed of an object.

Holoride, which is manufacturer-agnostic, will be able to use the data points calculated by VoxelFlow™ in real time if holoride were being used in a vehicle that was built integrated with Terranet’s software. But more important is the ability for holoride to reuse 3D event data for XR applications, giving it to creators so they can create the most interactive experience. Terranet is also looking forward to opening up a new vertical for VoxelFlow™

“We are of course very eager to access holoride’s wide pipeline, as well,” said Johannesson. “This deal is very much about expanding the addressable market and tapping into the heart of the automotive industry, where lead times and turnaround times are usually pretty long.”

Holoride is on a mission to revolutionize the passenger experience by turning dead car time into interactive experiences that can run the gamut of gaming, education, productivity, mindfulness and more. For example, around Halloween 2019, holoride teamed up with Ford and Universal Pictures to immerse riders into the frightening world of the Bride of Frankenstein, replete with monsters jumping out and tasks for riders to perform. 

Wollny said holoride always has an eye towards the next step, even though its first product hasn’t gone to market yet. He understands that the future is in autonomous vehicles, and wants to build an essential element of the future tech stack of future cars, cars in which everyone is a passenger. 

“Car manufacturers always focus on the buyer of the car or the driver, but not so much on the passenger,” said Wollny. “The passenger is who holoride really focuses on. We want to turn every vehicle into a moving theme park.”

#augmented-reality, #entertainment, #holoride, #tc, #transportation, #virtual-reality


Dutch startup Go Sharing raises $60M to expand beyond e-mopeds and into new markets

On-demand access to electric mopeds — the small, motorised scooters that you sit on, not kick — has been a small but persistent part of the multi-modal transportation mix on offer to people in cities these days. Today, a startup out of The Netherlands is announcing some funding with ambitions to make e-mopeds more mainstream, and to expand into a wider set of vehicle options.

Go Sharing, which has a fleet of around 5,000 e-mopeds across in 30 cities in three countries — The Netherlands, Belgium and Austria — has picked up €50 million (around $60 million). The startup, based near Utrecht, plans to use the funding to expand its footprint for e-mopeds; add electric cars and e-bikes to its app; and continue building out the technology underpinning it all.

Go Sharing believes tech will be the answer to creating a profitable operation, using AI algorithms to optimize locations for e-mopeds, encouraging people to drop off in those locations with incentives like discounts, and keeping that network charged.

Germany, the UK and Turkey are next on Go Sharing’s list of countries, the company said.

The funding is being led by Opportunity Partners — a firm based out of Amsterdam that also backs online supermarket Crisp, with the startup’s founders — CEO Raymon Pouwels, Doeke Boersma, and Donny van den Oever — also participating. A previous round of about $12 million came from Rabo Corporate Investments, the VC arm of the banking giant.

In a world where we now have many choices for getting around cities — taxis, public transport, push and electric bikes, scooters, walking, carpools, car rentals or our own cars — e-mopeds occupy an interesting niche in the mix.

They can be faster than bikes and scooters — 25 km per hour is a typical speed limit in cities, 40 km per hour in less dense areas — more agile than cars, completely quiet compared to their very noisy fuel-based cousins, and of course much more eco-friendly. For those managing fleets, they less likely to break down and need replacing than some of the other alternatives like e-bikes and e-scooters.

But they also represent a higher barrier to entry for picking up customers: riders need a license to operate them as you would other moving vehicles, and in some (but not all) places they need to wear helmets; and the operators of fleets need to sort out how required insurance will work and need special permits as a vehicle provider in most places, and they can also face the same issue as other vehicles like bikes and kick scooters of being a public nuisance when parked.

That mix of challenges — and the fact that fleets can be expensive to operate and might even if all the boxes are ticked still not attract enough users — has meant that the e-moped market has been a patchy one, with some startups shutting down, some cancelling cities after low demand, or retreating over and then returning with better safety measures.

Yet with on-demand transport companies increasingly looking to provide “any” mode in their multi-modal plays to capture more consumers at more times, they remain a class of vehicle that the bigger players and newer entrants will continue to entertain. Lime earlier this year said it was adding e-mopeds to its fleet in certain cities. Uber teamed up with Cityscoot in Paris to integrate the e-moped’s fleet into its app. Cityscoot itself raised some funding last year and is active in several cities across Europe.

And while it can be work to get permits and other regulatory aspects in place to operate services, Pouwels said that Go Sharing was finding that many municipalities actually liked the idea of bringing in more e-mopeds as an eco-friendly alternative to more vehicles — the idea being to provide a transport option to people who are not interested in kick-scooters or bikes and might have driven their own cars, meaning they already have licenses.

The eco-friendly option is also motivating how the company is planning out other parts of its strategy:

“What we have heard from regulators is that they want to motivate people to walk or move in other ways, for example with bicycles,” Pouwels said in an interview. “What we’ve seen with kick scooters is that they ‘deactivate’ people. This is why we see bikes [not adding e-scooters] as the healthy way of moving forward.” The plan with adding electric cars, he said, is to address the needs of people to travel longer distances than shorter inner-city journeys.

Handling supply for its services is coming by way of GreenMo, a sister operation run by Boersma that has been procuring and running a rental service of e-mopeds that are used by drivers for delivery services, with some 10,000 bikes already used this way. GreenMo recently acquired Dutch startup e-bike and a took a majority stake in Belgian company zZoomer, to expand its fleet.

#e-mopeds, #europe, #funding, #go-sharing, #multi-modal-transportation, #on-demand-transportation, #tc, #transportation


Micromobility’s next big business is software, not vehicles

The days of the shared, dockless micromobility model are numbered. That’s essentially the conclusion reached by Puneeth Meruva, an associate at Trucks Venture Capital who recently authored a detailed research brief on micromobility. Meruva is of the opinion that the standard for permit-capped, dockless scooter-sharing is not sustainable — the overhead is too costly, the returns too low — and that the industry could splinter.

Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology.

“Because shared services have started a cultural transition, people are more open to buying their own e-bike or e-scooter,” Meruva told TechCrunch. “Fundamentally because of how much city regulation is involved in each of these trips, it could reasonably become a transportation utility that is very useful for the end consumer, but it just hasn’t proven itself to be a profitable line of business.”

As dockless e-scooters, e-bikes and e-mopeds expand their footprint while consolidating under a few umbrella corporations, companies might develop or acquire the technology to streamline and reduce operational costs enough to achieve unit economics. One overlooked but massive factor in the micromobility space is the software that powers the vehicles — who owns it, if it’s made in-house and how well it integrates with the rest of the tech stack.

It’s the software that can determine if a company breaks out of the rideshare model into the sales or subscription model, or becomes subsidized by or absorbed into public transit, Meruva predicts.

Vehicle operating systems haven’t been top of mind for most companies in the short history of micromobility. The initial goal was making sure the hardware didn’t break down or burst into flames. When e-scooters came on the scene, they caused a ruckus. Riders without helmets zipped through city streets and many vehicles ended up in ditches or blocking sidewalk accessibility.

City officials were angry, to say the least, and branded dockless modes of transport a public nuisance. However, micromobility companies had to answer to their overeager investors — the ones who missed out on the Uber and Lyft craze and threw millions at electric mobility, hoping for swift returns. What was a Bird or a Lime to do? The only thing to do: Get back on that electric two-wheeler and start schmoozing cities.

How the fight for cities indirectly improved vehicle software

Shared, dockless operators are currently in a war of attrition, fighting to get the last remaining city permits. But as the industry seeks a business to government (B2G) model that morphs into what companies think cities want, some are inadvertently producing vehicles that will evolve beyond functional toys and into more viable transportation alternatives.

The second wave of micromobility was marked by newer companies like Superpedestrian and Voi Technology. They learned from past industry mistakes and developed business strategies that include building onboard operating systems in-house. The goal? More control over rider behavior and better compliance with city regulations.

Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology. Lime, Bird, Superpedestrian, Spin and Voi all design their own vehicles and write their own fleet management software or other operational tools. Lime writes its own firmware, which sits directly on top of the vehicle hardware primitives and helps control things like motor controllers, batteries and connected lights and locks.

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #bird-e-scooters, #e-bikes, #e-scooters, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-mobility-software, #lime-e-scooters, #micromobility, #software, #spin-e-scooters, #superpedestrian-e-scooters, #tortoise, #transportation, #voi-e-scooters


All the electric vehicles that stood out at the Shanghai Auto Show

The 19th annual Shanghai Auto Show delivered a bevy of electric and tech-centric vehicles this year. Chinese, European and U.S. automakers showed off their latest offerings in every price segment, from the budget-minded ​​Wuling Hong Guang Mini via a joint venture between SAIC Motor Corp., General Motors Co. and Liuzhou Wuling Motors Co. to the luxury Mercedes EQS  — and everything in between.

Several automakers touted the capabilities of their driver assistance systems, using terminology that suggested they could be autonomous if only regulators allowed it. Let’s be clear, these systems are not autonomous. Other automakers stopped short of those claims, but did publicize the software capabilities of their vehicles — a movement that has been underway since Tesla rose in popularity.

Here’s what caught our eye at the show. Don’t miss TechCrunch’s Rita Liao’s Chinese automotive coverage that also came out of the auto show, including how Tesla is working on vehicles tailored to Chinese consumers as complaints increase about the quality of its electric vehicles.


Audi shared the spotlight with its Chinese partner companies FAW and SAIC this year. The companies showed four world premieres, including the Audi A6 e-tron concept vehicle, an updated Audi Q5L, the Audi A7L and an SUV study, which is still under wraps, named Audi concept Shanghai.

The Audi Q5L SUV will continue to be manufactured in the Changchun plant in the FAW-VW joint venture. Meanwhile, the Audi A7L limousine, which will go into production in 2021, will be manufactured by the SAIC Audi joint venture. The Audi A7L is in Shanghai and reserved for the Chinese market and includes features such as adaptive air suspension, rear-wheel steering and four-wheel drive.

A6 etron

audi a6 etron

An Audi A6 e-tron on display. Image Credits: Wu Kai/VCG via Getty Images

The A6 etron concept is not the A6 with which you might be familiar. This all-electric vehicle is built off of Audi’s “Premium Platform Electric,” or PPE platform, which will be the underlying architecture for its C- and B-segment production cars beginning in late 2022.

The Audi A6 e-tron concept shares the same dimensions as the A6 and that’s about it. The A6 etron is designed as a sportback with a wide coupe roof arch and short overhangs. The large 22-inch wheels complete the look. The A6 e-tron concept is outfitted with two electric motors that can deliver a total output of 350 kW and a torque of 590 pound-feet. The vehicle has 800-volt charging architecture — the same as its Porsche Taycan cousin — with an estimated range of 434 miles based on the WLTP measurement.


Warren Buffet-backed BYD has competed for high sales with Tesla, with units sold increasing steadily on the “Han” series since its launch last year. 


A BYD Han car is on display. Image Credits: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

BYD’s Han flagship series includes three electric vehicles and one hybrid vehicle. Named after China’s Han dynasty, the luxury electric sedan series launched sales last year. BYD’s long-range EV can go for about 375 miles, and the company claims its vehicle’s “blade” battery pack is safer than traditional battery packs.  

Geely Holdings Inc.

The Chinese automotive conglomerate took up a lot of the Shanghai Auto Show floor this year with several of its brands — including a brand new one — on display. Polestar, Volvo Cars, Lynk & Co, Geometry and the new Zeekr brand all brought EVs to the show.

Geometry Pro

Geely Geometry ev

The 几何A-Pro revealed at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Geometry/Geely Holdings

Geely’s mass market brand launched the new extended-range version of its Geometry A vehicle. The so-called Geometry A Pro comes with a 150kW battery and can travel 600 km (372 miles) on a single charge. The brand launched in 2019 and unveiled three models to date. The A and C models are on sale in the Chinese market. The brand has plans to export the Geometry C later this year to select global partners.

Lynk & Co. 05

lynk-and-co-shanghai electric

Image Credits: Geely holdings/Lynk & Co.

The company unveiled their newest plug-in hybrid variant of the Lynk & Co. 05. The company also showcased the Scalable Product Architecture for the first time that will be used by a future Lynk & Co. products to be unveiled later this year with an electrified powertrain.

Polestar 1 Special Edition

polestar lineup shanghai auto show

The lineup of Polestar vehicles at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Polestar/Geely Holdings

The EV performance brand of Volvo, which is owned by Geely, displayed the Polestar 1 hybrid electric and the all-electric Polestar 2. It was the 2021 Special Edition in matte gold that got our attention. Granted this is not an all-electric vehicle, just a hybrid, but this special version is worth noting.

This special edition has a lightweight body made from carbon fiber reinforced polymer, twin rear electric motors with genuine torque vectoring and high-performance components like Akebono brakes and adjustable Öhlins dampers. The vehicle’s powertrain produced 619 hp and 738 lb.-ft. of torque, and a purely electric driving range of 60 miles based on the WLTP standard. The vehicle also features a bespoke matte gold exterior paint job with matching calipers and black wheels

Volvo XC40 Recharge

A Volvo XC40 car is seen during the Shanghai Auto Show on April 20, 2021. Image Credits: Hector RETAMAL / AFP via Getty

The Swedish brand, which plans to only sell pure battery-electric models beginning in 2030, brought its first all-electric vehicle to the show: the XC40 Recharge. The company’s next EV will be the C40, the company announced.

Zeekr 001

Zeekr-electric-shanghai auto

Zeekr revealed its first electric vehicle at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Zeekr/Geely Holdings

And finally, Zeekr brought its flagship (and first) EV called the Zeekr 001. What is a Zeekr? It’s the combination of Z as in Generation Z and “geek,” and its aim is to put software at the forefront.

Zeekr said its cars will also be sold online and through experience centers across China, with plans also to eventually expand to Europe and North America. The Zeekr 001 comes with a dual motor, which sends power to all four wheels — delivering 566 lb-ft. of torque and allowing it to accelerate from 0 to 60mph in less than 4 seconds. The car has a claimed estimated range of more than 700 km (434 miles) on a single charge.

The Zeekr brand said it plans to bring five cars to market in the next five years, all of which will be based on Geely Holdings’ pure electric SEA architecture.


The German automaker showed off several vehicles at the Shanghai Auto Show, notably the EQB and EQS. Both of these all-electric vehicles are part of the company’s growing EQ brand.


Mercedes-Benz's new EQB Shanghai auto show2021

Mercedes-Benz’s new EQB. Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

The German automaker revealed the compact mass-market all-electric SUV at the show. The vehicle, which looks a lot like the GLB, especially the interior, will launch in China this year. A global variant will be produced in Hungary for Europe followed, by the U.S. market launch in 2022.

While there are some obvious links to the internal combustion engine GLB, the EQB does have some differences in the exterior design, including the continuous light strip at front and rear that is consistent with other models in the electric EQ brand. The EQB also has light-alloy wheels in a bi- or tri-color design that come in up to 20 inches in size. Some even have rosé gold-colored or blue decorative trim. Mercedes has not yet revealed details on the powertrain, range or price.



Mercedes EQS 580 4MATIC. Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz held its own world premiere of its EQ brand flagship ahead of the Shanghai Auto Show. The EQS is the first all-electric luxury sedan under the automaker’s new EQ brand. The first models being introduced to the U.S. market will be the EQS 450+ with 329 hp and the EQS 580 4MATIC with 516 hp. This will be an important vehicle for the Chinese market as well.

This all-electric counterpart to the S-Class is loaded with tech. For instance, there are 350 sensors in the vehicle that are used to record distances, speeds and acceleration, lighting conditions, precipitation and temperatures, the occupancy of seats as well as the driver’s blink of an eye or the passengers’ speech. TechCrunch also had a chance to take the EQS for a spin. Here’s what we thought.


Nio revealed the interior of its flagship sedan at the auto show, giving us more details on the ET7 which was initially revealed in January. It also announced it will deploy a total of 100 of its branded power swap stations as well as other infrastructure, including 500 charging stations and more than 10,000 destination chargers in eight provinces in China. 

Nio ET7 shanghai auto show

The Nio ET7 electric sedan at the 2021 Auto Shanghai on Monday, April 19, 2021. Image Credits: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nio ET7

The ET7 is Nio’s electric flagship sedan. The company officially debuted the interior of the vehicle, which it described as a second living space. The interior comes in three earth-tone color schemes: Storm Gray, Sand Brown and Edelweiss White. The company dropped some hints about possible exterior colors, as well, such as Sunrise Beige, Luminous Orange and Arctic Green, in addition to the established Cloud White, Star Gray, Deep Black and Southern Star.

The ET7’s 150kWh battery gives the car a whopping range of 621 miles under China’s NEDC testing protocol. The NEDC testing is notorious for providing optimistic estimates and will likely be much less than that under Europe’s WLTP testing.

Nio also boasted about its so-called NIO Autonomous Driving technology, which it claims will  “gradually deliver the relaxing and safe point-to-point autonomous driving experience in scenarios like an expressway, urban, parking, and battery swap.” That phrasing suggests that this is aspirational and is still squarely under the driver assistance system category. Plus, China regulations require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be able to take control at any time.

Nio is expected to begin production of the ET7 in the coming months, with a launch scheduled for Q1 2022. 


SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co., a joint venture between SAIC Motor Corp., General Motors and Liuzhou Wuling Motors Co. showed off their latest vehicle: the budget-friendly Hong Guang Mini EV that costs less than $5,000.

Hong Guang Mini EV

Wuling Hong Guang Mini electric vehicles, manufactured by SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. Image Credits: Zhe Ji/Getty Images

The Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV, which is also the main photo in this article, is one of the most popular EVs in China this year, with more than 57,000 units sold in February alone, and at $4,230, it’s not hard to see why. The featherweight EV is produced with max efficiency and few parts. A new car is made every minute at the Lizhou, Guangxi factory, and it only takes about four hours to make one from start to finish. The most basic models are truly made for that A to B utility. Both the interior and what’s under the hood make for a very simple, yet functional, vehicle. 

The smooth ride of this adorable mini won’t go faster than 62 miles per hour, and a cap of around 75 to 110 miles of range per charge makes it the perfect car for short trips around urban environments. Upgrading to the $5,600 model includes air conditioning and power windows, which really points to the near Spartan nature of the standard model, which comes with an HVAC ventilation system and a simple radio.


The Japanese automakers said it will introduce 15 all-electric vehicles, including seven Toyota bZ branded models, globally by 2025. The new bZ brand debuted at the Shanghai Auto Show.

Toyota bZ46

The Toyota bZ4X on display during the 19th Shanghai Auto Show on April 20, 2021. Image Credits: (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP via Getty Images)

The Toyota bZ4X is technically just a concept, but its importance shouldn’t be disregarded. The concept, which was revealed at the Shanghai Auto Show, kicks off a new all-electric lineup for Toyota.

Toyota’s new bZ brand — which stands for beyond zero — will have a dedicated underlying platform that can be used with multiple variations in terms of size and design. The company said that since it is difficult to prepare such a wide range of choices by itself, it is jointly developing the series with partners who boast expertise in various fields. Toyota tapped Subaru to develop the bZ4X. BYD, Daihaitsu and Suzuki are other partners in the bZ line.

Toyota plans to produce the Toyota bZ4X in Japan and China said it hopes to begin worldwide sales of the model by the middle of 2022.


The German automaker used the Shanghai Auto Show to reveal its third electric vehicle in its ID brand. And this one is designed specifically for the Chinese market.


Volkswagen ID 6 world premiere

Volkswagen debuted the all-electric ID.6 CROZZ and ID.6 X at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Volkswagen

The VW ID.6 will be available in two versions: The ID.6 CROZZ, which will be manufactured in the north of China and the ID.6 X in the southern part of the country. The ID.6 is VW’s most spacious ID branded model, with room for up to seven people. The vehicle, which is available in four configurations, has a range of up to 588 km (China NEDC).


Xpeng revealed its third vehicle at the Shanghai auto show, one that intends to use lidar in an effort to boost the capabilities of its advanced driver assistance system.

Xpeng P5

Xpeng P5 electric vehicle

The XPeng Inc. P5 electric vehicle at the 2021Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Xpeng P5 is the Chinese automaker’s third vehicle, but it’s among the first to be produced with a built-in lidar sensor. The company says the two sensors, which are built into both sides of the sedan’s front, can detect and identify pedestrians, other cars, cyclists, scooters and more, no matter the weather or darkness.

Xpeng’s chairman and CEO He Xiaopeng called the P5 is its most advanced and technically ambitious model yet.

The lidar sensors combined with software deliver an advanced driver assistance system that the automaker says pushes it toward full automation. While the sensor and software system is robust, the vehicle is not self driving. As TechCrunch’s Liao reported, Xpeng’s Navigation Guided Pilot system is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot and can 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. However, drivers’ hands must remain on the wheel. 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.

#audi, #automotive, #electric-vehicles, #mercedes-eqs, #mercedes-benz, #shanghai-auto-show, #tc, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw-group


BlaBlaCar raises $115 million to build all-in-one travel app

French startup BlaBlaCar has raised a new $115 million funding round (€97 million). While the company is better known for its long distance carpooling marketplace, BlaBlaCar has also added a bus marketplace with the acquisition of Ouibus and an online bus ticketing platform with the acquisition of Busfor.

Existing investor VNV Global is leading the round. Two new investors are also participating — Otiva J/F AB and FMZ Ventures. Otiva J/F AB is a fund created by Avito founders Jonas Nordlander and Filip Engelbert. If you’re not familiar with Avito, they specialize in classified ads for the Russian market. Classified giant and global tech investor Naspers acquired Avito. As for FMZ Ventures, it’s a growth fund created by Michael Zeisser, who previously led investments for Alibaba and was a board member at Lyft and Tripadvisor.

It’s a convertible note, which means that the valuation will depend on the next financial event, such as another fundraising round or an initial public offering. But BlaBlaCar co-founder and CEO Nicolas Brusson consider it as a “pre-IPO convertible” round as BlaBlaCar still has a ton of cash on its bank account.

“We already had a lot of cash before this round and we still have more than €200 million in cash following this funding round,” Brusson told me.

Even if BlaBlaCar doesn’t go public right away (or doesn’t raise), there’s a clause with a time frame. After a while, those $115 million will convert into BlaBlaCar shares at a $2 billion valuation in case there’s no financial event.

BlaBlaCar’s strategy and goal with today’s funding round could be summed up with three pillars — carpooling, buses and aggregation.

Let’s start with carpooling, BlaBlaCar’s core business. The company started 15 years ago with a simple goal — matching empty car seats with passengers going in the same direction. While last year’s lockdown has impacted carpooling, it shouldn’t be compared with trains or flights.

“With our carpooling network, there’s no fixed costs,” Brusson said. So BlaBlaCar isn’t paying to put empty cars on the road as everything is community-powered. But, of course, as BlaBlaCar takes a cut from each transaction, revenue took a hit during last year’s lockdown.

Activity bounced back last summer and it’s been up and down ever since depending on current restrictions. “Car is and will be the universal connector that doesn’t rely on train stations or bus stops,” Brusson said.

The carpooling marketplace will always remain a strong revenue generator. In 2020 alone, BlaBlaCar had 50 million passengers across 22 markets overall. In other words, never bet against carpooling.

For the past few years, BlaBlaCar’s second pillar has been buses. In particular, buses represent a huge opportunity in emerging markets and Eastern Europe.

There are already a ton of buses on the road, you simply can’t buy tickets online. BlaBlaCar’s total addressable market in this category is huge and the company is mostly focused on moving offline supply to its online marketplace.

That’s why the company is also acquiring Octobus, a Ukrainian company working on an inventory management system for bus supply. “It consolidates our tech stack in the region,” Brusson said.

Finally, BlaBlaCar’s third pillar is all about creating loyal users that keep coming back to the platform. The company wants to build a multimodal app where you can find all shared travel — carpooling, buses and soon trains.

The startup will add train operators on its marketplace by the end of 2021 or early 2022. I asked Brusson whether he wanted to build an Omio competitor. Formerly known as GoEuro, Omio lets you book train tickets, bus tickets and flights on a single platform.

BlaBlaCar wants to follow a different strategy. It wants to focus first on a handful of countries so that it can sell everything a local would expect.

Eventually, you could imagine opening the BlaBlaCar app to find the best way to go from A to B. It could involve a train ticket followed by a carpooling ride to reach a tiny town. Or it could mix carpooling with bus rides. Thanks to BlaBlaCar’s reach, the French startup is uniquely positioned to connect two small cities through shared transportation.

#blablacar, #bus, #carpooling, #europe, #france, #france-newsletter, #fundings-exits, #startups, #transportation


Scale AI founder and CEO Alexandr Wang will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9

Last week, Scale AI announced a massive $325 million Series E. Led by Dragoneer, Greenoaks Capital and Tiger Global, the raise gives the San Francisco data labeling startup a $7 billion valuation.

Alexandr Wang founded the company back in 2016, while still at MIT. A veteran of Quora and Addepar, Wang built the startup to curate information for AI applications. The company is now a break-even business, with a wide range of top-notch clients, including General Motors, NVIDIA, Nuro and Zoox.

Backed by a ton of venture capital, the company plans a large-scale increase in its headcount, as it builds out new products and expands into additional markets. “One thing that we saw, especially in the course of the past year, was that AI is going to be used for so many different things,” Wang told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “It’s like we’re just sort of really at the beginning of this and we want to be prepared for that as it happens.”

The executive will join us on stage at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 to discuss how the company has made a major impact on the industry in its short four years of existence, the role AI is playing in the world of transportation and what the future looks like for Scale AI.

In addition to Wang, TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 will feature an incredible lineup of speakers, presentations, fireside chats and breakouts all focused on the current and future state of mobility — like EVs, micromobility and smart cities for starters — and the investment trends that influence them all.

Investors like Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital) — all of whom will grace our virtual stage. They’ll have plenty of insight and advice to share, including the challenges that startup founders will face as they break into the transportation arena.

You’ll hear from CEOs like Starship Technologies’ Ahti Heinla. The company’s been busy testing delivery robots in real-world markets. Don’t miss his discussion touching on challenges ranging from technology to red tape and what it might take to make last-mile robotic delivery a mainstream reality.

Grab your early bird pass today and save $100 on tickets before prices go up in less than a month.

#addepar, #alexandr-wang, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #autotech-ventures, #clara-brenner, #deliv, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #general-motors, #greenoaks-capital, #micromobility, #mit, #nuro, #nvidia, #quora, #rachel-holt, #san-francisco, #scale-ai, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tc-sessions-mobility, #technology, #tiger-global, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital, #wang


Tesla mulls cars tailored to China amid mounting criticisms

Tesla is working on vehicles tailored to Chinese consumers as complaints about the quality of its electric vehicles send shock waves through the internet in the country.

The American EV giant is mulling new products that will be designed from the ground up for China, Grace Tao, a vice president at Tesla, told 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese business news outlet, during the Shanghai auto show this week. The vehicles developed in China will also be sold globally, she added.

At the same auto event on Monday, a woman showed up at Tesla’s booth, climbing atop a Tesla car and shouting allegations of faulty brakes made by the company. The person was later detained for damaging the vehicle, and Tesla said on microblogging platform Weibo that her car had crashed due to exceeding the speed limit, not quality issues.

Nonetheless, the protestor won widespread sympathy when videos of her spread online. Many users joined in to vent about their Tesla problems. Posts with the hashtag “Tesla stand turned into a stage for defending rights” garnered over 220 million views on Weibo within two days.

“We have since the start been willing to work with national and authoritative third-party organizations to thoroughly inspect the issues raised by the public. By doing this, we wish to win assurance and understanding from consumers,” Tesla China said in a statement posted on Weibo in response to the incident.

“But we still haven’t fulfilled this wish, mainly because our ways of communicating with customers may be problematic. Secondly, we indeed can’t decide for our customers how they want to resolve these issues.”

Like in the West, Tesla has fostered a cult-like following in China. And along with Apple, it’s one of the few American tech giants that have gained a firm foothold in China. Last year, Tesla shipped nearly 500,000 vehicles globally and China contributed 20% to its revenues.

But the company also faces mounting competition from Chinese homegrown challengers. Xpeng, Nio, and Li Auto, the well-funded startups, as well as old-school carmakers, with help from high-tech firms like Huawei, are ready to take a slice of Tesla’s market. The designed-in-China vehicles are already finding a spot among the more patriotic crowds.

It doesn’t help that the Chinese government is placing more scrutiny over Tesla. In January, the firm was summoned by local regulators over quality concerns, shortly after it recalled several tens of thousands of vehicles in the country. The government restricted the use of Tesla by military facilities over national security concerns, The Wall Street Journal reported in March. Elon Musk later said his company would be shut down if its cars were used to spy.

#asia, #automotive, #battery-electric-vehicles, #brakes, #cars, #china, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #huawei, #li-auto, #shanghai, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-model-s, #transportation, #xpeng


Huawei is not a carmaker. It wants to be the Bosch of China

One after another, Chinese tech giants have announced their plans for the auto space over the last few months. Some internet companies, like search engine provider Baidu, decided to recruit help from a traditional carmaker to produce cars. Xiaomi, which makes its own smartphones but has stressed for years it’s a light-asset firm making money from software services, also jumped on the automaking bandwagon. Industry observers are now speculating who will be the next. Huawei naturally comes to their minds.

Huawei seems well-suited for building cars — at least more qualified than some of the pure internet firms — thanks to its history in manufacturing and supply chain management, brand recognition, and vast retail network. But the telecom equipment and smartphone maker repeatedly denied reports claiming it was launching a car brand. Instead, it says its role is to be a Tier 1 supplier for automakers or OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).

Huawei is not a carmaker, the company’s rotating chairman Eric Xu reiterated recently at the firm’s annual analyst conference in Shenzhen.

“Since 2012, I have personally engaged with the chairmen and CEOs of all major car OEMs in China as well as executives of German and Japanese automakers. During this process, I found that the automotive industry needs Huawei. It doesn’t need the Huawei brand, but instead, it needs our ICT [information and communication technology] expertise to help build future-oriented vehicles,” said Xu, who said the strategy has not changed since it was incepted in 2018.

There are three major roles in auto production: branded vehicle manufacturers like Audi, Honda, Tesla, and soon Apple; Tier 1 companies that supply car parts and systems directly to carmakers, including established ones like Bosch and Continental, and now Huawei; and lastly, chip suppliers including Nvidia, Intel and NXP, whose role is increasingly crucial as industry players make strides toward highly automated vehicles. Huawei also makes in-house car chips.

“Huawei wants to be the next-generation Bosch,” an executive from a Chinese robotaxi startup told TechCrunch, asking not to be named.

Huawei makes its position as a Tier 1 supplier unequivocal. So far it has secured three major customers: BAIC, Chang’an Automobile, and Guangzhou Automobile Group.

“We won’t have too many of these types of in-depth collaboration,” Xu assured.

L4 autonomy?

Arcfox, a new electric passenger car brand under state-owned carmaker BAIC, debuted its Alpha S model quipped with Huawei’s “HI” systems, short for Huawei Inside (not unlike “Powered by Intel”), during the annual Shanghai auto show on Saturday. The electric sedan, priced between 388,900 yuan and 429,900 yuan (about $60,000 and $66,000), comes with Huawei functions including an operating system driven by Huawei’s Kirin chip, a range of apps that run on HarmonyOS, automated driving, fast charging, and cloud computing.

Perhaps most eye-catching is that Alpha S has achieved Level 4 capabilities, which Huawei confirmed with TechCrunch.

That’s a bold statement, for it means that the car will not require human intervention in most scenarios, that is, drivers can take their hands off the wheels and nap.

There are some nuances to this claim, though. In a recent interview, Su Qing, general manager for autonomous driving at Huawei, said Alpha S is L4 in terms of “experience” but L2 according to “legal” responsibilities. China has only permitted a small number of companies to test autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in restricted areas and is far from letting consumer-grade driverless cars roam urban roads.

As it turned out, Huawei’s “L4” functions were shown during a demo, during which the Arcfox car traveled for 1,000 kilometers in a busy Chinese city without human intervention, though a safety driver was present in the driving seat. Automating the car is a stack of sensors, including three lidars, six millimeter-wave radars, 13 ultrasonic radars and 12 cameras, as well as Huawei’s own chipset for automated driving.

“This would be much better than Tesla,” Xu said of the car’s capabilities.

But some argue the Huawei-powered vehicle isn’t L4 by strict definition. The debate seems to be a matter of semantics.

“Our cars you see today are already L4, but I can assure you, I dare not let the driver leave the car,” Su said. “Before you achieve really big MPI [miles per intervention] numbers, don’t even mention L4. It’s all just demos.”

“It’s not L4 if you can’t remove the safety driver,” the executive from the robotaxi company argued. “A demo can be done easily, but removing the driver is very difficult.”

“This technology that Huawei claims is different from L4 autonomous driving,” said a director working for another Chinese autonomous vehicle startup. “The current challenge for L4 is not whether it can be driverless but how to be driverless at all times.”

L4 or not, Huawei is certainly willing to splurge on the future of driving. This year, the firm is on track to spend $1 billion on smart vehicle components and tech, Xu said at the analyst event.

A 5G future

Many believe 5G will play a key role in accelerating the development of driverless vehicles. Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom equipment maker, would have a lot to reap from 5G rollouts across the globe, but Xu argued the next-gen wireless technology isn’t a necessity for self-driving vehicles.

“To make autonomous driving a reality, the vehicles themselves have to be autonomous. That means a vehicle can drive autonomously without external support,” said the executive.

“Completely relying on 5G or 5.5G for autonomous driving will inevitably cause problems. What if a 5G site goes wrong? That would raise a very high bar for mobile network operators. They would have to ensure their networks cover every corner, don’t go wrong in any circumstances and have high levels of resilience. I think that’s simply an unrealistic expectation.”

Huawei may be happy enough as a Tier 1 supplier if it ends up taking over Bosch’s market. Many Chinese companies are shifting away from Western tech suppliers towards homegrown options in anticipation of future sanctions or simply to seek cheaper alternatives that are just as robust. Arcfox is just the beginning of Huawei’s car ambitions.

#apple, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #audi, #automotive, #bosch, #china, #continental, #eric-xu, #harmony, #harmonyos, #honda, #huawei, #intel, #nvidia, #nxp, #operating-system, #shanghai, #shenzhen, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #tesla, #transportation, #wireless-technology, #xiaomi


No one behind the wheel in deadly Tesla crash Saturday night, say authorities

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is opening an investigation into a crash involving a Tesla that authorities say was operating with no one behind the wheel, which left two men dead on late Saturday evening outside of Houston.

The 2019 Tesla Model S went off the road after it failed to negotiate a slight curve, local CBS-affiliate KHOU-TV reported. Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told local reporters that the accident was unprecedented.

“Our office has never experienced a crash scene like this,” he said. “Normally, when the fire dept arrives, they have a vehicle fire under control in minutes, but this went on for close to four hours.” The long burn time was reportedly due to the electric vehicle batteries repeatedly reigniting.

More than 30,000 gallons of water were used to put out the fire. One of the victims was in the front passenger seat and the other was in the backseat, “and at the time of the accident there was no one in the [driver’s] seat,” Herman said.

Earlier on the day of the crash, Tesla CEO Elon Musk retweeted news that the company released its first-quarter 2021 safety report. “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle,” he said. Tesla describes its Autopilot as a “suite of driver assistance features” and states that it requires “active driver supervision.”

“NHTSA is aware of the tragic crash involving a Tesla vehicle outside of Houston, Texas,” an spokesperson told TechCrunch. “NHTSA has immediately launched a Special Crash Investigation team to investigate the crash. We are actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when we have more information.”

TechCrunch reached out to Tesla for comment and will update the story if the company responds.

#adas, #automotive, #autopilot, #elon-musk, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-model-s, #transportation


AutoX partners with Arbe to bring ultra-high resolution radars to its autonomous vehicle fleet

Tel Aviv-based ultra-high resolution radar startup Arbe Robotics has a new customer: Chinese autonomous driving company AutoX, which has procured 400,000 Arbe-based radar systems to go in its Level 4 fleet.

The companies said in a statement that Arbe’s platform addresses “core issues” that have been the source of recent AV motor accidents, such as correctly identifying vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians, detecting stationary objects, and removing false alarms caused by ambiguities in the radar image.

It does so using proprietary 2K-resolution, 30 frames per second imaging technology, that the company says is 100 times more detailed than any other radar currently on the market.

Arbe already has partnerships with five tier one automotive supplier customers, and with chipmaker NVIDIA, CEO Kobi Marenko said in a recent webcast. He further added that the company has two additional purchase orders from an unnamed delivery robot company and from “one of the largest car companies in the world.”

AutoX, whose backers include Alibaba, Shanghai Motors and MediaTek, has been at the forefront of AV deployment in China. It was the first company in China to test AVs on public roads without safety drivers, in Shenzhen, one of the country’s largest cities and the location of the company’s headquarters. And it launched a self-driving taxi service, RoboTaxi, in Shanghai.

AutoX was also awarded a permit in California to start driverless testing without a human safety driver, the third company after Waymo and Nuro to have landed such a permit.

The partnership was announced just weeks after Tel Aviv-based Arbe said it would go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Industrial Tech Acquisitions, at an equity valuation of $722 million. The move was supported by a $100 million PIPE )private investment in public equity) from investors that include M&G Investment Management, Varana Capital, Texas Ventures and Eyal Waldman.

Markenko estimated during the webcast that Arbe’s revenue will only be $7 million in 2021, so investors are clearly bullish on the company’s technology. To that point, Markenko said he expects to exceed $300 million in revenue in 2025 — a 4,185% increase in just four years.

#arbe, #arbe-robotics, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #autox, #radar, #tc, #transportation


The Station: A chat with Scale AI’s Alexandr Wang, the NYC scooter winners and TuSimple goes public

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hi there, new and returning readers. This is The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

Just as I was getting ready to ship this newsletter, I spotted that there was a fatal crash involving a Tesla, in which no one was in the driver’s seat. There was an individual in the passenger seat and one in the rear. Both men died. Follow @KPRC2Deven, the Houston reporter who broke this story over the weekend, to keep up with the latest. Once again, Tesla vehicles are not self driving. 

One more thing: I will not have a newsletter next week. Don’t be sad! We’ll be back the following week.

My email inbox is always open. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.


Welp. I was only partially right about the e-scooter pilot in New York City. On Wednesday, Lime (as I predicted), Bird and Veo were officially chosen to kick off the city’s first foray into the world of shared electric scooters. Equity, accessibility and proven capabilities of keeping those pesky vehicles off of sidewalks were top priorities for the NYC Department of Transportation. Each company will be releasing 1,000 e-scooters into parts of the east Bronx, with more to come in the second phase expanding further into the borough.

The process of gaining this small sliver of the Big Apple has been very competitive. City concessions are a hot commodity, and winning New York is perceived to be, in technical terms, a big deal. The operators that hit the mean streets of New York have the potential to survive as the rideshare industry continues to consolidate under two-wheeled micromobility giants. But there is something a little bit anticlimactic about the news. Not to knock the Bronx, but dockless e-scooters are needed and could be of use citywide. One has to wonder how much influence Lyft-owned Citi Bike has over where e-scooter companies get to operate.

The 2018 legislation that allowed for the e-scooter pilot in the first place very clearly stipulates that pilot zones would be prioritized based, in large part, on areas of the city that don’t have access to docked bike shares, which basically means areas that don’t have access to Citi Bike. And the pilot zone in the Bronx doesn’t extend into areas in the South Bronx where Citi Bike plans to expand. I guess we’ll see how it goes after the first year.

Let’s talk about Europe

Electric bikes and scooters are barely legal in Ireland, but Tier is already preparing for more regulation. The Berlin-based e-scooter company has partnered with the Irish micromobility tech platform Luna, the Insight SFO Centre for Data Analytics, and Smart DCU to create a new AI-powered e-scooter trial that’ll launch on Dublin City University campuses as soon as the ink on the bill legalizing e-scooters dries.

The fleet of 30 computer vision-enabled scooters will allow Insight researchers to analyze a new, ever-growing dataset. Luna’s tech will allow the scooters to roll out with pedestrian and lane identification, making them as safe as the Irish government could possibly hope for.

Meanwhile in France, the government is moving closer to being the first country in the world to offer people the chance to trade in clunkers for an electric or folding bicycle. Owners that scrap their yucky old ICE cars can get a €2,500 rebate to buy a bike with the money. The National Assembly just approved the measure in a preliminary vote.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Ok, I know we had Grab as deal of the week in the last edition of The Station, but now we have a finalized deal and it’s a lot bigger than expected.

Ride-hailing, delivery and super app” company Grab finally and officially announced plans to go public. Grab, which operates in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, merged with special purpose acquisition company Altimeter Growth Corp. The merger would value Grab at $39.6 billion and the company would keep $4.5 billion in cash. Importantly, Altimeter agreed to a three-year lockup period for its sponsor shares.

Grab has aspirations for the capital that the public markets provide. The company thinks there’s still a lot of room to grow when it comes to food delivery and on-demand mobility in Southeast Asia. It expects to see the total addressable market jump from $52 billion to $180 billion by 2025.

As part of the announcement, Grab shared some metrics and some big numbers. In 2020, the company managed to generate around $12.5 billion in gross merchandise value, TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet reported.

Other deals that got my attention … 

Battery Resourcers, a startup that has a “closed loop” process to turn recycled battery material into nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes to sell back to battery manufacturers, raised in a $20 million Series B equity round led by Orbia Ventures, with injections from At One Ventures, TDK Ventures, TRUMPF Venture, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures and InMotion Ventures. Battery Resourcers CEO Mike O’Kronley declined to disclose the company’s new valuation.

Cruise, the autonomous vehicle company aiming to deploy robotaxis in San Francisco and Dubai, added Walmart as an investor in an extended fundraising round that has grown to $2.75 billion. The company said it has a post-money valuation of more than $30 billion. Walmart and several unnamed institutional investors added capital to a $2 billion equity round announced back in January that was led by Microsoft.

Clearcover, the digital car insurance startup, raised $200 million as part of a late-stage financing round led by Eldridge, the investment firm helmed by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Todd Boehly, Reuters reported.

Dat Bike, a Vietnamese startup with ambitions to become the top electric motorbike company in Southeast Asia, raised $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding led by Jungle Ventures. Dat Bike’s selling point is its ability to compete with gas motorbikes in terms of pricing and performance. Its new funding is the first time Jungle Ventures has invested in the mobility sector, and included participation from Wavemaker Partners, Hustle Fund and iSeed Ventures.

Oxbotica, a U.K. startup that develops autonomous driving systems took on online grocer Ocado as a new investor. Ocado, which took a $13.8 million stake in the AV startup, is treating this as a strategic investment to develop AI-powered, self-driving systems that will work across its operations, from vehicles within and around its packing warehouses through to the last-mile vehicles that deliver grocery orders to people’s homes, TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden reported.

Polestar, Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand, has raised $550 million in its first external round led by Chongqing Chengxing Equity Investment Fund Partnership, Zibo Financial Holding and Zibo Hightech Industrial Investment. SK Inc., the South Korean global conglomerate, and a range of other investors also participated.

TuSimple debuted on the public market this week. The company raised a bit more than $1 billion in its IPO, selling shares at $40. I interviewed the CEO Cheng Lu, so keep an eye out for that article in the next few days.

Xwing scored another win two months after it completed its first gate-to-gate autonomous demonstration flight of a commercial cargo aircraft. The company announced it raised $40 million at a post-money valuation of $400 million.

Scale AI’s Alexandr Wang

Alexandr Wang, co-founder and chief executive officer of Scale AI Inc., stands for a photograph after a Bloomberg Technology television interview in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. Wang spoke about how Scale AI is using artificial intelligence to improve the safety of self-driving cars. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Alexandr Wang, co-founder and chief executive officer of Scale AI. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Scale AI, the data labeling startup that essentially sells the picks and shovels needed to develop and apply artificial intelligence, closed a $155 million round  back in December. Just after that round closed, more investors came calling co-founder and CEO Alexandr Wang told me in a recent interview. 

The upshot? A $325 million Series E funding round co-led by Dragoneer, Greenoaks Capital and Tiger Global at a valuation of more than $7 billion — double what it was four months ago. Additional new investors Wellington Management and Durable Capital joined existing investors Coatue, Index, Founders Fund and YC. Jeff Wilke, former CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer business, will be joining as advisor to Wang.

“Investors, I think are really ready to go all in on AI and you’re seeing that just across the board in terms of investments,” Wang said. “A lot of that is because, I think AI as an industry is really going from something that’s been more research based and theoretical to one that’s really rooted in impact and real business results.”

Wang said the company, which got its start serving the autonomous vehicle industry, is seeing an increase in demand for its product from a broad swath of industries, including the government. Its customers now include fintech companies like Brex, PayPal and Square, e-commerce businesses Etsy, Instacart and Pinterest, transportation and logistics companies Flexport, GM, Luminar, Oshkosh as well government agencies such as the Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force.

Wang said they’ve also noticed this “incredible pickup” from its customers to view Scale AI as a full stack infrastructure provider and a full stack AI partner, rather than just a data lake provider. “That’s been another big evolution that is that a lot of our investors are really excited about.

And finally, I asked Wang if we should expect an IPO or another fundraising round soon. He didn’t quite answer my question. But here’s what he did say:

“I think our goal is to build a super sustainable business where we don’t need to keep raising outside capital and so our intent is certainly not to not to have to keep raising money to operate the business, and in fact I think historically we’ve always operated really efficiently,” Wang said. “I think the idea is that we as a business, we don’t really need to keep raising outside capital, beyond this.”

Policy corner

the station electric vehicles1

Hey there! TechCrunch reporter Aria Alamalhodaei loves some good wonky policy. And so periodically — like today! — she will bring us transportation-related policy updates.

EV manufacturers have been waging legislative battles in multiple states over the ability to sell directly to customers, rather than at established franchise dealerships. It’s a privilege that’s been held to this point only by Tesla, and even then only in select states. (TechCrunch covered the issue a few weeks ago.) But there are signs that the fight may be turning into something larger.

A senior representative from one of the country’s largest automaker lobbying groups, Alliance for Automaker Innovation — which has until this point been fighting EV makers’ push to direct sell, in step with dealership groups — made a major pivot from this stance. Alliance’s Wayne Weikel told Vermont lawmakers during a hearing of one of the state’s legislative committees that it is Alliance’s position in Vermont that the state should consider allowing automakers to sell directly to customers — all automakers.

This is a major break from the group’s established position, which is defending dealers’ monopoly on selling cars in every other state where direct sales legislation is being considered. It’s unclear why the group has broken ranks in Vermont only, or if they’ll be doing so in any other state.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that things will be changing anytime soon, and certainly not in all fifty states. The direct sales bills in Washington and Georgia were both killed this legislative session, for example. A source close to the issue noted to TechCrunch that Washington’s Rep. Amy Walen (D), the Vice Chair of the House Consumer Protection and Business Committee (which heard the bill), is herself an auto dealer — the owner of Hyundai of Kirkland. The same is true of a legislator in Idaho, Rep. Jim Addis, who is part of a committee hearing the direct sales bill in that state.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Oh and one more thing, from TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan …

Remember the bill that California state Senator Dave Min introduced last month that would require all AVs in the state to be zero-emission by 2025? Well, the bill has cleared the California Senate Transportation Committee. The language has been reworked a bit.

Now the bill would require all light-duty autonomous vehicles to be zero emission by 2027. The previous language hadn’t stipulated a type of self-driving vehicle, which could have had massive consequences on industries planning on heavy-duty AVs like autonomous trucking. While the bill still has a ways to go before it’s on Governor Newsom’s desk, it’s in line with the state’s goals to reduce emissions.

Notable reads and other tidbits


Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles

Argo AI will be releasing its Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment — the official jargon in government speak for what can be described as its safety report — on Monday. But here at The Station, you can see it first. I haven’t done a super close read yet, but check out page 30 for the description on perception and a few pages later, how their self-driving system handles ambiguous situations.

Cruise announced it struck a deal to launch a robotaxi service in Dubai in 2023. This announcement felt like a distraction and has me wondering when Cruise is going to make — and show — technical progress with its autonomous vehicle deployment efforts in San Francisco, the market it has been aiming for all these years. Cruise said the robotaxi service in Dubai will use the Cruise Origin, the all-electric shuttle-like vehicle that has no steering wheel or pedals and is designed to travel at highway speeds.

Intel subsidiary Mobileye struck a deal with Udelv to supply its self-driving system to thousands of purpose-built autonomous delivery vehicles. The companies said they plan to put more than 35,000 autonomous vehicles, dubbed Transporters, on city streets by 2028. Commercial operations are slated to begin in 2023. It’s worth noting that Udelv was once developing its own self-driving system, but has now ditched that in favor of Mobileye’s SDS.

Nuro, the autonomous delivery vehicle company, will soon be delivering Domino’s pizza in parts of Houston. (Please welcome your new pizza overlords.) On certain days and times, customers who prepay online can choose to have the bot R2 drop their pizzas off. They’ll receive a text when the robot is outside and will be given an access code to open the bot’s chamber and release hot cheesy goodness into their hands.

WeRide, the Chinese autonomous vehicle startup that recently raised $310 million, received a permit to test driverless vehicles (meaning without a human safety driver behind the wheel) on public roads in San Jose, California. WeRide is the seventh company, following AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro Waymo and Zoox, to receive a driverless testing permit. The permit only allows for two driverless vehicles.

Electric vehicles

GM and LG Chem announced plans to build a second U.S. battery cell factory — a $2.3 billion facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee that will supply the automaker with the cells needed for the 30 electric vehicle models it plans to launch by mid decade.

QuantumScape, the solid state battery company, filed a document with the SEC that caught my attention. Celina Mikolajczak has joined its board. Why does that matter? Mikolajczak is the Vice President of Engineering and Battery Technology at Panasonic Energy of North America and prior to that was senior manager, cell quality and materials engineering at Tesla.

Rivian, the Amazon-backed EV manufacturer aiming to bring an electric pickup to market later this year, has partnered with Samsung SDI as its battery cell supplier. The two companies did not disclose the value of the deal or its term length, but in a statement Rivian said it had been working with Samsung SDI “throughout the vehicle development process.”

Tesla’s lawsuit against Dr. Guangzhi Cao is over. For the unfamiliar, Tesla had accused Cao, a former employee, of stealing source code from its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system and sharing it with XMotors, the U.S. unit of Chinese EV maker Xpeng, where he had taken a new job. A U.S. district court filing dated April 15 said the matter had been settled. Cao no longer works at XMotors.

Here’s the statement from XMotors, which was never made a party to the lawsuit.

After over two years of extensive discovery, including against XMotors, Tesla has failed to find any substantive evidence that supports its allegations and innuendos against XMotors. Tesla has failed to show any credible evidence that XMotors ever possessed, let alone used, any Tesla information from Dr. Cao.

Tesla has finally dismissed its claims and stopped its search for evidence that does not exist.

Technology innovation is at core of our foundation and strategy. In our pursuit of popularizing smart EVs, we respect any competition; however, we will not tolerate any bullying behavior or attempt to disrupt competitors. XMotors fully respects intellectual property rights, and bases its own competitive edge on its in-house-developed proprietary R&D and intellectual property.

TezLab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, pushed out a new feature this week that shows the energy mix — breaking down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy — coming from charging locations, including Superchargers and third-party networks throughout the United States.


NFT Inc., a relatively unknown drive-and-fly vehicle startup, is betting it will succeed where its rivals have failed, with preorders opening for ASKA, its first electric flying car. The SUV-sized ASKA ( which means “flying bird” in Japanese) may be better described as a plane that drives, rather than a car that flies. Even when its six rotors are folded closed, the vehicle has the unmistakable look of a flying craft, with a helicopter-esque bubble front window and a distinct tail that would be familiar to anyone who has flown on an airplane. Important note: ASKA isn’t anticipated to be delivered until 2026.

In-car tech

Apex.AI, a startup founded by Bosch veterans and automated systems engineers Jan Becker and Dejan Pangercic, has spent four years rewriting the robot operating system that will give automakers the tools to integrate software within the vehicle and make sure all the applications run reliably. Now, freshly armed with a safety certification that validates its software development kit (SDK) is sophisticated enough to be used in production vehicles, Apex.AI has landed Toyota and Japanese tech startup Tier IV as partners.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company executives warned that the global semiconductor shortage, which has produced production slowdowns at Ford and General Motors, may drag on into 2022. TSMC CEO C.C. Wei pointed to the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as “geopolitical tensions” as reasons for the prolonged shortage in an investor call. TSMC, one of the world’s largest chip manufacturers, supplies chips for a wide range of products including smartphones, high-performing computers, and Internet of Things. Automotive sales accounted for 4% of their first-quarter revenue, which may not seem like much — but that’s a 31% increase quarter-over-quarter. (Aria Alamaldohaei)

Ford will debut its new hands-free driving feature (nope this doesn’t belong in the AV section) on the 2021 F-150 pickup truck and certain 2021 Mustang Mach-E models through a software update later this year. The automaker is aiming to compete with similar systems from Tesla and GM.

That hands-free capability uses cameras, radar sensors and software to provide a combination of adaptive cruise control, lane centering and speed-sign recognition. The system also has an in-cabin camera that monitors eye gaze and head position to help ensure the driver’s eyes remain on the road.

Mercedes-Benz lifted the final veil on its flagship EQS sedan after weeks of teasers, announcements and even a pre-production drive in which TechCrunch participated. (The company also released a 62-page press release alongside the reveal). There is a ton of the tech crammed into this vehicle from the microsleep warning system and 56-inch hyperscreen to the monster HEPA air filter and the software that intuitively learns the driver’s wants and needs. Oh, and 350 sensors used to record distances, speeds and accelerations, lighting conditions, precipitation and temperatures, the occupancy of seats as well as the driver’s blink of an eye or the passengers’ speech.


Uber appears to have lost another legal battle in Europe. Labor activists challenging Uber over what they allege are ‘robo-firings’ of drivers in Europe have trumpeted winning a default judgement in the Netherlands — where the Court of Amsterdam ordered the ride-hailing giant to reinstate six drivers who the litigants claim were unfairly terminated “by algorithmic means.” The court also ordered Uber to pay the fired drivers compensation.

In other Uber-related news … Uber’s transit SaaS program is expanding in partnership with three new agencies in Denver, Cecil County, Maryland and Porterville, California. Uber Transit already has deals with Marin Transit in California and Cape May County in New Jersey.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

The TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event, which is scheduled for June 9,  will be virtual again — as I mentioned last week. I’ll provide updates each week as we announce speakers.

This week, I want to point your attention to a panel I put together that will focus on mobility, profitability and equity. Here are the questions we hope to address: can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

We are bringing together three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility to help us answer those questions — community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Other guests to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, as well as Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gm, #mercedes-benz, #rivian, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation


Volvo to supply Chinese ride hailing giant Didi with autonomous driving cars

As the autonomous driving race in China heats up, Didi is rushing to expand its car fleets by picking Swedish automaker Volvo, an old partner of Uber, as its ally.

Didi said on Monday it will be using the XC90 SUVs of Volvo, which has been owned by Chinese auto company Geely since 2010, for its network of robotaxis in the long term. Didi created a subsidiary dedicated to autonomous driving last year and the unit has since raised about $800 million from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund and IDG Capital. The subsidiary now has over 500 employees.

Didi started out as a ride-share app in 2012 and gobbled up Uber China in 2016. It now offers a range of mobility services including taxi hailing, ride-hailing, carpooling, shared bikes and scooters, as well as financial services for drivers. The company is seeking a valution north of $100 billion in an initial public offering, Reuters reported last month.

Didi’s autonomous driving arm has been testing robotaxis for the past two years in China and the United States, but Volvo’s XC90 model will be the first to adopt Didi’s freshly minted self-driving hardware system called Gemini, which contains sensors like short, mid and long-range lidars, radars, cameras, a thermal imager; a fallback system; and remote assistance through 5G networks.

Didi said that its Gemini platform, coupled with Volvo’s backup functions including steering, braking and electric power, will eventually allow its robotaxis to remove safety drivers. If any of the primary systems fails during a ride, Volvo’s backup systems can act to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

Didi is competing against a clutch of well-funded robotaxi startups in China, such as Pony.ai and WeRide, which are busy tesing in major Chinese cities and California while splurging on R&D expenses to reach Level 4 driving. AutoX, another Chinese robotaxi company, announced last week that it will be using Honda’s Accord and Inspire sedans for its test drives in China. The edge of Didi, some suggest, is the mountains of driving data accumulated from its ride-hailing business spanning Asia, Latin America, Africa and Russia.

Rising electric automakers like Nio and Xpeng have also joined in the race to automate vehicles, making bold claims that they, too, will be able to remove safety drivers soon. Meanwhile, traditional car manufacturers don’t want to fall behind. BAIC, a state-owned enterprise, for instance, is adding Huawei’s advanced automation system and smart cockpit to its new electric passenger cars.

#accord, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #autox, #china, #didi, #idg-capital, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #transportation, #uber, #volvo, #volvo-cars, #xpeng


Gett inks deal with Curb Mobility to bring yellow cabs to its enterprise-focused on-demand ride-hailing app

Gett, the ride-hailing startup that has been carving out a niche for itself in a crowded and competitive market for on-demand transportation by focusing on enterprise accounts and connecting people with rides in some 1,500 cities leveraging a number of third-party fleets, is adding another partner today as it continues to double down on its business model in the wake of corporate travel slowly coming back online.

Gett has inked a deal to integrate Curb Mobility to integrate yellow taxis into Gett’s app, which will now cover some 65 cities across the US. The news is coming at a time when Gett is looking to expand its service to meet more demand: it notes that rides currently at around 80% of the levels they were in Q1 2020, just ahead of Covid-19 really descending on the western world.

From what we understand, the deal does not involve any investment between Gett — which has raised around $865 million to date (including most recently closing a $115 million round) and was last valued at $1.5 billion in 2019 — and Curb — which is a part of Verifone, after the payments hardware company acquired it in 2015.

(If you think it sounds odd for a payments hardware company to own a taxi fleet app, this is only part of Curb’s business and is in fact also a hardware player: in addition to Curb providing a way to hail yellow taxis — it app covers some 50,000 cabs and 100,000 drivers — the company also builds hardware for cabs and fleet operations, including metering apps, payment terminals, and those interactive screens for passengers that let them pay for rides, watch news and advertisements and more.)

To differentiate its service from the very highly capitalized Ubers and Lyfts of the world, Gett has been building out a two-pronged strategy that covers both how it scales, and the services that it provides to its users.

On the scaling front, Gett has been moving away from managing fleets of contractor drivers in the US for some years now: back in 2019, after slogging it out for years against Lyft and Uber in its primary New York metro market, Gett effectively shut down its main fleet operation in the region and instead inked a deal with Lyft. That has become a template of sorts that the company has been repeating in other cities outside of the U.S. where it doesn’t have substantial market share. (For example, Ola is another Gett partner.) In some cities where it has a larger footprint, like London and Moscow, Gett works with drivers directly.

Partner fleets made up one-third of Gett’s business in the first quarter of this year, but as Gett brings on more to its network, it expects partner fleets to cover the majority of its rides by the end of this year, the company said.

On the service front, Gett has made a big bet on building a platform that integrates with businesses at the back end to make it easier to order rides and for them to reconcile more easily with a businesses expense management and accounting software. Gett’s big pitch to would-be customers is that this software makes it less expensive and significantly more efficient to hail a cab using Gett compared to the alternatives — for starters users can compare different prices from different providers — and it gives users significantly more choice.

“Today’s partnership cements Gett’s position as a technology platform focused on corporate Ground Transportation Management (GTM), where spend is worth $79.6 billion globally,” said Dave Waiser, CEO and co-founder of Gett, in a statement. “In recent years, we have become the GTM category leader, serving over a quarter of Fortune 500 companies.”

On the part of Curb, it gives drivers using its software another link through to an app that might bring in more business at a time when riders have more choice than ever before, covering not just other on-demand car apps, but eco-friendly, exercise-ready, and traffic-busting options like e-bikes, scooters and shared rides. As the profile of the average corporate user changes and gets younger, that too will change the expectations many of them will have for what constitutes a preferred set of ground transportation options, depending on the situation.

“As cities across the U.S. prepare for the return of international travel, our partnership with Gett will create new income opportunities for local drivers and ensure Gett’s business users have access to the same safe, reliable transportation options trusted by locals,” said Amos Tamam, CEO at Curb. “By integrating with platforms like Gett, we’re aiming to make taxis more ubiquitous online by opening up new digital avenues for today’s consumers and businesses to find and book taxis.”

#gett, #tc, #transportation, #verifone


Tesla owners can now see how much solar or coal is powering their EVs

Tesla owners can now see exactly what kind of energy is powering their electric vehicles. TezLab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, pushed out a new feature this week that shows the energy mix — breaking down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy — coming from charging locations, including Superchargers and third-party networks throughout the United States.

“We’re tracking the origin of data as it relates to energy, so we know if you’re in Tucson or Brooklyn (or any location) where the energy is coming from and what the mix of that energy looks like,” Ben Schippers, the CEO and co-founder of TezLab explained in a recent interview. “As a result, we can see how much carbon is being pushed out into the atmosphere based on your charge, whether you’re charging at home, or whether you’re charging at a Supercharger.”

ElectricityMap, a project from Tomorrow, provided the energy data, which TezLab then folded into its consumer-facing app. Once downloaded, the app knows when and where a Tesla owner is plugging in. The energy mix feature builds off of an existing program on the app that gave owners more general information on how dirty or clean their charge is.

Image Credits: TezLab

Take Tesla’s Linq High Roller Supercharger in Las Vegas, a V3 Supercharger that is supposed to support a peak rate of up to 250 kilowatts and has been heralded for its use of Tesla solar panels and its Powerpack batteries to generate and store the power needed to operate the chargers.

According to TezLab’s data, 1.7% of the energy is from solar. The primary source of renewable energy is actually hydro at 65.6% — courtesy of the Hoover Dam. The remaining energy mix from the Supercharger is about 33% natural gas.

Tesla’s Supercharger in Hawthorne, California, which was one of the first to have solar panels, has an energy mix of 0.2% solar, 5.5% nuclear,13.3% natural gas, 27% coal and 49.9% wind.

The top 10 “cleanest” Superchargers — a list that includes Centralia, Leavenworth, Moses Lake and Seattle, Washington — achieved that goal thanks to hydroelectric power. Superchargers with the most solar energy are all located in the same power grid in California. Superchargers in Barstow, Oxnard, Cabazon, San Diego, Mojave, Inyokern, San Mateo, Seaside and Santa Ana, California all have 22.7% solar and 15% wind energy. The remaining mix at these locations is 0.2% battery storage, 2.9% biomass, 5.6% geothermal, 6.3% hydro, 6.6% nuclear and 40% natural gas.

TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups. HFC’s engineers, including co-founders Schippers (who is now chairman of the company’s board) and William Schenk, were attracted to Tesla largely because of its software-driven approach. The group was particularly intrigued at the opportunity created by the openness of the Tesla API. The Tesla API is technically private. But the endpoints are accessible to outsiders. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

TezLab launched in 2018 with some initial features that let owners track their efficiency, total trip miles and use it to control certain functions of the vehicle, such as locking and unlocking the doors and heating and air conditioning. More features have been added, mostly focused on building community, including one that allows Tesla owners to rate Supercharger stations.

All of that data is aggregated and anonymous. TezLab has said it won’t sell that data. It does post on its website insights gleaned from that data, such as a breakdown of model ownership, the average trip length and average time between plugging in.

As other electric vehicles come to market, TezLab is adding those to the app, including the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #greentech, #model-3, #model-s, #tc, #tesla, #tezlab, #transportation


GM’s second $2.3B battery plant with LG Chem to open in late 2023

GM and LG Chem announced Friday plans to build a second U.S. battery cell factory — a $2.3 billion facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee that will supply the automaker with the cells needed for the 30 electric vehicle models it plans to launch by mid decade.

Construction on the plant, which is located next to GM’s existing Spring Hill factory, will begin immediately, the company’s CEO and Chairman Mary Barra said in a press conference. The battery factory, which is expected to be complete by late 2023, and create 1,300 jobs.

Once fully operational, the joint venture’s two battery factories will have production capacity of more than 70 gigawatt hours, which LG Chem Energy Solutions CEO Jong Hyun Kim noted is two times bigger than the Tesla gigafactory in Nevada. Tesla’s factory in Sparks, Nevada, which is part of a partnership with Panasonic, has a 35 GW-hour capacity.

The foundation of GM’s shift to EVs is its Ultium platform, and the Ultium lithium-ion batteries, which will be built at the Spring Hill factory. These new batteries will use less of the rare earth material cobalt and feature a single common cell design that can be configured more efficiently for higher energy density and a smaller space than our current batteries, Barra said.

“This versatility means we can put more battery power into a wider variety of vehicles, and at a better price for customers,” Barra said. “It’s truly a revolution in electric vehicle technology that will help democratize EV ownership for millions of customers, which will change lives and change the world.”

GM has used LG Chem as a lithium-ion and electronics supplier for at least a decade. The companies began working together in 2009. That relationship deepened as GM developed and then launched the Chevy Bolt EV.  In 2019, GM and LG Chem formed a joint venture to mass produce battery cells as the automaker began to shift towards more electric vehicles. The two companies said at the time that they would invest up to a total of $2.3 billion into the new joint venture and establish a battery cell assembly plant on a greenfield manufacturing site in the Lordstown area of Northeast Ohio that will create more than 1,100 new jobs.

Steel construction began in July 2020 on the Ultium Cells LLC battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, a nearly 3-million-square-foot factory that will mass produce Ultium battery cells and packs. The Lordstown factory will be able produce 30 gigawatts hours of capacity annually.

The batteries produced at the Lordstown factory along with GM’s underlying electric architecture will be used in a broad range of products across its Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and GMC brands, as well as the Cruise Origin autonomous shuttle that was revealed in January 2020. The Cadillac Lyriq EV flagship and an all-electric GMC Hummer, which will be revealed this fall and go into production in the fourth quarter of 2021, will use the Ultium battery system. GM plans to reveal the Lyriq at a virtual event August 6.

This modular architecture, called “Ultium,” (same as the battery) will be capable of 19 different battery and drive unit configurations, 400-volt and 800-volt packs with storage ranging from 50 kWh to 200 kWh, and front, rear and all-wheel drive configurations. At the heart of the new modular architecture will be the large-format pouch battery cells manufactured at this new factory.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #lg-chem, #tc, #transportation


Oxbotica raises $13.8M from Ocado to build autonomous vehicle tech for the online grocer’s logistics network

Ocado, the UK online grocer that has been making strides reselling its technology to other grocery companies to help them build and run their own online ordering-and-delivery operations, is making an investment today into what it believes will be the next stage of development of that business: the company is taking a £10 million ($13.8 million) stake in Oxbotica, a UK startup that develops autonomous driving systems.

Ocado is treating this as a strategic investment to develop autonomous systems that will work across its operations, from vehicles within and around its packing warehouses through to the last-mile vehicles that deliver grocery orders to people’s homes. It says it expects the first products to come out of this deal — likely in closed environments like warehouses rather than open streets — to be online in two years.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Oxbotica to develop a wide range of autonomous solutions that truly have the potential to transform both our and our partners’ CFC [customer fulfillment centers] and service delivery operations, while also giving all end customers the widest range of options and flexibility,” said Alex Harvey, chief of advanced technology at Ocado, in a statement.

The investment is coming as an extension to Oxbotica’s Series B that it announced in January, bringing the total size of the round — which was led by bp ventures, the investing arm of oil and gas giant bp, and also included BGF, safety equipment maker Halma, pension fund HostPlus, IP Group, Tencent, Venture Science and funds advised by Doxa Partners — to over $60 million.

The timing of the news is very interesting. It comes just one day (less than 24 hours in fact) after Walmart in the US took a stake in Cruise, another autonomous tech company, as part of recent $2.75B monster round. Walmart owns one of Ocado’s big competitors in the UK, ASDA; and Ocado recently made its first forays into the US, by way of its deal to power Kroger’s delivery. So it seems that competition between these two is heating up on the food front.

More generally, there has been a huge surge in the world of online grocery order and delivery services in the last year, with earlier movers like online-only Ocado, Tesco in the U.K. (which owns both physical stores and online networks), and Instacart in the U.S. seeing record demand, but also a lot of competition from well-capitalized newer entrants bringing different approaches (next-hour delivery, smaller baskets, specific products).

In Ocado’s home patch of Europe, they include Oda (formerly Kolonial), Rohlik out of the Czech Republic (which in March bagged $230 million in funding); Everli out of Italy (formerly called Supermercato24, it raised $100 million); Picnic out of the Netherlands (which has yet to announce any recent funding but it feels like it’s only a matter of time given it too has publicly laid out international ambitions). Even Ocado has raised huge amounts of money to pursue its own international ambitions. And that’s before you consider the nearly dozens of next-hour, smaller bag grocery delivery plays.

A lot of these players will have had a big year last year, not least because of the pandemic. Now, the big question will be how that market will look in the future as peoples go back to “normal” life.

That may well tighten the competitive landscape, and could be one reason why companies like Ocado are putting more money into working on what might be the next generation of services, one more efficient and run purely (or at least mostly) on technology.

Logistics account for some 10% of the total cost of a grocery delivery operation. But that figure goes up when there is peak demand or anything that disrupts regularly scheduled services.

My guess is also that with all of the subsidised services that are flying about right now where you see free deliveries or discounts on groceries to encourage new business — a result of the market getting so competitive — those logistics have bled into being an even bigger cost. So it’s no surprise to see the biggest players in this space looking at ways that it might leverage advances in technology to cut those costs and speed up how those operations work.

In addition to this collaboration with Oxbotica, Ocado continues to seek further investments and/or partnerships as it grows and develops its autonomous vehicle capabilities.

Notably, Oxbotica and Ocado are not strangers. They started to work together on a delivery pilot back in 2017. You can see a video of how that delivery service looks here:


“This is an excellent opportunity for Oxbotica and Ocado to strengthen our partnership, sharing our vision for the future of autonomy,” said Paul Newman, co-founder and CTO of Oxbotica, in a statement. “By combining both companies’ cutting-edge knowledge and resources, we hope to bring our Universal Autonomy vision to life and continue to solve some of the world’s most complex autonomy challenges.”

But as with all self-driving technology — incredibly complex and full of regulatory and safety hurdles — we are still fairly far from full commercial systems that actually remove people from the equation completely.

“For both regulatory and complexity reasons, Ocado expects that the development of vehicles that operate in low-speed urban areas or in restricted access areas, such as inside its CFC buildings or within its CFC yards, may become a reality sooner than fully-autonomous deliveries to consumers’ homes,” Ocado notes in its statement on the deal. “However, all aspects of autonomous vehicle development will be within the scope of this collaboration. Ocado expects to see the first prototypes of some early use cases for autonomous vehicles within two years.”

More to come.

#artificial-intelligence, #ecommerce, #europe, #food, #grocery, #grocery-delivery, #ocado, #oxbotica, #self-driving, #tc, #transportation


All the tech crammed into the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS

Mercedes-Benz lifted the final veil Thursday on its flagship EQS sedan after weeks of teasers, announcements and even a pre-production drive that TechCrunch participated in. The company peeled off the camouflage of the EQS — the electric counterpart to the Mercedes S Class — and revealed an ultra-luxury and tech-centric sedan.

The exterior is getting much of the attention today; but it’s all of the tech that got ours from the microsleep warning system and 56-inch hyperscreen to the monster HEPA air filter and the software that intuitively learns the driver’s wants and needs. There is even a new fragrance called No.6 MOOD Linen and is described as “carried by the green note of a fig and linen.”

“There is not one thing because this car is 100 things,” Ola Kaellenius, the chairman of the board of management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz, told TechCrunch in an interview the morning of the EQS launch. “And it’s those 100 little things that make the difference and that makes a Mercedes, a Mercedes.”

Mercedes is betting that the tech coupled with performance and design will attract buyers. This is a high-stakes game for Mercedes. The German automaker is banking on a successful rollout of the EQS in North America that will erase any memory of its troubled — and now nixed — launch of the EQC crossover in the United States.

Quick nuts and bolts

Before diving into the all the techy bells and whistles, here are the basics. The EQS is the first all-electric luxury sedan under the automaker’s new EQ brand. The first models being introduced to the U.S. market will be the EQS 450+ with 329 hp and the EQS 580 4MATIC with 516 hp. Mercedes didn’t share the price of these models. It did provide a bevy of other details on its performance, design and range.

The EQS that will be available in the U.S. has a length that is a skosh over 17 feet, precisely 205.4 inches long, which is the Goldilocks equivalent to the Mercedes S Class variants.


Mercedes EQS 580 4MATIC

The vehicle has a co-efficient drag of 0.202, which sneaks below Tesla’s Model S and the upcoming Lucid Motors Air, making its the most aerodynamic production car in the world. All EQS models have an electric powertrain at the rear axle. The EQS 580 4MATIC also has an electric powertrain at the front axle, giving it that all-wheel drive capability. The EQS generates between 329 hp and 516 hp, depending on the variant. Mercedes said a performance version is being planned that will have up to 630 hp. Both the EQS 450+ and the EQS 580 4MATIC have a top speed of 130 miles per hour. The EQS 450+ will have a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds while its more powerful sibling will be able to achieve that speed in 4.1 seconds.

The EQS will have two possible batteries to choose from, although Mercedes has only released details of one. The heftiest configuration of the EQS has a battery with 107.8 kWh of usable energy content that can travel up 478 miles on a single charge under the European WLTP estimates. The EPA estimates, which tend to be stricter, will likely fall below that figure.

The vehicle can be charged with up to 200 kW at fast charging stations with direct current, according to Mercedes. At home or at public charging stations, the EQS can be charged with AC using the on-board charger.

Now onto some of the technological highlights within the vehicle.


There are loads of driver assistance features in the EQS, which are supported by a variety of sensors such as ultrasound, camera, radar and lidar that are integrated into the vehicle. Adaptive cruise, the ability to adjust the acceleration behavior, lane detection and automatic lane changes as well as steering assist helps the driver to follow the driving lane at speeds up to 130 mph are some of the ADAS features. The system also recognizes signposted speed limits, overhead frameworks and signs at construction zones and includes warnings about running a stop sign and a red light.

Another new feature is the micro-sleep warning function, which becomes active once the vehicle reaches speeds over 12 mph. This feature works by analyzing the driver’s eyelid movements through a camera on the driver’s display, which is only available with MBUX Hyperscreen.

There are several active assist features that will intervene if needed. An active blind spot assist can give a visual warning of potential lateral collisions in a speed range from around 6 mph to 124 mph. However, if the driver ignores the warnings and still initiates a lane-change, the system can take corrective action by one-sided braking intervention at the last moment if the speed exceeds 19 mph, Mercedes said. The feature remains active even while parked and will warn against exiting if a vehicle or cyclist is passing nearby.

There is also an active emergency stop assist feature that will brake the vehicle to a standstill in its own lane if the sensors and software recognizes that the driver is no longer responding to the traffic situation for a longer period. The brakes are not suddenly applied. If the driver is unresponsive, it begins with an acoustic warning and a visual warning appears in the instrument cluster. Those warnings continue as the vehicle starts to slowly decelerate. Hazard lights are activated and the driver’s seatbelt is briefly tensioned as a haptic warning. The final step is what Mercedes describes as a “short, strong brake jolt” as an additional warning followed by the car decelerating to a standstill, with an optional single lane change if necessary.

Mercedes is also offering the option of DRIVE PILOT, which is an SAE Level 3 conditional automated driving system feature. This would allow hands free driving. Regulations in Europe prevent that level of automation to be deployed in production vehicles on public roads. However,  Kallenius told media in Germany on Thursday that the company is on “on the verge of trying to certify the first volume production car Level 3 system in Germany in the second half of this year,” Automotive News Europe reported.

The car that learns

Many of the technological gee-whiz doodads in the EQS tie back to an underlying AI that is designed to learn the driver’s behavior. That is achieved through software and a dizzying number of sensors. Mercedes said that depending on the equipment, the EQS will have up to 350 sensors that are used to record distances, speeds and accelerations, lighting conditions, precipitation and temperatures, the occupancy of seats as well as the driver’s blink of an eye or the passengers’ speech.

The sensors capture information, which is then processed by electronic control units (computers) and software algorithms then take over to make decisions. TechCrunch automotive reviewer Tamara Warren noticed the vehicle’s ability to learn her preference during a half day with the EQS.

Mercedes ran through a number of examples of how these sensors and software might work together, including an optional driving sound that is interactive and reacts to different parameters such as position of the accelerator pedal, speed or recuperation.

The intuitive learning is mostly apparent through interactions with the MBUX infotainment system, which will proactively show the right functions for the user at the right time. Sensors pick up on change in the surroundings and user behavior and will react accordingly. Mercedes learned from data collected from the first-generation MBUX, which debuted in the 2019 Mercedes A Class, and found most of the use cases fall in the Navigation, Radio/Media and Telephone categories.

That user data informed how the second-generation MBUZ, and specifically the one in the EQS, is laid out. For instance, the navigation app is always in the center of the visual display unit.


Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

The MBUX uses a natural language processing and so drivers can always use their voice to launch a radio station or control the climate. But Mercedes is really pushing the EQS’ intuitive learning capabilities. This means that as a driver uses the vehicle, items that might be typically buried in the menu will appear up front, or offered up depending on the time or even location of the vehicle.

“The car gets to know you as a person and your preferences and what you do,” said Kaellenius. “It’s almost like it serves up the option that you want to do next, before you even think about it you get.”

“You get a pizza delivered before you even get hungry,” Kaellenius said, jokingly. “That phenomenal in terms of intuition.”

According to Mercedes there are more than 20 other functions such as birthday reminders that are automatically offered with the help of artificial intelligence when they are relevant to the customer. These suggestion modules, which are displayed on the zero-layer interface, are called “Magic Modules.” Here is how it might work: if the driver always calls a particular friend ore relative on the way home on certain evenings, the vehicle will deliver a suggestion regarding this particular call on this day of the week and at this time. A business card will appear with their contact information and – if this is stored – their photo, Mercedes said. All the suggestions from MBUX are coupled with the logged-in profile of the user. This means that if someone else drives the EQS on that same evening, with their own profile logged-in, this recommendation is not displayed.

If a driver always listens to a specific radio program on their commute home, this suggestion will be displayed or if they regularly use the hot stone massage, the system will automatically suggest the comfort function in colder temperatures. If a passenger is attempting to read documents at night

between them in a very intuitive and very simple way of doing this. Human Centered innovation, all of these little things are in the, in the EQ s at night when you’re writing you put your hand towards the seat next to you, you want to have some documents, maybe you’re writing back for work, you have a drive or what have you, light comes on there, it shines on the, where you have your hand you pull it up. I could go on and on and on

This also applies to the vehicle’s driving functions. For example, the MBUX will remember if the driver has a steep driveway or passes over the same set of speed bumps entering their neighborhood. If the vehicle approaches that GPS position, the MBUX will suggest raising the chassis to offer more ground clearance.

Health and wellness

Remember those sensors? There’s a way for drivers to take it a step further and link their smartwatch — Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3, the Mercedes-Benz Venu or another compatible Garmin — to the vehicle’s so-called energizing coach. This coach responds to the user’s behavior and will offer up one of several programs such as “freshness,” “warmth,” “vitality,” or “joy” depending on the individual. Via the Mercedes me App, the smartwatch sends vital data of the wearer to the coach, including pulse rate, stress level and sleep quality. The pulse rate recorded by the integrated Garmin wearable is shown in the central display.

What does this all mean in practice? Depending on the user’s wants and the AI system’s understanding of what he or she wants, the lighting, climate, sound and seating might change. This is, of course, all integrated with the voice assistant ‘Hey Mercedes’ so drivers can simply make a statement to trigger the program they want.

If the driver says “I am stressed,” the Joy program will be launched. If the driver says “I’m tired,” they are then prompted to take a break the Vitality program.

Mercedes S Class owners might already be familiar with these options, although the automaker notes that EQS builds on the system. There are now three new energizing nature programs called forest glade, sounds of the sea and summer rain as well as training and tips options. Each program launches different and immersive sounds, which created in consultation with the acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. For instance, “forest glade” will deliver a combination of birdsong, rustling leaves and a gentle breeze. The program is rounded off by warm music soundscapes and subtle fragrance.

Sounds of the Sea will produce soft music soundscapes, wave sounds and seagull sounds. Blasts of air from the air conditioning system completes the effect. Meanwhile “summer rain” offers up sounds of raindrops on leafy canopies, distant thunder, pattering rain and ambient music soundscapes.


Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

For those long drives which require a break, Mercedes added a power nap feature. Once power nap is selected (and no never when driving), the program runs through three phases: falling asleep, sleeping, and waking up. The driver’s seat moves into a rest position, the side windows and panorama roof sunshade are close and the air ionization is activated. Soothing sounds and the depiction of a starry sky on the central display support falling asleep, according to Mercedes. Once it is time to wake up, a soundscape is activated, a fragrance is deployed and a brief active massage and seat ventilation begins. The seat raises and the sunshade in the roof liner opens.


As mentioned before the “Hey Mercedes” voice assistant uses natural language processing and can handle an array of requests. Mercedes said the assistant can now do more and certain actions such as accepting a phone call can be made without the activation keyword “Hey Mercedes.” The assistant can now explain vehicle functions.

The assistant can also recognize vehicle occupants by their voices. There is in fact individual microphones placed at each seating area within the vehicle. Once they have been learned, the assistant can access personal data and functions for that specific user.

The voice assistant in the EQS can also be operated from the rear, according to Mercedes.

These personal profiles are stored in the Cloud as part of “Mercedes me.” That means  the profiles can also be used in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles with the new MBUX generation. Security is built in and includes a PIN and then combines fingerprint, face and voice recognition to authenticate. This allows access to individual settings or verification of digital payment processes from the vehicle, the automaker said.

Screens and entertainment

Finally, yes the screens. All of the screens. The 56-inch hyperscreen gets the most attention, but there are screens throughout the EQS. What is important about them is how they communicate with each other.

The hyperscreen is actually three screens that sit under a common bonded glass cover and visually merge into one display. The driver display is 12.3 inches, the central display is 17.7 inches and front passenger display is 12.3 inches. The MBUX Hyperscreen is a touchscreen and also throws in haptic feedback and force feedback.

“Sometimes when I think about the first design and what we’ve actually done here, it’s like, ‘Are we mad to try to create a one meter 41 centimeters curved bonded glass, one piece in the car,” said Kaellenius. “The physical piece in its own right — It’s a piece of technological art.”


Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

A lot of attention was paid to the backseat because the EQS, like its S Class counterpart, are often used to chauffeur the owner. Mercedes won’t call this a rear-seat entertainment system and instead refers to it as multi seat entertainment system because everything is connected to each other.

Kaellenius explained that if a driver wants the two rear passengers to watch a different movie, a simple drag and swipe motion on the main screen will throw that new programming back to the rear. The passengers can also throw movies from left to right.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #mercedes-eqs, #mercedes-benz, #tc, #transportation


Rivian to initially launch in-house insurance program in 40 states

Electric truck startup Rivian released Thursday details of its in-house Rivian Insurance program, which it says will be integrated into its digital ordering process.

The insurance will initially be available in 40 states. Keeping in line with the company’s marketing as an “adventure vehicle” company, customers will also have the option to cover their home and recreational equipment, such as boats, dirt bikes, and campers. Rivian’s plans to start an insurance program first leaked more than a year ago after a job posting was spotted.

What makes the insurance offering stand out, however, is its integration with the Rivian vehicle platform and Driver+ safety suite, which the company said in a blog post will help deliver “tailored, data-driven coverage.” Customers who choose Rivian Insurance will get Driver+ rate reductions, with more details to come. Drivers can additionally opt in to a separate program that offers savings for using Rivian’s Active Driver Assistance software.

It’s a clever move for the company, which plans to bring its first electric pickup to market later this year. Like Tesla, Rivian intends to have Rivian Collision Centers and Service Centers performing the work – and by keeping everything in-house, the company is likely thinking customers will be attracted to a seamless insurance program. Rivian Insurance is another instance of the newer entrant following in the veteran’s lead, but with one big advantage: Tesla Insurance is only available to owners in California.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #rivian, #transportation


Tamika Butler, Remix’s Tiffany Chu and Revel’s Frank Reig to discuss how to balance equitability and profitability at TC Sessions Mobility

The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.

City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.

But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.

Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.

The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

#america, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #brands, #butler, #california, #ceo, #cities, #clara-brenner, #companies, #construct-capital, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #frank-reig, #joby-aviation, #miami, #mit, #new-york-city, #oakland, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #remix, #revel, #san-francisco, #sequoia-capital, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #washington-d-c, #world-economic-forum, #y-combinator, #zipcar


Autonomous aviation startup Xwing hits $400M valuation after latest funding round

The safety pilot has his hands off the controls during an Xwing demonstration flight. Image Credits: Xwing

Xwing has scored another win two months after it completed its first gate-to-gate autonomous demonstration flight of a commercial cargo aircraft. The company said Thursday it has raised $40 million at a post-money valuation of $400 million.

The company is setting its sights on expansion – not only tripling its engineering team, but eventually running regular fully unmanned commercial cargo flights.

Xwing has been developing a technology stack to convert aircraft, including a widely used Cessna Grand Caravan 208B, to function autonomously. But it’s had to solve a few problems first: “the perception problem, the planning problem and the control problem,” Xwing founder Marc Piette explained to TechCrunch. The company has come up with a whole suite of solutions to solve for these problems, including integrating lidar, radar and cameras on the plane; retrofitting the servomotors that control the rudder, braking and other functions; and ensuring all of these are communicating properly so the plane understands where it is in space and can execute its flight.

The company has already performed close to 200 missions with its AutoFlight system. For all these flights, there’s been a safety pilot on board. In addition, a ground control operator sits in a control center and acts as a go-between from the autonomous aircraft to the human air traffic control operator.

“We don’t anticipate automating [communication with air traffic control], trying to do natural language processing and having a computer make the response to the air traffic controller,” Piette said. “For safety critical applications, we don’t view that as a useful path. . .but what we do, though, is we have a ground operator in our control room that just talks to air traffic control on behalf of the aircraft. So for the air traffic controller, it’s seamless. As far as they’re concerned, they are just talking to a pilot onboard the aircraft.”

Image Credits: Xwing

For its autonomous flight activities, the company has authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly under an experimental airworthiness certificate for research and development that was expanded in August of last year to include a special flight permit for optionally piloted aircraft (OPA).

The company is looking to eventually remove the safety pilot, but only once full safety redundancies are in place, Piette added. That includes redundancies across all sensors and computer systems. Fortunately for all of us that fly, commercial aviation safety levels are extremely high. It means a high airworthiness standard for aviation startups. Smaller Class III aircraft like the ones Xwing is targeting must demonstrate a risk of one catastrophic failure per hundred million flight hours.

Xwing’s activities have garnered attention from investors. This most recent funding round was led by Blackhorn Ventures, with participation from ACME Capital, Loup Ventures, R7 Partners, Eniac Ventures, Alven Capital and Array Ventures. Including this round, the company has raised $55 million in total capital.

The autonomous flights are only one part of Xwing’s business activities. It’s also been flying manned commercial cargo operations under a contract with a large logistics company signed December 1.

“We set up what’s effectively an airline,” Piette said. By modifying these aircraft with sensors to collect data, Xwing is able to feed this valuable flight time into a training algorithm, and collect other useful data, such as how often the pilots communicate with air traffic controllers and the types of directions the craft receives.

Looking ahead, the company will be significantly scaling its workforce over the next 12 months, in addition to increasing its commercial operations in parallel. On the technology side, Xwing is looking to fly autonomous commercial cargo flights, with a safety pilot onboard, under an experimental ticket and exemption from the FAA. The company will likely reach this milestone also within the next twelve months, Piette said. After that, it would look to remove the safety pilot from the aircraft. Even then, the company would still need to get its systems certified to completely remove any constraints on its movements in airspace.

#aerospace, #transportation, #xwing


Polestar raises $500M from outside investors as EV market grows

Polestar, Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand, has raised $550 million in its first external round led by Chongqing Chengxing Equity Investment Fund Partnership, Zibo Financial Holding and Zibo Hightech Industrial Investment.

SK Inc., the South Korean global conglomerate, and a range of other investors also participated.

While this is Polestar’s first external round, the company’s comments suggest it won’t be its last. Polestar said Thursday that the growing market for electric vehicles coupled with advancements in technology that have made EVs more economical have attracted investors. Polestar added that it is in ongoing discussions with global investors about possible additional fund raising.

“Our new investors have recognized that Polestar offers an alluring combination of established industrial and technological capability alongside superlative growth potential as the global auto industry goes electric,” Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath said in a statement.

The new capital will diversify’s Polestar’s funding structure and “deepens the pool of resources available to accelerate product development and technological capabilities ahead of launching several ground-breaking cars in the coming years,” the company said in its announcement.


Polestar was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. In 2017, the company was recast as an electric performance brand aimed at producing exciting and fun-to-drive electric vehicles — a niche that Tesla was the first to fill and has dominated ever since. Polestar is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China. Volvo was acquired by Geely in 2010.

Since its launch, Polestar has opened a manufacturing facility in China, built a global sales and distribution operation, and launched two vehicles, the Polestar 1 and the all-electric Polestar 2.

The company is adding its lineup, announcing this week that it will produce two additional versions of the Polestar 2 EV with lower base prices.

One new variant will be a new single motor Polestar 2 that retains the 78 kWh battery of the dual motor model, and delivers an estimated EPA range of about 260 miles. Polestar offers the Plus Pack, which extends the range up to 10%. The single motor Polestar 2 will arrive in North America at the end of 2021.

Polestar said it will also a more simply configured dual motor version. The dual motor Polestar 2 has estimated EPA range of 240 miles, and can go even further on a charge when fitted with the new Plus Pack.

The company also announced grander ambitions to build the first climate-neutral car by 2030. That climate neutral badge won’t be earned throough carbon offsets, but by fundamentally change the way the new EV is made, Polestar said, including rethinking every piece of the supply chain, from materials sourcing through to manufacturing, and even by making the vehicle more energy efficient.



#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #polestar, #tc, #transportation


NFT Inc. reimagines urban and rural living with flying car ASKA

A number of startups have promised to bring a drive-and-fly vehicle to market over the past few years, but none have yet managed to follow through. NFT Inc. is betting it will succeed where its rivals have failed, with preorders opening Thursday for ASKA, company’s first electric flying car.

The SUV-sized ASKA ( which means ‘flying bird’ in Japanese) may be better described as a plane that drives, rather than a car that flies. Even when its six rotors are folded closed, the vehicle has the unmistakable look of a flying craft, with a helicopter-esque bubble front windows and a distinct tail that would be familiar to anyone who has flown on an airplane.

ASKA isn’t anticipated to be delivered until 2026, which is the point by which the company estimates regulations on safety and traffic control will have developed enough to support consumer use of new aerial mobility vehicles. A company person confirmed that NFT has already started receiving preorders for the vehicle, which comes with a $789,000 price tag that includes pilot training.

Being the first company to bring a consumer flying car to market is an ambitious goal. NFT declined to disclose its backers, but it did say that the preorders – which require a $5,000 deposit – are fully refundable.

Company co-founders Guy Kaplinsky and Maki Kaplinsky told TechCrunch that aerial mobility vehicles – the ASKA chief amongst them – will fundamentally change urban and suburban life.

“It’s going to change the dynamic of the cities,” Guy Kaplinsky said. “Urban air mobility is going to redefine the suburb and rural areas,” Maki Kaplinsky added. “It’s going to transition wealth into outlying areas [. . .] and I’m sure it’s going to be of great interest for those surrounding suburbs.”

It’s easy to imagine how this might be the case: freed from the shackles of urban living and its attendant traffic patterns, the ultra-wealthy would be able to relocate to areas even beyond the suburbs, given ASKA’s 250-mile range, and travel into cities only when they needed or wanted to.

What sets ASKA apart from its competitors, the cofounders say, is that customers won’t need to go to an airport to use the craft. Likewise, regulators would not need to worry about a large influx of urban air mobility users in airports. Instead, they’ve designed ASKA for door-to-door transportation – all the driver needs is enough space for the vehicle to unfold its wings and rotor blades. While ASKA can take off on a runway, like a conventional airplane, it’s also capable of vertical lifting, like a helicopter. Guy Kaplinsky explained that conventional takeoff is less energy intensive, and that customers may choose this form of takeoff in a rural area, where there’s lots of space, and vertically land in the city.

Each rotor will be equipped with an independent battery pack, but the company also decided to install two range extenders for redundancy, which will supply power by gasoline. The two middle rotors of the plane can also act as wings and can support gliding in case of emergencies.

“Most of our users are going to be new pilots and for us safety is the number one,” Guy Kaplinsky said. “The problem right now is the [b