Matt Schembechler said his account of abuse when he was a child in 1969 was ignored by his father, Bo, who was the new head football coach at Michigan.
The events of the past year have only served to accelerate interest in all things robotics and automation. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen across a broad range of categories, and automotive is certainly no different.
Of course, carmakers are no strangers to the world of robotics. Automation has long played a key role in manufacturing, and more recently, robotics have played another central role in the form of self-driving vehicles. For this panel, however, we’re going to look past those much-discussed categories. Of late, carmakers have been investing heavily to further fuel innovation in the category.
It’s a fascinating space – and one that covers a broad range of cross-sections, from TRI’s (Toyota) Woven City project to Ford’s recent creation of a research facility at U of M to Hyundai’s concept cars and acquisition of Boston Dynamics. At TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9, we will be joined by a trio of experts from those companies for what’s sure to be a lively discussion on the topic.
Max Bajracharya is Vice President of Robotics at Toyota Research Institute. Previously serving as its Director of Robotics, he leads TRI’s work in robotics. He previously served at Alphabet’s X, as part of the Google Robotics team.
Mario Santillo is a Technical Expert at Ford. Previously serving as a Research Engineer for the company, he’s charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The work includes both Ford’s own robotics work, as well as partnerships with startups like Agility.
Ernestine Fu is a director at Hyundai Motor Group. She heads development at the newly announced New Horizons Studio, a group tasked with creating Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs). She also serves as an adjunct professor at Stanford University, where she received a BS, MS, MBA and PhD.
Get ready to talk robots at TC Sessions: Mobility. Grab your passes right now for $125 and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders before our prices go up at the door.
A law firm hired by the university released a report about sexual abuse by Robert E. Anderson, who was a longtime doctor in the athletic department.
Long before the multi-million-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds pushed autonomous vehicles to the top of the hype cycle, Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson were researching and, later, developing the foundations of the technology.
These pioneers, Iagnemma coming from MIT, Urmson from Carnegie Mellon University — would eventually go on to launch their own autonomous vehicle startups in an aim to finally bring years of R&D to the public.
That task isn’t over quite yet. Urmson, who is co-founder and CEO of Aurora, and Iagnemma, who is president and CEO of Motional, are still working on unlocking the technical and business problems that stand in the way of commercialization.
TechCrunch is excited to announce that Urmson and Iagnemma will be joining us on the virtual stage of TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The one-day event, scheduled for June 9, is bringing together engineers and founders, investors and CEOs who are working on all the present and future ways people and packages will get from Point A to Point B. Iagnemma and Urmson will come to discuss the past, the present challenges and what both aim to do in the future. We’ll tackle questions about the technical problems that remain to be solved, the war over talent, the best business models and applications of autonomous vehicles and maybe even hear a few stories from the early days of testing and launching a startup.
Both guests have a long list of accolades and accomplishments — and too many, to cover them all here.
Urmson has been working on AVs for more than 15 years. He earned his Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and his BSc in computer engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1998. He was a faculty member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University where he worked with house-sized trucks, drove robots in the desert, and was the technical director of the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge teams. Urmson has authored more than 60 patents and 50 publications.
He left CMU and was one of the founding members of Google’s self-driving program, serving as its CTO. In 2017, Urmson co-founded Aurora with Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell.
Iagnemma is also considered an authority on robotics and driverless vehicles. He was the director of the Robotic Mobility Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research resulted in more than 150 technical publications, 50 issued or filed patents, and numerous edited volumes, including books on the DARPA Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. He holds MS and PhD degrees from MIT, where he was a National Science Foundation fellow, and a BS from the University of Michigan, where he graduated first in his class.
In 2013, Iagnemma co-founded autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch ride-hailing pilots. The company was acquired by Aptiv in late 2017. Aptiv and Hyundai formed the joint venture, which he now heads, in 2020.
Iagnemma and Urmson are two of the many of the best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers is GM’s vp of global innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales ends tonight, May 7 at 11:59 pm PT. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.
With vaccinations on the rise, many colleges are planning in-person commencements, sowing frustration on campuses sticking to online ones.
Six former University of Michigan students have filed legal papers accusing a former lecturer of sexually harassing them and the school of not doing enough to protect them.
His work focused on the way cultures shape, and are shaped by, individuals — a framework he demonstrated through his passionate political activism.
Honda and Verizon are researching how 5G and mobile edge computing might improve safety for today’s connected vehicles and the future’s autonomous ones.
The two companies, which announced the partnership Thursday, are piloting different safety scenarios at the University of Michigan’s Mcity, a test bed for connected and autonomous vehicles. The aim of the venture is to study how 5G connectivity coupled with edge computing could allow for faster communication between cars, pedestrians and infrastructure. The upshot: faster communication could allow cars to avoid collisions and hazards and find safer routes. [TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media, which is itself owned by Verizon]
The 5G testing is in its preliminary research phase and Honda doesn’t intend to implement this new technology as a product feature just yet. The companies do have plans to test 5G-enabled vehicles on public roads in at least four cities this year, according to Brian Peebles, Verizon’s senior manager of technology development and one of the leads on the project.
This partnership builds off of Honda’s onboard SAFE SWARM AI technology, which the automaker began developing in 2017. That technology uses Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X communication, which does what the name implies and lets vehicles communicate with other road users.
“Traditionally, with V2X, the cars talk to each other,” Dr. Ehsan Moradi Pari, research group lead at Honda’s advanced technology research division told TechCrunch. “They provide their information, like their location, speed and other sensor information, and the car does a threat assessment, like whether I’m going to collide with another car. What this [5G and MEC] technology offers is that we all provide our information to the network, and the network tells me if there is a potential for an accident or not.”
Honda and Verizon’s premise is that the technology can handle communication far faster than a car’s computer. Instead of relying on a car’s less capable computer to do the work, information generated from connected cars, people and infrastructure is sent up into the 5G network. The computations are then done at the edge of network (meaning not in the cloud) in real time.
The payoff: a car relying on sensors and software might be able to understand a driver is about to hit something and hit the breaks, but the MEC can almost see into the future by checking out and communicating what’s happening farther down the road.
One of the safety scenarios that Verizon and Honda tested was a red light runner. Using data from smart cameras, MEC and V2X software they were able to detect the vehicle running a red light and send a visual warning message to other vehicles approaching the intersection. They tested similar scenarios to warn drivers or vehicles about a pedestrian obscured by a building and an oncoming emergency vehicle whose sirens are drowned out by the car’s loud music.
“Ensuring real-time communication among all road users will play a critical role in an automated driving environment,” said Pari. “Through these connected safety technologies, we can develop vehicle systems that detect potential dangerous situations in real time to warn the driver or automated system.”
While this initial research stage involves making human-driven vehicles safer, the Honda-Verizon partnership might eventually lay the groundwork for the use of 5G in future autonomous vehicles. If testing proves out, connected vehicles would be safer and could lead to a more efficient network that smooths out traffic congestion and reduces air pollution.
“We’re primarily doing this to promote vehicle safety and human safety,” Peebles told TechCrunch. “There are over 42,000 people a year in the United States alone that are killed in automobile accidents, and another two million are injured. Technology is becoming more crucial as we undergo an evolution of human drivers, so as that transition happens, we need to do it in a safe and orchestrated manner, such that everything is working together.”
Autonomous vehicles being tested on public roads today don’t require 5G or edge computing. While autonomous vehicle companies are eyeing what might be possible with 5G, the vehicles they’re developing are based on present-day technology.
There are headwinds to this 5G-MEC combination. This level of interconnectivity only works if there are sensors on every highway and every intersection. Many 5G-enabled vehicles and devices will be able to communicate with one another, but they can only communicate with pedestrians or infrastructure if smart cameras are clocking them and sharing that info with the network. And sensors are not perfect.
That would require a huge infrastructure investment as well as public acceptance and cooperation with states, cities and localities to install all of the necessary sensors. However, one might look to China as a use case. The country has a national policy to move rapidly over to a 5G network, and many Chinese autonomous driving companies are finding this type of connectivity and computational power essential to development.
The Zags’ pursuit of an undefeated season has often come on the undercard for other games during this N.C.A.A. men’s tournament.
The partners at MaC Venture Capital, the Los Angeles-based investment firm that has just closed on $103 million for its inaugural fund, have spent the bulk of their careers breaking barriers.
Formed when M Ventures (a firm founded by former Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty); the first Black talent agency partner in the history of Hollywood, Charles D. King; and longtime operating executive (and former agent) Michael Palank joined forces with Marlon Nichols, a co-founder of the LA-based investment firm Cross Culture Capital, MaC Venture Capital wanted to be a different kind of fund.
The firm combines the focus on investing in software that Fenty had honed from his years spent as a special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz, where he spent five years before setting out to launch M Ventures; and Nichols’ thesis-driven approach to focusing on particular sectors that are being transformed by global cultural shifts wrought by changing consumer behavior and demographics.
“There’s a long history and a lot of relationships here,” said King, one of Hollywood’s premier power players and the founder of the global media company, Macro. “Adrian and I go back to 93 [when] we were in law school. We went on to conquer the world, where he went out to Washington DC and I became a senior partner at WME.”
Palank was connected to the team through King as well, since the two men worked together at William Morris before running business development for Will Smith and others.
“There was this idea of having connectivity between tech and innovation… that’s when we formed M Ventures [but] that understanding of media and culture… that focus… was complimentary with what Marlon was doing at Cross Culture,” King said.
Few firms could merge the cultural revolutions wrought by DJ Herc spinning records in the rec room of a Bronx apartment building and Sir Tim Berners Lee’s invention of the internet, but that’s exactly what MaC VC aims to do.
And while the firm’s founding partnership would prefer to focus on the financial achievements of their respective firms and the investments that now comprise the new portfolio of their combined efforts — it includes Stoke, Goodfair, Finesse, PureStream, and Sote — it’s hard to overstate the significance that a general partnership that includes three Black men have raised $103 million in an industry that’s been repeatedly called out for problems with diversity and inclusion.
“Our LPs invested in us… for lots of different reasons but at the top of the list was that we are a diverse team in so many ways. We’re going to show them a set of companies that they would not have seen from any [other] VC fund,” said Fenty. “We also, in turn, have the same investing thesis when we look at companies. We want to have women founders, African American founders, Latino founders… In our fund now we have some companies that are all women, all African American or all Latino.”
The diversity of the firm’s ethos is also reflected in the broad group of limited partners that have come on to bankroll its operations: it includes Goldman Sachs, the University of Michigan, Howard University, Mitch and Freada Kapor, Foot Locker, and Greenspring Associates.
“We are thrilled to join MaC Venture Capital in this key milestone toward building a new kind of venture capital firm that is anchored around a cultural investment thesis and supports transformative companies and dynamic founders,” said Daniel Feder, Managing Director with the University of Michigan Investment Office, in a statement. “Their unified understanding of technology, media, entertainment, and government, along with a successful track record of investing, give them deep insights into burgeoning shifts in culture and behavior.”
And it extends to the firm’s portfolio, a clutch of startup companies headquartered around the globe — from Seattle to Houston and Los Angeles to Nairobi.
“We look at all verticals. We’re very happy to be generalists,” said Fenty.
A laser focus on software-enabled businesses is complemented by the thesis-driven approach laid out in position papers staking out predictions for how the ubiquity of gaming; conscious consumerism; new parenting paradigms; and cultural and demographic shifts will transform the global economy.
Increasingly, that thesis also means moving into areas of frontier technologies that include the space industry, mixed reality and everything at the intersection of computing and the transformation of the physical world — drawn in part by the firm’s close connection to the diverse tech ecosystem that’s emerging in Los Angeles. “We’re seeing these SpaceX and Tesla mafias spin out, entrepreneurs who have had best-in-class training at an Elon Musk company,” said Palank. “It’s a great talent pool, and LA has more computer science students graduating every year than Northern California.”
With its current portfolio, though early, the venture firm is operating in the top 5% of funds — at least on paper — and its early investments are up 3 times what the firm invested, Nichols said.
“The way to think about it is MaC is essentially an extension of what we were building before,” the Cross Culture Ventures co-founder said. “We’re sticking with the concept that talent is ubiquitous but access to capital and opportunity is not. We want to be the source and access to capital for those founders.”
Before we get too far into this week’s roundup, I want to kick things off with an interview we haven’t published anywhere else. Earlier this week, we noted that Ford will be deploying some 100 researchers and engineers to the new $75 million facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The automaker told TechCrunch the set up is not an incubator, so much as “an extension of our global research and advanced engineering network.” Beyond the autonomous driving research, the company will be devoting a lot of research to how it can use third-party robots like Boston Dynamics’ Spot and Agility’s Digit, the latter of which was the centerpiece to a partnership Ford announced a couple of CESes ago.
Currently, the company currently has two Digit robots, purchasing the first two commercial units. Based on how the partnership pans out, Agility could, perhaps, be a prime acquisition target for a company more actively engaged with the robotics community.
Shortly after the event wrapped up, we hopped on the phone with Ford’s Technical Expert Mario Santillo, who will help head up the expanded robotics efforts. Some highlights below.
What kind of work is Ford doing in robotics, beyond the autonomous driving space?
We’re really looking at all area of robotics. My team is focused anywhere from the manufacturing environment to more customer-facing applications, like Digit getting out of some delivery vehicle to deliver a package to your doorstop. Working with University of Michigan, they’re really looking for us to provide better use cases. We would like to — not necessarily develop the robots — but use robots like Digit or Spot to make them smarter and deliver things that Ford really cares about and to ultimately help humanity.
How close are you actually working with the team at Agility?
We’re working very closely. We’re in almost daily stand-ups in terms of getting everything up and running. We just got our Digit in Dearborn, just a couple of months ago. We have another Digit, which is sitting out in Palo Alto, so they’re a little ahead of us, in terms of actually getting real use cases. We work very well with Agility Robotics. There’s nothing hidden from either side. We just want to come together in a partnership and similar to the University of Michigan, we want to come together to make this thing better, useful and safe.
In terms of the actual research, what role does the university play?
The university is starting with the teaching of the next generation of roboticist, so that’s a huge role. The work they’re doing really spans all areas of robotics: air, land, sea, space, you name it. It’s amazing to see how interconnected things are. The walking lab, they’re specifically focusing on doing rehabilitation robotics, and that can directly lead into our Digit being more capable walking over rough terrain.
For the moment, Digit is a primary focus.
Digit is a clear, direct link, but Ford has a lot of wheeled robots, and a lot of work can feed into how we might better use these, based on research that’s going on at the University of Michigan.
Is Ford actively looking into acquiring startups or technologies in the robotics space?
I think Ford is always interested in evaluating new needs and companies as they come. I wouldn’t necessarily say, “no.”
Some cool research coming out of the University of Waterloo in Canada, where a team of researchers are exploring wearable cameras and machine learning to help robotic exoskeletons and prosthetics interact more naturally with their users. Per one of the researchers, “Our control approach wouldn’t necessarily require human thought. Similar to autonomous cars that drive themselves, we’re designing autonomous exoskeletons that walk for themselves.”
A number of companies are currently producing exoskeletons for mobility and rehabilitation purposes. Work like this could be a key step toward removing the need for a smartphone app or other external control.
In fundraising news, Hai Robotics completed a “nearly” $15 million Series B+ that adds to the Series B it announced late last year. The Shenzhen-based producers of the Haipick shelving system are one of a number of Chinese logistics robotics manufactures worth following. The system is tall and skinny, capable of moving up to eight boxes at once.
The company says it’s capable of improving warehouse operating efficiency by up to 4x. Like a number of entrants in the category, the pandemic has proven a big opportunity, as more people turn to e-commerce and companies look toward automation to avoid unnecessary shutdowns.
And just because I’m excited about baseball happening again, the Red Sox announced that they’ll be deploying UV disinfecting robots at Fenway this year. At the moment, the team appears to have only purchased three robots from Surfacide (also the legal name for the murder of a proprietary Microsoft tablet). So this will likely be a small part of a larger effort focused on, “disinfecting close quarters like team clubhouses, training rooms, as well as higher-traffic fan areas such as suites and restrooms.”
The robotic umpires, meanwhile, will have to wait a while longer for their MLB debut.
Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois and Michigan were awarded No. 1 seeds as the bracket was revealed on Selection Sunday.
The field of 68 teams for the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament will include 37 at-large bids and 31 automatic qualifiers.
The discovery of Mediterranean recluse spiders at the University of Michigan prompted a two-day closure of one of its libraries.
Many universities instituted new testing protocols, hoping to avoid the problems of the fall. But coronavirus variants and uncooperative students have already driven outbreaks.
Significant numbers of coronavirus patients experience long-term symptoms that send them back to the hospital, taxing an already overburdened health system.
After years of outreach by University of Michigan law students, a woman admitted that her account of seeing Walter Forbes help set a deadly fire had been “a complete fabrication.”
The cancellation raised the possibility that Ohio State might not qualify to play in the Big Ten championship game later this month.
Erika James recently took over the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Already, she is enmeshed in debates about race, politics and the role of business in society.
Like many big state universities, it tried to open with some semblance of normalcy. Outbreaks ensued.
In response to the coronavirus, the conference first said no to fall football on its campuses. Then, after being pulled in different directions by players, politicians and others, the league reversed course.
Older male chimps follow a pattern that researchers also see in humans, preferring to have positive relationships with a few good friends.
In reversing their call to postpone the season, the Big Ten’s presidents ignored the realities of life on their campuses in the pandemic. Athletes may pay the price.
We’re also rounding up thought-provoking ideas about Covid-era education, and bringing you the latest local updates for K-12 and college.
Rather than focus on interracial comparisons, his National Survey of Black Americans explored the complexities within the Black population.
While government statistics say inflation is low, the reality is that the cost of living has risen during the pandemic, especially for poorer Americans.
When it is safe enough to return to school, young children would benefit the most. Yet financial pressures are pushing colleges to reopen most rapidly, an economist says.
Hospitals are increasingly soliciting donations from patients, and the patients don’t much like it, a new survey finds.
Google, in collaboration with a number of academic leaders and its consulting partner SADA Systems, today announced the launch of the Open Usage Commons, a new organization that aims to help open-source projects manage their trademarks.
To be fair, at first glance, open-source trademarks may not sound like it would be a major problem (or even a really interesting topic), but there’s more here than meets the eye. As Google’s director of open source Chris DiBona told me, trademarks have increasingly become an issue for open-source projects, not necessarily because there have been legal issues around them, but because commercial entities that want to use the logo or name of an open-source project on their websites, for example, don’t have the reassurance that they are free to use those trademarks.
“One of the things that’s been rearing its ugly head over the last couple years has been trademarks,” he told me. “There’s not a lot of trademarks in open-source software in general, but particularly at Google, and frankly the higher tier, the more popular open-source projects, you see them more and more over the last five years. If you look at open-source licensing, they don’t treat trademarks at all the way they do copyright and patents, even Apache, which is my favorite license, they basically say, nope, not touching it, not our problem, you go talk.”
Traditionally, open-source licenses didn’t cover trademarks because there simply weren’t a lot of trademarks in the ecosystem to worry about. One of the exceptions here was Linux, a trademark that is now managed by the Linux Mark Institute on behalf of Linus Torvalds.
With that, commercial companies aren’t sure how to handle this situation and developers also don’t know how to respond to these companies when they ask them questions about their trademarks.
“What we wanted to do is give guidance around how you can share trademarks in the same way that you would share patents and copyright in an open-source license […],” DiBona explained. “And the idea is to basically provide that guidance, you know, provide that trademarks file, if you will, that you include in your source code.”
Google itself is putting three of its own open-source trademarks into this new organization: the Angular web application framework for mobile, the Gerrit code review tool and the Istio service mesh. “All three of them are kind of perfect for this sort of experiment because they’re under active development at Google, they have a trademark associated with them, they have logos and, in some cases, a mascot.”
One of those mascots is Diffi, the Kung Fu Code Review Cuckoo, because, as DiBona noted, “we were trying to come up with literally the worst mascot we could possibly come up with.” It’s now up to the Open Usage Commons to manage that trademark.
DiBona also noted that all three projects have third parties shipping products based on these projects (think Gerrit as a service).
Another thing DiBona stressed is that this is an independent organization. Besides himself, Jen Phillips, a senior engineering manager for open source at Google is also on the board. But the team also brought in SADA’s CTO Miles Ward (who was previously at Google); Allison Randal, the architect of the Parrot virtual machine and member of the board of directors of the Perl Foundation and OpenStack Foundation, among others; Charles Isbel, the dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Computing, and Cliff Lampe, a professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan and a “rising star,” as DiBona pointed out.
“These are people who really have the best interests of computer science at heart, which is why we’re doing this,” DiBona noted. “Because the thing about open source — people talk about it all the time in the context of business and all the rest. The reason I got into it is because through open source we could work with other people in this sort of fertile middle space and sort of know what the deal was.”
Joel Thompson’s “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” written in 2014, is finding new listeners in a summer of unrest.
Bringing millions of students back to campus would create enormous risks for society but comparatively little educational benefit, an economist says.
Archaeologists said the remains found near the site of a former lake could suggest the animals were hunted after they got stuck in mud.
Chuck Christian was on some of Bo Schembechler’s best Michigan teams. More than 40 years later, he sees a connection between a university doctor’s assaults and a dire prognosis.
The idea has been around for centuries. But it took a high school science fair, George W. Bush, history lessons and some determined researchers to overcome skepticism and make it federal policy.
When the university told my wife about the sexual-harassment complaints against her, we knew they weren’t true. We had no idea how strange the truth really was.