Arrival is on-track to begin production of its electric bus and van next year

Executives from London-based commercial EV company Arrival told investors Thursday the company was on track to meet planned product launch dates, but much will depend on whether or not the company can fulfill orders and turn letters of intent into sales – especially a crucial van order with UPS, which could bring in upwards of $1 billion in revenue.

The company’s non-binding orders and letters of intent total 59,000 vehicles – a number that includes an agreement with UPS to purchase up to 10,000 vehicles across the U.S. and Europe, and an option in the agreement for an additional 10,000 vehicles. If the logistics giant opts to purchase all 20,000 vehicles, the deal could be worth over $1 billion, the company told investors last year.

The 59,000 figure also includes two sales that have come in since the close of last quarter: an agreement with car leasing company Leaseplan for 3,000 vehicles, which is expected to be completed in the third quarter, and a five-bus order from Anaheim, California’s public transportation network.

The ccompany’s earnings report contains an important asterisk toward the end: “All references to orders and LOIs are non-binding and subject to cancellation or modification at any time.” And there are a number of steps the company must complete before we start to see its vans and buses on the road, including public road trials, completed prototype builds and production certification.

Despite the to-do list, Arrival executives said the Arrival Bus will commence trial productions in the UK at the end of this year, with a planned start of production at the company’s South Carolina microfactory by the second quarter of 2022. The first Arrival Vans will be built in the UK by the third quarter of next year.

Arrival President Avinash Rugoobur also said the company has decided to open a product development R&D center in India, where it has seen an increase in “potential” orders.

“I think the Indian market is extremely important,” Arrival CEO Denis Sverdlov added. “It’s a very market unique in terms of size. Pricing for the product and the certification for the product is very much different than what we’re used to seeing in Europe or the United States. For us it’s an extremely important step because this enables us to create vehicles which can be successful in countries like in Asia and India and so on, so for us it’s a big, big step.”

A different manufacturing approach

Arrival, whose investors include Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors Corporation, wants to take what it pitches as a new approach to auto manufacturing. Instead of building a large, centralized factory, it aims to build commercial EVs in scalable, more capex-light regional microfactories – and it wants to open 31 by 2024. Arrival’s factories use autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, which the company develops in-house. The robots were designed to operate autonomously and run on a single AMR software.

The company already has plans for two microfactories in the U.S.: one in West Charlotte, North Carolina, and a factory in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The company also has a microfactory in Bicester, UK, which the company said has already produced over 500 composite panels.

Construction on the North Carolina site is due to be complete in October this year, with production commencing in the fourth quarter of next year. The EVs built at that location will eventually end up in UPS’s North American fleet.

Like other new EV makers, the company still has no revenue yet to speak of and its earnings report reflects the expenses associated with bringing a new vehicle to market. Arrival reported an EBITDA loss of €29 million ($34 million). Its adjusted EBITDA loss was €35 million ($41 million) which widened from the first quarter’s loss of €27 million ($31 million).

Capex came to €65 million ($76 million), primarily due to the costs of staff working on product development and other costs related to factory equipment. The company anticipates spending between €175 million to €225 million ($205 million to $264 million) on capex in the remainder of the year, versus €106 million ($124 million) for the first half of the year. The increase is due to expenses from the Bicester, UK microfactory being brought forward into this year, as well as planned openings of other factories in South Carolina and one-off tooling costs.

The company is completing the quarter with €445 million ($522 million) in cash.

Since the first quarter, Arrival has announced a number of partnerships, including with Microsoft for an open software platform, Hitatchi and STMicroelectronics. It also counts LG Chem as its battery cell supplier.

The company, founded in 2015, joined a suite of other transportation startups when it merged with a blank-check firm in March. That transaction, with CIIG Merger Corp., had an implied enterprise value of $5.4 billion and injected the company with around $660 million in cash. The company’s also growing fast: it now has over 2,200 full-time employees, versus 1,300 in December 2020.

Its shares soared to $37.18 apiece in December. Today, the share price opened at $12.80. The company trades on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol “ARVL.”

#arrival, #automotive, #electric-buses, #electric-vehicles, #transportation, #ups

Electric vans are all the rage at DHL, UPS—maybe even USPS, too

Electrifying commercial fleets of vehicles makes even more sense than trying to persuade individual private citizens to switch to electric vehicles. After all, if you convince your neighbor to buy an EV, that’s one more EV on the road, but a single decision to electrify a commercial fleet can replace dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of internal combustion engine-powered vehicles.

Take DHL Express, for example. After a successful trial of nine electric Transit 350HD vans from Lightning eMotors, this week the courier company announced it will deploy another 89 electric vans to New York and California this year.

“We’re aiming to improve the lives of people where they live and work, using clean pickup and delivery solutions—such as electric vehicles and cargo cycles—for our first- and last-mile services,” said DHL Express US CEO Greg Hewitt. “With the successful deployment of the first nine pilot vehicles, we are excited to expand our electric delivery van footprint and continue to drive forward our corporate roadmap to decarbonization.”

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#arrival, #cars, #delivery-vehicles, #dhl-express, #electric-van, #electric-vehicles, #ev, #lighting-emotors, #ups, #usps

Arrival to open a second US microfactory to build electric vans for UPS

Arrival, the UK electric vehicle startup that will soon be a publicly traded company, plans to build a second microfactory in the United States.

The announcement comes several months after Arrival picked Charlotte, North Carolina for its North American headquarters. This new microfactory will be located in West Charlotte near the airport and about 32 miles from its first U.S. factory in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

The newly announced microfactory will be producing two different classes of EV vans for our U.S. customers, expanding the zero-emissions options for fleet operators, the company’s CEO Mike Ableson said. Production is expected to begin by the third quarter of 2022. Arrival said it is investing about $41.2 million in the production center, which will have the capacity to assemble up to 10,000 electric delivery vans each year.

Many of the vehicles produced at the new Charlotte microfactory are expected to enter UPS’s North American fleet, according to the company. UPS committed to buy up to 10,000 vehicles from Arrival in the U.S. and Europe.

The company’s other, and first, U.S. microfactory in Rock Hill will be used to assemble electric buses.

Arrival was a secretive electric vehicle startup for nearly five years until January 2020 when it announced a $110 million investment from Hyundai and Kia. Over the past 14 months the company has shared more of its plans and partners, all culminating in its announcement last month to merge with a special purpose acquisition company CIIG Merger Corp., to become a publicly traded company. The SPAC merger is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021.

Arrival’s business model centers on its microfactories, which the company argues allows it to produce electric vehicles that are price competitive with fossil fuel-powered commercial vans, buses and other vehicles. The microfactories require a low capital expenditure and have a smaller footprint than conventional factories, Arrival says.

#arrival, #automotive, #electric-vehicles, #tc, #ups

FloorFound is bringing online return and resale to direct to consumer furniture businesses

Over the next five years consumers will return an estimated 40 million to 50 million pieces of furniture that more than likely will end up in landfills, creating tons of unnecessary waste, according to Chris Richter, the founder of a new Austin-based furniture startup, FloorFound.

To reduce that waste, and give retailers another option for their used goods, Richter has launched FloorFound. The company is designed to manage furniture returns and resale for online merchants. So far, companies like Floyd Home, Inside Weather, Outer and Feather (the furniture rental company) are using FloorFound’s services.

“We have a very large pipeline and we’ve been operating since April first,” said Richter. “We can pick up in any major metro locally and inspect it locally. We have a platform layer where we can run inspections against those items.”

As consumers look to reduce their environmental footprint, an easy place to start is by buying used items, Richter said, and he expects that most brands will start to incorporate used and new products in their virtual and real showrooms. “Every brand will commingle new items with resale items,” he said. “We are trying to put retailers in the resale business with their own return inventory.” To prove his point, Richter pointed to companies like REI and The Gap, which have partnered with ThredUp to sell used clothes.

To compliment its returns business and give online sellers a way to work more seamlessly with local vendors the company has logistics partnerships with providers including Pilot Freight Services, Metropolitan Warehouse and Delivery and J.B. Hunt Transport.

Working with co-founder Ryan Matthews, the former director of technology for the Austin-based high end retailer Kendra Scott, Richter has set up a business that can tap into both the demand for better customer service for the return of large items and the growing call for greater sustainability in the furniture industry.

It was an attractive enough proposition to attract a pre-seed investment from Schematic Ventures, a venture fund focused exclusively on technological innovations for supply chain management.

“The broken experience of oversized e-commerce has kept a multi-billion dollar category offline. It’s not a simple problem: oversized items require coordination of a hyper-fragmented micro carrier network, complex physical processing, and then re-injection into an e-commerce channel that aligns with the brand,” said Julian Counihan, a general partner at Schematic Ventures. “UPS and FedEx just aren’t going to cut it. FloorFound is tackling this challenge with a team tailor-made for the task: Chris Richter, Ryan Matthews and Shannon Hardt have backgrounds spanning supply chain, delivery, e-commerce and enterprise software. FloorFound will be the final push that moves the remaining offline categories, online.” 

#articles, #austin, #business, #co-founder, #delivery, #e-commerce, #enterprise-software, #fedex, #general-partner, #marketing, #online-shopping, #supply-chain, #tc, #the-gap, #thredup, #ups

Walmart expands drone delivery tests to Arkansas with new Zipline partnership

Walmart now has two tests for drone delivery running in the US.

Early Monday morning the company announced a new drone delivery program with Zipline, a startup that made its name delivering medical supplies across Africa.

The partnership with Zipline comes on the heels of another newly announced drone partnership with Flytrex, which started delivering packages to Walmart customers in North Carolina last week.

Zipline’s work with Walmart in Arkansas compliments a pilot delivery program that the company began in North Carolina earlier this year. Working with Novant Health, Zipline has been delivering medical equipment and personal protective gear via drone to regions of North Carolina since May.

The drone operation with Walmart will deliver health and wellness products initially, with the potential to expand to general merchandise.

A movement into the delivery of general goods would be something of a pivot for Zipline, which has touted its ability to handle medical supplies and equipment since the launch of its services across Africa in 2016.

 

Trial deliveries for the new service will begin in Northwest Arkansas and cover a 50-mile radius, according to a statement from Walmart.

Walmart’s forays into drone delivery come as its largest competitor, Amazon, also picks up activity in the drone aviation industry.

In late August, Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery fleet received approval from the FAA to begin trialing commercial deliveries. It’s similar to the certification that logistics companies like UPS received to test their own drone delivery networks.

Rather than operate its own drone fleet, Walmart seems content to partner with existing companies working in the space — for now.

#africa, #amazon, #arkansas, #articles, #delivery-drone, #emerging-technologies, #federal-aviation-administration, #north-carolina, #novant-health, #partner, #prime-air, #retailers, #tc, #united-states, #unmanned-aerial-vehicles, #ups, #walmart, #zipline

Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery fleet gains FAA approval for trial commercial flights

Amazon has been granted an approval by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will allow it to start trialling commercial deliveries via drone, Bloomberg reports. This certification is the same one granted to UPS and a handful of other companies, and while it doesn’t mean that Amazon can immediately start operating a consumer drone delivery service for everyone, it does allow them to make progress towards that goal.

Amazon has said it’ll kick off its own delivery tests, though it hasn’t shared any details on when and where exactly those will begin. The FAA clearance for these trials is adapted from the safety rules and regulations it imposes for companies operating a commercial airline service, with special exceptions allowing for companies to bypass the requirements that specifically deal with onboard crew and staff working the aircraft, since the drones don’t have any.

These guidelines are at best a patchwork solution designed by the agency and its commercial partners to help provide a way for them to get underway with crucial systems development and safety testing and design, but the FAA is working towards a more fit-for-purpose set of regulations to govern drone airline operation for later this year. That will mostly be related to authorizing flights over crowds – but any drone flights will still require constant human observation.

Ultimately, any actual viable and practical system of drone delivery will require fully autonomous operation, without direct line-of-sight observation. Amazon has plans for its MK27 drones, which have a maximum 5 lb carrying capacity, to do just that, but it’ll still likely be many years before the regulatory and air traffic control infrastructure is updated to the point where that can happen regularly.

#aerospace, #amazon, #articles, #delivery-drone, #embedded-systems, #emerging-technologies, #federal-aviation-administration, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #tc, #technology, #unmanned-aerial-vehicles, #ups, #wing

Waymo’s Boris Sofman and TuSimple’s Xiaodi Hou to join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

One of the areas of autonomous driving technology with the most potential to have a near-term and dramatic impact remains trucking: There’s a growing lack of drivers for long-haul routes, and highway trucking remains a relatively uncomplicated (though still very challenging) type of driving for AV systems to tackle.

Many companies are pursuing the challenge of autonomous trucking, but TuSimple and Waymo are leading the pack. TuSimple CTO Dr. Xiaodi You, who co-founded the company in 2015, and Waymo’s Boris Sofman, who leads the company’s autonomous trucking engineering efforts, will both join us at TC Sessions: Mobility on our virtual stage. The event takes place October 6-7, and we’re excited to hear from these two technology leaders working at the forefront of the industry.

TuSimple has accomplished a lot since its debut five years ago, including recently laying the groundwork for a U.S.-wide network of shipping routes in partnership with UPS, Xpress, food service supply company McLane and Penske Truck Leasing. The company is also seeking a sizable new funding round to help it scale, while actively testing with regular routes between Arizona and Texas.

Waymo, which originated at Google as that company’s self-driving car project before spinning out under parent entity Alphabet, adding self-driving trucks to the list of technologies it’s developing in 2017. Sofman joined in 2019, when Waymo hired on much of the engineering talent from his prior company, smart toy robotics maker Anki. Sofman’s resume also includes developing off-road autonomous vehicles, which likely comes in handy as Waymo seeks to roll out testing of its autonomous long-haul trucks across Texas and New Mexico.

In case you’re wondering, this won’t just be one long webinar. We have some technical tricks up our sleeves that will bring all of what you’d expect from our in-person events, from the informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews to the networking and even a pitch-off session. While virtual isn’t the same as our events in the past, it has provided one massive benefit: democratizing access.

If you’re a startup or investor based in Europe, Africa, Australia, South America or another region in the U.S., you can listen in, network and connect with other participants here in Silicon Valley.

Get your tickets for TC Sessions: Mobility to hear from Bryan Salesky, along with several other fantastic speakers from Porsche, Waymo, Lyft and more. Tickets are just $145 for a limited time, with discounts for groups, students and exhibiting startups. We hope to see you there!

#africa, #alphabet, #anki, #arizona, #articles, #australia, #automation, #av, #boris-sofman, #cto, #emerging-technologies, #europe, #google, #lyft, #new-mexico, #porsche, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #south-america, #tc, #technology, #texas, #transportation, #united-states, #ups, #waymo, #x, #xpress

How one moonshot VC approaches investing in the COVID-19 era 

Take one glance at Playground Global’s portfolio and a theme emerges: The firm’s investments are forward-looking, longer-term plays, a strategy that runs counter to the fast-return ethos that permeates certain Silicon Valley sectors.

The Palo Alto-based VC firm is banking on the future with investments in capital-intensive and technically complex pursuits, including robotics, autonomous driving, metallic 3D printing and infrastructure. It’s an investment strategy that isn’t for the faint of heart.

So, how does a firm that embraces futurism handle the present-day disruption of COVID-19? It looks ahead, of course.

When co-founder and CTO Peter Barrett joined TechCrunch this week for an Extra Crunch Live panel, the pandemic dominated the conversation. The executive noted that a new and common thread has emerged throughout the many discussions among Playground executives and the startups in which it has invested.

Priorities are shifting toward finding ways to be of service.

Everything feels different these days. Recent months have caused many in Silicon Valley to reconsider their investment priorities, roll up their figurative sleeves and begin the process of helping the world survive and, eventually, recover from the seemingly endless COVID-19 pandemic. Like many others, Playground finds itself at a crossroads — determining how it can be of service, while examining the ways in which a crisis like this can be addressed.

“One thing that underscores this pandemic is a realization that we need to be doing other things if we want to avoid being stuck inside for six months to a year,” Barrett said. “The biggest trend is a recognition that we need to make the investments that give us agency over our biology, and to build the tooling and infrastructure, so the parade of maladies which is behind COVID won’t have the same consequences that COVID-19 has.”

The pandemic has also driven people to reflect on what they want to do with their lives, Barrett said, suggesting that this phenomenon could influence which startups emerge from this period as well as what venture capitalists choose to invest in.

“If you’re an entrepreneur, I think a dating app looks less appealing than contributing in some way,” Barrett said, adding that entrepreneurs are looking at areas that “put us in a position where we really don’t have to be stuck inside because of a certain kilobase virus.”

Playground has a number of startups that are in position to offer some support, though, as is the nature of the firm’s tendency toward long runways. Most, however, appear better positioned to consider how we can prepare ourselves for the inevitability of some future pandemic, rather than the one we’re currently battling. Click through to read the highlights and watch a video with our entire conversation.

Nearer term plays

Playground’s portfolio is a mix of companies that are building things on a longer timescale that have the capital and patience to weather this pandemic, Barrett said.

However, in the near term, there are categories of companies that have an opportunity to be of service and grow their business.

#albums, #amazon, #canvas-technology, #consumer-products, #ecl, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #events, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-live, #fedex, #manufacturing, #market-analysis, #peter-barrett, #playground-global, #private-equity, #quantum-computing, #tc, #ups, #venture-capital

Karma Automotive raises $100 million as it looks to resell it EV platform to other automakers

Karma Automotive has raised a $100 million lifeline from outside investors, as reported by Bloomberg, with the struggling electric vehicle maker’s fortunes likely buoyed by the current market optimism on other EV companies including Tesla. Karma is the reincarnated version of Fisker Automotive, which previously faced bankruptcy before being acquired by Wanxiang Group in 2014.

Karma Automotive has made more progress than Fisker ever did, including actually delivering around 500 of its inaugural Revero electric sport sedan in 2019. The company will be continuing to sell the Revero, which retails staring at around $140,000, and will also be looking to add a high horsepower GTE version, as well as a supercar for an even higher-tier customer.

The automaker also says that it’s in discussions with a partner for a commercial delivery truck, which it intends to develop in prototype form by year’s end. There are a number of different companies pursuing delivery vans for use by courier companies including UPS and FedEx, and the increase in e-commerce spending does present an opportunity for multiple players to succeed in this category, even as there is a rush on in terms of entrants.

Karma will also seek to leverage and extend the benefits of its fresh investment by shopping around its EV platform to other automakers and OEMs, the company says, and also will eventually expand beyond pure EVs to hybrid fuel vehicles. In short, it sounds like Karma is willing to try just about everything and anything to chart a path towards profitability, but time will tell if that’s intelligent opportunism, or scattershot desperation.

#automotive, #cars, #electric-vehicles, #ev, #fedex, #fisker, #fisker-automotive, #greentech, #henrik-fisker, #karma-automotive, #karma-revero, #tc, #tesla, #transportation, #ups, #wanxiang, #wanxiang-group

TuSimple kicks off plan for a nationwide self-driving truck network with partners UPS, Xpress and McLane

Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple laid out a plan Wednesday to create a mapped network of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which owns a minority stake in TuSimple, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. are the inaugural partners in this so-called autonomous freight network (AFN).

TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces: its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real-time. For now, TuSimple will operate the trucks and carry goods for its customers, which now number 22.  TuSimple wants to eventually be able to sell its autonomous trucks so customers can choose to operate their own fleets.

The plan was made public just days after TechCrunch learned that TuSimple had hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise $250 million. Morgan Stanley recently sent potential investors an informational packet, viewed by TechCrunch, that provides a snapshot of the company and an overview of its business model, as well as a pitch on why the company is poised to succeed — all standard fare for companies seeking investors. TuSimple, which has raised $298 million to date, has also shared its plans to build its autonomous freight network with potential investors.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a nationwide transportation network consisting of mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals to enable efficient, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations,” TuSimple President Cheng Lu said in a statement. “By launching the AFN with our strategic partners, we will be able to quickly scale operations and expand autonomous shipping lanes to provide users access to autonomous capacity anywhere and 24/7 on-demand.”
TuSimple already carries freight in its autonomous trucks (always with human safety operators on board) along seven different routes between Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and Dallas. TuSimple said it will expand its service area with existing customers UPS and McLane. U.S. Xpress is a new partner. Penske will help TuSimple scale its fleet operations nationwide and provide preventative maintenance for the self-driving trucks, the company said. 

TuSimple said the network will be rolled out in three phases, starting with a focus on a service area in the Southwest where it already operates. Phase 1, which will launch in 2020 and into 2021, will cover service between cities Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. TuSimple plans to open this fall a new shipping terminal in Dallas. TuSimple said these terminals are designed to be shared by mid-sized customers. TuSimple will carry freight directly to a company’s distribution center if it is a high-volume customer.

The second phase will begin in 2022 and expand service from Los Angeles to Jacksonville and connect the east coast with the west, the company said.

The final phase will expand across the lower 48 states, beginning in 2023. The company said it will replicate the strategy in Europe and Asia after the AFN rolls out nationwide.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #morgan-stanley, #self-driving-trucks, #tc, #transportation, #tusimple, #ups

Here’s what is driving GM’s reported plans to develop a commercial electric van

GM’s electric offensive to bring at least 20 new EVs to market by 2023 reportedly includes a commercial van.

Reuters reported Thursday that the company is developing an electric van for the commercial market code named BV1. The vehicle is expected to start production in late 2021 and will use the Ultium battery system that was revealed in March, according to the report.

When, and if, GM delivers on that goal in 2021 it will join an increasingly crowded pool. Amazon ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian, the first of which are expected to be on the road in 2021. Ford has announced an electric Transit van that’s expected to launch in 2021. Startups such as Arrival, Chanje, Enirde, and XoS have received orders for electric vans from package delivery companies such as Ryder and UPS.

Tesla is one outlier that hasn’t revealed plans to produce commercial electric vans. GM’s move has been cast as a strategy to get ahead of Tesla in the commercial marketplace.

But there are likely other reasons driving GM’s decision, including high margins that can be achieved selling commercial trucks and vans as well as governments enacting increasingly strict emissions laws, particularly in urban centers.

Electric vans are logical fit for delivery companies, which tend to have predictable routes, a specific geographic area and operate a high utilization all of which fits with the EV infrastructure and charging ecosystems that enables their full economic use, a research note released Thursday from Morgan Stanley argues.

Morgan Stanley notes it hasn’t been “smooth sailing” for all EV vans. For instance, DHL’s StreetScooter program was recently shut down.

Prior to Reuters’ report, it appeared GM’s EV strategy was pinned to passenger vehicles. In March, GM revealed an electric architecture that will be the foundation of its future EV plans and support a wide range of products across its brands, including compact cars, work trucks, large premium SUVs, performance vehicles and a new Bolt EUV crossover expected to come to market next summer.

GM said the modular architecture, called “Ultium,” 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.

GM’s focus on making this EV architecture modular underlines the automaker’s desire to electrify a wide variety of its business lines, from the Cruise Origin autonomous taxi and compact Chevrolet  Bolt EUV to the GMC HUMMER electric truck and SUV and the newly-announced Cadillac Lyriq SUV. GM also showed a variety of electric vehicles that had not yet been announced, to show how this modularity will be exploited further out in their product plan, including a massive Cadillac flagship sedan called Celestiq.

#amazon, #automotive, #cars, #deutsche-post, #dhl, #ford, #morgan-stanley, #rivian, #tc, #tesla, #ups

Africa Roundup: DHL invests in MallforAfrica, Zipline launches in US, Novastar raises $200M

Events in May offered support to the thesis that Africa can incubate tech with global application.

Two startups that developed their business models on the continent — MallforAfrica and Zipline — were tapped by international interests.

DHL acquired a minority stake in Link Commerce, a turn-key e-commerce company that grew out of MallforAfrica.com — a Nigerian digital-retail startup.

Link Commerce offers a white-label solution for doing online-sales in emerging markets.

Retailers can plug into the company’s platform to create a web-based storefront that manages payments and logistics.

Nigerian Chris Folayan founded MallforAfrica in 2011 to bridge a gap in supply and demand for the continent’s consumer markets. While living in the U.S., Folayan noted a common practice among Africans — that of giving lists of goods to family members abroad to buy and bring home.

With MallforAfrica Folayan aimed to allow people on the continent to purchase goods from global retailers directly online.

The e-commerce site went on to onboard over 250 global retailers and now employs 30 people at order processing facilities in Oregon and the UK.

Folayan has elevated Link Commerce now as the lead company above MallforAfrica.com. He and DHL plan to extend the platform to emerging markets around the world and offer it to companies who want to wrap an online stores, payments and logistics solution around their core business

“Right now the focus is on Africa…but we’re taking this global,” Folayan said.

Another startup developed in Africa, Zipline, was tapped by U.S. healthcare provider Novant for drone delivery of critical medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

The two announced a partnership whereby Zipline’s drones will make 32-mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s North Carolina emergency drone fulfillment center and the non-profit’s medical center in Huntersville — where frontline healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.

Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The activity has gained approvals by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation.

The story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: the capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.

Image Credits: Novant Health

Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo,  Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.

The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country. Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life-saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19-related medication and lab samples.

In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which has supported (and studied) the startup’s African operations back to 2016.

The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana  — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya,  South Africa and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.

African startups have another $100 million in VC to pitch for after Novastar Ventures’ latest raise.

The Nairobi and Lagos-based investment group announced it has closed $108 million in new commitments to launch its Africa Fund II, which brings Novastar’s total capital to $200 million.

With the additional resources, the firm plans to make 12 to 14 investments across the continent, according to Managing Director Steve Beck .

On demand mobility powered by electric and solar is coming to Africa.

Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe this week with plans to expand across the continent.

The South Africa-headquartered company is using Nissan Leaf EVs and has developed its own solar-powered charging stations. Vaya is finalizing partnerships to take its electric taxi services on the road to countries that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch.

The initiative comes as Africa’s on-demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital platforms.

Uber and Bolt have been operating in Africa’s major economies since 2015, where there are also a number of local app-based taxi startups. Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around motorcycles.

Beyond environmental benefits, Vaya highlights economic gains for passengers and drivers of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets, where fuel costs compared to personal income is generally high for drivers.

Using solar panels to power the charging station network also helps Vaya’s new EV program overcome some of challenges in Africa’s electricity grid.

Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from min-buses to Tuk Tuk taxis.

In more downbeat news in May, Africa-focused tech talent accelerator Andela had layoffs and salary reductions as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, CEO Jeremy Johnson confirmed to TechCrunch.

The compensation and staff reductions of 135 bring Andela’s headcount down to 1,199 employees. None of Andela’s engineers were included in the layoffs.

Backed by $181 million in VC from investors that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the startup’s client-base is comprised of more than 200 global companies that pay for the African developers Andela selects to work on projects.

There’s been a drop in the demand for Andela’s services, according to Johnson.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch  

African tech around the ‘net

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Zipline begins US medical delivery with UAV program honed in Africa

Drones are being deployed in the fight to curb COVID-19 in the U.S.

Novant Health and California based UAV delivery startup Zipline have launched distribution of personal protective gear and medical equipment in North Carolina.

Novant is a non-profit healthcare provider with a network in the Southeastern United States.

Through the partnership, Zipline’s drones will make 32 mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s emergency drone fulfillment center in Kannapolis to the company’s medical center in Huntersville, North Carolina — where front line healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.

Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The program has gained approvals by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation — though the FAA offered TechCrunch nuanced guidance on how it classifies the undertaking.

This story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: the capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.

Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo, Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch and landing systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.

The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country.  Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

Zipline co-founder Keller Rinaudo (L) with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (Middle) in 2016

The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19 related medication and lab samples.

Based on its Africa operations, Zipline was selected by regulators to participate in medical drone delivery testing in the U.S. in 2016, in coordination with the FAA.

The company’s Africa business also led to its pandemic response partnership with Novant Health. The North Carolina based company was in discussion with Zipline on UAV delivery before the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., but the crisis spurred both parties to speed things up, according to Hank Capps, a Senior Vice President at Novant.

That included some improvisation. For its current launch site the operation is using space donated by a local NASCAR competition team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

According to Capps, the current collaboration using drones to deliver medical supplies from that site could grow beyond the 32 mile route Zipline and Novant began flights on last Friday.

“Right now we plan to expand it geographically within our footprint, which is fairly large within North Carolina, South Florida, and Virginia,” he told TechCrunch on a call.

That, of course, will depend on regulatory approval. The FAA granted Novant Health permission to operate the current program — which the FAA classifies as a distribution vs. delivery operation — through a 107 waiver. This rolls up into the evolving federal code on operation of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. and allows Novant and Zipline to operate “until Oct. 31, 2020, or until all COVID-related restrictions on travel, business and mass gatherings for North Carolina are lifted, whichever occurs first,” according to the FAA. The U.S. regulatory body also stipulated that “Part 107 is a waiver, not a drone licence.”

The FAA offered cautious confirmation that the Zipline, Novant partnership is the first approved long range unmanned delivery service in the United States.

“I am not aware of any that are flying routes as far as what they are doing in North Carolina, but I try to be careful when talking about firsts,” an FAA spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Last month UPS and CVS announced a shorter range drone delivery program of prescription drugs to a retirement village in Florida.

Image Credits: Novant Health

The arrangement between Zipline and Novant is not for financial gain — according to both parties — but still supports Zipline’s profitability thesis advanced by co-founder Keller Rinaudo.

“Healthcare logistics is a $70 billion global industry, and it’s still only serving a golden billion on the planet,” he told me in a 2016 interview.

On a recent call, Rinaudo noted the startup is generating income on operations to serve that market, through the company doesn’t release financial data.

“At the distribution centers that have been operating for more than a year, Zipline is making money on the deliveries that we do,” he said.

Rinaudo pointed to the more favorable margins of autonomous delivery using small, electric powered UAVs versus large internal combustion vehicles.

“I think that these kinds of services are going to operate, much more profitably than traditional logistic services,” he said.

Zipline sold investors on that value proposition. The company has raised (a reported) $233 million in VC from backers including Andreeson Horowitz and Goldman Sachs. Zipline intends to expand its drone delivery business in the U.S. and anywhere in the world it finds demand, according to its CEO.

In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which has supported (and studied) the startup’s Africa operations back to 2016.

The Zipline, Novant launch of UAV delivery of medical supplies in the U.S. is a high-point for the thesis that Africa’s tech ecosystem — which has become a hotbed for VC and startups — can produce innovation with global application.

The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana  — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.

Image Credits: HHP/Harold Hinson

For all the talk that COVID-19 may force an isolationist shift across countries, the Zipline, Novant Health partnership is very much a globally incubated solution — applied locally in the U.S. — to an international problem.

The program combines a medical drone delivery startup founded in San Francisco with a model tested in Africa to an American healthcare venture in North Carolina, with a little help from a NASCAR race team. This could reflect the unique application of tech and partnerships to come in the fight against COVID-19.

#africa, #african-tech, #articles, #california, #ceo, #co-founder, #commercial-drones, #covid-19, #delivery-drone, #department-of-transportation, #drone-delivery, #east-africa, #emerging-technologies, #financial-services, #ghana, #goldman-sachs, #horowitz, #keenan-wyrobek, #keller-rinaudo, #kenya, #nascar, #north-carolina, #president, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #south-africa, #south-florida, #spokesperson, #tc, #tech-in-africa, #techcrunch, #technology, #u-s, #uavs-drone-delivery, #united-states, #ups, #virginia, #zipline

USPS reportedly reassessing last-mile delivery deals with companies like Amazon

In a time when package deliveries are more essential than ever, the future of the United States Postal Service is very much in limbo. The president of the United States has waged a one-man war on America’s most-liked government agency, calling it a “joke” and insisting it raise prices before it receives the manner of bailout the White House has afforded to the airline and hotel industries.

The USPS’s contract with companies like Amazon has been a particular sore spot for Trump, who has had a longstanding beef with CEO Jeff Bezos. Trump has long accused the independent agency of giving the company sweetheart deals — an accusation the USPS has long denied.

Now, as the Postal Service attempts to reconcile with its future, it has reportedly sought to work with outside consulting firms to reassess its last-mile delivery contracts for the company, as well as parcel services like FedEx and UPS. The strategy was reported by The Washington Post, citing a half-dozen anonymous sources.

The moves come before Louis DeJoy steps into the role as postmaster general. DeJoy is a businessman who is a close ally of Trump’s, as well as the head of fundraising for the upcoming Republican National Convention in his home state of North Carolina. In short, he’s likely not the ideal person to have in charge if you’re looking to return to the USPS’s days as a thriving independent agency. Likely the Postal Service is looking to assess all possible options ahead of the change in leadership.

Neither the USPS nor the White House have commented on the reports.

#amazon, #fedex, #logistics, #policy, #trump, #ups, #usps

UPS and CVS will offer prescription drug delivery to Florida community via drone

On May 4, CVS and UPS will begin offering drone-based prescription drug delivery to Florida’s massive retirement community, The Villages. The news is part of a partnership with Matternet that began last year, utilizing the company’s M2 drone system to make similar delivers to customers in North Carolina. Last March, the company announced an initial deal, which found Matternet’s drones delivering medical supplies at WakeMed’s flagship hospital in North Carolina. The drones are capable of carrying a five pound payload up to 12 miles.

The expansion comes as residents all over the U.S. have had diminished access to the outside world as part of state issued lockdown measures. Florida’s state at home order order is currently expected to last at least through April 30, though some restrictions have been loosened on beaches throughout the state.

The move is falls under the FAA’s Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft regulations, “with authority to operate through the pandemic and explore ongoing needs as they arise after that period,” according to UPS. The parcel delivery services is exploring opening up deliveries to two more CVS locations in the immediate area.

Seniors (60 and up) are, of course, the most vulnerable to this novel coronavirus. Those over 80 are even more at risk, with a fatality risk of around 15% among those who contract the virus.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #cvs, #hardware, #matternet, #ups

TuSimple partners with supplier ZF to mass produce self-driving truck tech

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple is partnering with automotive supplier ZF to develop and produce autonomous vehicle technology, such as sensors, on a commercial scale.

The partnership, slated to begin in April, will cover China, Europe and North America. The two companies will co-develop sensors needed in autonomous vehicle technology such as cameras, lidar, radar and a central computer. As part of the partnership, ZF will contribute engineering support to validate and integrate TuSimple’s autonomous system into the vehicle.

TuSimple launched in 2015 and has operations in China, San Diego and Tucson, Ariz. The company has been working on a “full-stack solution,” an industry term that means developing and bringing together all of the technological pieces required for autonomous driving. TuSimple is developing a Level 4 system, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.

TuSimple has managed to scale up its operations and attract investors even as other companies in the nascent autonomous vehicle technology industry have faltered. The company has raised nearly $300 million to date from investors such as Sina, UPS and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation. It’s now making about 20 autonomous trips between Arizona and Texas each week with a fleet of more than 40 autonomous trucks. All of the trucks have a human safety operator behind the wheel.

The partnership is an important milestone for TuSimple as the startup prepares to bring autonomous-ready trucks to market, TuSimple chief product officer Chuck Price said in a statement. The plan is for TuSimple to combine its self-driving software with ZF’s ability to build automotive grade products.

The partnership doesn’t remove every barrier for TuSimple. Moving from development to deployment takes millions of dollars of investment. If a company can move from testing to commercial deployment, it must still navigate daily operations efficiently in the aim of becoming profitable.

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