Drunk-driving provision could fuel demand for driver detection technology

Companies developing driver detection technology could get a boost from a provision tucked inside the 2,702-page $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would require automakers to build into new cars technology that can tell if drivers have had a few cold ones.

The provision in the bill, which is actually a piece of bipartisan legislation called the Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act that was introduced in April 2021, would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a technology safety standard for automakers within three years. Automakers would then have another two years to comply and implement tech that detects and prevents drunk driving. Reuters was the first to notice the language

While the provision doesn’t dictate what type of tech has to be in these vehicles, industry experts believe that companies developing camera-based driver monitoring systems (DMS) stand to benefit the most. DMS systems are already mature in the auto industry, representing a technological byproduct of autonomous driving developments. While the auto industry explores self-driving cars as a way to drastically reduce road deaths in the future, advocates and regulators say there’s room to use some of this tech to solve problems that exist now, like drunk or distracted driving. 

“What’s happening in the U.S. Senate this week potentially opens the door to a camera-based real-time solution, which will be the first time that the U.S. automakers will have the ability and the requirement to look at real-time physiological changes in your body that occur when you are inebriated,” Dr. Mike Lenné, chief science and innovation officer at Seeing Machines told TechCrunch. “There are distinct reliable changes to the way you scan the environment, to the way your eyes respond to stimuli, which is why the police use that ‘follow the finger’ test.”

The system would have to monitor the performance of a driver to detect impairment and prevent or limit vehicle operation if impairment is detected; detect whether BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is equal to or greater than the legal limit, potentially preventing operation of the vehicle at all; or a combination of both systems. 

Cameras aren’t the only solution that has been trotted out in recent years.

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program, a technology that’s been developed in partnership between the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has advocated using a breath or touch-based approach to determine BAC levels. The touch-based approach involves measuring BAC through the skin’s surface by shining an infrared light through the driver’s fingertip. According to DADSS, the current timeline for bringing the breath-based approach to vehicles is by 2024, and the touch-based approach by 2025. 

Lenné argues that a camera-based approach would be far more successful than a breath or touch-based approach because BAC levels can rise within minutes. Someone could theoretically down a bunch of shots immediately before getting behind the wheel and it wouldn’t show up on a reading for several minutes. Or they could get wasted while driving. And BAC detection doesn’t help at all when it comes to drug-impaired driving. 

Europe versus U.S.

Moves are already being made in Europe to encourage automakers to include drunk driving detection technology, specifically through camera-based DMS approaches, whereas most of the discussion on this type of tech in the U.S. has been, until recently, focused on DMS for assisted driving and Level 2 autonomous driving and above. (According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, Level 2 autonomy means the vehicle has combined functions like steering and acceleration but requires the driver to remain engaged.)

The U.S. provision could propel an industry that has already seen growth in recent years as automakers like GM and Ford implement hands-free advanced driver assistance systems.

“From an integration viewpoint, it’s actually not a step change at all from what the OEMs are doing right now for distracted driving and drowsy driving with camera-based DMS. It’s just another feature to offer, another algorithm on the chip, if you like,” Lenné said. 

Near-term tech

“Billions of dollars have gone into developing the technology to make AVs a reality but they are really far off,” Stephanie Manning, chief government affairs officer at Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), told TechCrunch. “In the process, automakers have developed a lot of technology that can help us right now in terms of saving lives. If this passes, it’s going to be the biggest safety rulemaking that NHTSA has ever done in terms of lives saved, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. But the more we wait, the more we delay, the more people die.”

The technology is not at all far from market, said Lenné, and he would know. Seeing Machines provides the DMS that is used in Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system. Super Cruise, once relegated to just one Cadillac model, has expanded in capability and GM’s portfolio and is now in the Cadillac CT6, CT4, CT5, Escalade and Chevrolet Bolt. Seeing Machine’s tech is also used in the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS sedans.

“Once it’s regulated, we can expect to see more entrants to the market because what this does is it creates a top-down demand,” said Lenné. “It takes it out of the consumers’ hands and tells vehicles they must have these safety features, so the market size will increase dramatically, and so will the market opportunity.”

The global DMS market is estimated to surpass $2.1 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 9.8% from this year, according to IndustryARC. Top-down demand due to regulations like the infrastructure bill will certainly increase demand, but it won’t make the problem easier to solve.

“We’re trying to assess what’s going on in someone’s head, and that’s really different from having a forward-facing radar that’s trying to look at what’s 30 meters in front of you,” he said. “You’re trying to interpret whether or not this person is safe to drive. So it’s a really difficult technical problem to solve. Our company is 21 years old. Smart Eye has been around for over 10 years. Whilst the market size has increased dramatically, it’s a hard problem to solve as a new entrant.”

Newcomers will face competition from established and large Tier 1 suppliers like Seeing Machines and Smart Eye, a Swedish computer vision company that people familiar with the industry say works with Ford (Ford did not confirm or deny this). IndustryARC also names major players as Faurecia, Aptiv PLC, Bosch, Denso, Continental AG and others. But new players are finding their way into the scene, like Israel-based Cipia, formerly Eyesight Technology, and Sweden-based Tobii Tech.

Room for growth in the market

More entrants to market means more advancements to the technology. Smart Eye’s recent acquisition of emotion-detection startup Affectiva for $73.5 million hints at the potential future applications of DMS in passenger vehicles. Today it might be distracted, drowsy or drunk driving, but in a few years DMS could detect other types of drug impairment, cognitive impairments or even road rage.

Tobii, an eye-tracker technology company, just announced its entrance into the DMS market, a space it’s been exploring for the past few years as it has watched the legislative changes happening first in Europe and now in the U.S.

While a new entrant to the automotive space, Tobii has been in the eye tracking space since 2001, working in industries like marketing, scientific research, virtual reality, gaming and more. Anand Srivatsa, Tobii’s division CEO, told TechCrunch he thinks one of the biggest challenges will be scaling across different populations, given the different eye shapes of different ethnicities, which he says puts Tobii at an advantage, even with its limited automotive experience.

“Because of this long history, we have what it takes to deliver a full solution from a component level all the way to end software because we’ve done it in other parts of our business,” Srivatsa told TechCrunch. “Some of our automotive partners see that as a unique capability from Tobii where we can talk about the compute that is needed for eye tracking because we build our own asix, we’ve built our own sensor. We have end user software in some aspects of our business, so we understand the implications and the constraints of each of these parts of the stack, and we can work with them to create a more disruptive solution. And that’s something that I think is going to be quite important in this space. How do you reduce the total cost of the solution to allow it to scale efficiently across all cars?”

Srivatsa also said there’s room to extend into other spaces the biometrics or physiological signals that eye tracking yields, reconfiguring information based on outside road conditions or what else is going on in the car in a way that optimizes the tech to ensure drivers are spending the bulk of their time looking at the road.

“What I am hoping and dreaming for is technologies like forward collision warning, or blind spot warning or even the lane swerving warnings help me out when I need it most by understanding if I’m becoming complacent or tired, perhaps distracted, and then adjust how the systems perform, the warning timing and things like that, based on what I need in the moment,” Kelly Funkhouser, program manager of vehicle interface testing and head of connected and automated vehicles at Consumer Reports, told TechCrunch. “Counter to that is I would like it to not bother me and nag and annoy me when I am fully paying attention. I’m like ‘Yeah I know exactly what I’m doing, I am purposely driving over this line so that I don’t hit the mom and kids.’ ”

Lenné said there’s a potential for driver monitoring systems that capture what is really going on inside of a car to become more personalized in order to provide a better driving experience. 

“I think in all of this, writing a better driving experience is absolutely pivotal,” said Lenné. “If it doesn’t do that, it risks not being accepted by the consumers.”

Advancing existing ADAS tech

Automakers have been a part of the conversation regarding drunk driving technology for years. Back in 2007, Nissan revealed a drunk driving concept car that would use alcohol odor sensors, facial monitoring and vehicle operational behavior to detect driver impairment.

In the same year, Toyota announced a similar system that it said would be in cars by 2009. More recently, Volvo announced in 2019 that it would install cameras and sensors in cars to monitor drivers for signs of being drunk or distracted and then signal the vehicle to intervene, but that tech is designed for Volvo’s SPA2 architecture for hands-free driving, which hasn’t been released yet. The bottom line is without legislation mandating drunk driving prevention and detection, automakers haven’t really moved forward on implementing the tech, despite much of the building blocks being in place already. 

Manning thinks that’s because automakers want to be able to upcharge for safety features. 

“Automakers want to test their supercomputers on the open road, but they don’t want to put the money and time and energy into solving drunk driving, because they don’t feel it’s their responsibility, and they don’t want this rule-making,” she said. “We fully expect that they’re going to fight us tooth and nail throughout the rule-making process.”

Representatives from GM and Ford could not be reached for comment, but John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which worked with NHTSA on the DADSS program, told TechCrunch that the auto industry is committed to supporting public and private efforts to address this threat to road safety.  

“We appreciate the efforts of congressional leaders and other stakeholders to advance a legislative approach that provides NHTSA the ability to review all potential technologies as options for federal regulation and, consistent with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, to make a well-informed decision as to whether any specific technologies meet the standard for consumer vehicles,” he said.

#automotive, #ford, #general-motors, #government, #nhtsa, #nissan, #policy, #toyota, #transportation, #volvo

Norway’s electric car subscription service imove closes $22.3M Series A led by AutoScout24

The “subscribe to your car” movement has been taking off in recent years, with the appearance of Fleks in the UK (Europe), Cazoo (after its acquisition of Drover), Care by Volvo Hertz, to name just a few.

Into this space has appeared imove out of Norway, with what appears, at least, to be a new twist on the whole thing: a white-label platform offered to industry to enable it to offer these car subscription services under their own brands. imove’s platform allows users to subscribe to electric vehicles from eighteen different manufacturers and over 50 different models.

The startup has now closed a €19M / $22.3M Series A round led by pan-European online car market AutoScout24. It was joined by the VCs Norselab and Idekapital, as well as the Norwegian state climate investment company Nysnø. Existing owner Hedin Automotive also joined. The round consists of a new equity issue of €13M combined with a €6M secondary sale of shares.

Founded in 2018, imove allows a company in automotive, finance, insurance, or even electricity and telecoms, to offer car subscriptions as an alternative to car ownership or leasing.

The team is led by co-founders Hans Kristian Aas (CEO) and Gunnar Birkenfeldt (CPO), who are jumping on a trend whereby (according to some estimates) some 20-30% of new car sales globally are predicted to be switched to car subscriptions by 2025.

Hans Kristian Aas, co-founder, and CEO said: “Amazing customer feedback, strong unit economics, and an industry ripe for change told us that the timing was right for pushing the ‘Scale button’.”

AutoScout24 is a large, pan-European online car market, and will act as a distribution channel for imove’s electric vehicle subscription service.

“With this investment, AutoScout24 clearly positions itself at the forefront of supporting new ownership models for consumers and customers, and makes a decisive step in supporting the EV introduction,” said Chief Strategy Officer at AutoScout24, Borja Muller.

While imove is clearly moving fast in Europe, there are several players offering technology for car subscription and fleet management. These include Ridecell (US-based), Clutch (US-based, owned by Cox Automotive), Fleetonomy (Israel) and Vulog (France). So there’s plenty to play for in this race yet.

#car-sales, #car-subscriptions, #cazoo, #ceo, #europe, #finance, #fleet-management, #france, #hertz, #marketing, #mass-media, #tc, #united-kingdom, #volvo

Exhibit your startup at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is hardly new, but this sector — pretty much the default business model for B2B and B2C startups — just keeps growing along with a rapidly expanding ecosystem. TC Sessions: SaaS 2021, a day-long focused look at the current state and future generations of SaaS, takes place on October 27, and it’s designed to help startup founders, investors and developers keep tabs on this increasingly sophisticated industry.

It also provides a huge opportunity for startups to demo their SaaS tech and talent to the industry’s top movers, shakers and unicorn makers. We have a limited number of Startup Exhibitor Packages available, and procrastination is not your friend. Jump on this offer and secure your virtual demo booth right now.

The $299 Startup Exhibitor Package includes your virtual booth space, four passes and full access to the event, breakout sessions, lead generation capabilities, networking, videos on-demand and a free, one-month membership to Extra Crunch.

Here’s another great reason to exhibit. You might connect with and impress the SaaS equivalent of Rachael Wilcox. Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars, attended TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 (along with both Disrupt and Early Stage that same year). Here’s why:

“I go to TechCrunch events to find new and interesting companies, make new business connections and look for startups with investment potential. It’s an opportunity to expand my knowledge and inform my work.”

As for the conference programming, we’re busy building out our agenda. But like every TechCrunch event ever created, you can count on hearing from the leading experts, icons, founders and investors.

Speaking of investors, we can share that Sarah Guo, Kobile Fuller and Casey Aylward will join us to talk about what they look for in SaaS startups. We’ll announce other exciting speakers in the weeks to come, so watch this space.

Yes, you’ll be busy exhibiting and networking, but you’ll also have time to take in some of the presentations. Come ready to engage because these presentations will be highly interactive. That’s just one of the benefits of a virtual event — more time to get those burning questions asked and answered.

So, bottom line: Exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 on October 27 is your chance to place your innovative, ground-breaking SaaS startup in front of a very targeted, very influential audience. Buy your Startup Exhibitor Package now and get ready to impress for success.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 – Marketing & Fundraising? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#articles, #as-a-service, #b2c, #business-models, #casey-aylward, #sarah-guo, #software, #software-as-a-service, #startup-company, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #techcrunch, #volvo, #volvo-cars

If this is the electric Volvo of 2026, the future might not be all bad

When Volvo replaces its XC90 SUV next year, it will do so using a new platform called SPA2 that includes the option of a battery-electric version. As a smaller automaker, Volvo has to use its resources wisely, which has meant designing vehicles with that kind of flexibility in mind. But not for much longer. Just as SPA2 ushers in a new range of larger battery EVs for the Swedish company, it will show out the internal combustion engine around the middle of the decade.

Volvo is already at work on what comes next, and on Wednesday it gave us a glimpse into that future with the Concept Recharge. Think of it as the next-but-one XC90, Volvo’s idea for what a large, luxurious EV should be in 2025 or 2026.

The bulky part of an electric powertrain is the battery pack, so there’s a long wheelbase with short front and rear overhangs. The pack is entirely structural, with cells sandwiched between two sheets of metal. The battery pack, then, is the floor of the monocoque chassis, reducing the EV’s overall weight and therefore improving range efficiency. By 2030 Volvo and its partner Northvolt plan to produce 70 GWh of batteries annually, and Volvo says by then it hopes to have increased energy density past 1 kWh/L.

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#battery-electric-vehicle, #cars, #spa2, #volvo, #volvo-concept-recharge, #volvo-tech-day, #volvo-xc90

Volvo’s flagship electric SUV will come with Luminar’s lidar and software as standard

Volvo Cars and Luminar Technologies are beefing up their partnership. The two companies said Thursday that Luminar’s autonomous driving stack – a combination of hardware and software that includes lidar sensors and a proprietary perception system – will be standard on Volvo’s forthcoming flagship electric SUV.

Luminar had previously announced the production deal with Volvo last May. But at that time, Luminar’s stack was going to be optional on the flagship vehicle — an upgrade that would add on cost. Now, it will be built into each vehicle as a matter of course.

However, customers will still have to pay if they want to take advantage of the Highway Pilot functionality. That capability, which will be available only when the vehicle is driving on a highway, puts the driver out of the loop — they won’t even have to actively monitor the vehicle, as is common in some systems already on the road today, a source familiar with the technology told TechCrunch. It’s the highest capability of autonomy that the system offers, and if customers want it, they will have to pay for it.

That functionality will be activated wirelessly when the conditions are verified to be safe, Luminar said in a news release. What customers won’t have to pay for is a suite of safety capabilities, like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping, that target the most common cause of car accidents.

The deal is undoubtedly a major boon for Luminar. In addition to higher production volumes, the company will also benefit from the many thousands of driving miles its system will be exposed to — valuable data that it can feed back into its autonomous driving stack. The system will also be capable of wireless over-the-air updates, so drivers should benefit as it grows ‘smarter’ over time.

Volvo did not reveal how much the Highway Pilot add-on will cost, nor whether it will be available in a subscription model or as a one-time purchase. But the carmaker did say that all vehicles will be “hardware ready” for unsupervised autonomous driving once it’s available.

#electric-vehicles, #luminar-technologies, #tc, #volvo

Polestar picks the US to build its next electric vehicle

An SUV underneath a white sheet

Enlarge / This is as much of the Polestar 3 as the company is ready to share right now. But the SUV goes into production in 2022. (credit: Polestar)

On Wednesday morning, the electric carmaker Polestar revealed that it will build its forthcoming SUV in the United States. Polestar is a joint venture between Volvo and Geely, and so it therefore makes sense that US Polestar production will take place at Volvo’s plant in Ridgeville, South Carolina.

“Polestar 3 will be built in America, for our American customers. I remember the great response when I first shared Polestar’s vision here in the USA and I am proud that our first SUV will be manufactured in South Carolina. From now on, the USA is no longer an export market but a home market,” said Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath.

“Production in the USA reduces delivery times as well as the environmental impact associated with shipping vehicles around the world. It will even have a positive impact on the price of Polestar 3,” said Polestar COO Dennis Nobelius.

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#cars, #electric-suv, #polestar, #south-carolina, #volvo

Tezlab CEO Ben Schippers to discuss the Tesla effect and the next wave of EV startups at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As Tesla sales have risen, interest in the company has exploded, prompting investment and interest in the automotive industry, as well as the startup world.

Tezlab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, is just one example of the numerous startups that have sprung up in the past few years as electric vehicles have started to make the tiniest of dents in global sales. Now, as Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai along with newcomers Rivian, Fisker and others launch electric vehicles into the marketplace, more startups are sure to follow.

Ben Schippers, the co-founder and CEO of Tezlab, is one of two early-stage founders who will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about their startups and the opportunities cropping up in this emerging age of EVs. The six-person team behind 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 Schippers, who also co-founded HFC, were attracted to Tesla  because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders. The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists allowing the Tesla’s app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

Schippers’ experience extends beyond scaling up Tezlab. Schippers consults and works with companies focused on technology and human interaction, with a sub-focus in EV.

The list of speakers at our 2021 event is growing by the day and includes Motional’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, who will discuss the past, present and future of AVs. On the electric front is Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili, who will talk about scaling his startup from a one-man enterprise in a garage to more than 1,000 people and contracts with major automakers.

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

Other guests include, 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, and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

And we may even have one more surprise — a classic TechCrunch stealth company reveal to close the show.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at our virtual door.

#alexandr-wang, #amazon, #api, #articles, #aurora, #automation, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ben-schippers, #ceo, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #facebook, #fitbit, #founder, #happyfuncorp, #hyundai, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #major, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #rimac-automobili, #rivian, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #startup-company, #tc, #technology, #tesla, #tezlab, #urban-innovation-fund, #volvo, #weride, #zoox

Google is making it easier to bring Android apps to your car

By the end of the year, more than 10 car models from Volvo, GM, Renault and Polestar will be powered by the Android Automotive operating system — and all of the built-in Google apps and services that come with it. Now, the company is making it easier for third-party developers to bring their navigation, EV charging, parking and media apps directly to a car’s screen.

Google announced Tuesday at its annual developer conference that its extending its Android for Cars App Library, which is available as part of Jetpack, to support the Android Automotive operating system. This is good news for developers who can now create an app that is compatible with two different, but sometimes overlapping platforms: Android OS and Android Auto. It also means developers can create one app that should work seamlessly between various makes and models of vehicles.

Google said Tuesday it is already working with Early Access Partners, including Parkwhiz, Plugshare, Sygic, ChargePoint, Flitsmeister, SpotHero and others to bring apps in these categories to cars powered by Android Automotive OS.

PlugShare Google Android Automotive OS

Image Credits: Google

Android Automotive OS shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android Auto is an app that runs on the user’s phone and wirelessly communicates with the vehicle’s infotainment system. Meanwhile, Android Automotive OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so automakers could use in their cars.  Google has offered an open source version of this OS to automakers for sometime. But in recent years automakers have worked with the tech company to natively build in an Android OS that is embedded with all the Google apps and services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store.

Many third-party developers like Spotify have used the Android for Cars App Library to create and and publish their Android Auto apps to the Play Store. By extending the Cars App to the operating system, developers will only need to build once.

Two years ago, Google opened its Android Automotive operating system up to third-party developers to bring music and other entertainment apps into vehicle infotainment systems. Polestar 2, the all-electric vehicle developed by Volvo’s standalone electric performance brand, was the first. And more have followed, including the Volvo XC40 Recharge.

Companies interested in participating in the early access program will have to fill out this interest form, according to Google.

#android-auto, #automotive, #google, #polestar, #tc, #volvo

Volvo and Daimler bet on hydrogen truck boom this decade

Volvo and Daimler bet on hydrogen truck boom this decade

Enlarge (credit: Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Hydrogen-powered heavy trucks capable of driving long distances are likely to reach a tipping point toward the end of the decade, according to the heads of the world’s two biggest truck makers.

Martin Daum, chair of industry leader Daimler Truck, told the Financial Times that, while diesel trucks would dominate sales for the next three to four years, hydrogen would take off as fuel between 2027 and 2030 before going “steeply up.”

Martin Lundstedt, chief executive of Volvo Group, which has just bought into a hydrogen joint venture with Daimler, said that, after fuel-cell production started in 2025, there would be a “much steeper ramp-up” toward the end of the decade.

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#cars, #daimler, #fuel-cells, #hydrogen, #volvo

Volvo AG and Daimler Trucks team up in hydrogen fuel cell joint venture

Competitors Volvo AB and Daimler Trucks are teaming up to produce hydrogen fuel cells for long-haul trucks, which the companies say will lower development costs and boost production volumes. The joint venture, which is called cellcentric, aims to bring large-scale “gigafactory” production levels of hydrogen fuel cells to Europe by 2025.

While the two companies are teaming up to produce the fuel cells via the cellcentric venture, all other aspects of truck production will remain separate. The location of the forthcoming gigafactory will be announced next year. The companies also did not specify the production capacity of the forthcoming factory.

Even as Volvo AB and Daimler Trucks used ambition-signaling terms like “gigafactory” — a term popularized by Tesla due to the giga capacity of its factories — executives added a few cautionary caveats on their goal. Europe’s hydrogen economy will depend in part on whether the European Union can produce a policy framework that further drives down costs and invests in refueling stations and other infrastructure, executives noted in a media briefing. In other words, manufacturers like Daimler and Volvo that are looking to invest in hydrogen face a ‘chicken and the egg’ problem: boosting fuel cell production only makes sense if it occurs in tandem with the buildout of a hydrogen network, including refueling stations, pipelines to transport hydrogen, and renewable energy resources to produce it.

“In the long run, I mean, this must be a business-driven activity as everything else,” Volvo CTO Lars Stenqvist told TechCrunch. “But in the in the first wave, there must be support from our politicians.”

Together with other European truck manufacturers, the two companies are calling for a build out of hydrogen refueling stations around Europe of around 300 by 2025 and around 1,000 by 2030.

The Swedish and German automakers suggested policies such as a tax on carbon, incentives for CO2-neutral technologies or an emissions trading system could all help ensure cost-competitiveness against fossil fuels. Heavy-duty trucking will only compose a fraction of hydrogen demand, around 10%, Stenqvist pointed out, with the rest being used by industries such as steel manufacturing and the chemical industry. That means the push for hydrogen-supportive policies will likely be heard from other sectors, as well.

One of the biggest challenges for the new venture will be working to decrease inefficiencies associated with converting hydrogen to electricity. “That’s the core of engineering in trucking, to improve the energy efficiency of the vehicle,” Stenqvist said. “That has always been in the DNA of engineers in our industry … energy efficiency will be even more important in an electrified world.” He estimated that the cost of hydrogen would need to be in the range of $3-4 per kilogram to make it a cost-effective alternative to diesel.

Volvo is also making investments in battery electric technologies and Stenqvist said he sees potential use cases for internal combustion engines (ICE) run on renewable biofuels. He is in agreement with Bosch executives who said earlier this month that they see a place for ICE in the future. “I’m also convinced that there is a place for the combustion engines for a long period of time, I don’t see any end, I don’t see any retirement date for the combustion engines,” he said.

“From a political side, I think it would be completely wrong to ban a technology. Politicians should not ban – should not approve technologies – they should point out the direction, they should talk about what they want to achieve. And then it’s up to us as engineers to come up with the technical solutions.”

#automotive, #daimler, #daimler-trucks, #hydrogen-fuel-cell, #tc, #transportation, #volvo

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

This Swedish carbon-fiber battery could revolutionize car design

Over the next few years, the batteries that go into electric vehicles are going to get cheap enough that an EV should cost no more than an equivalent-sized vehicle with an internal combustion engine. But those EVs are still going to weigh more than their gas-powered counterparts—particularly if the market insists on longer and longer range estimates—with the battery pack contributing 20-25 percent of the total mass of the vehicle.

But there is a solution: turn some of the car’s structural components into batteries themselves. Do that, and your battery weight effectively vanishes because regardless of powertrain, every vehicle still needs structural components to hold it together. It’s an approach that groups around the world have been pursuing for some time now, and the idea was neatly explained by Volvo’s chief technology officer Henrik Green when Ars spoke with him in early March:

What we have learned… just to take an example: “How do you integrate the most efficiently a battery cell into a car?” Well, if you do it in a traditional way, you put the cell into the box, call it the module; you put a number of modules into a box, you call that the pack. You put the pack into a vehicle and then you have a standardized solution and you can scale it for 10 years and 10 manufacturing slots.

But in essence, that’s a quite inefficient solution in terms of weight and space, etc. So here you could really go deeper, and how would you directly integrate the cells into a body and get rid of these modules and packs and stuff in between? That is the challenge that we are working with in future generations, and that will change how you fundamentally build cars. You might have thought that time of changing that would have ended, but it has just been reborn.

Tesla is known to be working on designing new battery modules that also work as structural elements, but the California automaker is fashioning those structural modules out of traditional cylindrical cells. There’s a more elegant approach to the idea, though, and a group at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden led by Professor Leif Asp has just made a bit of a breakthrough in that regard, making each component of the battery out of materials that work structurally as well as electrically.

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#cars, #electric-vehicles, #lfp-battery-cells, #lithium-ion-battery, #structural-battery, #volvo

Aurora and Volvo partner to bring autonomous long-haul trucks to North America

The autonomous vehicle startup Aurora Innovation said Tuesday it has reached an agreement with Volvo to jointly develop autonomous semi trucks for North America.

The partnership, which the two companies say will span several years and is through Volvo’s Autonomous Solutions unit, will focus on trucks built to operate autonomously on highways between hubs for Volvo customers. The Aurora Driver technology stack – Aurora’s self-driving software, computer and sensor suite – will be integrated into Volvo trucks.

The announcement comes fresh on the heels of the startup’s recent acquisition of Uber’s self-driving subsidiary and a separate deal with Toyota to develop self-driving minivans. Aurora now has partnerships with two of the three largest trucking manufacturers – Paccar and Volvo – that produce and sell nearly 50% of all Class 8 trucks in the country.

“Our previously announced collaborations with partners such as PACCAR will continue in parallel to the collaboration with Volvo,” an Aurora spokesperson told TechCrunch. “As Paccar’s first self-driving technology partner, the unique nature of our partnership enables us to build Paccar’s first redundant truck that will be able to operate without a safety driver, bring it to market first, and deploy it broadly.”

Aurora said its Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave lidar  — through its acquisitions of companies Blackmore and OURS Technology — will be key to solving autonomous long-range trucking. Lidar, or light detection and ranging radar, is considered to be a necessary component of self-driving systems. Aurora’s pitch’s is that unlike traditional time-of-flight lidar, its technology provides the long-range visibility needed to be able to spot hazards with enough time to stop or slow down.

The announcement also marks a major acceleration for Volvo’s autonomous vehicle arm, Volvo Autonomous Solutions. It’s the business unit’s first deal to bring autonomous trucking to the road.

Since its founding in 2017, Aurora has rapidly become one of the leaders in self-driving tech, attracting backing from Amazon, Sequoia Capital and Greylock Partners. The company was founded by former executives of Uber, Tesla and Google.

#aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-trucks, #transportation, #volvo

The Station: Another Uber spinout is born and EVs dominate SPACs

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 friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

Our transportation desk is taking shape. Two new reporters, Aria Alamalhodaei and Rebecca Bellan started Monday and have already provided some new and interesting coverage. Tamara Warren, a former editor at the Verge who has been writing about automotive and tech for two decades, reviewed the Aston Martin DBX. This week, Abigail Basset, a World Car Juror former CNN producer who writes about cars, tech, business — pretty much everything — break down the new VW ID. 4.

We’re just getting started. Vamos.

Please help welcome them and follow them on Twitter and maybe even drop them a DM. You can find them @RebeccaBellan and Aria over @breadfrom.


the station scooter1a

Scooter clutter has prompted a number of entrepreneurs to start companies, all aiming to solve the problem. Tortoise has its repositioning software, companies like Swiftmile offer docking stations that also charge scooters.

But what about a solution that works across brands? Paris aims to find out.

The city is testing universal charging infrastructure for electric scooters in a pilot project that will kick off in the second quarter of this year. DUCKT, which was awarded the pilot, will install 150 dock and charge points that can be plugged into bus stations and street lighting to provide the power source.

DUCKT was one of 15 companies that were named Urban Innovation District winners. Each winner is testing a different urban project in the 13th arrondissement. The competition, which is run by Paris & Co.’s urban innovation lab, includes pilots focused on food waste, rainwater collection, revegetation and waterproofing as well as several mobility projects. Ezymob will test a mobile app that helps visually impaired people navigate public transit, Mobilypod is launching a subscription-based cargo bike service and bike shelters and the LaCroix Lab is piloting 4SafeMobilities, a system designed to streamline traffic at intersections and pedestrian crossings.

Meanwhile, Porsche is taking its electrification ambitions to two wheels. The German automaker unveiled this week two electric bikes alongside the global debut of the Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo, the latest variant to its EV flagship. These bikes cost between $8,000 and more than $10,000 — prices one might expect from the luxury performance brand.

Deal of the week

money the station

Forget the “deal of the week.” How about we take a stroll down memory lane and look at all the deals of 2020? CB Insights, released March 3 its State of Mobility report that looks at 2020 investment data and trends surrounding all things transportation.

The upshot: The COVID-19 pandemic did help push total funding down 5% year-over-year to $27.19 billion, although CB Insights saw recovery in the second half of the year. There were 522 deals, a 21% drop from the previous year.

Total funding only tells part of the story though. If 2020 will be known for anything — aside from the whole global pandemic thing — it’ll be for the incredible number of SPAC deals across auto and mobility. There were 107 exits last year with 22 of them from startups going public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition, or “blank check” company. Having trouble gauging if that’s a big deal? Here’s some help: there were five auto and mobility SPACs between 2015 and 2019. Five. Electric vehicle companies and those with technology that supports EVs made up 68% of those SPAC deals in 2020.

The SPAC spree isn’t stopping either with Joby Aviation, Hellbiz and Otonomo are just a few that have reached merger agreements and will go public in 2021.

Electric vehicle tech and autonomous vehicle tech both reached peaks in 2020. EV tech companies raised $12.8 billion across 193 deals, while AVs brought in $7.3 billion across 105 deals, according to CB Insights. It’s worth noting that the AV industry appears to be maturing — at least in a funding perspective — with the average deal size rising 16.8% from the previous year to $104 million.

Connected car tech and auto commerce both saw dips in funding last year. For the second straight year, connected car tech saw a drop in funding and total number of deals. Funding plummeted 52% to $1 billion in 2020 compared to the previous year. CB Insights said the drop is because connectivity solutions have been widely adopted and investors have shifted their attention and money to other areas of auto tech such as electrification and autonomy.

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, bike and scooter companies saw funding rise 52% year-over-year to $2.4 billion in 2020. That’s still below funding seen in those heady days of 2017 and 2018 when scooters won over the hearts and minds of investors. Scooter and bike companies raked in $3.2 billion in 2017 and $4.9 billion in 2018.

And finally, funding to shared mobility companies (MaaS) fell 20% in 2020 to $6.3 billion across 116 deals.

Other deals that got my attention …

Aero, a startup backed by Garrett Camp’s startup studio Expa, raised $20 million in Series A funding round led by Keyframe Capital, with Keyframe’s chief investment officer John Rapaport joining the Aero board. Cyrus Capital Partners and Expa also participated.

Boom Supersonic, the aerospace startup building supersonic jets, landed a strategic investment from American Express Ventures. The funds will be used for the development of the company’s flagship product, the supersonic airliner Overture.

Fluid Truck,  a Denver-based app-based platform that lets users make short-term rentals of commercial vehicles, raised $63 million in a Series A funding round. The truck sharing platform is aimed at mid-mile and last-mile delivery companies, which use it to remotely manage an on-demand rental fleet via web or mobile app. Private equity firm Bison Capital led the round, with participation from Ingka Investments (part of Ingka Group, the main Ikea retailer), Sumitomo Corporation of Americas and Fluid Vehicle Owners.

Instacart, the n-demand grocery delivery platform, raised $265 million in funding from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital Partners and others. The new funding pushed the company’s valuation to $39 billion — more than double its $17.7 billion valuation when it raised $200 million just six months ago.

As TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington writes: What’s behind the massive increase in the value investors are willing to ascribe to the business? Put simply, the pandemic. Last year, Instacart announced three separate raises, including a $225 million round in June, followed by a $100 million round in July. The rapid sequence of venture capital injections were likely designed to fuel growth as demand for grocery delivery services surged while people attempted to quarantine or generally spend less time frequenting high-traffic social environments like grocery stores.

Loggi Tecnologia, the Brazilian delivery company backed by SoftBank and Microsoft Corp., raised 1.15 billion reais ($205 million) in a round led by CapSur Capital, Bloomberg reported. The company is now valued close to $2 billion.

Rollick, the online powersports, RV and boat buying marketplace, raised $8.5 million in a funding round that included investors Sandbox Insurtech Ventures, TechNexus Venture Collaborative, Dallas Venture Capital, Alumni Ventures, and London Technology Club. Existing investors LiveOak Venture Partners, Silverton Partners, Autotech Ventures, ManchesterStory, Anthem Venture Partners and Capital Factory also participated.

Volocopter, a startup out of southern Germany that has been building and testing electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, raised €200 million (about $241 million) in a Series D round of funding. New investors include funds managed by BlackRock, global infrastructure company Atlantia SpA., Avala Capital; Tier 1 supplier Continental AG, Japan’s NTT via its venture capital arm, Tokyo Century and multiple family offices.. Volocopter also said that all of its existing investors — a list that includes Geely, Daimler, DB Schenker, Intel Capital, btov Partners, Team Europe and Klocke Holding and more — also contributed to the round.

Alongside its aircraft, Volocopter has also been building a business case in which its vessels will be used in a taxi-style fleet in urban areas. CEO Florian Reuter told TechCrunch editor Ingrid Lunden that live services are now two years out for the two vehicle models it has been developing.

Policy salmagundi

the station electric vehicles1

Policy: it’s what for dinner.

I’m trying out a new, semi-regular section in the newsletter that will cover notable legislative activity around electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, public transit and personal mobility.

This week, let’s head on over to California, where State Sen. Dave Min introduced a bill that would require all autonomous vehicles to also be zero emission by 2025. The bill was sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group says it doesn’t want to see future means of transportation married to the technology of the past. Proponents point out the potential for AVs to either help or hurt attempts to cut emissions.

While the amendment is in line with the state’s goals to reduce emissions, it also adds a wrinkle to the plans of any AV developer that doesn’t currently use electric vehicles. Cruise and Zoox, for instance, only use electric vehicles. AV giant Waymo and numerous others use a mix of vehicles, notably the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan.

As Rebecca Bellan notes in her article, this proposed bill is in its infancy stages, so there are plenty of opportunities for it to be quashed.

The responses from the industry offered up the kind of political neutrality that aims to placate everyone. My interpretation of the various comments and statements — both on record and more informal on background chatter — is that work will soon begin to modify the language of the proposed bill to be more accommodating to the industry while hanging onto its original intent. That might mean pushing the deadline, adding hybrids and creating an exception for long-haul trucks.

Meanwhile, over in the land of passenger electric vehicles, work is underway to pass laws that would allow direct sales in at least eight states. Passage of such legislation would clear the way for EV giants like Tesla, along with newcomers Lucid and Rivian, which have yet to bring a vehicle to market, to sell directly to consumers.

Tesla, Rivian and other EV entrants are working together to pass these laws. Industry alliances are not unheard of on issues in which all the parties stand to benefit. Tesla’s cooperation is notable because it would end its monopoly on direct sales in some states.

Notable reads and other tidbits


Here are a few other stories that are worth sharing.

Aston Martin CEO Tobias Moers’ interview with Automotive News Europe is a complementary side dish to Tamara Warren’s review of the DBX.

Postmates X, the robotics division of the on-demand delivery startup that Uber acquired last year for $2.65 billion, has officially spun out as an independent company called Serve Robotics. (Y’all might recall I previously reported that a deal was being shopped to investors.)

Serve Robotics raised seed funding in a round led by venture capital firm Neo. Other investors included Uber as well as Lee Jacobs and Cyan Banister’s Long Journey Ventures, Western Technology Investment, Scott Banister, Farhad Mohit and Postmates co-founders Bastian Lehmann and Sean Plaice.

Tesla is closing its forums and launching a new social media platform called the Tesla Engagement Platform. The move has raised the ire of a community of its most ardent supporters.

Tortoise landed another deal, this time with Albertsons Companies, the grocery giant that owns Safeway and Jewel-Osco. Albertson said it has launched a pilot program that will test grocery delivery using remote-controlled delivery robots developed Tortoise. The pilot will start at two Safeway locations in Northern California, although Tortoise co-founder and president Dmitry Shevelenko said if successful, he expects the pilot to continue to scale to other stores in the state and possibly throughout the West Coast.

Toyota Motor said it plans to sell 500 billion yen ($4.7 billion) in “Woven Planet Bonds” to fund a variety of renewable energy and transportation projects, including  assisted mobility vehicles, and increased use of 

Volkswagen said it plans to launch an electric sedan in 2026. The company said that the vehicle, dubbed Project Trinity, will set “new standards” with its charging speed, battery range, and in other technology, Car and Driver reported.

Volvo Cars said it will only make and sell all-electric vehicles by 2030 as part of a broader transformation of the automaker that will include shifting sales online. The announcement was tied to the launch of the C40 Recharge, a low-slung crossover based on the company’s CMA vehicle platform.

#aston-martin, #automotive, #electric-cars, #instacart, #postmates, #tc, #tesla, #transportation, #volocopter, #volvo

The Volvo C40 Recharge is a stylish new variant of the Swedish EV

Calling climate change “the greatest safety test” it needs to pass, Volvo is vowing that half the cars it sells in 2025 will be battery electric vehicles, with a model range that’s only BEVs by 2030. And by 2040, the company plans to be entirely carbon neutral, working with its partners to reduce emissions across the entire supply chain. (For a little more explanation, we talked to Volvo about sustainability and battery supply chains last year.) The statements were made at an online event on Tuesday morning to launch the company’s latest BEV, the C40 Recharge.

Previously, Volvo used the C-prefix for compact hatchbacks and bigger coupés. Now, the prefix denotes a fastback version of the XC40 Recharge crossover, probably because everyone wants crossovers and no one wants hatchbacks anymore. The family resemblance is immediately obvious, but Volvo says that everything from the A pillar backward is new. This becomes evident when you look at it in profile—there’s a more steeply canted windshield at the front, and at the rear a spoiler integrated into the roof helps maintain rear headroom.

The fastback crossover might be even more distinctive once the sun goes down. New “Thor’s Hammer” headlights have pixel technology for the first time and also have elements that move with the steering to better illuminate the road. And at the rear, there is a new twilight signature that looks particularly cool in the dark (and which was influenced by childhood memories of Battlestar Galactica, according to one of Volvo’s designers.

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#battery-electric-vehicle, #bev, #cars, #crossover, #electric-vehicle, #volvo, #volvo-c40-recharge

Minna Technologies, a subscription management tool for banking customers, raises $18.8M

With the proliferation of subscription services, combined with our lives becoming almost 100% digital, there’s a rising need to be able to manage these services. But most banks don’t have much of an answer. Step in Minna Technologies, which sells in its subscription management services into banking apps.

It’s now raised $18.8 million (€15.5m / £14m) in Series B fundraising from Element Ventures, MiddleGame Ventures, Nineyards Equity and Visa, to expand its open banking technology to banks globally.

Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016, Minna enables customers to manage subscription services via their existing bank’s app. Using Minna, customers can terminate subscriptions just from their banking app, automatically, cutting the data and financial ties between the merchant and customer. The platform can also notify customers when a free trial is about to end and facilitates utilities switching allowing them to find better deals. So far, Minna has partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, Swedbank and ING.

Minna’s technology reduces the burden on a bank’s call centers, plus banks can also benefit financially from Minna’s role in facilitating utility switching, raising the prospect of banks becoming marketplaces.

The appearance of Minna suggests that the first wave of neo-banks is about to be accompanied by a second wave of overlayed services such as this. The average European is spending £301 (€333) a month on 11 subscriptions, which is predicted to increase to £459 (€508) a month on 17 subscriptions by 2025. IDC predicts that by 2050, 50% of the world’s largest enterprises will focus the majority of their businesses on digitally enhanced products, services, and experiences. Subscriptions are even coming from car makers such as Volvo.

Joakim Sjöblom, CEO and co-founder of Minna Technologies, said: “Over the past four years the subscription economy has exploded from Spotify and Netflix to even iPhones and cars. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to keep track of the payments and harder for banks to handle inquiries to shut them down. Minna’s tech improves the procedure for banks by simplifying the process, as well as providing an in-demand digital product that consumers are starting to expect from their financial institutions.”

Sjöblom told me that by largely working with incumbent banks, Minna is providing them with a way to fight back against challenger banks.

Pascal Bouvier, Managing Partner, MiddleGame Ventures said: “We strongly believe in a vision where banks develop their checking account offerings into “connected and intelligent” platforms and where retail clients are able to interact in many more ways than in the recent past.”

#bank, #banking, #economy, #europe, #finance, #ing, #managing-partner, #middlegame-ventures, #netflix, #open-banking, #spotify, #subscription-services, #sweden, #tc, #up, #visa, #volvo

Eco-conscious car subscription platform Finn.auto raises $24.2M, with White Star and Zalando founders

finn.auto — which allows people to subscribe to their car instead of owning it, and offsetting their CO2 emissions — has raised a $24.2M / €20M Series A funding round. White Star Capital (which has also invested in Tier Mobility), and the Zalando co-CEOs Rubin Ritter, David Schneider and Robert Gentz are new investors in this round. All previous investors participated.

The funding comes just under a year since the company launched, after selling just 1,000 car subscriptions. It’s also partnered with Deutsche Post AG and Deutsche Telekom AG.

A number of car manufacturers have launched similar subscription services powered by various providers, such as Drover, Leaseplan and Wagonex.

UK-based startup Drover has raised a total of $40M in funding over 5 rounds. Their latest Series B funding round was with Shell Ventures and Cherry Ventures . Plus, there are branded services which include Audi on Demand, BMW, Citroën, DS, Jaguar Carpe, Land Rover Carpe, Mini, Volkswagen and Care by Volvo.

Digitally-led subscription services have the potential to disrupt the traditional car sales model, and new startups are entering the market all the time.

The fin.auto model is proving to appeal to environment-conscious millennials. For each car subscription, the company is offsetting the CO₂ emissions of its vehicles, meaning subscribers can drive their cars in a climate-neutral manner. Its now expanding its range of fully electric vehicles and, in cooperation with ClimatePartner, is supporting selected regional climate protection and development projects.

Key to the Munich-based startups’ play is the automation of fleet management processes and customer interactions, meaning it’s much easier and cheaper to run this kind of subscription operation.

Max-Josef Meier, CEO and founder of finn.auto said: “We are delighted to have been able to bring such high-caliber investors on board and that our existing investors are cementing their confidence with the current round. Mobility with your own car becomes as easy as buying shoes on the Internet. We already offer a large selection of different car brands, whose cars can be ordered online on our platform in just five minutes and at flexible runtimes. The delivery is then conveniently made to the front door.”

Nicholas Stocks, General Partner at White Star Capital added: “There is a huge opportunity globally to streamline outdated customer experiences in the automotive retail space and become the Amazon of the automotive industry. This is something finn.auto is excellently placed to capitalize on with its offering of convenience, flexibility, value and sustainability.”

#amazon, #audi, #bmw, #car-subscriptions, #care, #ceo, #cherry-ventures, #citroen, #drover, #ds, #europe, #general-partner, #mini, #munich, #subscription-services, #tc, #volkswagen, #volvo, #white-star-capital, #zalando

In face of federal inaction, California gets five automakers to cut CO2

Cars congest I-10 in Los Angeles late October 2006. That year, the state sued several US and Japanese automakers for their alleged contribution to global warming.

Enlarge / Cars congest I-10 in Los Angeles late October 2006. That year, the state sued several US and Japanese automakers for their alleged contribution to global warming. (credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, five automakers signed agreements with California’s Air Resources Board to implement cleaner emissions standards over the next few years. BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen Group, and Volvo will reduce vehicle emissions between model years 2021 and 2026.

Unlike Europe’s rules, which fine automakers if they exceed a blanket fleet average for the amount of CO2 emitted per km, CARB has different targets for cars and light trucks based on their relative footprint. But each of the five OEMs has agreed to cut the amount of CO2 its vehicles produce per mile by about 17 percent by MY2026. The new agreement is broadly similar to one announced last year, although with a revised timeline that now runs through 2026.

Specifically, CO2 emissions from small cars would drop from 157g/mile in 2021 to 130g/mile in 2026, large cars from 215g/mile to 178g/mile, small light trucks from 195g/mile to 162g/mile, and large light trucks from 335g/mile to 278g/mile, with a formula to adjust vehicles that fall in between the small and large footprint areas. For context, the EU’s new fleet-wide average, which came into effect in 2020, heavily fines any automaker whose fleet average exceeds 152g/mile (95g/km).

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#air-pollution, #bmw, #california-air-resources-board, #carb, #carbon-dioxide, #cars, #climate-change, #co2-emissions, #ford, #honda, #volkswagen-group, #volvo

Android Auto gets Google Calendar integration

Google today announced a number of updates to Android Auto (which runs on the user’s phone) and Android Automotive (which car manufacturers can natively build into their cars) that will affect both users and developers on these platforms. In addition, Google today announced that it expects Android Auto to be available in more than 100 million cars in the coming months.

The most obvious user-facing update is the integration of Google Calendar into Android Auto thanks to the new calendar app. There are very few surprises here as the app lets you see your upcoming appointments (and get directions to them or make a call right from the app).

Image Credits: Google

Another new feature is a new settings app, which now lets you manage your Android Auto preferences right from your in-car car display without having to go back to your phone to make major changes.

The company today also said that it is working with a number of partners like SpotHero, Chargepoint and Sygic to bring more navigation, parking and electric charging apps to the platform. Google expects that some of these companies will be able to beta test their new apps by the end of the year.

Image Credits: Google

Currently, there are about 3,000 apps in the Google Play store that support Android Auto. To expand this set of apps — which have to pass a number of tests to ensure that they don’t distract drivers — Google is launching a new Cars App Library that developers can use to ensure that tasks within their apps will only take a few taps and minimal glances.

Image Credits: Google


“To mitigate driver distraction, we collaborated with government, industry and academic institutions to develop our own best practice guidelines that we apply to every aspect of our product development process,” Google says in today’s update. “With our standard templates and guidelines, developers have the tools to easily optimize their apps for cars, without needing to become an expert in driver distraction.”

On the Android Automotive side, Google is working with developers and car manufacturers to help them bring more media apps to the platform. Currently, the Polestar 2 is the first car that uses the new system, but Volvo, Renault and General Motors have announced plans to launch infotainment systems that will use it.

For these developers, Google is launching an update emulator that now includes the Google Assistant, Maps and Google Play — and the Google Play Console now accepts Android Automotive APKs. Developers can also test their apps against the Polestar 2 system image.

#android, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #chargepoint, #computing, #driver, #general-motors, #google, #google-assistant, #google-now, #google-play, #google-play-store, #google-calendar, #major, #mobile-app, #renault, #smartphones, #software, #spothero, #tc, #volvo

The 2021 Polestar 2 has a great cabin—and deep Android integration

A white Polestar 2

Enlarge / On the road with the new Polestar 2. (credit: Polestar)

Any day I get to drive a new battery electric car is a good day. Which made last Friday a good day, because we got our first drive in the $59,900 Polestar 2. It’s the first mass-production model from a new standalone brand that was spun out of Volvo and Geely a few years ago. And the tl;dr is that the Polestar 2 is a stylish sedan with a wonderful interior, some very fancy suspension bits, and oh—it’s also the first car to use Google’s Android Automotive OS.

A brief history of Polestar

Once upon a time, Polestar was to Volvo as AMG is to Mercedes-Benz—a tuning company that spiffed up more pedestrian models, imbuing them with a little Nürburgring magic. But in 2017, Volvo and Geely (which owns the Swedish automaker) spun Polestar out as an independent company, one focused on sustainability and performance. Its first product was the Polestar 1, a hand-built $150,000 plug-in hybrid GT that dazzled me when I drove it in late 2019.

But with a total production run of only 1,500 cars over three years, you can think of the Polestar 1 like a calling card or a statement of intent. The future of Polestar is purely electric (so no more PHEVs)—and shipping cars in much greater volumes. By the end of 2021, we’ll see the Polestar 3, an SUV that promises to look a lot like the stunning Precept concept shown off in April. But first, there’s the Polestar 2. (Interesting fact: because Polestar is recognized as a standalone OEM, it has its own allocation of 200,000 vehicles for the IRS plug-in tax credit, as opposed to being counted together with Volvo.)

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#android-automotive, #battery-electric-vehicle, #cars, #features, #polestar-2, #volvo

Pinwheel is the API platform for income verification that every fintech and neobank needs

A lot of founders start building one idea and in the process, find another one that is more alluring. Perhaps the most well-known example is Tiny Speck, a game publisher of a relatively uninteresting MMORPG where the founders grew sufficiently frustrated with their internal team communications tools that they migrated from game building to designing a chatting app known as Slack.

That’s the story of Pinwheel and its founders Kurt Lin, Anish Basu, and Curtis Lee. Lee, who formerly founded Luxe, a valet service that sold to Volvo in 2017, had hired Lin as the company’s GM. After two years of “innovating” within the confines of a massive automobile manufacturer, the two were ready to spin out and head back to the open world of startups. Meanwhile, Lee and Basu had worked together previously at social gaming company Zynga on Mafia Wars, and connected the whole group together for a new project.

The big question was what to build. They started by developing a software platform for companies to easily offer their employees pre-tax benefits like expensing transit passes and funding health savings accounts. They hit a programming wall though: there was no easy way to connect their product to the myriad of payroll providers out there.

“We had built an internal platform with integrations into payroll systems … and what we realized as we were building was that there was kind of no solution out there that both aggregated and unlocked access in payroll systems largely because they’re very old and kind of closed systems,” Lin said. As they talked with other fintech founders about how to solve the roadblock, they realized that the lack of an API that they could use for their product was actually a potential product in and of itself.

And so came the idea for Pinwheel, an API layer for payroll data that handles everything from income and employee verification to easily switching and managing direct deposit. The company officially came out of stealth today and announced that it has raised a $7 million seed round from Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital and Greg Bettinelli at Upfront Ventures, who will both join the company’s board.

Like any API platform, there are a range of users and data that they want to connect to. For consumers, the main draw is automated direct deposit control, which will allow consumers to control where their paychecks go. For instance, if they want to split a direct deposit into multiple accounts, or regularly move part of their paycheck into a savings app like Digit or Acorns, Pinwheel can help them do that easily.

But the real interesting use cases start coming with other fintech business users of the platform. Take mortgages for instance. The process to apply for a mortgage is arduous, requiring numerous documents to prove income and employment status. Some of that is now digital — you can use tools like Notarize to digitally sign documents — but few options exist to directly pull payroll data into a unified, machine-readable format for all use cases. “Even in 2020 right now, most people still have to submit a paper pay stub or tax document every time they need to substantiate [their] data,” Lin said. Pinwheel wants to be the layer to power all of this data flow.

Kopelman of First Round says that it is precisely financial applications like mortgages and lending that attracted him to the company. “You take what would happen in four weeks and [Pinwheel] turns it into four minutes,” he said.

He first learned about the company during a board meeting of one of his portfolio companies and was intrigued. As he dug in, he liked that the founders “were extremely focused on the users” and he liked the focus on payroll. “It’s the source of truth and the source of funding,” he said. He noted that First Round has invested in a variety of future of work companies like Uber and TaskRabbit, and saw firsthand the need for better options for accessing payroll data easily and securely.

According to Pinwheel, 82% of Americans get paid via direct deposit — which means that the vast majority of income data is sitting in payroll systems.

Pinwheel is not a replacement for incumbent payroll providers like ADP or upstart companies like Gusto. Instead, it layers on top of them, much in the way that, say, Plaid is a layer on top of existing banks to provide other fintech companies secure access to a user’s banking data.

With Luxe, Lin and Lee formerly built an on-demand valet service, and I was curious what they learned from that experience and how that affected their approach to Pinwheel. Lee said that the big difference was understanding what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building valuable companies. “Certain businesses are just conducive to better outcomes versus others,” he said. He noted that compared to an on-demand business like Luxe, Pinwheel’s API play was not as capital intensive, had limited marginal costs, and it’s a pure technology play, making it easier to create value for the startup.

One other change: the team moved from San Francisco where Luxe was headquartered to New York City, where Pinwheel is based.

In the company’s current roster, Lin serves as CEO, Basu as CTO, and Lee is executive chairman. Lee is also a venture partner at NYC-based Primary Venture Partners.

In addition to First Round and Upfront, Wonder Ventures participated as did angels such as Adam Nash, the former CEO of personal finance manager Wealthfront and Mike Vaughan, former COO of payment app Venmo.

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Volvo plans cars with lidar and “eyes off” highway driving by 2022

The roof of a high-end sedan.

Enlarge / A Volvo roofline with integrated Luminar lidar sensor. (credit: Volvo)

Volvo will begin producing vehicles with powerful lidar sensors from startup Luminar, the Swedish company announced on Wednesday. It’s a significant milestone for the automotive industry as well as a major coup for Luminar. Volvo invested in Luminar in 2018.

Lidar sensors will be available starting in 2022 as part of the SPA 2 architecture—the successor to the SPA 1 architecture that underlies many of Volvo’s cars today. While Volvo hasn’t announced specific model information, this likely means that the lidar will be available on vehicles like the XC-90 starting with the 2023 model year.

While some leading high-end lidars spin 360 degrees, Luminar’s sensors are fixed in place with a 120-degree horizontal field of view. Volvo plans to integrate Luminar’s lidar into the car’s roof just above the windshield, where it will have a good view of the road ahead of the vehicle.

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#cars, #lidar, #luminar, #self-driving-cars, #volvo

Volvo to use Luminar’s lidar in production vehicles to unlock automated driving on highways

Volvo Cars will start producing vehicles in 2020 that are equipped with lidar and a perception stack — technology developed by Silicon Valley startup Luminar that the automaker will use to deploy an automated driving system for highways.

For now, the lidar will be part of a hardware package that consumers can add as an option to their Volvo vehicle, starting with the second-generation XC90. Volvo will combine Luminar’s lidar with cameras, radar, software and back-up systems for functions such as steering, braking and battery power to enable its highway pilot feature.

Volvo, which is known for making its advanced safety features standard, sees a bigger opportunity in its partnership with Luminar. The Swedish automaker said Luminar will help it improve advanced driver assistance systems and may lead to all of its second-generation Scalable Product Architecture (SPA2) vehicles to come with lidar as a standard feature.

Luminar and Volvo didn’t reveal how much this highway pilot package might cost. Luminar has previously said its Iris lidar unit will cost less than $1,000 per unit for production vehicles seeking full autonomy and about $500 for version used for more limited purposes like driver assistance.

The announcement is a milestone for Luminar and its whiz founder Austin Russell, who burst onto the autonomous vehicle startup scene in April 2017 after operating for years in secrecy. It also makes Volvo the first automaker to equip production vehicles with lidar — the light detection and ranging radar that measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world around the car.

Luminar’s Iris lidar sensors — which TechCrunch has described as about the size of really thick sandwich and one-third smaller than its previous iterations — will be integrated in the roof. The sensor’s tucked away placement is a departure from the bucket style spinning lidars that have become synonymous with autonomous vehicle development.

Image Credits: Volvo

Shipping a vehicle with the proper hardware and perception stack doesn’t mean customers will be able to let their Volvo take over driving on highways from the get go. The software, which is being developed by Zenuity, is still underway, Volvo CTO Henrik Green said.

The software will be activated wirelessly once it is verified to be safe in individual geographic locations. Volvo will continue to expand the capability of the software such as pushing up the maximum speed a vehicle can travel while driving autonomously. This hardware first-continual software update strategy is similar to Tesla, which has sold an automated driving package to consumers for years that has improved over time, but still does not allow for so-called “full self-driving.”

“Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so,” Green said. “At that point, your Volvo takes responsibility for the driving and you can relax, take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Over time, updates over the air will expand the areas in which the car can drive itself. For us, a safe introduction of autonomy is a gradual introduction.”

A turning point for lidar

Lidar sensors are considered by many automakers and tech companies an essential piece of technology to safely roll out autonomous vehicles. In the past 18 months, as the timeline to deploy commercial robotaxi fleets has expanded, automakers have turned back to developing nearer term tech for production vehicles.

“It’s a very isolated problem to solve and becomes a lot more solvable in a safe way than trying to solve autonomous driving through the inner city of Los Angeles or San Francisco,” Green said. “By narrowing the use case to those particular highways, we can bring safe autonomy into vehicles for personal use in the timeframe we’re talking about.”

Advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, that was pushed aside in pursuit of fully autonomous vehicles has become a darling once again. It’s prompted a pivot within the industry, particularly with lidar companies. Dozens of lidar startups once grappling to become the supplier of choice for fully driverless vehicles are now hawking their wares for use in regular old passenger cars, trucks and SUVs. Some lidar startups such as Luminar have developed the perception software as well in an effort to diversify their business and offer a more appealing package to automakers.

The companies will deepen their collaboration to ensure Luminar’s lidar technology is validated for series production. Volvo Cars said it has signed an agreement to possibly increase its minority stake in Luminar.

Luminar built its lidar from scratch, a lengthy process that it says has resulted in a simpler design and better performance. The company made a leap forward in April 2018 with the introduction of a new lidar unit that performs better, is cheaper and is able to be assembled in minutes rather than hours. Luminar also acquired Black Forest Engineering as part of its strategy to improve the quality along with efficiency. And it opened a 136,000-square-foot manufacturing center in Orlando, Florida, where it does all of its engineering and development as well as the mass manufacturing.

The startup has continued to improve its lidar as well as attract investors. Luminar announced last year it had raised $100 million, bringing its total to more than $250 million. The company unveiled a perception platform and its compact Iris lidar unit, which will now go into the Volvo.

“This is really kind of the holy grail that we’ve been working towards for the entire course of the business,” Russell said.

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