The Station: Bird has drama in San Francisco, drone delivery startup Zipline raises $250M

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.

Happy 4th of July! For those of you who are actually checking your emails today while getting some sun at an overcrowded beach or diligently grilling hot dogs, welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

Kirsten Korosec, your usual host, is off enjoying the great American outdoors, so please enjoy this takeover all the way from Auckland, New Zealand! Despite the winter chill down under and my singularity as an American on this island, I’m feeling particularly patriotic today. It was on this day 245 years ago that the 13 colonies declared themselves free and independent states, with all the power to establish commerce and pursue happiness and what not. 

As I sit here, a journalist, with a front row seat to the history of technological advancement, I can’t help but notice that the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, one that rebuffs authority for freedom to act as one chooses, is alive and well in the startup world. Technology, even in the transportation space, soars ever upward, unshackled in many cases by corresponding rules and regulations, and the government hastens to catch up. 

Don’t know what I mean? I had a conversation today with Lacuna CEO Hugh Martin, and he mentioned something that stayed with me and found its way into this rant. Venture capital is pouring into startups creating technology like eVTOL, air taxis, rockets and drones, but consider this: What is the ratio of startups building such futuristic tech compared to departments of transportation with aviation departments? Public private partnerships need to step up, and fast. 

Ok, rant over. Enjoy your firecrackers. 

Email me at rebecca.techcrunch@gmail.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also follow me on Twitter, but please don’t DM me. — @rebeccabellan.

Micromobbin’

Bird is having a tough week, pulling operations in San Francisco and Santa Monica, as well as Zaragoza in Spain. Both California cities had new scooter permits beginning on July 1, but there hasn’t been a Bird in sight since June 30.

In San Francisco, Bird goes by Scoot, the company it acquired in June 2019 that has been in SF for around a decade. Bird previously operated in the city, but was kicked out in 2018, along with Lime, so this was an off-hand way of making it back into the Golden City. This time around, the SFMTA is asking Bird to halt its operations, even as the 2021 permit program begins without it, and is also levying fines to the tune of $105,600 against the company. Apparently, Bird got caught implementing its fleet manager program with unauthorized subcontractors. The permit does allow for scooter companies to use subcontractors, but they need prior approval and proof of insurance, which Bird did not provide for at least three subcontractors. The SFMTA is currently deferring its decision on letting Bird back in until it has conducted an investigation into the matter.  

“Scoot is proud to have partnered with the city for nearly a decade providing shared micro electric vehicles for San Francisco,” a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are cooperating fully with the SFMTA to swiftly resolve the clerical error that occurred while urgently providing existing local businesses an alternative source of revenue during the pandemic. We apologize for the inconvenience to our riders during this evaluation period and are eager to once again serve San Francisco residents and visitors as soon as possible.” 

Lime and Spin, on the other hand, have been asked to stay in San Francisco, so congrats to them. They’ll also be operating in Santa Monica, where Bird was again not chosen for the 2021 scooter program in large part because the city found Bird’s service to be lacking in safety and rider features, affordability and customer service, according to the Santa Monica selection committee scorecard shared with TechCrunch. The company filed an appeal and threatened litigation back in May, but was denied this week and basically told it didn’t have a legal basis for suing, according to letters between Bird’s attorneys and the City of Santa Monica shared with TechCrunch. 

Veo and Wheels will also be operating in Santa Monica. Meanwhile in Spain, the Zaragoza City Council asked Bird to cease operations from September onward due to noncompliance issues. 

Speaking of Veo, the company has been on a bit of a roll after winning the New York permit. This week, Veo unveiled what might be the industry’s first e-scooter with integrated turn signals, a sweet new safety feature that hopefully the rest of the industry will pick up on. Veo will deploy these scooters in Santa Monica and NYC next week. 

Forget sharing scooters. Go get your own.

Electric micromobility dealership Ridepanda is making it easier for the average consumer to purchase a sick light duty electric vehicle like a scooter, bike or moped. Its e-commerce platform displays vehicles that are vetted by the team to ensure high quality with replaceable parts. Once you order a vehicle that’s been curated for you and your needs, it’ll get shipped to your door (optional assembly person included). The startup just raised $3.75 million, an extension from last year’s seed round, from lead investors like Yamaha Motor Company, Porsche Ventures and Proeza Ventures.

Something for everyone?

Have you ever felt like the electric micromobility space hasn’t been badass enough? Well, Evolve Skateboards has the solution for you! Its new Hadean Series skateboard can zoom up to 31 mph, and its battery can go up to 42 miles on a single charge. Rather than a wooden board, this gnarly ride’s frame is made with forged carbon composite making it strong enough to handle increased speeds and next level ollies. The cost is in the $2,500 to $3,000 range, so it’s certainly a toy for the dedicated thrill seeker.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Drone delivery startup Zipline, a company that got its start delivering medical supplies across Africa, has raised $250 million in new funding. This latest round has vaulted the company’s valuation to $2.75 billion and will fuel further expansion of its logistics networks in Africa and the United States.

Big bets are being made in the instant logistics space. While Zipline is pretty focused on delivering health supplies at the moment, it’s open to expanding into other industries as time goes on. Either way, it’s doing very well with partnerships like UPS in Rwanda, the Toyota Group in Japan and Novant Health and Walmart in the U.S.

Other deals that caught my attention…

Microsoft and Sompo Holdings have committed a combined $25 million as part of a partnership with connected vehicle data startup Wejo that will help the company collect, store and analyze data from millions of connected vehicles around the world. This follows Wejo’s SPAC merger with Virtuoso Acquisition Corp., which should close later this year. The company’s total PIPE financing is $125 million. 

While we’re talking SPACs, electric vehicle charging station network EVgo, which announced its SPAC deal with Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition Corp. back in January, has completed its business combination with CLII. The combined company will go by “EVgo Inc.” and has been trading as such on the NASDAQ since July 2.

Turntide Technologies, a sustainable technology developer that’s created a smart electric motor system, has announced $225 million in convertible note financing that it says will help fund projects to reduce carbon emissions in the commercial buildings, agriculture and transportation industries.The money comes from the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, Monashee Capital, JLL Spark, Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Suvretta Capital Management, bringing Turntide’s total funding to $400 million

Autonomous driving system developer Ghost Locomotion has raised a $100 million in Series D funding in a round led by Sutter Hill Ventures. Returning investor Founders Fund also participated in the round, along with Coatue. The money will be used toward R&D as the company continues to develop its highway self-driving and crash prevention technology.

Australian rocket launch startup Gilmour Space Technologies has raised $46 million in a Series C that it will use to take its small launch vehicle, Eris, to space next year. The round was led by Fine Structure Ventures and included contributions from Australian VCs Blackbird and Main Sequence, and Australian pension funds HESTA, Hostplus and NGS Super. 

You probably don’t remember, but a little while back we covered Onto, an electric vehicle subscription service in the U.K. Well, this model appears to be catching. A similar business going by imove in Norway has just raised around $19 million in a Series A led by pan-European online car market AutoScout24, venture capital player Norselab, and the Norwegian state climate investment company Nysnø.

Ghanaian-based software company Jetstream just raised $3 million in seed funding. The company aims to enable African businesses to see and control their own cross-border supply chains. It aggregates private sector logistics providers at African ports and borders, and brings them online. Local and international investors participated in the round, including Alitheia IDF, Golden Palm Investments, 4DX Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Asia Pacific Land, Breyer Labs and MSA Capital.

Electric propulsion and powertrain developer Enedym raised $15 million from a round led by P&A Paletta Giving Inc., TRIO Capital Group Inc., Napino Group, KWG Capital Inc., Pathfinder Asset Management Limited and others. The Canadian company will use the funds to accelerate its patented motor development tech and get into more of the electric motor market, including automotive, micromobility, windfarms and industrial markets.

Policy corner

the-station-deliveryHi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner. Let’s dive in.

Mayors from nine American cities, including Los Angeles and Denver, sent a letter on June 30 urging federal lawmakers to include funds for planning grants for advanced air mobility (AAM) in the massive infrastructure legislation currently being debated in Congress. The letter, shared with TechCrunch by a source familiar with the matter, argues that federal grant funding for planning studies would help cities better understand and prepare for AAM technology.

The brief letter is fuzzy on the details. The mayors request a “modest” amount of funding. The source told TechCrunch that it would likely be in the low tens of millions, with the assumption that a one-year planning study in a large metropolitan city would cost around $1 million. So the total funds would cover around 15-20 cities. The idea is that this information could inform future rule-makings or even the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization bill that’s coming up in 2023.

One thing that’s notable about the letter is a line that starts, “When this new transportation technology launches in 2024 and beyond … ”. While 2024 has been publicly set as a launch target for eVTOL developer like Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation, timelines are a tricky thing for emerging technologies.

In any case, I’ll be keeping track of these developments. It’s hard to imagine Congressional Republicans agreeing to funding for AAM when they could hardly agree on electric vehicles, but we’ll see — the low tens of millions may be a blip on the budget line of such a large funding package.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on June 29 issued an order requiring OEMS and drivers of vehicles equipped with autonomous driving systems to report crashes within one day of learning about them. The order specifically relates to SAE Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems or SAE Levels 3-5 automated driving systems. Any incident that involves an injury that had to be treated at a hospital, a death, a vehicle tow-away, air bag deployment, or a pedestrian or bicyclist must be reported, the order says.

NHTSA says the data collected from this order will help identify safety issues or defects in the technology. “By mandating crash reporting, the agency will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s acting administrator. “In fact, gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles.”

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

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Extra Crunchy

Alex Wilhelm explored some financials about Uber and its Chinese rival Didi, which is looking to list in the U.S. The company’s IPO filing was big news, but it appears to be valued several tens of billions of dollars lower than Uber, despite the fact that it’s larger and more profitable. 

Renaissance Capital calculates Didi’s midpoint valuation using a fully diluted share count at $67.5 billion, and Yahoo Finance pegged Uber at $95.2 billion. Why the large difference? Wilhelm speculates it could have something to do with Uber’s more expanded reach and different revenue streams, like its delivery business, as Didi is mostly concentrated on its Chinese mobility business. 

Rimac Automobili sat down with Kirsten Korosec to share his lessons from bootstrapping his EV company during our TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event. 

We actually bootstrapped a car company. We had revenue from day one, not because we wanted to, but because there was no alternative and there was absolutely no other way for us. So most of the years in business, we are actually profitable. And that’s pretty tough.

You have these big electric car startups that have received billions of funding and so on. Hats off to them, great job. But we had to survive from the very beginning by the stuff that we were doing and making for other car companies.

GM’s newest startup investment BrightDrop boasts an ecosystem of EV hardware and logistical software products targeting fleet and delivery companies. GM has invested $800 million to convert a Canadian factory that currently builds the Chevy Equinox to build the EV600 delivery van.

Electric vehicles 

Chinese EV maker NIO released its June delivery results. It delivered 8,083 units of smart electric vehicles which it says is a YOY increase of 116%. In Q2 in total it delivered nearly 22,000 vehicles, and in the first half of 2021, it delivered nearly 42,000 vehicles. Ok, NIO, we see you.

Honda will be selling its first electric SUV in North America in early 2024. The new car’s name, Prologue, is meant to signify the beginning of what the company called its “new electrified era.”

Revel, the company that started with electric moped shares and now has its hands in a lot of electric mobility pies, has officially launched its Superhub in Brooklyn. With 25 chargers all in one place and easily accessible, it’s the largest universal charging station in North America, the company says. 

This week Volvo Cars detailed its strategy for electrifying its entire car lineup by 2030. It plans to work with partners like Northvolt, Google and Luminar to build out its future vehicles lineup. It also unveiled the first images of “Concept Recharge,” a concept EV that has flat floors, two interior screens and rear “suicide doors” that open from the middle of the vehicle.

Autonomous vehicles

Pittsburgh-based autonomous trucking company Locomotion is pitching a convoy system in which a lead driver pilots a truck and another truck, with a human passenger/backup operator, follows it autonomously. The company told TechCrunch it thinks using such a human-guided system will be the fastest and smoothest route to commercialization. 

Aurora’s CEO Chris Urmson shared some thoughts on the progress the company has made on commercializing the Aurora Driver and delivering it at scale. 

Data is power

Kruze Consulting, a startup CFO/accounting firm with access to the books of over 450 venture-funded startups, has shared some data with TechCrunch that shows ride-share spend is rebounding in the startup world, with Uber expanding its lead against Lyft. The study also found cost per ride is higher than 2020 averages, likely due to a scarcity of drivers. 

Stockholm-based e-scooter operator Voi released a study that demonstrates how partnerships between operators and transit authorities can lead to higher public transit ridership. The study specifically details how a joint initiative with Stuttgart’s rail operator S-Bahn Stuttgart to integrate Voi and the Mobility Stuttgart app, saw at least a 35% increase in rail tickets purchased by Voi users. 

Fresh meat

Autonomous delivery company Nuro announced the appointment of James Owens as the company’s new head of Regulatory. 

Anthony Gregory, former VP of ground operations at Southwest, has joined GM-owned Cruise as the new VP of market development. 

Other tidbits

Columbus, Ohio won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge in 2015. Smart City Columbus ran from 2016 until mid-June 2021, using all kinds of new tech to improve its transportation system and general mobility. What did Columbus do with its $50 million in grant money? Check out all the tech that went into the Smart City.

BMW i Ventures, the venture capital arm of BMW Group, has announced a new $300 million fund to further its investment in technologies that make transportation, manufacturing and supply chains more sustainable. This isn’t about core car tech. It’s about everything that goes into making the cars, from sustainable materials for car seats to decarbonizing metal. 

Ford is partnering with insurance company State Farm to share vehicle data to better understand how safety features impact claims. A statement from Ford reads: “Ford’s new Vehicle Build Data product provides State Farm a comprehensive view of a vehicle’s feature content and a better understanding of how advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) impact the frequency and severity of auto claims. State Farm is also sharing claims data with Ford to help inform them on how specific vehicle features impact auto claims.” 

Last mile logistics management software company Onfleet has announced its 100 millionth delivery and significant company growth. 

General Motors has announced the creation of a new $25 million Climate Equity Fund for equitable climate action. This is intended as a complement to the automaker’s recently announced $35 billion investment into EV and AV technologies globally through 2025.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #bird, #electric-vehicles, #ridepanda, #tc, #the-station, #transportation, #zipline

California has no water and lots of liquidity

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Danny, Natasha, and Alex were on-deck this week, with Grace on the recording and edit. But, if you want to hear more about Robinhood, this is not the episode for you. If you want to learn more about the consumer fintech company’s IPO filing this is the episode you want. Basically, Robinhood filed after we had wrapped taping, so we had to do a special pod for the news.

So, this is the everything-but-Robinhood episode. And here’s what’s inside of it:

A four-episode week! With only Grace handling production! She’s amazing.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#acceleprise, #articulate, #bessemer, #brave, #china, #daylight, #didi, #duolingo, #edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fintech, #forum-ventures, #fundings-exits, #hinge-health, #ipo, #neeva, #peanut, #robinhood, #search, #sentinelone, #startups, #tc, #zipline

Zipline raises $250M at $2.75B valuation to build out its instant logistics service

Drone delivery startup Zipline, a company that got its start delivering medical supplies across Africa, has raised $250 million in new funding. This latest round has vaulted the company’s valuation to $2.75 billion and will fuel further expansion of its logistics networks in Africa and the United States.

Zipline made a name for itself first in Rwanda and then in Ghana, where it delivered blood, vaccines, life-saving medications and other essential supplies using autonomous electric drones. The company, which launched in 2014, is vertically integrated – meaning it designs and manufactures the unmanned drones, the logistics software, and the accompanying launch and landing system. Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo told TechCrunch that this was more by necessity than design, noting that when the company first started developing its drone tech, it quickly realized that off-the-shelf components weren’t reliable or didn’t integrate well.

“Over time Zipline has had to basically rip every single thing out of the system, whether it was the flight computer [. . .] or the battery pack, or the aircraft itself. And we’ve had to build every single one of those things completely from scratch.”

Rinaudo stressed that Zipline doesn’t think of itself as a drone company, but rather an instant logistics provider. And while the company iteratively improves its autonomous drone model, much of its successes over the past five years have been related to building out its logistics network. After what Rinaudo described as a challenging first year of operations in Rwanda in 2016, the company has since partnered with logistics company UPS in that East African country, the Toyota Group in Japan, and it’s started working with Nigeria’s Kaduna and Cross River States. Here in the United States, the company has partnered with Novant Health to deliver medical equipment and personal protective gear in North Carolina and, notably, with retail giant Walmart delivering health and wellness products.

Unlike many companies that suffered during the pandemic, for Zipline there was an obvious opportunity to further accelerate its operations – not only delivering personal protective equipment but also COVID-19 vaccines. The company said it is planning to deliver 2.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.

Zipline sees an additional opportunity in delivering healthcare items, such as pharmaceutical prescriptions, directly to people’s homes. “[Hospitals] really see instant logistics as the other half of telepresence,” Rinaudo said. “If you can have someone quickly pull out their phone and talk to a doctor, then the other half of the equation is, can we get you what you need?”

Image Credits: Zipline

The company’s currently working with the Federal Aviation Administration to move from operating under an emergency waiver – granted by regulators during the pandemic – to a full commercial operating certification. One advantage Zipline may have over competitors in the FAA’s certification process is that it has many thousands of hours of safe flight data to show that it’s system is sound. It would be the first drone delivery company to receive such a certification.

In the long run, Zipline may start to focus on other industries, but for now it’s laser focused on healthcare, Rinaudo said. He noted that in the last few months alone the company has signed service contracts for five new distribution centers in Nigeria and four in Ghana, as well as “multiple new service contracts” with hospital systems in the United States. This latest funding round, led by Baillie Gifford and with support from returning investors Temasek and Katalyst Ventures, and new investors Fidelity, Intercorp, Emerging Capital Partners and Reinvest Capital, will be used to build out the infrastructure for these new contracts.

Rinaudo said the aim is for Zipline to serve the majority of single-family detached homes across the United States over the coming three years or so.

“The fact that so many big companies like Toyota and Walmart are starting to make big bets in this instant logistics space, I think is a pretty clear sign that people realize this is coming,” Rinaudo said. “There’s a tidal wave of transformation coming. The exciting thing about it is that it’s going to totally transform the way that healthcare systems work, it’s going to totally transform the way that economic systems work, and it’s going to make it possible for logistics to serve people equally.”

#africa, #commercial-drones, #drone-delivery, #logistics, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #unmanned-aerial-vehicles, #zipline

The Station: Argo AI plots its fundraising course and Waymo changes leadership

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

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

There is a lot to get to, so let’s dive right in.

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

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Rebecca Bellan is back with some micromobbin’ insights. Let’s dig in and take a look at this roundup of news.

It was a buzzy week for ebikes news, another indication that there is still demand — or at least the perception of demand — for this form of mobility.

Take Gocycle as just one example. The UK-based company released its fourth generation of folding electric bikes, which are claimed to be lighter and more powerful. The new line is made of three models — the G4 ($3,999), G4i ($4,999) and G4i+ ($5,999) — and they all have 20-inch wheels, a sealed chain drive with a 3-speed rear hub transmission, hydraulic disc brakes, a polymer reach shock and a 500-watt front motor. This is all to say, this bike can rip.

Ebike sharing also continues to be a busy market with startups making plans and governments making orders.

Smoove, a French mobility startup. is partnering with Zoov, another mobility startup that focuses on IoT and self-diagnosis features, to try to become leaders in the European e-bike sharing market. Smoove is already well-placed in major cities like Paris, Vancouver, Lima and Moscow, and now will be joining forces with Zoov’s high quality tech and compact docking stations.

China-based EZGO announced an order of e-bikes to the Ukraine worth 1 million RMB, or about $150,000. Ukraine is also purchasing EZGO’s “Dilang” brand of e-modes, as well as some electric tricycles. The company hopes to begin distribution within the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, in the land of policy …

A council committee has delayed votes to make changes to e-scooter and e-bike sharing schemes in Denver.

The deal they’re working out involves allowing the two micromobility companies to get free access to operating on the city’s streets. Usually, these companies would pay the city for the right to operate, but if the Denver City Council approves their licenses, Lyft and Lime will just be making profits. The upside is that it (hopefully) gets more people out of cars and into more sustainable modes of transport. This deal also doesn’t require Denverites to contribute to funding, unlike the deal Denver had with B-cycle, the city’s original bike share nonprofit.

 — Rebecca Bellan 

Deal of the week

money the station

Lilium became the latest electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft startup to seek capital by going public via a reverse merger with a “blank check” company. In this deal, Lilium announced a merger with special purpose acquisition company Qell Acquisition Corp, in a deal valuing the combined business at $3.3 billion.

(Side note: Qell Acquisition Corp. is a SPAC led by Barry Engle, a former president of General Motors North America.) Once the merger is complete, Lilium will trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol LILM.

The German-based startup designs and builds eVTOLs and has aspirations to launch commercial air taxi operations in 2024. Lilium plans to launch an air taxi network in Florida with up to 14 vertiport development sites, which the company says will be built and operated by its infrastructure partners.

Other deals that got my attention …

Cazoo, the UK-based used car sales platform, announced it too will merge with a special purpose acquisition company in a deal that values it at an eye-popping $7 billion. Bloomberg reported.

Chargerhelp!, an on-demand EV charger repair startup, has raised $2.75 million from investors Trucks VC, Kapor Capital, JFF, Energy Impact Partners and The Fund. This round values the startup, which was founded in January 2020, at $11 million post-money. The startup is interesting to me because as far as my research has shown there isn’t a lot of competition; and there should be. They also have a progressive (dare I suggest sustainable approach) to hiring.

Glovo, a startup out of Spain with 10 million users that delivers restaurant takeout, groceries and other items in partnership with brick-and-mortar businesses, raised $528 million in a Series F round. The round is significant not just because of its size, but because of its proximity to Deliveroo’s raising more than $2 billion ahead of its debut on the London Stock Exchange this week.

To offset the thin (or even negative) margins that are typically associated with a lot of delivery startups, Glovo aims to become the market leader in the 20 markets in Europe where it is live today, in part by expanding its “q-commerce” service — the delivery of items to urban consumers in 30 minutes or less, TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden reported. It will be using the money to double down on that strategy, including hiring up to 200 more engineers to work in its headquarters in Barcelona, as well as hubs in Madrid and Warsaw, Poland to build out the technology to underpin it.

LGN, a UK-based startup focused on edge AI, raised $2 million in a round that included investors Trucks VC, Luminous Ventures, and Jaguar Land Rover.

The company, which was founded in 2018 by former Apple and BMW executive Daniel Warner, Oxbridge research fellow Dr Luke Robinson and Professor Vladimir Čeperić of MIT and the University of Zagreb, plans to use the funds to develop its product and hire more employees. Specifically, the company said it is working on low-latency inference technology that can process optical data on-chip orders faster than current technology allows, VentureBeat reported.

Wavesense, the Massachusetts-based startup that makes ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology for self-driving cars, raised $15 million in a round led by Rhapsody Venture Partners and Impossible Ventures.

Takeaways from Biden’s plans

What will it take to get Americans to choose an electric vehicle for their next car and to get American supply chains up to the task of manufacturing them in-house? According to President Joe Biden’s ambitious infrastructure plan unveiled Wednesday, the answer is $174 billion.

The funds are just one part of the $2 trillion plan, which seeks to overhaul the lifelines that keep the country running, such as our transportation networks, electric grid and even broadband. In some ways, the plan is bipartisan genius: it combines Democrats’ concern over climate change with Republicans’ concern over Chinese dominance in manufacturing, and appeals to both parties in its promise to revitalize domestic jobs. But the plan still needs approval from Congress before it can move forward.

To spur Americans to buy electric, Biden has taken a two-pronged approach: make them cheaper (through tax credits and rebates) and make EV chargers more readily available (by building a staggeringly large network of 500,000 chargers by 2030). His administration hasn’t released details on the size of the incentives, so it’s unclear whether they will be larger than the $7,500 tax credit already available for EVs. It’s also unclear whether Tesla and GM will qualify, as the current credit isn’t available for manufacturers that have already sold more than 200,000 EVs.

For now, Biden’s administration is withholding a lot of details — how will his plan help automakers “spur domestic supply chains from raw materials to parts” and “retool factories to compete globally”? — so we’ll keep an eye out for these details in the future.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Argo AI plots its fundraising course

the station autonomous vehicles1

I dared to take some time off, which is all well and good until news breaks in the world of autonomous vehicles. A report from The Information said that Argo AI CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky told employees in an all-hands meeting that the autonomous vehicle startup was planning for a public listing later this year.

I connected with some sources – vacation be damned — and have more context to share with you. Salesky did indeed mention the prospect of an IPO during the company’s regular weekly all-hands meeting. There is a bit more to the story though. The comments were made as the CEO discussed upcoming important milestones in 2021 that will lead to an IPO or a significant raise of some kind. The upshot: apparently all fundraising options are on the table, including a merger with a special acquisition company or SPAC.

Argo, as one source told me, is intent on scaling. Raising capital is a key part of that plan. The company also plans to expand testing beyond the six cities it currently is in — including into Europe. (Remember, Volkswagen is a backer and a customer. )

All of that takes money. Argo has raised $2 billion to date. That’s no small sum and yet far below the war chests of Cruise and Waymo.

The fundraising effort has not started in earnest. There is no roadshow, according to folks familiar. The broad plan is to secure investors, which could turn into the PIPE (private investment in public equity) for a SPAC or a “fairly substantial private round,” according to one insider.

Waymo’s changing of the guard

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced on Friday that he is stepping down from the leadership position he held for five years. The CEO position will now be held by two people: Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO and Dmitri Dolgov, who was part of the original Google self-driving project and was most recently CTO.

The idea is that the co-CEOs will take their respective expertise — business and engineering — and combine them to help Waymo scale up commercially. Co-CEO models are risky, so it will be interesting to see if the pair can work together, and importantly, get their employees to buy into the idea. Dolgov and Mawakana apparently brought the co-CEO idea to the board, one source told me. (Remember Waymo is an Alphabet company, and so its leaders ultimately answer to their parent.)

In a post on LinkedIn, Krafcik described his time at the company and hinted at a few of his plans, which for now seems to be focused on settling in Austin, Texas and regrouping with family and friends. He’s also now listed as an advisor to Waymo, a contractual position that doesn’t have a specific end date.

As you might suspect, I received lots of texts and email messages from sources within the industry wanting to weigh in or provide inside information (or speculate) why Krafcik left.

Here’s what I can tell you. Krafcik could be a polarizing figure within Waymo, particularly in the early days of his employment when it was still a “project” and had not yet become an independent company under Alphabet. That transition led to the departure of some of the Google self-driving project’s key engineers and leaders, including Chris Urmson, Bryan Salesky and Dave Ferguson, who went on to found AV startups Aurora, Argo AI and Nuro.

Krafcik’s tenure was also marked by extreme growth — in terms of number of employees — as well as an aggressive push to lock up OEM and supplier partners, the launch of a ride-hailing service in the suburbs of Phoenix, expanded testing and its first external investment round of $2.25 billion. That round was extended by another $750 million, bringing the total size of the financing to $3 billion.

Dolgov and Mawakana have some decisions to make on how they want to proceed and where to place their bets. My educated forecast? Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous delivery unit, will become a bigger priority along with a more visible push into complex urban environments like San Francisco.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Here are a few other items worth mentioning.

It’s electric

Amazon Web Services is expanding its offerings and anticipating the inevitable spike in EVs by partnering with Swiss automation company ABB. The two are working on a single-view electric fleet management platform that can work with any charging infrastructure or EV.

“Not only do fleet managers have to contend with the speed of development in charging technology, but they also need real-time vehicle and charging status information, access to charging infrastructures and information for hands-on maintenance,” Frank Muehlon, president of ABB’s e-mobility division, told TechCrunch. “This new real-time EV fleet management solution will set new standards in the world of electric mobility for global fleet operators and help them realize improved operations.”

Autonomous vehicles

Cartken, the robotics startup founded by ex-Google employees, has partnered with REEF Technology to bring self-driving delivery robots to the streets of downtown Miami. REEF,  a startup that operates parking lots and tech-focused neighborhood hubs, to develop and deploy the robots. They are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius of its delivery hubs.’

Geodis, the global logistics company, has tapped startup Phantom Auto to help it deploy forklifts that can be controlled remotely by human operators located hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away. The aim is to use the technology to reduce operator fatigue — and the injuries that can occur as a result — as well as reduce the number of people physically inside warehouses, according to the Geodis.

Motional, which is partnering with Lyft for ride-hailing services, revealed this week that it would be integrating its tech with the Hyundai IONIQ5. Customers in certain markets will be able to book this vehicle starting in 2023.

Optimus Ride, an autonomous electric mobility company, announced a partnership with sports car manufacturer Polaris to commercialize a new breed of Polaris GEM low-speed vehicles. The vehicles will serve as microtransit for certain academic or corporate campuses, mixed-use developments and other geofenced, localized environments. Side note: 2023 seems to be a big year for upcoming electric, autonomous vehicles.

Delivery

Zipline, the drone delivery service startup, announced a partnership with Toyota Tsusho
Corporation that will focus on bringing medical and pharmaceutical supplies to healthcare facilities in Japan. Toyota Tsusho is already an investor in Zipline and so this is a deepening of that relationship.

The partnership also marks Zipline’s entrance into Japan. The company already delivers medical supplies in Ghana and Rwanda, and also operates in the United States.

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #chris-urmson, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #geodis, #john-krafcik, #motional, #tc, #transportation, #waymo, #zipline

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

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

#africa, #andela, #articles, #auto-rickshaw, #ceo, #chris-folayan, #delivery-drone, #department-of-transportation, #dhl, #dorothy-zimuto, #east-africa, #electricity, #emerging-technologies, #ghana, #healthcare, #internet-service, #investment, #jeremy-johnson, #keenan-wyrobek, #keller-rinaudo, #kenya, #lagos, #link-commerce, #nairobi, #nigeria, #nissan, #north-carolina, #novant-health, #novastar-ventures, #online-sales, #online-stores, #oregon, #retail, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #south-africa, #steve-beck, #tc, #technology, #transport, #uber, #united-states, #ups, #zimbabwe, #zipline

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.

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