How Amazon-owned Zoox designed its self-driving vehicles to prevent crashes and protect if they do

The hubbub surrounding the autonomous vehicle industry often focuses on venture capital rounds, speculation about IPOs and acquisitions. But the industry’s future also hinges on the high-stakes task of proving the technology can operate safer than human drivers do today and gaining the public’s trust. In short: safety matters.

Zoox issued a safety report Tuesday that aims to give new insight into its custom electric autonomous vehicle and describes in greater detail various design details aimed at preventing crashes and protecting if they do.

“As you know, and something everybody keeps talking about, is that part of the rationale for doing AVs is because of safety, safety, safety, but they never get to the next bullet (point) right? What are you going to actually do to prevent those crashes, to save those lives?” Mark Rosekind, the company’s chief safety innovation officer and former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

Rosekind this latest report says answers those questions.

Zoox is a bit different from its rivals. It isn’t just developing the self-driving software stack. The company is responsible for creating the on-demand ride-sharing app and the vehicle itself. Zoox also plans to own, manage and operate its robotaxi fleet.

Zoox unveiled in December the electric, autonomous robotaxi it built from the ground up — a cube-like vehicle loaded with sensors, no steering wheel and a moonroof that is capable of transporting four people at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour. At the time, Zoox shared a few specs on the four-seat vehicle, including the face-to-face symmetrical seating configuration, similar to what a train traveler might encounter, and the 133 kilowatt-hour battery that the company said allows it to operate for up to 16 continuous hours on a single charge. But not everything was revealed, particularly details about how it would protect occupants in the vehicle as well as the pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers it will be sharing the road with.

To be clear, Zoox is not the only AV company issuing safety reports. Voluntary safety self-assessment reports, or VSSAs, have become fairly common in the industry. These voluntary safety reports, which are included in NHTSA’s Automated Driving Systems VSSA Disclosure Index, are supposed to cover 12 areas, including the vehicle’s design, crash simulation scenarios, benchmarks for testing as well as protective measures for occupants and other road users.

Zoox’s first safety report came out in 2018, which outlined the company’s “prevent and protect” philosophy. This latest one reveals how Zoox plans to meet its safety goals, including specific details on the design of the vehicle. And more safety reports are coming — per a few hints in this latest one — including details about its collision avoidance system and the lighting system the vehicle uses for communicating with other road users.

Zoox has designed and built more than 100 safety innovations into its purposeful vehicle. Rosekind shared details on nine of them that fall into three categories: driving control, no single point of failure and rider protection.

Driving control

Zoox at Coit Tower

Image Credits: Zoox

Zoox’s purpose-built vehicle has independent braking and inactive suspension system, which means that each of the brakes has its own electronic control unit, allowing for more control over traction on the road, weight distribution and an active suspension. All of that translates to shorter stopping distances.

The vehicle also has four-wheel steering, which Rosekind noted doesn’t exist on any car on the road today, and is bidirectional. Four wheel steering allows the vehicle to simultaneously adjust where it is headed and its position within the lane.

“Once our software has determined the path for the vehicle, it’ll stay on that path down to centimeters accuracy — even at speed through a curb, Rosekind explained.

The four-wheel steering combined with the vehicle’s symmetrical design allows for it to travel bidirectionally. The bidirectional capability means no more U-turns or three-point turns, two maneuvers that are more complex, time consuming and can make occupants more vulnerable to oncoming traffic. 

No single point of failure

Rosekind said the company’s design objective was that there would be no single point of failure for its safety critical systems. For instance, the vehicle has two powertrains. The motors, drive systems and batteries work in conjunction with each other. If one component in the system fails, the other one will take over.

The vehicle also has two batteries as well as a safety diagnostics system that monitors all of the hardware, software and firmware. Sensors like lidar and. radar are also placed on the four corners of the vehicle, each one which provides a 270-degree field of view.

The diagnostic system goes beyond monitoring and will mitigate a failure or performance problem that it identifies. For instance, if a sensor has degraded performance from damage or debris, it will activate a cleaning system on the vehicle or turn it from bidirectional to unidirectional, so the sensor in a position where basically doesn’t matter if it is obscured, Rosekind explained. 

“Failsafe operational means it’s going to continue the ride, let you out, and then go take care of whatever the issue is, or pull over to a safe spot,” he said.

Rider protection

Zoox Seatbelt Notification

Image Credits: Zoox

Zoox’s goal is for its vehicle to meet a five-star crash protection for every seat in the vehicle. The vehicles are currently going through crash testing now, Rosekind said, adding that it is “going quite well and almost complete.”

The company also designed a new kind of airbag system that contains five different airbags. Curtain airbags are on each side of the vehicle, a frontal one is divided in two parts to protect the head, neck and chest. There are also rear and side seat airbags.

Within the system is an airbag control unit that can monitor where a collision is coming as well as the velocity and determine which airbags and in what order to deploy. Instead of every airbag deploying at once, they will inflate based on the collision location and the severity of the impact.

Finally, the vehicle has sensors in the seat, the buckle and even the coating on the webbing of the seatbelt to be able to tell if passengers are using the seatbelt. The vehicle will not start until everybody’s buckled up, Rosekind said.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicle, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #transportation, #zoox

The Station: Robotaxi apps on the rise, an AI pioneer’s new startup and mobility event highlights

Hello and 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.

Welp, the mobility event is over and we had loads of interesting interviews and anyone with an Extra Crunch subscription can access the videos. For instance, Rita Liao moderated a panel with executives from three Chinese robotaxi companies — WeRide, AutoX and Momenta — that also test and develop in Europe and the United States.

One interesting takeaway on the regulations front, is that policymaking for AVs in China is driven from the bottom up rather than a top-down effort by the central government, the three panelists explained.  They also spoke about how foreign counterparts can crack open China’s market.

Jewel Li from AutoX laid out the challenges of operating in China.

I think it’s not as simple as opening up an office, right? It’s much more than that, to be able to succeed in the market. You need to build the landscape, you need to build the ecosystem, your own partners. The whole ecosystem chain is quite long. It’s quite complicated, involving government relations. It also involves the data that you have already accumulated. The driving experience has to fit in the local world. Many things comes into play.

Other highlights included my interview with Mate Rimac of Rimac Automobili, who disclosed about how close the company came to failing, provided advice to fellow and aspiring founders and explained his interest in electric robotaxis. Then there was the discussion about the AV industry between Motional’s Karl Iagnemma and Aurora’s Chris Urmson — not an interview to miss. More recaps of the event will be published in the coming week.

Some other coverage from the event:

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’

This week, as Kirsten Korosec mentioned above, we had our big Mobility event, where the leaders, upstarts and startups of the mobility world joined us on our virtual stage to talk about the future of moving people, goods and even ideas. I led a panel with Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig. We discussed the importance of mobility companies being equitable and accessible to everyone in a city, especially the most vulnerable, and how that affects profitability.

Something interesting that came out of my questioning was Reig’s comments about Revel achieving profitability.  (The revelations about profitability were first shared in May, although Reig did provide a bit more color during the event). For three months in the summer of 2020, Revel was full-company profitable, “so beyond just market profitability, beyond just unit economics,” said Reig. “I’m talking my salary and everything else that’s involved in running a company.”

This was back when Revel was only an e-moped company and before it added several other business lines, including EV charging hubs, ebikes and ride-hailing. We don’t know exactly how Revel is measuring profitably — are we talking EBITDA? gross profit? — and on the panel we didn’t have time to dig into the money salad. But it is notable as the company settles into its newest business line of ride-hailable Tesla vehicles. We’ll be watching Revel closely as it continues to ramp up its different revenue streams. Maybe, someday they’ll go public so we can have a closer look.

Let’s get back to the important issue of whether or not mobility companies, like Revel, can help cities achieve equitability of movement. Movement should be a right, not a privilege, but it often feels like we’re playing the same game with different vehicles today. Mobility has always benefited those at the top more, so why should it be any different today? Does the moral highway really drive us toward justice? What good reason do companies have to spend their time and money actually making sure their services help cities achieve equity of movement?

“I think if you’re doing the work that theoretically is to serve people then you should want to serve all people,” said Butler. “For companies, I would say that people like to say it takes too much time or costs too much money to do things equitably, but whether or not you’re retrofitting a house or retrofitting your company, whenever you retrofit something it costs more money. So if you think about equity as something you build in from the beginning, it will actually save you money and take less time than if you try to do it later because someone tells you to do it or you’ve had some controversy.”

You can watch the full talk on ExtraCrunch here.

Some micro morsels…

Leo Riders, an e-scooter platform for those in the hospitality industry, is expanding into Athens, Greece, with more than 20 agreements with local hotels. Hotels like Brown Hotel and Colors Urban Hotel will now be able to offer guests e-scooters to ride around the city. Sounds sick. What could go wrong?!

E-scooter subscription and sales company Unagi is expanding its “All-Access” service” to Chicago, D.C., and some other regions around those two great American cities.

Lime is extending its ‘Ride to Recovery’ initiative — which provides free e-scooter and bike rides to vaccine appointments — to the fourth of July. Riders can access a promo code for two free 15-minute rides here, as well as information on vaccines and where to get one.

Future Motion’s Onewheel, the unique and fun-looking vehicle that’s like a skateboard with a giant wheel in the middle of the board, has reached 52.5 million miles. They wanted me to tell you that’s 220 trips to the moon and back, 2,100 times around the earth and nearly 18,000 trips between Santa Cruz, California and NYC.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Didi, Chinese ride-hailing company, has already raised tens of billions of dollars from the private market. Now it’s ready to tap the public one.

The company filed for an IPO and digging a bit into the filing here’s what we find. As TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm notes, the S-1 shows how quickly and painfully COVID-19 blunted Didi’s global operations. As COVID-19 numbers have fallen and economies have opened back up. Didi has settled back to late-2019 gross transaction volume numbers.

Didi manage a GTV recovery in China. However, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive. And taking a historical look at its financial figures, it’s clear that Didi has never generated positive operating income. The company’s revenues in Q1 2021 were smaller than its Q3 and Q4 2020 numbers, for example.

A few other items of note, the company reported a $1.7 billion loss on $21.6 billion in revenue for 2020. And some of its largest stakeholders are Softbank with 21.5%, Uber with 12/5% and Tencent with 6.8%.

Other deals that got my attention …

Branch Insurance, a startup offering bundled home and auto insurance, raised $50 million in a Series B funding round led by Anthemis Group. Acrew, Cherry Creek Holdings and existing backers Greycroft, HSCM Bermuda, American Family Ventures, SignalFire, SCOR P&C Ventures, Foundation Capital and Tower IV also participated in the round. The startup has raised $82.5 million in total funding since its inception in 2017.

A couple of Chinese grocery delivery companies filed for IPOs this week. First up is Dingdong, which previously raised more than $400 million from investors including General Atlantic, Sequoia Capital China, Starquest China, Qiming Venture Partners, Bertelsmann Asia Investments and General Atlantic. The regulatory filing shows that Digndong had a net loss of $485 million on $1.73 billion in revenue last year. Then there’s Missfresh, which has raised more than $2 billion from investors including a fund under state-backed China International Capital Corporation,  ICBC International Securities, Tencent, Abu Dhabi Capital Group, Tiger Global and a fund managed by the government of Changshu county. Missfresh reported a $252 million net loss on $956 million in revenue in 2020, according to the filing.

Circulor, a supply chain traceability and CO2 tracking company, raised $14 million in Series A funding round. The Westly Group led the round with participation by Salesforce Ventures, BHP Ventures, Future Positive Capital, 24Haymarket and Sky Ocean Ventures, alongside existing investors in the company. Circulor’s product is used by Volvo Cars to  trace the cobalt used in its all-electric XC40 Recharge and by Polestar to assess the environmental and human rights risks of sourcing cobalt, lithium, nickel, lithium and mica for its electric cars.

Embraer’s electric vehicle takeoff and landing unit Eve Urban Air Mobility is in talks to merge with special purpose acquisition company Zanite Acquisition Corp. The deal would value the combined entity at about $2 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014, raised more than $300 million in a Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic. Huatai International Private Equity Fund, the USD investment arm of Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital as well as Qiming Venture Partners also participated.

Incari, Berlin-based HMI startup, closed a €15 million ($18.1 million) Series A financing round led by Lukasz Gadowski, the founder of Delivery Hero and Team Europe.

Kitty Hawk, the eVTOL company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, acquired 3D Robotics. Under the deal, 3D Robotics co-founder Chris Anderson will become chief operating officer at Kitty Hawk, Forbes reported. The article also revealed that Kitty Hawk engineer Damon Vander Lind, who built the initial versions of Heaviside, was dismissed, CEO Sebastian Thrun confirmed to Forbes.

Nvidia is acquiring DeepMap, the high-definition mapping startup announced. The company said its mapping IP will help Nvidia’s autonomous vehicle technology sector, Nvidia Drive. Nvidia is expected to finalize the acquisition in Q3 2021.

Trucks Venture Capital, the venture firm that backs early-stage entrepreneurs in transportation, is launching two new funds. Its new core fund, known as Trucks Venture Fund 2, was raised over the last year and recently closed on $52,525,252. The fund is backed by three auto OEMs and three auto suppliers that make everything from bicycles to Class 8 big rig trucks, as well as one communications company, according to Trucks VC. The VC’s new follow-on fund, Trucks Growth Fund, will provide later-stage capital to some of the most promising companies already in Trucks’ portfolio.

Waabi, a new autonomous vehicle startup founded by AI pioneer and chief scientist at Uber ATG Raquel Urtasun, raised $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures, with additional participation from Uber, 8VC, Radical Ventures, OMERS Ventures, BDC and Aurora Innovation, as well as leading AI researchers Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler and others. Urtasun said she is taking what she describes as an “AI-first approach” to speed up the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, starting with long-haul trucks.

WhereIsMyTransport announced it is set to raise $14.5 million in Series A extension round led by Naspers Foundry, Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund, and SBI Investment. Other participants confirmed in the extension are Capria Ventures and Wuri Ventures, Mission Gate, B&Y, and KDDI Open Innovation Fund managed by Global Brain.

Robotaxi apps on the rise

the station autonomous vehicles1

Last week, I shared the Waymo One app information courtesy of Sensor Tower, the mobile app market intelligence firm. There are not many other AV developers that have launched ride-hailing apps, although that might be changing.

Argo AI and Zoox have job listings for Android software engineers. Zoox is also looking for an iOS engineer as well.

Sensor Tower did note to TechCrunch that Pony.ai has launched a few apps. PonyPilot+ has hit about 6,000 installs on China’s App Store. PonyPilot has seen about 2,000 in the U.S., most of which happened in the first three months of 2020, according to Sensor Tower. The company also has two apps available in Russia called PonyExpress+, which has seen about 1,500 installs, and PonyFleetGO. There are no download estimates for PonyFleetGo.

AutoX also has an app available, AutoX Food Delivery, which has reached about 200 installs in the United States.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

President Joe Biden has set his sights on hardening the country’s supply chains for essential goods and critical minerals. The White House said on June 8 it had created a task force aimed at addressing supply chain bottlenecks, including in semiconductors and critical minerals used in EV batteries.

Biden wants to get many more Americans driving electric vehicles, but the majority of key critical minerals in batteries, like lithium and graphite, are mined and processed abroad. As part of a Fact Sheet also released on June 8, Biden’s administration said it would create a task force to identify opportunities to produce minerals domestically — something that until now has kicked up a lot of controversy amongst environmental groups.

The U.S. Department of Energy released a blueprint for lithium batteries through 2030 that calls for eliminating two key minerals from batteries — cobalt and nickel — as a way of fortifying the supply chain. The DOE says it will support R&D efforts to develop batteries without these minerals, which are largely found in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo or Indonesia, and are processed mainly in China. Scientific innovation is certainly one way to reduce America’s dependence on foreign adversaries for its batteries.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a sweeping $547 billion infrastructure package after a whopping 19 hours of debate (pour one out for the Congressional interns). The final vote was 38-26. As a reminder, the INVEST in America Act would largely fund improvements to roads, bridges and passenger rail, but earmarks $4 billion in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and around $4 billion to invest in zero-emission transit vehicles.

Just two Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the bill. The INVEST in America Act is still very, very far from becoming law: it now advances to the full House for further debate, then would be sent to the Senate for further rehashing, etcetera etcetera… but nevertheless it’s an encouraging sign, especially as legislators managed to work out over 200 proposed amendments to the legislation.

GM is changing its tune on proposed tailpipe emission rules in California. The country’s largest automaker had previously opposed California’s tough emissions limits for passenger vehicles, which it reached in concert with five other automakers: Ford, Honda Motor Company, Volkswagen AG, Volvo and BMW. The New York Times reported that GM CEO Mary Barra said in a Wednesday letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan that “GM supports the emissions reduction goals of California through model year ’26,” and that, “the auto industry is embarking upon a profound transition as we do our part to achieve the country’s climate commitments.”

However, she said that GM “believes that the same environmental benefits can and should be achieved through a high-volume electric vehicle pathway.” That is to say, she said the best way to reduce emissions is to boost EV sales through government incentives, rebates and other programs.

The EPA will be publishing its proposed tailpipe emissions reductions and fuel economy standards in July. Regan has been meeting with major OEMs, including GM, in advance of that release.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Extra Crunch: Air taxi market analysis

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

TechCrunch’s Aria Alamalhodaei dug into the aspirations of the burgeoning electric vertical take-off and landing industry. The upshot: the industry is bullish on its future, a view perhaps augmented by the string of partnership deals, SPACs, private funding and newly achieved unicorn statuses.

However, as in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors. A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead. Other disagreements have higher stakes. Wisk Aero filed a lawsuit against Archer Aviation alleging trade secret misappropriation. Meanwhile, valuations for companies that have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — are skyrocketing.

Electric air mobility is gaining elevation. But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead. This is an Extra Crunch article, which means it requires a subscription. Happy reading.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gm, #joby-aviation, #revel, #transportation, #zoox

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

5 Reasons you need to attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Get ready to spend a full day rubbing virtual elbows with the global mobility community’s best and brightest minds and makers. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place June 9, and we’ve packed the agenda with experts, interviews, demos, panel discussions, breakout sessions and a metric ton of opportunity.

Pro tip: It’s not too late to book a ticket. Grab yours here and save with groups of 4+.

If you’re still on the fence, here are five excellent reasons you should attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2020.

Leading Voices
TC Sessions: Mobility represents a broad range of companies and topics within the mobility space.

Want to know what’s happening in self-driving delivery? We’ve got Ahti Heinla (CTO @ Starship), Apeksha Kumavat (Co-Founder @ Gatik), & Amy Jones Satrom (Head of Ops. @ Nuro).

Want to get the low-down on Commuter Cars? We’re talking with Jesse Levinson (Co-Founder & CTO @ Zoox).

Want to see what’s in the future for passenger aircraft? Then you’ll definitely want to watch the session with JoeBen Bevirt (Founder @ Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Co-Director @ Reinvent Technology Partners)

Check out the full agenda here.

Trendspotting

Mobility is a fast-moving target, and success depends on a company’s or individual’s ability to spot possibilities before they become mainstream. At TC Sessions: Mobility you’ll meet with exhibitors, founders, and leaders to figure out what’s coming next.  Here’s what our attendees are saying:

“Attending TC Sessions: Mobility helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.”
— Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

1 on 1 Global Networking

At TC Sessions: Mobility you can take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free, AI-powered networking platform (think speed dating for techies) makes connecting with like-minded attendees quick and painless — no matter where they’re located. A virtual conference means global participation, and you might just find your next customer, partner, investor or engineer living on a different continent. It takes only one connection to move your business forward.

Early Stage Expo & Pitch

30 early-stage startups will showcase their mobility tech in our virtual expo. Peruse the exhibitors, peek at their pitch decks, schedule a demo, start a conversation and see where it leads. During the show, you can also check out the pitch sessions where startups will present their company to a panel of TechCrunch editors.

TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 is sure to be a blast and a great opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and network within the mobility industry. Book your tickets today as prices go up at the door. 

#artificial-intelligence, #co-founder, #cto, #engineer, #forward, #head, #jeff-johnson, #jesse-levinson, #nuro, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #self-driving-car, #tc, #zoox

ChargerHelp co-founder, CEO Kameale C. Terry is heading to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Thousands of electric vehicle charging stations will be built around the country over the next decade. ChargerHelp!, founded in January 2020 by Kameale C. Terry and Evette Ellis, wants to make sure they stay up and running.

The idea for the on-demand repair app for EV charging stations came to Terry when she was working at EV Connect, where she held a number of roles including director of programs and head of customer experience. She noticed long wait times to fix non-electrical issues at charging stations due to the industry practice to use electrical contractors.

“When the stations went down we really couldn’t get anyone on site because most of the issues were communication issues, vandalism, firmware updates or swapping out a part — all things that were not electrical,” Terry said in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year.

After Terry quit her job to start ChargerHelp!, she joined the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she developed a first-of-its-kind EV Network Technician Training Curriculum. Shortly after, Terry and Ellis were accepted into Elemental Excelerator’s startup incubator and have landed contracts with major EV charging network providers like EV Connect and SparkCharge.

The company uses a workforce-development approach to hiring, meaning that they only hire in cohorts. Workers receive full training, earn two safety licenses, are guaranteed a wage of $30 an hour and receive shares in the startup, Terry said.

We’re excited to announce that Kameale Terry will be joining us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event that is scheduled June 9. We’ll be covering a lot of ground with Terry, from how she developed her EV repair curriculum to what she sees in the company’s future.

Each year TechCrunch brings together founders, investors, CEOs and engineers who are working on all things transportation and mobility. If it moves people and packages from Point A to Point B, we cover it. This year’s agenda is filled with leaders in the mobility space who are shaping the future of transportation, from EV charging to autonomous vehicles to urban air taxis.

Among the growing list of speakers are Rimac Automobili founder Mate RimacRevel Transit CEO Frank Reig, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler and Remix/Via co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu, who will come together to discuss how (and if) urban mobility can increase equity while still remaining a viable business.

Other guests include Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma, Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, GM‘s VP of Global Innovation Pam FletcherScale AI CEO Alexandr WangJoby 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 FundQuin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct CapitalZoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

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

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at the door. Grab your passes right now and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders.

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China’s autonomous vehicle startups AutoX, Momenta and WeRide are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches towards consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide, and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.

Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidars to detect the cars’ surroundings while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.

The industry is still years from being truly driverless and operational at scale, so some contestants are seeking easier cases to tackle and monetize first, putting self-driving software inside buses, trucks and tractors that roam inside industrial parks.

Will investors continue to back the lofty dreams and skyrocketing valuations of China’s robotaxi leaders? And how is China’s autonomous driving race playing out differently from that in the U.S.?

We hope to find out at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, where we speak to three female leaders from Chinese autonomous vehicle startups that have an overseas footprint: Jewel Li from AutoX, which is backed by Chinese state-owned automakers Dongfeng Motor and SAIC Motor; Huan Sun from Momenta, which attracted Bosch, Daimler and Toyota in its $500 million round closed in March; and Jennifer Li from WeRide, of which valuation jumped to $3 billion after a financing round in May.

We can’t wait to hear from this panel! Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in these final weeks. Book your general admission pass for $125 today and join this year’s deep dive into the world of all things transportation at TC Sessions: Mobility.

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Waymo to lose its CFO and head of automotive partnerships

Waymo’s chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost — two longtime executives at the autonomous vehicle company — are leaving this month, departures that comes amid some executive shuffling following CEO John Krafcik’s exit earlier this year.

Dwyer and Frost’s departure was shared internally this week, according to multiple sources. Waymo has confirmed to TechCrunch that Dwyer and Frost are leaving.

“We’re grateful to Ger and Adam for all they’ve done for Waymo and wish them all the best,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “An executive search is underway for a new CFO to lead us into our next chapter as we continue to build, deploy and commercialize the Waymo Driver.”

Dwyer, who reported directly to parent company Alphabet’s executive leadership finance team, is among several executives who have left the company in the past five months. Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down as CEO. Chief Safety Officer Deborah Hersman left in December and Tim Willis, who was head of manufacturing and global supply and general manager of Waymo’s Laser Bear lidar business, departed in February. Sherry House, who had been at Waymo since 2017 and was most recently treasurer and head of investor relations, left the company in April. She is now CFO at Lucid Motors.

Still, some of the critical leaders, and the people directly below them, have remained. Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, the CTO, are now co-CEOs of Waymo and appear to have the support of Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, according to brief remarks he made during the company’s first-quarter earnings call. Department heads directly below Mawakana and Dolgov are still at Waymo with a few exceptions, according to LinkedIn profiles. In March, both David Twohig, who was director of Future Automotive at Waymo, and Qi Hommes, who was once head of system safety, left. Hommes is now director of system safety engineering and analysis at Zoox, according to LinkedIn.

Dwyer’s departure also comes at a time when the demand for CFOs has rocketed alongside the continuous string of public offerings, including those done via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. House’s move to Lucid Motors, which is going public via a merger with a SPAC, is one example.

Dwyer is a longtime Google employee, who started at the company in 2006. He made the leap in August 2016 over to Waymo, just a few months before the former Google self-driving project officially announced it had spun out to become a business under parent company Alphabet.

During his tenure, Dwyer oversaw the financial side of the business in a period of explosive growth that took the company from a few hundred employees to more than 2,000 today.

Frost, who headed up automotive partnerships, has also been an important figure at Waymo. He came to Google’s self-driving project in 2013 after nearly 17 years at Ford Motor Co., according to LinkedIn records. He was initially hired as a chief engineer and then rose through the ranks to chief automotive programs and partnerships officer and eventually chief automotive and corporate development officer. Waymo has locked in a number of what it has described as exclusive partnerships with automakers over the past several years, including Volvo, Stellantis (formerly FCA), as well as one with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan.

Waymo also expanded its geographic footprint beyond California during both Dwyer and Frost’s stints. The company brought its autonomous vehicles into cities like Austin and Kirkland, Washington for testing and established operations in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, where it now operates a ride-hailing service called Waymo One using driverless vehicles as well as those with safety operators behind the wheel.

Last year, Waymo completed its first external round of fundraising, which was initially $2.25 billion and later expanded to $3 billion. The $2.25 billion round was led by Silver Lake with investments from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Mubadala Investment Company, Magna, Andreessen Horowitz and AutoNation and its parent company Alphabet. The extended capital came from new investors, including those managed by T. Rowe Price, Perry Creek Capital, Fidelity Management and Research Company and others.

The external raise followed a flurry of activity that suggested Waymo was ramping up its commercial enterprise, including expanding its core fleet in Mountain View, Calif., the Phoenix area and into Texas. Waymo also began to move beyond its robotaxi testing and began piloting new business applications for its autonomous vehicle technology such as delivery and trucking and even a plan to start selling its custom lidar sensors to companies in the robotics, security and agricultural technology industries.

It has also made numerous partners and at least one acquisition under Dwyer’s watch. Waymo acquired in December 2019 a U.K. company called Latent Logic that spun out of Oxford University’s computer science department. The company uses a form of machine learning called imitation learning that could beef up Waymo’s simulation efforts. The acquisition marked the launch of Waymo’s first European engineering hub in Oxford, U.K.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #ford, #lidar, #tc, #transportation, #waymo, #zoox

Autonomous vehicle pioneers Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Long before the multi-million-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds pushed autonomous vehicles to the top of the hype cycle, Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson were researching and, later, developing the foundations of the technology.

These pioneers, Iagnemma coming from MIT, Urmson from Carnegie Mellon University — would eventually go on to launch their own autonomous vehicle startups in an aim to finally bring years of R&D to the public.

That task isn’t over quite yet. Urmson, who is co-founder and CEO of Aurora, and Iagnemma, who is president and CEO of Motional, are still working on unlocking the technical and business problems that stand in the way of commercialization.

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Urmson and Iagnemma will be joining us on the virtual stage of TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The one-day event, scheduled for June 9, is bringing together engineers and founders, investors and CEOs who are working on all the present and future ways people and packages will get from Point A to Point B. Iagnemma and Urmson will come to discuss the past, the present challenges and what both aim to do in the future. We’ll tackle questions about the technical problems that remain to be solved, the war over talent, the best business models and applications of autonomous vehicles and maybe even hear a few stories from the early days of testing and launching a startup.

Both guests have a long list of accolades and accomplishments — and too many, to cover them all here.

Urmson has been working on AVs for more than 15 years. He earned his Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and his BSc in computer engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1998. He was a faculty member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University where he worked with house-sized trucks, drove robots in the desert, and was the technical director of the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge teams. Urmson has authored more than 60 patents and 50 publications.

He left CMU and was one of the founding members of Google’s self-driving program, serving as its CTO. In 2017, Urmson co-founded Aurora with Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell.

Iagnemma is also considered an authority on robotics and driverless vehicles. He was the director of the Robotic Mobility Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research resulted in more than 150 technical publications, 50 issued or filed patents, and numerous edited volumes, including books on the DARPA Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. He holds MS and PhD degrees from MIT, where he was a National Science Foundation fellow, and a BS from the University of Michigan, where he graduated first in his class.

In 2013, Iagnemma co-founded autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch ride-hailing pilots. The company was acquired by Aptiv in late 2017. Aptiv and Hyundai formed the joint venture, which he now heads, in 2020. 

Iagnemma and Urmson are two of the many of the best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers is GM’s vp of global innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales ends tonight, May 7 at 11:59 pm PT. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.

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GM’s Pam Fletcher is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about how to build a startup

GM might be best known for the millions of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC-branded vehicles it designs, produces, finances and sells each year. But it also has a burgeoning incubator, where a team of 600 employees are working to develop 20 new businesses with a total addressable market of about $1.3 trillion.

A few of the first startup fruits have already come to bear, including OnStar Guardian, OnStar Insurance, GM Defense and most recently, BrightDrop — the commercial electric vehicle delivery business that launched in January. Pam Fletcher, a veteran at GM and vice president of the company’s Global Innovation team, is at the center of this effort and helped shepherd BrightDrop from idea to startup graduate. And she’s not done.

An engineer by training, Fletcher has been given a lofty directive to turn high-potential innovative ideas into scalable business ventures that drive growth and transform the GM business model beyond traditional automotive. And she’s coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, to talk about their strategy and what’s coming next.

Fletcher’s experience is broad and global. She has held a variety of leadership positions, guiding the development of GM’s electric vehicle and self-driving portfolio and technologies. Prior to joining the innovation incubator, she was vice president of global electric vehicles at GM. The teams she directed were responsible for the development of two generations of the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV. Her team also led the development of Super Cruise, the automaker’s hands-free highway driver assist system as well as three generations of Cruise AVs.

She also serves as a corporate director of Coherent Inc., a NASDAQ-listed company based in Silicon Valley, and is also a board member of GM Defense LLC. Fletcher was named to Motor Trend’s 2018 and 2019 Power List of auto industry leaders and was one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People” of 2017. She serves on the Board of Advisors for the College of Engineering at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

Fletcher is just one of many of the best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers is TechCrunch Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales end this Thursday, May 6. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #joby-aviation, #mary-barra, #mobility, #onstar, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #transportation, #zoox

Announcing the Agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

TC Sessions: Mobility is back and we’re excited to give you the first look at who is coming to the main stage and what we plan to talk about. The event will be virtual, but never fear, we will bring you the same informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews and networking you’re used to.

The new format has provided one massive benefit: democratizing access. If you’re a startup or investor, you can listen in, network and connect with other participants here in Silicon Valley. Plus, you’ll be able to meet all of the attendees through our matchmaking platform, CrunchMatch.

You’ll need to make sure you have your ticket to join us at the event online. Our Early Bird savings end in just a couple of days, so make sure to book your $95 pass now, and save $100 before prices go up.

TechCrunch reporters and editors will interview some of the top leaders in transportation to tackle topics such as scaling up an electric vehicle company, the future of automated vehicle technology, building an AV startup and investing in the industry. Our guests include Scale AI founder Alexandr Wang, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, Amy Jones Satrom of Nuro, famed investor Reid Hoffman, Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt, GM’s vice president of innovation Pamela Fletcher, Karl Iagnemma of Motional and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, to name a few.

Don’t forget, Early Bird Passes (including $100 savings) are currently available for a limited time; grab your tickets here before prices increase.

AGENDA

Self-Driving Deliveries with Ahti Heinla (Starship), Amy Jones Satrom (Nuro) and Apeksha Kumavat (Gatik)

Autonomous vehicles and robotics were well on their way transforming deliveries before the pandemic struck. In the past year, these technologies have moved from novel applications to essential innovations. We’re joined by a trio of companies — each with individual approaches that span the critical middle and last mile of delivery.

Supercharging Self-Driving Super Vision with Alexandr Wang (Scale AI)

Few startups were as prescient as Scale AI when it came to anticipating the need for massive sets of tagged data for use in AI. Co-founder and CEO Alex Wang also made a great bet on addressing the needs of lidar sensing companies early on, which has made the company instrumental in deploying AV networks. We’ll hear about what it takes to make sense of sensor data in driverless cars and look at where the industry is headed.

Will Venture Capital Drive the Future of Mobility? with Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital)

Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt will discuss how the pandemic changed their investment strategies, the hottest sectors within the mobility industry, the rise of SPACs as a financial instrument and where they plan to put their capital in 2021 and beyond.

From Concept to Commuter Car — and Beyond with Jesse Levinson (Zoox)

Zoox unveiled the design of its fit-for-purpose autonomous vehicle for the first time, after years of development and much anticipation. Meanwhile, the company was also acquired by Amazon in a high-profile deal that looks to give the company ample runway, while keeping its operations independent. We’ll hear from co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson about what it’s like building an autonomous car company in the shadows of a commerce giant.

EV Founders in Focus with Ben Schippers (TezLab)

We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. We’ll chat with Ben Schippers, co-founder and CEO of TezLab, an app that operates like a Fitbit for Tesla vehicles (and soon other EVs) and allows drivers to go deep into their driving data. The app also breaks down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy coming from charging locations.

The Future of Flight with JoeBen Bevirt (Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Reinvent Technology Partners)

Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt spent more than a decade quietly developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft. Now he is preparing for a new phase of growth as Joby Aviation merges with the special purpose acquisition company formed by famed investor and Linked co-founder Reid Hoffman. Bevirt and Hoffman will come to our virtual stage to talk about the how build a startup (and keep it secret while raising funds), the future of flight and, of course, SPACs.

Equity, Accessibility and Cities with Tamika L. Butler (Tamika L. Butler Consulting), Tiffany Chu (Remix) and Frank Reig (Revel)

Can mobility be accessible, equitable and remain profitable? We have brought together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler; Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to discuss how (and if) shared mobility can provide equity in cities, while still remaining a viable and even profitable business. The trio will also dig into the challenges facing cities and how policy may affect startups.

The Rise of Robotaxis in China with Tony Han (WeRide), Jewel Li (AutoX) and Huan Sun (Momenta Europe)

Silicon Valley has long been viewed as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. But another country is also leading the charge. Executives from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

Sponsored by Plus: Delivering Supervised Autonomous Trucks Globally with Shawn Kerrigan (Plus)

Plus is applying autonomous driving technology to launch supervised autonomous trucks today in order to dramatically improve safety, efficiency and driver comfort, while addressing critical challenges in long-haul trucking — driver shortage and high turnover, rising fuel costs, and reaching sustainability goals. Mass production of our supervised autonomous driving solution, PlusDrive, starts this summer. In the next few years, tens of thousands of heavy trucks powered by PlusDrive will be on the road. Plus’s COO and Co-Founder Shawn Kerrigan will introduce PlusDrive and our progress of deploying this driver-in solution globally. He will also share our learnings from working together with world-leading OEMs and fleet partners to develop and deploy autonomous trucks at scale.

Driving Innovation at General Motors with Pam Fletcher (GM)

GM is in the midst of sweeping changes that will eventually turn it into an EV-only producer of cars, trucks and SUVs. But the auto giant’s push to electrify passenger vehicles is just one of many efforts to be a leader in innovation and the future of transportation. We’ll talk with Pam Fletcher, vice president of innovation at GM, one of the key people behind the 113-year-old automaker’s push to become a nimble, tech-centric company.

AVs: Past, Present and Future with Karl Iagnemma (Motional) and Chris Urmson (Aurora)

TechCrunch Mobility will talk to two pioneers, and competitors, who are leading the charge to commercialize autonomous vehicles. Karl Iagnemma, president of the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, and Chris Urmson, the co-founder and CEO of Aurora, will discuss — and maybe even debate — the best approach to AV development and deployment, swap stories of the earliest days of the industry and provide a few forecasts of what’s to come.

EV Founders in Focus

We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. This time, we will chat with Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO of ChargerHelp! a startup that enables on-demand repair of electric vehicle charging stations.

Sponsored by: Wejo: Making Mobility Data Accessible to Governmental Agencies to Meet New Transportation Demands with Bret Scott (Wejo)

Wejo provides accurate and unbiased unique journey data, curated from millions of connected cars, to help local, state, province and federal government agencies visualize traffic and congestion conditions. Unlock a deeper understanding of mobility trends, to make better decisions, support policy development and solve problems more effectively for your towns and cities.

Mobility’s Robotic Future with James Kuffner (Toyota Research Institute)

More than ever, automotive manufacturers are looking to robotics as the future of mobility, from manufacturing to autonomy and beyond. We’ll be speaking to the head of robotics initiatives at one of the world’s largest automakers  to find out how the technology is set to transform the industry.

TICKETS

As a special “Easter egg” thank you for making it to the end of the article, you can save an additional 15% on tickets with promo code “agenda2021“. Put it in the ticket widget below, and save! Early Bird pricing ends in a couple of days so be sure to book your passes today for maximum savings.

 

#africa, #alex-wang, #alexandr-wang, #amazon, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #australia, #automotive, #autonomous-car, #autotech-ventures, #av, #ben-schippers, #ceo, #chargerhelp, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #crunchmatch, #driver, #europe, #frank-reig, #gm, #james-kuffner, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #motional, #nuro, #plus, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #robot, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #south-america, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #tesla, #tezlab, #tiffany-chu, #toyota-research-institute, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund, #zoox

Hear about building AVs under Amazon from Zoox CTO Jessie Levinson at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Last year, autonomous driving startup Zoox was acquired by Amazon in a deal worth $1.3 billion. Since then, Zoox has continued to pursue its existing strategy of developing and deploying autonomous passenger vehicles, revealing the design of its long-anticipated robotaxi late in December. From concept to reveal, Zoox spent six years developing its built-for-purpose passenger AV, and the plan is to launch them initially with commercial deployments in Las Vegas and San Francisco following testing. At TC Sessions: Mobility this year on June 9, we’ll have the chance to speak to Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson about the company’s progress towards those goals, and what it’s like for Zoox nearly a year on as an Amazon company.

[Did you know? Early Bird Ticket Sales End Next Week! Save $100 before prices go up]

In an interview with TechCrunch from last year, Levinson told us that life under Amazon at the AV company has been essentially business as usual since the acquisition — with greatly expanded access to resources, of course, and potentially with even more autonomy than before, he said, since they’re not beholden to a host of outside investors as they pursue their goals.

Of course, the natural assumption when considering Amazon and its interest in autonomous vehicles is package delivery — which is why it’s so interesting that Zoox is, and has always, prioritized movement of people, not parcels, in its AV development roadmap. Zoox’s debut vehicle has been designed entirely with passenger transportation in mind, though the company’s CEO Aicha Evans has acknowledged in the past that it could definitely work on package delivery in partnership with its new corporate owner in the future.

We’ll hear from Levinson if there are any updates to Zoox’s plan or focus, and what Amazon’s ambitions are for autonomous vehicles in the long term. We’ll also talk about the AV industry overall, and the major shifts its undergone in the years that Zoox has been operating, and what that means for growing and attracting talent. Levinson knows the industry and the state of the art in AV technology better than most, so be sure to grab tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 ASAP and check out our chat on June 9.

Book your early-bird pass today and save $100 before prices increase next week and join today’s leading mobility-startup event.

#aicha-evans, #amazon, #automation, #av, #ceo, #jesse-levinson, #las-vegas, #robotaxi, #robotics, #san-francisco, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #zoox

Nuro can now operate and charge for autonomous delivery services in California

Autonomous delivery startup Nuro is allowed to launch commercial driverless services on public roads in California — the first company to clear this hurdle — after receiving a permit from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Nuro, which was founded in June 2016 by Google alums Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, plans to start commercial delivery operations early next year. The so-called Autonomous Vehicle Deployment permit will allow Nuro to operate commercial services — meaning it can charge for delivery — in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The intention is to start with its autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles in one city and one partner in the early part of 2021, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer David Estrada said. The company will eventually transition to its purpose-built R2 delivery bots for its commercial service as well as add more partners and expand geographically.

While Nuro wouldn’t name the partner or city, it’s worth noting that the company is headquartered in Mountain View and has previously expressed a desire to start operations close to its main office.

“Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California,” DMV Director Steve Gordon said in a press release issued Wednesday. “We will continue to keep the safety of the motoring public in mind as this technology develops.”

The deployment permit grants Nuro permission to use a fleet of light-duty driverless vehicles for a commercial delivery service on surface streets within designated parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, which includes the cities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside, according to the DMV. The vehicles have a maximum speed of 25 mph and are only approved to operate in fair weather conditions on streets with a speed limit of no more than 35 mph.

The announcement caps a milestone year for Nuro, which earlier Wednesday announced it had acquired self-driving trucks startup Ike Robotics. Nuro also raised another $500 million, which pushed its post-money valuation to $5 billion, and secured some key state and federal regulatory victories.

Nuro has followed a long and winding path to secure the deployment permit. In 2017, the California DMV, the agency that regulates autonomous vehicles in the state, issued Nuro an AV testing permit that required the company to have a human back up driver behind the wheel. Initially, the company used modified Toyota Prius sedans for testing as well as for pilot grocery deliveries in Arizona and Texas.

The company transitioned in December 2018 to the R1, the first step toward a vehicle designed exclusively for packages. Its second-generation, vehicle called the R2, was introduced in February 2020. The R2, which was designed and assembled in the U.S. in partnership with Michigan-based Roush Enterprises, is equipped with lidar, radar and cameras to give the “driver” a 360-degree view of its surroundings. Importantly, Nuro received a driverless exemption from NHTSA for its R2 vehicle. The exemption allows the vehicle to operate even though it doesn’t have side-view mirrors, a windshield and a rear-view camera that shuts off when driving forward.

Nuro received in April 2020 a permit from the CA DMV to test driverless vehicles, which meant it could finally put its R2 delivery bots on public roads. While dozens of companies have an active permit with the CA DMV to test autonomous vehicles with a human safety driver, AutoX, Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox are the only companies allowed to test driverless vehicles on California’s public roads.

Still, Nuro wasn’t able to charge for delivery until it received the deployment permit that was issued Wednesday.

Nuro has a slightly cleaner path to commercial operations than autonomous vehicle companies aiming to shuttle people in robotaxi-type operations. Commercial ride-sharing services using driverless vehicles also have to secure permits from the California Public Utilities Commission to be able to shuttle passengers. Another additional permit by the CPUC is required to charge for rides.

Getting permission to charge for rides wasn’t even possible until last month. The CPUC approved in November two new programs to allow permitted companies to provide and charge for shared rides in autonomous vehicles. The automated vehicle technology industry had lobbied the CPUC for months to consider the rule change that would allow for operators to charge a fare and offer shared rides in driverless vehicles. While the decision was widely cheered, some in the industry have warned that the approval process could further delay commercial robotaxi operations.

Potential robotaxi operators have to receive the proper permits from the CPUC and the California DMV as well as meet several reporting requirements.  Participating companies also have to submit a safety plan and quarterly reports to the CPUC with aggregated and anonymized information about the pickup and drop-off locations for individual trips, the availability and volume of wheelchair accessible rides, service levels to disadvantaged communities and supply data such as the fuel type used by the vehicles, miles traveled and passenger miles traveled.

#automotive, #ike-robotics, #nuro, #tc, #waymo, #zoox

Inside Zoox’s six-year ride from prototype to product

Zoox, the autonomous vehicle company that was acquired this year by Amazon, revealed this week the product of six years of work: A purpose-built self-driving vehicle designed to carry people — and someday maybe even packages — in dense urban environments.

The company’s story has captured the attention of skeptics and supporters alike, perhaps because of its secretive nature and outsized mission. Unlike its rivals, Zoox is developing the self-driving software stack, the on-demand ride-sharing app and the vehicle itself. Zoox also plans to own, manage and operate its robotaxi fleet.

Unlike its rivals, Zoox is developing the self-driving software stack, the on-demand ride-sharing app and the vehicle itself.

It’s been an expensive pursuit that almost led to its demise before Amazon snapped it up — and the mission is still far from over. But today, as an independent Amazon subsidiary, it has the financial support of one of the world’s most valuable public companies.

TechCrunch interviewed Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson about the company’s milestone, the vehicle design, its exit to Amazon and what lies ahead.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

TechCrunch: What was your trick or how did you remain focused for six years on something that is futuristic, expensive and possibly could fail? What did you personally do to keep that focus?

Jesse Levinson: Well, doing something like this is definitely challenging and it requires patience. I think the advice I would give is first to convince yourself that what you’re doing makes sense and is important and worth doing. If you’re starting a company because your goal is to make as much money as possible, if it turns out to be hard it’s going to be really difficult to convince yourself and your team and investors to stick with the idea.

One of the great things about Zoox is that the idea itself just makes a lot of sense. From first principles, there’s really a compelling reason to solve the problem the way we’ve been solving it and the market opportunity is unquestionably enormous. So armed with those facts and a team of wonderful employees and investors who strongly believed in that, we were able to weather some of the ups and downs of the industry, even though it’s not always been an easy ride.

Let’s go back in time to the very first concept when you started to think of what a purpose-built vehicle would look like. Those early drawings showed a very, very different looking type of vehicle.

Are you referring to maybe like the sports-car-looking vehicle? We were actually never planning on launching a sports car as our first product; that was more of like a vision statement. Honestly, if you’re trying to move people around cities, it makes much more sense to have the kind of compact carriage like we showed this morning. We were never actually building a sports car. 

What is it like to create a long-term, cutting-edge product that exists at the edge of regulation? It seems like a very unique problem. 

I would say that if you have a big idea and you’re confident that it makes sense, you should at least explore the idea, rather than giving up because the current regulations aren’t designed for it.

At the same time, it’s very important to be respectful of the regulatory process, and you can’t assume that you can ignore it. I think companies that have tried that approach have usually found that doesn’t work very well either. We’ve taken a very proactive approach to working with regulatory agencies at the local, state and federal level, and we’ve been very forthcoming with “this is how we look at the problem” and “this is what we want to do.”

We’ve also been fortunate because over time the regulations on the local, state and federal level have really evolved to accommodate what we’ve been working on since 2014, even though when we started the company in 2014, those regulations did not exist. 

The vehicle today, was that what you had in your mind, or what the team had in mind, from the very beginning? Or was it a bit different?

Yeah, honestly, there have been very few substantive changes to the vehicle’s design since we started working on it in 2014 and 2015. Obviously, we refined it and actually had to make it work from an engineering and crash perspective. But if you look at some of the drawings that we were exploring in 2014 and 2015, it’s extremely similar.

#automation, #automotive, #jesse-levinson, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #transportation, #zoox

Zoox becomes fourth company to land driverless testing permit in California

Zoox, the automated vehicle technology startup that was acquired by Amazon this year, has been issued a permit from California regulators that will allow it to test driverless vehicles on public roads.

The permit is not for all public roads in the state, but it’s still notable considering the company will be able to test its vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that regulates automated vehicle testing in the state, has issued a permit for a designated part of Foster City in San Mateo County.

Mark Rosekind, the former director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who is now chief safety officer at Zoox, called it another important milestone in the company’s “efforts to deliver safe, fully electric, and affordable autonomous mobility to riders in California.”

Zoox has taken the “all of the above” approach to autonomous vehicles. The company is aiming to build a purpose-built electric vehicle, develop, test and validate the automated vehicle technology and operate a robotaxi fleet. That mission seems to be intact. Amazon has said that Zoox will remain a standalone company.

Zoox has had a permit to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers since 2016. This new permit allows the company to test two autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel on specified streets near its Foster City headquarters. The vehicles are approved to operate in fair weather conditions, including light rain or fog, on streets with a speed limit of no more than 45 mph, the agency said Friday.

While dozens of companies — 60 in all — have active permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver, it’s far less common to receive permission for driverless vehicles. Only AutoX, Nuro and Waymo hold this driverless permit. Companies who receive these driverless permits have to provide evidence of insurance or a bond equal to $5 million and follow several other rules such as training remote operators on the technology.

Zoox also has a permit, which it received in late 2018, to transport people in its automated vehicles on public roads. These ride-hailing permits fall under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission and have a variety of other requirements and rules. This permit, which allows Zoox to participate in the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, doesn’t allow companies to charge for rides.

Zoox has also been testing its technology in Las Vegas, which is considers another target market. Zoox received permission from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles in early 2019 to drive autonomously on state roads. The startup was mapping and test-driving new routes in the greater Las Vegas region last year.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #nuro, #transportation, #waymo, #zoox

The Station: Amazoox, TuSimple seeks $250M and the next e-scooter battleground

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

Hi friends and first-time 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. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

Remember please reach out and 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.

Typically this space is where I philosophize about a specific event and emerging transportation trend. This week, let’s all take a pause to remember Jessi Combs, who was officially and posthumously declared to hold the fastest land speed record by a woman.

The Guinness Book of World Records certified this week the 522.783 mph land speed record that Combs achieved August 27, 2019 in the Alvord Desert in Oregon. Combs died after her vehicle crashed during that run. It’s the first time a new record has been set in this category in more than 40 years. Kitty O’Neil held the record with her 512.7 mph run set back in 1976.

Here’s to you Jessi, the fastest woman on earth.

Did anyone have trouble keeping up with all the deals, virtual automotive reveals and policy decisions this week? Yeah. Me too. Let’s get to it. Vamos.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

A couple of cities are emerging as new battlegrounds for the shared e-scooter market. New York City is a biggie.

This week, the New York City Council approved a bill that will require the New York Department of Transportation to create a pilot program for the operation of shared electric scooters in the city. The DOT now has until October 15, 2020 to issue a request for proposals to participate in a shared e-scooter pilot program.

The pilot program must launch by March 1, 2021. The NY council will continue to work with DOT on determining where to set up the pilot (this is the important part). If the pilot program limits the service area it could prove a failure, several e-scooter companies and advocates told me. We know it won’t include Manhattan. That leaves four other boroughs.

Just about every e-scooter company — and a number of other less known players — are planning to apply for the permit.  The next nine months promises a lot of lobbying activity. These firms are already busy, according to our sources. Stay tuned!

The NY city council also approved two laws about the use of privately owned electric bikes and scooters.

Meanwhile, Apple has finally added a new biking feature to Maps. The newest version of iOS is bringing a host of new features to Maps, including a dedicated cycling option that will optimize paths for bicyclists and even let users know if the route includes challenging hills. Apple Maps has included public transit and walking in previous iterations. But the biking option has been the most requested, according to Apple senior director Stacey Lysik.

Deal of the week

money the station

Amazoooooxxxxx. Zamazon? It’s a thing now. In case you missed it, Amazon acquired Zoox.

There have been rumors, speculation and reports about the fate of self-driving vehicle startup for months now. The WSJ had the first report in May that Amazon was in talks to acquire the self-driving company.

The official announcement, which was issued Friday morning, didn’t reveal much about the terms of the deal except that Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson will continue to lead Zoox as a standalone business.

As you might expect, there was nary a financial figure in sight. The Financial Times put the deal at $1.2 billion and The Information pegged it at “more than $1 billion.” Either way, the acquisition price was well below the $3.2 billion valuation Zoox had achieved two years before.

It wasn’t a secret that Zoox was struggling to raise a large enough round. As I’ve stated numerous times before, Zoox has the kind of ambitions that require a mountain of capital. And by mountain, I mean far north of $1 billion. The company isn’t just building the full self-driving stack — essentially the suite of hardware and software that replaces a human driver. It took on the design and development of a new bidirectional electric vehicle with no steering wheel  and it plans to operate a ride-hailing service as well.

The upshot: Zoox didn’t have a lot of options. Many automakers, Tier 1 suppliers and tech companies had already formed their various alliances and partnerships, leaving Zoox on its own. Amazon certainly has the resources to help it hit its lofty goals. That is, IF Amazon doesn’t change those goals for Zoox. For now, Amazon is publicly sticking to Zoox’ mission to build and operate a fleet of robotaxis.

And we can expect more Amazon flexing in the transportation industry. The e-commerce announced this week a $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund to invest in sustainable technologies and services that will help the company reach its commitment to be net-zero carbon in its operations by 2040. Some of that coin will go towards automation and transportation.

amazon zoox

Other deals that got our attention ….

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise $250 million, multiple sources told me. Morgan Stanley recently sent potential investors an informational packet, which I also viewed, that provides a snapshot of the company and an overview of its business model, as well as a pitch on why the company is poised to succeed. TuSimple has raised about $298 million with a valuation of more than $1 billion. Its backers include Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, Hong Kong-based investment firm Composite Capital, Nvidia, UPS, CDH Investments, Lavender Capital and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation.

ADAM CogTech, an Israeli automotive software startup, raised $2 million from Mobilion Ventures, the company said. Mobilion is an early-stage fund that invests in smart mobility, focusing on Israeli and global after-market innovation.

Amazon’s $575 million investment into UK food delivery startup Deliveroo has been cleared by the country’s competition regulator. The investment, which was announced more than a year ago, gave Amazon a 16% stake in Deliveroo. Now that CMA has provisionally cleared the deal, it is open for public comments until July 10. A final decision is expected August 6.

Cazoo, the British online used car marketplace, raised £25 million at a valuation in excess of $1 billion. Draper Esprit joined existing investors in the round, a group that includes DMG Ventures and General Catalyst. Cazoo has raised more than £200 million to date.

DriveU.auto, an Israeli startup that spun out of video transmission technology company LiveU, came out of stealth with $4 million in new funding. The startup has developed a connectivity platform for teleoperations. The funding round was led by RAD group co-founder Zohar Zisapel and included participation from Two Lanterns Venture Partners, Yigal Jacoby, Kaedan Capital and other private investors. Francisco Partners is an existing shareholder.

Lucid Motors gave up majority ownership to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in exchange for the $1.3 billion investment it closed last year, according to information disclosed in a new lawsuit, the Verge reported. Wired Middle East previously reported the PIF had taken a 67% stake. However, this is the first time an acknowledgment from the company has been made public.

Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace, is in talks to merge with blank-check company Insurance Acquisition Corp., Bloomberg reported. Shift is aiming to be valued at more than $500 million in the deal.

Third Wave Automation, a startup developing autonomous forklift technology, emerged from stealth with $15 million in equity financing, VentureBeat reported.

Volkswagen is in talks to buy Europcar Mobility Group, the French car rental company that has a market capitalization of 390 million euros ($441 million) and net debt as of more than 1 billion euros, Reuters reported.

Truckin’

the station semi truck

Trucks have popped up a lot this week, so I figured, heck let’s dig in a bit. The big trendy discussion is about how robotaxis are OUT and autonomous Class 8 trucks are IN. This move towards trucking has actually been happening for awhile now.

The niche subcategory in the autonomous vehicle industry was rather empty in 2015 when TuSimple was founded. Then self-driving truck startup Otto came along. Uber’s 2016 acquisition of Otto certainly brought some attention to the sector. But a number of other startups had also thrown their respective hats into the trucking ring, including Embark and the now defunct Starsky Robotics. Today, this sub-industry includes Ike, Kodiak Robotics and Waymo .

This week, Amazon-backed Aurora received some press for its “shift” to trucking based off of an interview with co-founder Sterling Anderson during The Information’s Autonomous Vehicle Summit.

Let’s be clear, the company has been publicly talking about trucks since at least October 2019. The notable bit is that Anderson shared more about its work with trucks and was clearly bullish on the potential in the marketplace. Together, his comments suggest that the company is prioritizing the development of autonomous trucks over cars.

But the company designed a full self-driving stack meant to have a variety of applications, not just passenger cars. In a tweet after the interview, Anderson summarized its whole approach.

We’re compelled by a product path that goes from middle mile to last mile to mobility services.

If you can swing this technically, it allows for an elegant transition from the largest market (today) with the best unit economics and lowest level of service requirements to smaller, but rapidly growing markets with more challenging unit economics and level of service needs”

In other truckin’ news …

The California Air Resources Board adopted a new rule to phase out the most polluting vehicles on the road today. The rule will require truck manufacturers to transition from diesel trucks and vans to electric zero-emission trucks beginning in 2024. By 2045, every new truck sold in California will be zero-emission.

Russian-Finnish company Zyfra is using 5G technology to replace Wi-Fi/mesh networks used for autonomous mining dump trucks, CNET’s Roadshow reports.

Notable reads and other tidbits

AVs, ride-hailing, electric vehicles and more!

Autonomous vehicles …

Didi Chuxing said Saturday (today) that its on-demand robotaxi service will start picking up riders in Shanghai, China. Passengers may start requesting on-demand rides for free on autonomous vehicles within a designated open-traffic area that covers Shanghai’s Automobile Exhibition Center, the local business districts, subway stations and hotels in downtown Shanghai, the company said in a press release.

Lyft is using data collected from drivers on its ride-hailing app to accelerate the development of self-driving cars. Lyft’s Level 5 self-driving car program is using the data to build 3D maps, understand human driving patterns and improve simulation tests. The program is taking data from select vehicles in its Express Drive program, which provides rental cars and SUVs to drivers on its platform as an alternative to options like long-term leasing

Waymo and Volvo Car Group announced Thursday an “exclusive” partnership to integrate Waymo’s self-driving software into a new electric vehicle designed for ride-hailing. Not a ton of detail about the deal or what “exclusive” means. We know that Volvo and Uber still have a partnership. The deal with Waymo involves integrating its self-driving stack into an “all-new mobility-focused electric vehicle platform for ride hailing services.”  The partnership also includes other subsidiaries under Volvo Car Group, including electric performance brand Polestar and Lynk & Co. International, a point that Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green specifically noted in his prepared statement.

Mercedes-Benz and Nvidia announced a partnership to bring “software-defined” vehicles to market. The automaker’s next-generation vehicles will have a software-centric computing architecture based on Nvidia’s Drive AGX Orin computer system-on-a-chip. The underlying architecture will be standard in Mercedes vehicles, starting sometime toward the end of 2024.

It’s electric …

Apple has added a routing feature to Maps that’s designed for electric vehicle owners. The EV routing feature, which will be available in the newest version of iOS, will show charging stations compatible to a user’s electric vehicle along their route. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet got a bit more information on this feature. He tells me that users will be able to enter their car model in the app, which will provide stops. The user can tap on the stops to see if the charging station is free or not. On sidenote, Apple is also releasing a feature that will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location. This feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you look around as if you were walking down the street.

Arrival revealed a zero-emission bus, the next step in the company to become a major electric transportation company, the Verge reported.

Ars Technica digs into one Ohio city’s plan to get more people to buy electric cars. Hint: it worked.

Lordstown Motors unveiled an electric pickup truck prototype with four in-wheel hub motors and a few other features all aimed squarely at attracting contractors and other buyers in the commercial market. The Ohio startup didn’t get too deep into the details about the electric pickup truck known as Endurance. But we know a few more bits such as a $52,500 base price and some partnerships.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that September 15 is the “tentative date” for the “Tesla Shareholder Meeting & Battery Day,” which will include the usual shareholder meeting as well as a tour of the automaker’s cell production system for the batteries that provide the power for its vehicles.

Speaking of Tesla … the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of failing touchscreens on Tesla’s older Model S vehicles.

Ride-hailing …

Lyft has agreed to settle a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice that alleges the ridesharing company discriminated against disabled people — specifically those who use foldable wheelchairs or walkers.

Miscellaneous …

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs plans to spin out some of its smart city ideas into separate companies focused on mass timber construction, affordable electrification and planning tools optimized with machine learning and computation design, CEO Daniel Doctoroff said at Collision from Home conference, VentureBeat reported.

Ford’s Michigan Central is collaborating with Brooklyn-based Newlab to launch two “Innovation Studios” focused on solving complex transportation industry problems related to connectivity, autonomy and electrification. A corporate studio sponsored by Ford will kick off this summer to address macro mobility issues. A second civic studio will follow focusing on more immediate mobility issues in the neighborhoods around Michigan Central Station. In 2018, Ford acquired 1.2 million square feet in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, including the historic Michigan Central Station, with plans to establish a new mobility innovation district called Michigan Central. The first work spaces are expected to open within Michigan Central in 2022.

GM turned to 3D printing for a C8 Corvette prototype. In the end, 75% of the vehicle was 3D printed, Car and Driver reported.

See ya’ll next week!

#amazon, #aurora, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-scooters, #electric-vehicles, #lyft, #transportation, #uber, #waymo, #zoox

Amazon pays $1.2 billion for self-driving startup Zoox

People examine a Zoox test vehicle in 2019. The company has yet to show off the custom-designed vehicle it plans to use for its commercial service.

Enlarge / People examine a Zoox test vehicle in 2019. The company has yet to show off the custom-designed vehicle it plans to use for its commercial service. (credit: Andrei Stanescu / Getty)

Zoox, one of the most lavishly funded independent self-driving startups, has been acquired by Amazon, the companies announced on Friday.

Venture capitalists, hungry for a stake in the much-hyped self-driving industry, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Zoox between 2016 and 2019. But as self-driving companies have failed to hit self-imposed milestones over the last couple of years, investor enthusiasm has cooled.

Zoox’s own plans were breathtakingly ambitious. The company planned to not only develop self-driving software, but to build its own vehicles and create a ride-hailing service. As recently as 2018, the company was aiming to launch a fully self-driving taxi service by 2020.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#amazon, #cars, #self-driving-technology, #zoox

Daily Crunch: Amazon buys self-driving startup Zoox

Amazon makes an autonomous driving acquisition, Microsoft closes its retail stores and health insurance startup Oscar raises $225 million.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for June 26, 2020.

1. Amazon to acquire autonomous driving startup Zoox

According to Amazon’s announcement, Zoox will continue to exist as a standalone business, with current CEO Aicha Evans continuing in her role, along with CTO and co-founder Jesse Levinson. The Financial Time reports that the deal is worth $1.2 billion.

Amazon has been working on its own autonomous vehicle technology projects, including its last-mile delivery robots. The company has also invested in autonomous driving startup Aurora, and it has tested self-driving trucks powered by self-driving freight startup Embark.

2. Microsoft is closing all of its retail stores for good

As other retailers begin the slow process of reopening, Microsoft has announced that it will be permanently shutting down the vast majority of its retail stores. The remaining locations — in cities like London, New York City and Sydney, as well as on Microsoft’s Redmond campus — will become “Microsoft Experience Centers,” rather than standard retail stores.

3. Oscar’s health insurance platform nabs another $225 million

Oscar’s insurance customers have the distinction of being among the most active users of telemedicine in the United States, according to the company. Around 30% of patients with insurance plans from Oscar have used telemedical services, versus only 10% of the country as a whole.

4. Luckin Coffee will unluckin’ly delist from Nasdaq following fraud allegations

An investigation by the company’s board found that Luckin had inflated sales by essentially having affiliated companies buy large orders of coffees that never got delivered. And of course, that’s fraud when you put it on a 10-K form and submit it to the SEC.

(Also, it’s very important to me that you know: I did not write this headline.)

5. Four perspectives: Will Apple trim App Store fees?

Given its massive reach, is it time for Apple to change its terms? Will the company allow its revenue share to go gently into that good night, or does it have enough resources to keep new legislation at bay and mollify an increasingly vocal community of software developers? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Google finally brings group calling to the Nest Hub Max

Video chat has long been one of the chief selling points of smart screens like the Amazon Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub Max (the regular Hub doesn’t have a camera). But until yesterday, the latter only offered users the option to have one-on-one calls.

7. Amazon really just renamed a Seattle stadium ‘Climate Pledge Arena’

One more Amazon story to close out the week: The company is buying the rights to Seattle’s KeyArena, an aging stadium currently under redevelopment. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said, “Instead of calling it Amazon Arena, we’re naming it Climate Pledge Arena as a regular reminder of the urgent need for climate action.”

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#amazon, #automotive, #daily-crunch, #zoox

Amazon to acquire autonomous driving startup Zoox

Amazon has announced that it will acquire Zoox, a self-driving startup founded in 2014, which has raised nearly $1 billion in funding and which aims to develop autonomous driving technology, including vehicles, for the purposes of providing a full-stack solution for ride-hailing.

Zoox will continue to exist as a standalone business according to Amazon’s announcement, with current CEO Aicha Evans continuing in her role, as well as CTO and co-founder Jesse Levinson. Their overall company mission will also remain the same, the release notes. The Financial Time reports that the deal is worth $1.2 billion.

The Wall Street Journal had reported at the end of May that Amazon was looking at Zoox as a potential acquisition target, and that the deal had reached the advanced stages.

Zoox has chosen one of the most expensive possible paths in the autonomous driving industry, seeking to build a fit-for-purpose self-driving passenger vehicle from the ground up, along with the software and AI ended to provide its autonomous driving capabilities. Zoox has done some notable cost cutting in the past year, and it brought in CEO Evans in early 2019 from Intel, likely with an eye towards leveraging her experience to help the company move towards commercialization.

With a deep-pocketed parent like Amazon, Zoox should gain the runway it needs to keep up with its primary rival – Waymo, which originated as Google’s self-driving car project, and which counts Google owner Alphabet as its corporate owner.

Amazon has been working on its own autonomous vehicle technology projects, including its last-mile delivery robots, which are six-wheeled sidewalk-treading bots designed to carry small packages to customer homes. The company has also invested in autonomous driving startup Aurora, and it has tested self-driving trucks powered by self-driving freight startup Embark.

The Zoox acquisition is specifically aimed at helping the startup “bring their vision of autonomous ride-hailing to reality,” according to Amazon, so this doesn’t look to be immediately focused on Amazon’s logistics operations for package delivery. But Zoox’s ground-up technology, which includes developing zero-emission vehicles built specifically for autonomous use, could easily translate to that side of Amazon’s operations.

Meanwhile, if Zoox really does remain on course for passenger ride-hailing, that could open up a whole new market for Amazon – one which would put it head-to-head with Uber and Lyft once the autonomous driving technology matures.

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #autonomous-driving, #self-driving, #tc, #transportation, #zoox

Scale AI releases free lidar dataset to power self-driving car development

High quality data is the fuel that powers AI algorithms. Without a continual flow of labeled data, bottlenecks can occur and the algorithm will slowly get worse and add risk to the system.

It’s why labeled data is so critical for companies like Zoox, Cruise and Waymo, which use it to train machine learning models to develop and deploy autonomous vehicles. That need is what led to the creation of Scale AI, a startup that uses software and people to process and label image, lidar and map data for companies building machine learning algorithms. Companies working on autonomous vehicle technology make up a large swath of Scale’s customer base, although its platform is also used by Airbnb, Pinterest and OpenAI, among others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed, or even halted, that flow of data as AV companies suspended testing on public roads — the means of collecting billions of images. Scale is hoping to turn the tap back on, and for free.

The company, in collaboration with lidar manufacturer Hesai, launched this week an open source dataset called PandaSet that can be used for training machine learning models for autonomous driving. The dataset, which is free and licensed for academic and commercial use, includes data collected using Hesai’s forward-facing PandarGT lidar with image-like resolution as well as its mechanical spinning lidar known as Pandar64. The data was collected while driving urban areas in San Francisco and Silicon Valley before officials issued stay-at-home orders in the area, according to the company.

“AI and machine learning are incredible technologies with an incredible potential for impact, but also a huge pain in the ass,” Scale CEO and co-founder Alexandr Wang told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “Machine learning is definitely a garbage in, garbage out kind of framework — you really need high quality data to be able to power these algorithms. It’s why we built Scale and it’s also why we’re using this dataset today to help drive forward the industry with an open source perspective.”

The goal with this lidar dataset was to give free access to a dense and content-rich dataset, which Wang said was achieved by using two kinds of lidars in complex urban environments filled with cars, bikes, traffic lights and pedestrians.

“The Zoox and the Cruises of the world will often talk about how battle-tested their systems are in these dense urban environments,” Wang said. “We wanted to really expose that to the whole community.”

Lidar - Scale AI PandaSet flyover GIF

Image Credits: Scale AI

The dataset includes more than 48,000 camera images and 16,000 LiDAR sweeps — more than 100 scenes of 8s each, according to the company. It also includes 28 annotation classes for each scene and 37 semantic segmentation labels for most scenes. Traditional cuboid labeling, those little boxes placed around a bike or car, for instance, can’t adequately identify all of the lidar data. So, Scale uses a point cloud segmentation tool to precisely annotate complex objects like rain.

Open sourcing AV data isn’t entirely new. Last year,  Aptiv and Scale released nuScenes, a large-scale data set from an autonomous vehicle sensor suite. Argo AI, Cruise and Waymo were among a number of AV companies that have also released data to researchers. Argo AI released curated data along with high-definition maps, while Cruise shared a data visualization tool it created called Webviz that takes raw data collected from all the sensors on a robot and turns that binary code into visuals.

Scale’s efforts are a bit different; For instance, Wang said the license to use this dataset doesn’t have any restrictions.

“There’s a big need right now and a continual need for high quality labeled data,” Wang said. “That’s one of the biggest hurdles overcome when building self driving systems. We want to democratize access to this data, especially at a time when a lot of the self driving companies can’t collect it.”

That doesn’t mean Scale is going to suddenly give away all of its data. It is, after all a for-profit enterprise. But it’s already considering collecting and open sourcing fresher data later this year.

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #av, #california, #covid-19, #emerging-technologies, #lidar, #machine-learning, #san-francisco, #scale-ai, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #technology, #transportation, #waymo, #zoox

Voyage gets the green light to bring robotaxi service to California’s public roads

Voyage has cleared a regulatory hurdle that will allow the company to expand its self-driving service from the private roads of a retirement community in San Jose, Calif. to public roads throughout the rest of the state.

The California Public Utilities Commission issued a permit Monday that gives Voyage permission to transport passengers in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads. The permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, puts Voyage in a new and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing. Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Pony.ai, Zoox and Waymo have all received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program.

The permit also puts Voyage on a path toward broader commercialization.

The company was operating six autonomous vehicles — always with a human safety driver behind the wheel — in The Villages, a community of more than 4,000 residents in San Jose, Calif. (Those activities have been suspended temporarily under a statewide stay-at-home order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.) Voyage also operates in a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in central Florida.

Voyage didn’t need a CPUC permit because the community is made up of private roads, although CEO Oliver Cameron said the company wanted to adhere to state rules regardless of any technicalities. Voyage was also motivated by a grander ambition to transport residents of The Villages to destinations outside of the community.

“We want to bring people to all the things that live outside The Villages, facilities like hospitals and grocery stores,” Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron told TechCrunch in an interview Monday.

Voyage’s strategy was to start with retirement communities — places with specific customer demand and a simpler surrounding environment. The demographic that Voyage serves has an average age of 70. The aim isn’t to change its customer base. Instead, Cameron wants to expand the company’s current operational design domain to give Voyage a bigger reach.

The end goal is for Voyage’s core customers — people Cameron dubs power users — to be able to use the service for everything from heading to a neighbor’s house for dinner to shopping, doctor’s visits and even the airport.

The CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles. The first one, called the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel and certain data must be reported quarterly.

The second CPUC pilot would allow driverless passenger service — although no company has yet to obtain that permit.

Under the permit, Voyage can’t charge for rides. However, there might be some legal wiggle room. Voyage can technically charge for rides within The Villages; in fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdown, the company had started charging for a ride-hailing service.

Rides outside of The Villages would have to be free, although it’s unclear if the company could charge for mileage or time until the vehicle left the community.

Voyage has aspirations to take this further. The company is also applying for a traditional Transportation Charter Permit, which is required for limousine, bus and other third-party charter services. Cameron said the company had to go through the stringent application process for the CPUC’s Drivered AV permit first.

The CPUC programs shouldn’t be confused with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads — always with a safety driver. There are 65 companies that hold autonomous vehicle testing permits issued by the DMV. Companies that want to participate in the CPUC program must have a testing permit with the DMV.

#aurora, #automation, #automotive, #av, #california, #emerging-technologies, #florida, #oliver-cameron, #pony, #san-jose, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #technology, #transportation, #voyage, #waymo, #zoox

Self-driving startup Zoox settles Tesla lawsuit, lays off 100 workers

A Zoox self-driving car prototype in 2019. Zoox is using modified conventional vehicles like this one to test its self-driving software. But Zoox is planning to design its own vehicle for its eventual taxi service.

Enlarge / A Zoox self-driving car prototype in 2019. Zoox is using modified conventional vehicles like this one to test its self-driving software. But Zoox is planning to design its own vehicle for its eventual taxi service. (credit: Andrei Stanescu / Getty)

The self-driving startup Zoox has settled claims that four Tesla employees stole trade secrets on the way out the door to new jobs at Zoox.

Zoox has ambitious plans to build a vertically integrated taxi service, with Zoox engineers designing a vehicle, self-driving software, and a ride-hailing network. Zoox has raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the last five years; a 2018 fundraising round valued the company at more than $3 billion. However, the company has struggled in the last couple of years. Zoox’s founding CEO was pushed out in 2018, which is never a good sign for a startup that hasn’t launched a product. Zoox laid off about 100 workers—10 percent of its workforce—earlier this week.

Tesla sued Zoox over trade secret theft in March of last year, alleging that between November 2018 and March 2019, four employees each made personal copies of confidential documents before leaving their Tesla jobs.

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#cars, #tesla, #zoox

The Station: Starship expands, AutoX opens up shop, and a big moment for ebikes

Hi and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

What you’re reading now is a shorter version of the newsletter, which is emailed every weekend. If you want to subscribe, go here and click The Station.

The transportation industry has seen an influx of “disruptors” in the past 15 years, including car sharing and ride-hailing apps and later shared ebikes and scooters. Now autonomous vehicle technology developers and flying car startups are working for that title.

COVID-19 could turn out out to be the transportation disruptor of this new decade. Yes, yes I know — it’s still early days. However, COVID-19 is already changing how we get around. Public transit has taken a hit and shared scooters have been pulled off streets. Meanwhile, ebike sales are booming and some cities are experimenting with how to provide transportation (and even space) that we need to move around without spreading the disease.

Shall we explore further? Read on. Before we dig in, here’s one more friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Electric bikes are having a moment. While shared micromobility companies have pulled scooters and bikes off streets, there is evidence that private sales are growing. Meanwhile, cities are taking action to make this means of transportation more available.

Here are three examples:

  • New York’s tentative budget agreement reached April 1 includes a provision that would legalize throttle-based bikes and scooters.
  • Lectric eBikes, an Arizona-based startup that launched in May 2019, told TechCrunch it has seen a spike in sales since mid-March. The company was selling an average of 25 bikes a day before COVID-19. By mid-March sales jumped to about 48 bikes a day. The following week, the company averaged daily sales of 55 ebikes. Lectric sold 175 bikes the week of March 7th. A month later, weekly sales hit 440.
  • Portland is trying to make its shared bike system known as Biketown more accessible and a helluva a lot cheaper. The city has reduced pay-as-you-go plans to a $0.10 one-time sign up fee and then $0.01 a minute. Yes, 1 cent a minute.

Autonomous delivery

the station autonomous vehicles1

COVID-19 has put a new focus on autonomous vehicle delivery. There aren’t fleets of delivery bots at the ready, but progress is being made.

Starship Technologies launched this month a robot food delivery service in Tempe, Ariz., as part of its expansion plans following a $40 million funding round announced last August.

Starship Technologies, which was launched in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has been ramping up commercial services in the past year, including a plan to expand to 100 universities by late summer 2021. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing traditional restaurants to close and placing more pressure on gig economy workers, Starship Technologies has an opportunity to accelerate that growth. The company recently launched in Washington D.C, Irvine, Calif., and says it plans to roll out to more cities in the coming weeks.

Nuro’s next milestone

Meanwhile, Nuro has been granted permission to begin driverless testing on California’s public roads. Nuro’s low-speed R2 vehicle isn’t designed for people, only packages.

And it’s well positioned to actually scale commercially in California. Under state law, AV companies can get a separate permit that allows them to operate a ride-hailing service. But they can’t charge a fee.

Nuro can’t charge a delivery fee either. However, it can generate revenue by working with local retailers to launch a commercial delivery business using the autonomous vehicles.

Other autonomous vehicle news

AutoX has opened an 80,000 square-foot Shanghai Robotaxi Operations Center, following a 2019 agreement with municipal authorities to deploy 100 autonomous vehicles in the Jiading District. The vehicles in the fleet were assembled at a factory about 93 miles outside of Shanghai.

AutoX, which is developing a full self-driving stack, has operations in California and China. It has been particularly active in China. The company has been operating a fleet of robotaxis in Shenzhen through a pilot program launched in 2019 with BYD. Earlier this year, it partnered with Fiat Chrysler to roll out a fleet of robotaxis for China and other countries in Asia.

The Shanghai operations center marks an escalation of AutoX’s ambitions. The company plans to unveil a ride-hailing app that will let users in Shanghai request ride from one of vehicles at the new operations center.

Trend Watch

Trend watch is meant to be a bookmark that we can look back on in a few weeks, months or even years and see if it actually caught on.

I’ll mention two this week.

Nauto is an automotive tech startup that combines cameras, motion sensors, GPS and AI algorithms to understand and improve driver behavior. The company’s platform is used in commercial fleets and some fresh data shows an uptick in last-mile driving and more distracted driving.

Nauto’s distribution and last-mile fleets averaged 41 miles driven every active driving hour in March, a 46% increase from the same month last year.

Meanwhile, distracted driving incidents increased. Nauto said that its distribution and last-mile fleets averaged 1.54 distraction events every active driving hour in March compared to 0.98 events per hour in the same month last year.

Now onto cities. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf launched Saturday the Oakland Slow Streets initiative to help folks maintain physical distancing. The city has shut down down 74 miles of streets to through traffic to give people space to recreate.

Streets are open to local traffic only and residents are able to drive home. Fire, police, deliveries and other essential services won’t impacted by street closures either.

Other cities are experimenting with similar efforts. While streets will likely open back up after the pandemic passes, this could change how people, including planners, business owners and city officials view how we should use streets.

From you

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared comments from readers about how COVID-19 has affected their business or how they use transportation. This week, I thought I’d share some advice from Laurie Yoler, a new partner at Playground Global, board member of Zoox and adviser to multiple companies. She was an early adviser and former board member at Tesla .

Here’s what she shared.

This is a time of deep reflection. Instead of viewing ‘social distancing’ as a prison, we can focus on the people we care about and reflect on our work and what gives us joy. Look at this time as an opportunity to be compassionate with yourself and the people around you, and pursue your curiosity. That doesn’t mean forcing yourself to complete a list of tasks with urgency and focus, but rather using this time for gentle creative exploration.

If your business needs to rethink its plans or is facing a substantial slowdown, as so many are, remember you can only be effective by focusing on one thing at a time. I have five “F’s” I run through with entrepreneurs I advise. Friends and family first, then physical facilities, in order to ensure business continuity. After that, you can move to finances, cutting costs and creatively thinking about your business model in order to give your company the best chance of survival. Next, it’s about planning for the future. Scenario planning is essential for all critical areas of your business. Ask yourself, “can I use this crisis to make the company stronger?” Lastly, we turn to faith in the world’s scientists and innovators to see us through this difficult time.

Remember, even amid the devastation around us, there is still space for optimism. This could be a catalyst for the sweeping innovation in healthcare and education that we so desperately need. Use this time of stillness to restore yourself. Watch inspirational TED talks, exercise, meditate, and check in with friends and colleagues often.”

— Laurie Yoler

#asia, #av, #bicycles, #board-member,