The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered Tesla to hand over detailed Autopilot data by October 22nd or else face fines of up to $115 million, according to The New York Times. Back in August, NHTSA announced that it’s investigating incidents wherein Tesla vehicles with Autopilot activated crashed into parked first responder vehicles with flashing lights. The agency originally cited 11 such crashes, which resulted in 17 injuries and one death since 2018, but a 12th incident occurred just this Saturday.
In a letter it sent the automaker, the NHTSA told Tesla to produce detailed information on how the driver assistance system works. It wants to know how it ensures that human drivers will keep their eyes on the road while Autopilot is engaged and whether there are limits on where it can be used. Feds have long criticized Tesla for not having the safeguards to make sure human drivers are keeping their hands on the wheel. A few months ago, the company finally activated the camera mounted above the rear view mirror in Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to “detect and alert driver inattentiveness while Autopilot is engaged.” In addition, Autopilot is only meant for use on highways, but there’s nothing keeping drivers from using it on local roads.
In addition to detailed Autopilot data, the NHTSA is also asking for information on how many cars Tesla has sold in the US. It wants to know every Autopilot-related arbitration proceeding or lawsuit the company has been involved in, along with all the complaints Tesla has received about the driver assistance technology from customers.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.
Add the Roadster to the list of delayed Tesla vehicles. On Wednesday, CEO Elon Musk said the performance EV wouldn’t make its previously announced 2022 shipment date. “2021 has been the year of super crazy supply chain shortages, so it wouldn’t matter if we had 17 new products, as none would ship,” he said in a tweet spotted by Roadshow. The executive added the Roadster should ship in 2023, “assuming 2022 is not mega drama.”
Can we have an update on the Roadster now that plaid with tri motors is out.
— Aaron (@AaronS5_) September 1, 2021
Tesla first announced its next-generation Roadster in 2017. Back then, the company expected to debut the car sometime last year. 2020 came and went without Tesla sharing much information on the supercar. Then, at the start of the year, Musk said production on the Roadster would start in 2022. Whether the car will make its new date is a big if. The global chip shortage that delayed the Tesla Semi is expected to continue until 2023, and Musk’s tweet hints at the possibility of further delays.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.
Elon Musk’s Tesla is looking beyond electric vehicles, solar panels and energy storage and wants to now supply electricity directly to customers, according to an application filed with Texas electricity regulators earlier this month. Energy Choice Matters first reported on the application.
The application, filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Texas on August 16, is a request to become what’s called a “retail electric provider” under its subsidiary Tesla Energy Ventures. On the deregulated, idiosyncratic Texas power market, REPs generally purchase wholesale electricity from power generators and sell it to customers. Over 100 REPs currently compete on the open market.
The company also filed separate applications for several utility-scale batteries in the Lone Star state: a 250-megawatt battery situated near its Gigafactory outside Austin, and a 100 MW separate project outside Houston. These projects are unrelated to the company’s efforts to become an electric provider, but taken as a whole, they reveal an ambitious roadmap for Tesla’s energy businesses.
Imagine: Tesla could not only sell electricity to customers, but it could also broker customers selling their excess energy – generated from Tesla Powerwall or Solar panel products, of course – back to the grid. It’s certainly one way to fulfill Musk’s vision of turning every home into a distributed power plant.
The latest request to the PUC comes just six months after an unprecedented winter storm shut down large parts of Texas’ power grid for days, leaving millions without power during a string of sub-freezing days. A handful of REPs shut down after the storm, which jammed wholesale electricity prices up to $9,000 per megawatt-hour (the seasonal average is around $50).
Musk, who moved many operations to Texas from California, including SpaceX’s sprawling facility in Boca Chica, criticized the state’s grid operator on Twitter at the time:
.@ERCOT_ISO is not earning that R
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 17, 2021
He said the company was not “earning that R” – referring to the R in the acronym, which stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
Tesla Energy Ventures told PUC regulators that it would use Tesla’s existing energy division to help drive sales, including leveraging the company’s mobile app and website. “Specifically, [Tesla Energy Ventures] will target its existing customers that own Tesla products and market the retail offer to customers through the mobile application and Tesla website,” the application says. “In addition to the Tesla mobile application and Tesla website, the applicant’s existing ‘Tesla Energy Customer Support’ organization will be trained to provide support and guidance to customers in customer acquisition efforts.”
Ana Stewart is listed as president of Tesla Energy Ventures. She’s been with Tesla since 2017 as the director of regulatory credit trading. Prior, she worked at Tesla-acquired SolarCity.
The application is listed under docket number 52431.
Tesla is rolling out a major update for its iOS smartphone app with new controls, improved management and cool visuals. Version 4.0 also gives you the choice between two different sized widgets for your iPhone home screen. As detailed by Tesla Software Updates, both feature the same information: the name of the car, battery percentage, location (or charging info), unlock status, an image of the vehicle and the time the information was last updated. Tesla previously had a “Today” extension for iOS that was nowhere near as comprehensive as the new widgets.
In terms of controls, you can send commands to your car immediately upon opening the app, instead of waiting for the vehicle to wake up. There’s also enhanced phone key support that essentially lets you unlock multiple Teslas.
An updated visual that should be immediately noticeable is the new 3D vehicle render. There are also new animations when you charge your car and in the climate and controls sections. Design-wise, Tesla has ditched the charging section and now displays that info when your car is plugged in. You can also view Supercharging history from within the app. While the speed limit, valet mode and sentry mode settings have been moved to a new category titled Security, which includes tips on how to use the Bluetooth, phone key and location services.
To sum up, this is the biggest update to the EV maker’s iOS app in a while. Recently, Tesla has mainly focused on providing bug fixes and improvements, outside of the introduction of Virtual Power Plant enrolment in July.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.
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One of the most fascinating aspects of Boston Dynamics’ transition into a commercial organization is watching the company — and its partners — figure out real-world jobs for Spot. There’s no question that the tech is impressive, but there’s always been the broader subject of usefulness beyond the company’s initial purpose of serving as off-road pack mules.
We’ve seen some interesting examples since Spot first went on sale, including inspection for constructions sites and potentially dangerous settings — from nuclear power plants to off-shore oil rigs. There have also been some, shall we say, more controversial gigs, including Spot’s time as an electronic K9 for the NYPD.
But maybe finding the perfect job for Spot entails thinking both outside the box and Earth’s gravitational pull. NASA’s JPL in California has been working with the quadrupedal robot for a couple of years now, first as part of a DARPA challenge and now as a potential way to explore extraterrestrial caves. For this week’s installment of Actuator, we spoke to JPL NeBula Autonomy Project lead Ali Agha about the partnership.
How long has NASA been working with Spot?
We have been working with the SPOT robots for about two years now. We initially integrated our NeBula autonomy and AI solutions on the Spot robot as one of our robots participating in the DARPA Subterranean challenge competition. However, since then we have extended the application of these robots and JPL’s NeBula autonomy solution to planetary cave exploration and surface exploration as well as terrestrial disaster response and mining efforts.
What is the advantage of using legs (as opposed to wheels) on the Martian surface?
Imagine a no-road terrain on Earth. The ability to walk will allow traversing different elements of such a terrain much better than a typical wheeled vehicle. Similarly, legged locomotion can potentially enable totally new missions when exploring extreme and challenging terrains on planetary bodies in the solar system beyond our home planet.
How closely does NASA/JPL work with a company like Boston Dynamics on a project like this?
We have had an amazing collaboration with Boston Dynamics and work closely with them. On our project, JPL and Boston Dynamics’ efforts are highly synergistic. At JPL, we develop autonomy and AI solutions (called NeBula) acting as the robot brain to enable fully autonomous exploration of extreme and challenging environments with very minimal (to none) prior information about the terrain or environmental conditions.
NeBula is agnostic to the choice of robotic platform and can be used on wheeled rovers, legged platforms, as well as drones. On the other hand, Boston Dynamics is developing cutting-edge incredible robotic locomotion systems that can maintain the stability of the system over extreme environments. As a result, the combination of an autonomy solution like NeBula with a capable locomotion system like Boston Dynamics’ Spot opens up avenues for totally new classes of planetary and terrestrial missions.
I know autonomy is a big piece of this. Do the robots need to be able to function with no human intervention?
Yes, autonomy is the main focus of our project. In planetary exploration, specifically, when exploring underground caves, there is no, or very minimal, prior information about the environment. Further, when robots enter the cave, they typically lose communication with the surface and are on their own to accomplish the mission objectives.
As a result, autonomy is a crucial capability to enable such missions to accomplish mission goals with no human intervention when the robot is out of communication exploring previously unseen terrains and environments. To this end, JPL has been developing autonomy and AI solutions (called NeBula) acting as the robot brain, which is now being paired with Boston Dynamics Spot robots as the robot body.
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch
A bit closer to Earth (as in, roughly 100 to 150 feet above our heads), Alphabet’s Wing announced this week that it’s approaching 100,000 drone deliveries two years after launching in the Brisbane-adjacent city of Logan, Australia. The announcement follows recent insight into Amazon’s struggles in the drone delivery space.
The company told TechCrunch,” I think we’ll launch new services in Australia, Finland and the United States in the next six months. The capabilities of the technology are probably ahead of the regulatory permissions right now.”
Image Credits: Wing
A closer look at some of those 100,000 deliveries:
Image Credits: Coco
Speaking of food, LA-based Coco just raised $36 million for its delivery robots. The round brings its total funding up to $43 million. The UCLA spinout is currently piloting its 50-pound, remote-piloted robots in a variety of Los Angeles neighborhoods. The company tells TechCrunch:
We are currently operating in Santa Monica and in five different L.A neighborhoods. Later this year we are expanding into a number of other major U.S. cities. We have partnered with national restaurant brands like SBE (Umami Burger) and are actively scaling across many locations, and we are serving a wide range of family operated restaurants like Bangkok West Thai in Santa Monica and San Pedro Brewing Company in Los Angeles. We are out of the pilot phase and are launching with dozens of new merchants every day.
Image Credits: Spyce
Meanwhile, California-based fast casual salad chain Sweetgreens just acquired Spyce. Built by MIT alums, the company develops kitchen robotics, which it has rolled out in a pair of Boston-based restaurants. Sweetgreens eventually plans to implement these in some of its 120+ locations, though no timeline has been given as of yet.
In this week’s small-ray-of-sunshine-in-an-otherwise-horrifying-situation news, a team of young women roboticists managed to evacuate Kabul amid the Taliban takeover. The team has found refuge in Mexico on a 180-day humanitarian visa, with an option to extend their stay.
“From now on forward we will have opportunities for many more achievements in our lives, and thus be part of the fight for a better life,” team member Fatemah Qaderyan said at a press conference on their arrival in the country. “Although we are far from our homes, we will always be united and thanks to your help we will achieve it, thank you very much, we really appreciate having all our things here in Mexico with us.”
The team also made international headlines in 2017, as they entered the U.S. on a 10-day “parole,” in spite of the Trump administration’s executive order banning entry from predominately Muslim countries.
Image Credits: Tesla (opens in a new window)
Before we go, a thought on the Tesla robot. Or, rather, a story. A few years ago, I was asked to be on a panel discussing robots for a group of people who weren’t really familiar with the field. That’s fine. There’s a lot to be said for getting outside your comfort zone. At the end, we opened things up to Q&A.
As is nearly always the case with these things, the first question — well, it wasn’t a question really. It was more of a laundry list of things the asker would like to see a robot do. She went on to describe a small drone that flies from surface to surface, cleaning different parts of the house. I told her it sounded great, and I’d love to see her invent it.
Point is, I think the vast majority of people outside of robotics have an entirely unrealistic idea of what’s possible with technology today. There’s a reason iRobot spent the better part of a decade banging its head against the wall, working out a robot that can vacuum floors. There’s also a reason that the Roomba is really the only semi-ubiquitous home robot. Always be wary of robots announced onstage as a press event.
I’m not saying a Tesla robot is impossible. I’m just saying we have to temper our expectations of what is. Sometimes you go in expecting a robot and get someone in a spandex onesie doing the Dougie:
Image Credits: Tesla
A milestone for Jolla, the Finnish startup behind the Sailfish OS — which formed, almost a decade ago, when a band of Nokia staffers left to keep the torch burning for a mobile linux-based alternative to Google’s Android — today it’s announcing hitting profitability.
The mobile OS licensing startup describes 2020 as a “turning point” for the business — reporting revenues that grew 53% YoY, and EBITDA (which provides a snapshot of operational efficiency) standing at 34%.
It has a new iron in the fire too now — having recently started offering a new licensing product (called AppSupport for Linux Platforms) which, as the name suggests, can provide linux platforms with standalone compatibility with general Android applications — without a customer needing to licence the full Sailfish OS (the latter has of course baked in Android app compatibility since 2013).
Jolla says AppSupport has had some “strong” early interest from automotive companies looking for solutions to develop their in-case infotainment systems — as it offers a way for embedded Linux-compatible platform the capability to run Android apps without needing to opt for Google’s automotive offerings. And while plenty of car makers have opted for Android, there are still players Jolla could net for its ‘Google-free’ alternative.
Embedded linux systems also run in plenty of other places, too, so it’s hopeful of wider demand. The software could be used to enable an IoT device to run a particularly popular app, for example, as a value add for customers.
“Jolla is doing fine,” says CEO and co-founder Sami Pienimäki. “I’m happy to see the company turning profitable last year officially.
“In general it’s the overall maturity of the asset and the company that we start to have customers here and there — and it’s been honestly a while that we’ve been pushing this,” he goes, fleshing out the reasons behind the positive numbers with trademark understatement. “The company is turning ten years in October so it’s been a long journey. And because of that we’ve been steadily improving our efficiency and our revenue.
“Our revenue grew over 50% since 2019 to 2020 and we made €5.4M revenue. At the same time the cost base of the operation has stablized quite well so the sum of those resulted to nice profitability.”
While the consumer mobile OS market has — for years — been almost entirely sewn up by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, Jolla licenses its open source Sailfish OS to governments and business as an alternative platform they can shape to their needs — without requiring any involvement of Google.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia was one of the early markets that tapped in.
The case for digital sovereignty in general — and an independent (non-US-based) mobile OS platform provider, specifically — has been strengthened in recent years as geopolitical tensions have played out via the medium of tech platforms; leading to, in some cases, infamous bans on foreign companies being able to access US-based technologies.
In a related development this summer, China’s Huawei launched its own Android alternative for smartphones, which it’s called HarmonyOS.
Pienimäki is welcoming of that specific development — couching it as a validation of the market in which Sailfish plays.
“I wouldn’t necessarily see Huawei coming out with the HarmonyOS value proposition and the technology as a competitor to us — I think it’s more proving the point that there is appetite in the market for something else than Android itself,” he says when we ask whether HarmonyOS risks eating Sailfish’s lunch.
“They are tapping into that market and we are tapping into that market. And I think both of our strategies and messages support each other very firmly.”
Jolla has been working on selling Sailfish into the Chinese market for several years — and that sought for business remains a work in progress at this stage. But, again, Pienimäki says Jolla doesn’t see Huawei’s move as any kind of blocker to its ambitions of licensing its Android alternative in the Far East.
“The way we see the Chinese market in general is that it’s been always open to healthy competition and there is always competing solutions — actually heavily competing solutions — in the Chinese market. And Huawei’s offering one and we are happy to offer Sailfish OS for this very big, challenging market as well.”
“We do have good relationships there and we are building a case together with our local partners also to access the China market,” he adds. “I think in general it’s also very good that big corporations like Huawei really recognize this opportunity in general — and this shapes the overall industry so that you don’t need to, by default, opt into Android always. There are other alternatives around.”
On AppSupport, Jolla says the automative sector is “actively looking for such solutions”, noting that the “digital cockpit is a key differentiator for car markers — and arguing that makes it a strategically important piece for them to own and control.
“There’s been a lot of, let’s say, positive vibes in that sector in the past few years — new comers on the block like Tesla have really shaken the industry so that the traditional vendors need to think differently about how and what kind of user experience they provide in the cockpit,” he suggests.
“That’s been heavily invested and rapidly developing in the past years but I’m going to emphasize that at the same time, with our limited resources, we’re just learning where the opportunities for this technology are. Automative seems to have a lot of appetite but then [we also see potential in] other sectors — IoT… heavy industry as well… we are openly exploring opportunities… but as we know automotive is very hot at the moment.”
“There is plenty of general linux OS base in the world for which we are offering a good additional piece of technology so that those operating solutions can actually also tap into — for example — selected applications. You can think of like running the likes of Spotify or Netflix or some communications solutions specific for a certain sector,” he goes on.
“Most of those applications are naturally available both for iOS and Android platforms. And those applications as they simply exist the capability to run those applications independently on top of a linux platform — that creates a lot of interest.”
In another development, Jolla is in the process of raising a new growth financing round — it’s targeting €20M — to support its push to market AppSupport and also to put towards further growing its Sailfish licensing business.
It sees growth potential for Sailfish in Europe, which remains the biggest market for licensing the mobile OS. Pienimäki also says it’s seeing “good development” in certain parts of Africa. Nor has it given up on its ambitions to crack into China.
The growth round was opened to investors in the summer and hasn’t yet closed — but Jolla is confident of nailing the raise.
“We are really turning a next chapter in the Jolla story so exploring to new emerging opportunities — that requires capital and that’s what are looking for. There’s plenty of money available these days, in the investor front, and we are seeing good traction there together with the investment bank with whom we are working,” says Pienimäki.
“There’s definitely an appetite for this and that will definitely put us in a better position to invest further — both to Sailfish OS and the AppSupport technology. And in particular to the go-to market operation — to make this technology available for more people out there in the market.”
It hasn’t even been a week since Tesla hosted its AI Day, a livestreamed event full of technical jargon meant to snare the choicest of AI and vision engineers to come work for Tesla and help the company achieve autonomous greatness, and already CEO Elon Musk is coming in with some hot takes about the “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) tech.
Just drove FSD Beta 9.3 from Pasadena to LAX. Much improved!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 24, 2021
In a tweet on Tuesday, Musk said: “FSD Beta 9.2 is actually not great imo, but Autopilot/AI team is rallying to improve as fast as possible. We’re trying to have a single tech stack for both highway & city streets, but it requires massive [neural network] retraining.”
This is an important point. Many others in the autonomous space have mirrored this sentiment. Don Burnette, co-founder and CEO of Kodiak Robotics, says his company is exclusively focused on trucking for the moment because it’s a much easier problem to solve. In a recent Extra Crunch interview, Burnette said:
One of the unique aspects of our tech is that it’s highly customized for a specific goal. We don’t have this constant requirement that we maintain really high truck highway performance while at the same time really high dense urban passenger car performance, all within the same stack and system. Theoretically it’s certainly possible to create a generic solution for all driving in all conditions under all form factors, but it’s certainly a much harder problem.
Because Tesla is only using optical cameras, scorning lidar and radar, “massive” neural network training as a requirement is not an understatement at all.
Despite the sympathy we all feel for the AI and vision team that may undoubtedly be feeling a bit butthurt by Musk’s tweet, this is a singular moment of clarity and honesty for Musk. Usually, we have to filter Tesla news about its autonomy with a fine-tuned BS meter, one that beeps wildly with every mention of its “Full Self-Driving” technology. Which, for the record, is not at all full self-driving; it’s just advanced driver assistance that could, we grant, lay the groundwork for better autonomy in the future.
Musk followed up the tweet by saying that he just drove the FSD Beta 9.3 from Pasadena to LAX, a ride that was “much improved!” Do we buy it? Musk is ever the optimist. At the start of the month, Musk said Tesla would be releasing new versions of its FSD every two weeks at midnight California time. Then he promised that Beta 9.2 would be “tight,” saying that radar was holding the company back and now that it’s fully accepted pure vision, progress will go much faster.
There is always a lot of cleanup after a major code release. Beta 9.2 will be tight.
Still some fundamentals to solve for Beta 10, but now that we’re pure vision, progress is much faster. Radar was holding us back.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 31, 2021
Perhaps Musk is just trying to deflect against the flurry of bad press about the FSD system. Last week, U.S. auto regulators opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot, citing 11 incidents in which vehicles crashed into parked first responder vehicles. Why first responder vehicles in particular, we don’t know. But according to investigation documents posted on the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s website, most of the incidents took place after dark. Poor night vision is definitely a thing with many human drivers, but those kinds of incidents just won’t fly in the world of autonomous driving.
Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!
I’m back from a very fun and rehabilitative couple weeks away from my phone, my Twitter account and the news cycle. That said, I actually really missed writing this newsletter, and while Greg did a fantastic job while I was out, I won’t be handing over the reins again anytime soon. Plenty happened this week and I struggled to zero in on a single topic to address, but I finally chose to focus on Bezos’s Blue Origin suing NASA.
I was going to write about OnlyFans for the newsletter this week and their fairly shocking move to ban sexually explicit content from their site in a bid to stay friendly with payment processors, but alas I couldn’t help myself and wrote an article for ole TechCrunch dot com instead. Here’s a link if you’re curious.
Now, I should also note that while I was on vacation I missed all of the conversation surrounding Apple’s incredibly controversial child sexual abuse material detection software that really seems to compromise the perceived integrity of personal devices. I’m not alone in finding this to be a pretty worrisome development despite Apple’s intention of staving off a worse alternative. Hopefully, one of these weeks I’ll have the time to talk with some of the folks in the decentralized computing space about how our monolithic reliance on a couple tech companies operating with precious little consumer input is very bad. In the meantime, I will point you to some reporting from TechCrunch’s own Zack Whittaker on the topic which you should peruse because I’m sure it will be a topic I revisit here in the future.
Now then! Onto the topic at hand.
Federal government agencies don’t generally inspire much adoration. While great things have been accomplished at the behest of ample federal funding and the tireless work of civil servants, most agencies are treated as bureaucratic bloat and aren’t generally seen as anything worth passionately defending. Among the public and technologists in particular, NASA occupies a bit more of a sacred space. The American space agency has generally been a source of bipartisan enthusiasm, as has its goal to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024.
Which brings us to some news this week. While so much digital ink was spilled on Jeff Bezos’s little jaunt to the edge of space, cowboy hat, champagne and all, there’s been less fanfare around his space startup’s lawsuit against NASA, which we’ve now learned will delay the development of a new lunar lander by months, potentially throwing NASA’s goal to return astronauts to the moon’s surface on schedule into doubt.
Bezos’s upstart Blue Origin is protesting the fact that they were not awarded a government contract while Elon Musk’s SpaceX earned a $2.89 billion contract to build a lunar lander. This contract wasn’t just recently awarded either, SpaceX won it back in April and Blue Origin had already filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office. This happened before Bezos penned an open letter promising a $2 billion discount for NASA which had seen budget cuts at the hands of Congress dash its hoped to award multiple contracts. None of these maneuverings proved convincing enough for the folks at NASA, pushing Bezos’s space startup to sue the agency.
This little feud has caused long-minded Twitter users to dig up this little gem from a Bezos 2019 speech — as transcribed by Gizmodo — highlighting Bezos’s own distaste for how bureaucracy and greed have hampered NASA’s ability to reach for the stars:
“To the degree that big NASA programs become seen as jobs programs and that they have to be distributed to the right states where the right Senators live, and so on. That is going to change the objective. Now your objective is not to, you know, whatever it is, to get a man to the moon or a woman to the moon, but instead to get a woman to the moon while preserving X number of jobs in my district. That is a complexifier, and not a healthy one…[…]
Today, there would be, you know, three protests, and the losers would sue the federal government because they didn’t win. It’s interesting, but the thing that slows things down is procurement. It’s become the bigger bottleneck than the technology, which I know for a fact for all the well meaning people at NASA is frustrating.
A Blue Origin spokesperson called the suit, an “attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System.” But the lawsuit really seems to highlight how dire this deal is to the ability of Blue Origin to lock down top talent. Whether the startup can handle the reputational risk of suing NASA and delaying America’s return to the moon seems to be a question very much worth asking.
Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:
OnlyFans bans “sexually explicit content”
A lot of people had pretty visceral reactions to OnlyFans killing off what seems to be a pretty big chunk of its business, outlawing “sexually explicit content” on the platform. It seems the decision was reached as a result of banking and payment partners leaning on the company.
Musk “unveils” the “Tesla Bot”
I truly struggle to even call this news, but I’d be remiss not to highlight how Elon Musk had a guy dress up in a spandex outfit and walk around doing the robot and spawned hundreds of news stories about his new “Tesla Bot.” While there certainly could be a product opportunity here for Tesla at some point, I would bet all of the dogecoin in the world that his prototype “coming next year” either never arrives or falls hilariously short of expectations.
Facebook drops a VR meeting simulator
This week, Facebook released one of its better virtual reality apps, a workplace app designed to help people host meetings inside virtual reality. To be clear, no one really asked for this, but the company made a full court PR press for the app which will help headset owners simulate the pristine experience of sitting in a conference room.
Yes, this looks dumb. But avatar-based work apps are coming for your Zooms, and Facebook made a pretty convincing one here. https://t.co/aGvOW6zm8U
— Lucas Matney (@lucasmtny) August 19, 2021
Social platforms wrestle with Taliban presence on platforms
Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, social media platforms are being pushed to clarify their policies around accounts operated by identified Taliban members. It’s put some of the platforms in a hairy situation.
Facebook releases content transparency report
This week, Facebook released its first ever content transparency report, highlighting what data on the site had the most reach over a given time period, in this case a three-month period. Compared to lists highlighting which posts get the most engagement on the platform, lists generally populated mostly by right wing influencers and news sources, the list of posts with the most reach seems to be pretty benign.
Safety regulators open inquiry into Tesla Autopilot
While Musk talks about building a branded humanoid robot, U.S. safety regulators are concerned with why Tesla vehicles on Autopilot are crashing into so many parked emergency response vehicles.
Image Credits: Nigel Sussman
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
The Nuro EC-1
“..Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu aren’t the only Google self-driving project employees to launch an AV startup, but they might be the most underrated. Their company, Nuro, is valued at $5 billion and has high-profile partnerships with leaders in retail, logistics and food including FedEx, Domino’s and Walmart. And, they seem to have navigated the regulatory obstacle course with success — at least so far…”
A VC shares 5 keys to pitching VCs
“The success of a fundraising process is entirely dependent on how well an entrepreneur can manage it. At this stage, it is important for founders to be honest, straightforward and recognize the value meetings with venture capitalists and investors can bring beyond just the monetary aspect..“
A crash course on corporate development
“…If you’re going to get acquired, chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time with corporate development teams. With a hot stock market, mountains of cash and cheap debt floating around, the environment for acquisitions is extremely rich.”
Thanks for reading! Until next week…
Elon Musk wants Tesla to be seen as “much more than an electric car company.” On Thursday’s Tesla AI Day, the CEO described Tesla as a company with “deep AI activity in hardware on the inference level and on the training level” that can be used down the line for applications beyond self-driving cars, including a humanoid robot that Tesla is apparently building.
Tesla AI Day, which started after a rousing 45 minutes of industrial music pulled straight from “The Matrix” soundtrack, featured a series of Tesla engineers explaining various Tesla tech with the clear goal of recruiting the best and brightest to join Tesla’s vision and AI team and help the company go to autonomy and beyond.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work to make it work and that’s why we need talented people to join and solve the problem,” said Musk.
Like both “Battery Day” and “Autonomy Day,” the event on Thursday was streamed live on Tesla’s YouTube channel. There was a lot of super technical jargon, but here are the top four highlights of the day.
This bit of news was the last update to come out of AI Day before audience questions began, but it’s certainly the most interesting. After the Tesla engineers and executives talked about computer vision, the Dojo supercomputer and the Tesla chip (all of which we’ll get to in a moment), there was a brief interlude where what appeared to be an alien go-go dancer appeared on the stage, dressed in a white body suit with a shiny black mask as a face. Turns out, this wasn’t just a Tesla stunt, but rather an intro to the Tesla Bot, a humanoid robot that Tesla is actually building.
Image Credits: Tesla
When Tesla talks about using its advanced technology in applications outside of cars, we didn’t think he was talking about robot slaves. That’s not an exaggeration. CEO Elon Musk envisions a world in which the human drudgery like grocery shopping, “the work that people least like to do,” can be taken over by humanoid robots like the Tesla Bot. The bot is 5’8″, 125 pounds, can deadlift 150 pounds, walk at 5 miles per hour and has a screen for a head that displays important information.
“It’s intended to be friendly, of course, and navigate a world built for humans,” said Musk. “We’re setting it such that at a mechanical and physical level, you can run away from it and most likely overpower it.”
Because everyone is definitely afraid of getting beat up by a robot that’s truly had enough, right?
The bot, a prototype of which is expected for next year, is being proposed as a non-automotive robotic use case for the company’s work on neural networks and its Dojo advanced supercomputer. Musk did not share whether the Tesla Bot would be able to dance.
Image Credits: Tesla
Tesla director Ganesh Venkataramanan unveiled Tesla’s computer chip, designed and built entirely in-house, that the company is using to run its supercomputer, Dojo. Much of Tesla’s AI architecture is dependent on Dojo, the neural network training computer that Musk says will be able to process vast amounts of camera imaging data four times faster than other computing systems. The idea is that the Dojo-trained AI software will be pushed out to Tesla customers via over-the-air updates.
The chip that Tesla revealed on Thursday is called “D1,” and it contains a 7 nm technology. Venkataramanan proudly held up the chip that he said has GPU-level compute with CPU connectivity and twice the I/O bandwidth of “the state of the art networking switch chips that are out there today and are supposed to be the gold standards.” He walked through the technicalities of the chip, explaining that Tesla wanted to own as much of its tech stack as possible to avoid any bottlenecks. Tesla introduced a next-gen computer chip last year, produced by Samsung, but it has not quite been able to escape the global chip shortage that has rocked the auto industry for months. To survive the shortage, Musk said during an earnings call this summer that the company had been forced to rewrite some vehicle software after having to substitute in alternate chips.
Aside from limited availability, the overall goal of taking the chip production in-house is to increase bandwidth and decrease latencies for better AI performance.
“We can do compute and data transfers simultaneously, and our custom ISA, which is the instruction set architecture, is fully optimized for machine learning workloads,” said Venkataramanan at AI Day. “This is a pure machine learning machine.”
Venkataramanan also revealed a “training tile” that integrates multiple chips to get higher bandwidth and an incredible computing power of 9 petaflops per tile and 36 terabytes per second of bandwidth. Together, the training tiles compose the Dojo supercomputer.
Many of the speakers at the AI Day event noted that Dojo will not just be a tech for Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) system, it’s definitely impressive advanced driver assistance system that’s also definitely not yet fully self-driving or autonomous. The powerful supercomputer is built with multiple aspects, such as the simulation architecture, that the company hopes to expand to be universal and even open up to other automakers and tech companies.
“This is not intended to be just limited to Tesla cars,” said Musk. “Those of you who’ve seen the full self-driving beta can appreciate the rate at which the Tesla neural net is learning to drive. And this is a particular application of AI, but I think there’s more applications down the road that will make sense.”
Musk said Dojo is expected to be operational next year, at which point we can expect talk about how this tech can be applied to many other use cases.
During AI Day, Tesla backed its vision-based approach to autonomy yet again, an approach that uses neural networks to ideally allow the car to function anywhere on earth via its “Autopilot” system. Tesla’s head of AI, Andrej Karpathy, described Tesla’s architecture as “building an animal from the ground up” that moves around, senses its environment and acts intelligently and autonomously based on what it sees.
Andrej Karpathy, head of AI at Tesla, explaining how Tesla manages data to achieve computer vision-based semi-autonomous driving. Image Credits: Tesla
“So we are building of course all of the mechanical components of the body, the nervous system, which has all the electrical components, and for our purposes, the brain of the autopilot, and specifically for this section the synthetic visual cortex,” he said.
Karpathy illustrated how Tesla’s neural networks have developed over time, and how now, the visual cortex of the car, which is essentially the first part of the car’s “brain” that processes visual information, is designed in tandem with the broader neural network architecture so that information flows into the system more intelligently.
The two main problems that Tesla is working on solving with its computer vision architecture are temporary occlusions (like cars at a busy intersection blocking Autopilot’s view of the road beyond) and signs or markings that appear earlier in the road (like if a sign 100 meters back says the lanes will merge, the computer once upon a time had trouble remembering that by the time it made it to the merge lanes).
To solve for this, Tesla engineers fell back on a spatial recurring network video module, wherein different aspects of the module keep track of different aspects of the road and form a space-based and time-based queue, both of which create a cache of data that the model can refer back to when trying to make predictions about the road.
The company flexed its over 1,000-person manual data labeling team and walked the audience through how Tesla auto-labels certain clips, many of which are pulled from Tesla’s fleet on the road, in order to be able to label at scale. With all of this real-world info, the AI team then uses incredible simulation, creating “a video game with Autopilot as the player.” The simulations help particularly with data that’s difficult to source or label, or if it’s in a closed loop.
At around minute forty in the waiting room, the dubstep music was joined by a video loop showing Tesla’s FSD system with the hand of a seemingly alert driver just grazing the steering wheel, no doubt a legal requirement for the video after investigations into Tesla’s claims about the capabilities of its definitely not autonomous advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration earlier this week said they would open a preliminary investigation into Autopilot following 11 incidents in which a Tesla crashed into parked emergency vehicles.
A few days later, two U.S. Democratic senators called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Tesla’s marketing and communication claims around Autopilot and the “Full Self-Driving” capabilities.
Tesla released the beta 9 version of Full Self-Driving to much fanfare in July, rolling out the full suite of features to a few thousand drivers. But if Tesla wants to keep this feature in its cars, it’ll need to get its tech up to a higher standard. That’s where Tesla AI Day comes in.
“We basically want to encourage anyone who is interested in solving real-world AI problems at either the hardware or the software level to join Tesla, or consider joining Tesla,” said Musk.
And with technical nuggets as in-depth as the ones featured on Thursday plus a bumping electronic soundtrack, what red-blooded AI engineer wouldn’t be frothing at the mouth to join the Tesla crew?
You can watch the whole thing here:
Remember that weird Will Smith movie about robots?
Yeah, neither do we. But Elon Musk does. Tesla is developing a 5’8” Tesla Bot, with a prototype expected sometime next year. The news comes during Tesla’s inaugural AI Day, which was streamed on the company’s website Thursday night.
The bot is being proposed as a non-automotive robotic use case for the company’s work on neural networks and its Dojo advanced supercomputer.
Image Credits: Tesla
“Basically, if you think about what we’re doing right now with cars, Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company because our cars are like semi-sentient robots on wheels,” Musk said. “With the Full Self-Driving computer, [ … ] which will keep evolving, and Dojo and all the neural nets recognizing the world, understanding how to navigate through the world, it kind of makes sense to put that on to a humanoid form.”The bot is “intended to be friendly and navigate through a world built for humans,” he added. He also said they’re developing it so that humans can run away from it and overpower it easily. It’ll weigh 125 pounds and have a walking gait of 5 miles per hour.
Interestingly, Musk is imagining this as replacing much of the human drudge work that currently occupies so many people’s lives — not just labor but things like grocery shopping and other everyday tasks. He waxed about a future in which physical work would be a choice, with all the attendant implications that might mean for the economy.
“In the long term I do think there needs to be universal basic income,” Musk said. “But not right now because the robot doesn’t work.”
Two Democratic senators have asked the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Tesla’s statements about the autonomous capabilities of its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems. The senators, Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), expressed particular concern over Tesla misleading customers into thinking their vehicles are capable of fully autonomous driving.
“Tesla’s marketing has repeatedly overstated the capabilities of its vehicles, and these statements increasingly pose a threat to motorists and other users of the road,” they said. “Accordingly, we urge you to open an investigation into potentially deceptive and unfair practices in Tesla’s advertising and marketing of its driving automation systems and take appropriate enforcement action to ensure the safety of all drivers on the road.”
In their letter to new FTC Chair Lina Khan, they point to a 2019 YouTube video Tesla posted to its channel, which shows a Tesla driving autonomously. The roughly two-minute video is titled “Full Self-Driving” and has been viewed more than 18 million times.
“Their claims put Tesla drivers – and all of the travelling public – at risk of serious injury or death,” the senators wrote.
When it comes to Tesla and formal investigations, when it rains, it pours. The letter was published just two days after the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said it had opened a preliminary investigation into incidents involving Teslas crashing into parked emergency vehicles.
Lina Khan is the youngest person to ever chair the FTC. She’s widely considered the most progressive appointment in recent history, particularly for her scholarship on antitrust law. But should the FTC choose to investigate Tesla, the case would likely have nothing to do with antitrust law and instead fall under the purview of consumer protection. The FTC has the authority to investigate false or misleading claims from companies regarding their products.
This is not the first time prominent figures have called on the FTC to open an investigation into Tesla’s claims. The Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog, two special interest groups, also sent a letter in 2018 to the commission over the marketing of Autopilot features. The following year, the NHTSA urged the FTC to investigate whether claims made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk on the Model 3’s safety “constitute[d] unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”
Tesla charges $10,000 for access to a “Full Self-Driving” option at the point of sale, or as a subscription. The company is currently testing beta version 9 of FSD with a few thousand drivers, but the senators take aim at the beta version, too. “After the [beta 9] update, drivers have posted videos online showing their updated Tesla vehicles making unexpected maneuvers that require human intervention to prevent a crash,” they write. “Mr. Musk’s tepid precautions tucked away on social media are no excuse for misleading drivers and endangering the lives of everyone on the road.”
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In case you missed it, our scoop machine Mark Harris was at it again. This time, he found some interesting and entertaining documents related to Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas received via a Freedom of Information Act. Among the treasure is a “ride script” that instructs drivers for the Loop system to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.
The takeaway: the script shows just how serious The Boring Company, which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially Musk.
Importantly, the documents confirm that Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance system in the Tesla vehicles used in the Loop system, must be disabled.
This is a step outside the norm of what I usually think of when I think of micromobility (you’ll see what I did there in a second), but this week I wrote about a new in-shoe navigation system that helps the visually impaired walk around town.
Ashirase, as both the system and the name of the company is called, involves attaching a three-dimensional vibration device, including a motion sensor, inside a pair of shoes. This bit of hardware is connected to a smartphone app that someone with low vision can use to enter their destination. Vibrations in the front part of the shoe give the cue to walk straight, and vibrations on the left and right cue the user to make a left or right turn. The aim is to free up the hands while walking to use a cane and allow the walker to put more of their full attention on audio signals in the environment, thus making their commutes a bit more intuitive and their lives more independent.
It’s a really interesting bit of tech because it uses a similar stack to what we’re seeing in autonomous driving and advanced driver assistance systems. Which makes sense because that’s the founder’s background. Wataru Chino worked in Honda’s EV motor control and automated driving systems departments since 2009. His startup is a product of Honda’s incubator, Ignition, that features original technology, ideas, and designs of Honda associates with the goal of solving social issues and going beyond the existing Honda business.
Cabify recently announced a new feature that makes its rideshare service more accessible to the elderly, people with partial visual impairment and people with cognitive disabilities. The feature provides voice notifications to alert the user when a driver is on their way or has just arrived, when the ride starts, when a stop has been reached, when a message has come into the app’s chat, etc.
The notification makes use of a text-to-speech functionality that Android and iOS phones have.
“Apple and Google operating systems allow us to pronounce sentences with the system’s voice but we have developed the text and established the situations where we inform and draw the user’s attention,” a Cabify spokesperson told me.
And we’re back with the latest on Lime’s plans to take over the world, one electric scooter at a time. The micromobility goliath has announced an integration with the Moovit transit planning app. From Monday onwards, Moovit users in 117 cities across 20 countries will see Lime’s electric scooters, bikes and mopeds show up as an option for travel, either as the whole journey or as part of a multi-modal journey. This news follows a trend we’re seeing as cities start to see micromobility companies as less of a public nuisance and more of a public solution, particularly for first- and last-mile travel. Integrating with Moovit, an app that’s solely focused on public transportation, is a move that helps in the long run creating a broader transportation ecosystem.
Espin released its limited edition fixie style e-bike called the Aero. It’s just the thing for Seattle hipsters, particularly ones with a stick-and-poke bike tattoo. The bike frame is just as sleek as you’d expect from a single gear bike, all clean lines and comes in either a forest green or a smoke gray. The Aero can reach top speeds of 20 mph and can hit 30 miles on a single charge. Best of all, it doesn’t break the bank at $1,399.
Splach, which normally makes e-scooters and e-bikes, has come out with something it’s calling the Transformer. I truly don’t know how to categorize it but it looks like a lot of fun to ride. The company is calling the light-duty e-vehicle a “mini-moto Robust scooter specialized for rugged terrains.” It looks like a dirt bike has been sized way down and given a long neck so you can stand on it and still steer it. It also looks like it would indeed do well on rugged terrains, based on videos of people shredding down dirt paths. Splach used Indiegogo to fund the thing, and said it reached its goal within an hour.
Get ready to hear a lot more about supply chain constraints around batteries with virtually every automaker shouting out pledges to shift their entire portfolio away from internal combustion engines and towards electric powertrains.
Cell producers need access to the raw materials like nickel that are needed to make batteries. Mining those materials is the most common means, but that isn’t sustainable (and I’m not just talking about the environmental toll). JB Straubel, who is best known as the former Tesla co-founder and longtime CTO, is tackling the supply chain issue through his startup Redwood Materials. The battery recycling company is aiming to create a circular supply chain. This closed-loop system, Straubel says, will be essential if the world’s battery cell producers hope to have the supply needed for consumer electronics and the coming wave of electric vehicles.
High-profile investors like Amazon, funds managed by T. Rowe and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Ventures fund recognize the opportunity and have injected $700M in fresh capital into Redwood Materials. This is comically large compared to the startup’s last raise of $40 million. And sources tell me that this pushes Redwood Material’s valuation to $3.7 billion.
I interviewed Straubel about the raise and what struck me was how aggressively he wants to scale; he is treating this issue as if there is no time to lose — and he’s not wrong.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Clarios, the maker of low-voltage vehicle batteries, postponed its IPO, citing market volatility, Bloomberg reported. the Milwaukee area-based company backed by Brookfield Asset Management had filed to raise $1.7 billion by offering 88.1 million shares at a price range of $17 to $21.
Fisker, the electric vehicle startup turned publicly traded company via a SPAC, has turned investor to support EV charging company Allego. Fisker said it is investing $10 million in private-investment-in-public equity (PIPE) funding for the merger of Allego and special purpose acquisition company Spartan Acquisition Corp III. The merger puts Allego at a pro forma equity value of $3.14 billion.
Flock, which went from providing drone insurance to commercial vehicle insurance, raised $17 million in a Series A funding led by Social Capital, the investment vehicle run by Chamath Palihapitiya, best known as a SPAC investor and chairman of Virgin Galactic. Flock’s existing investors Anthemis and Dig Ventures also participated. This round brings Flock’s total funding to $22 million. Justin Saslaw (Social Capital’s fintech partner) joins Flock’s board of directors, as does Ross Mason (founder of Dig Ventures and MuleSoft).
HappyFresh, the on-demand grocery app based in Indonesia, raised $65 million in a Series D round led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V., with participation from STIC, LB and Mirae Asset Indonesia and Singapore. It also included returning investors Mirae-Asset Naver Asia Growth Fund and Z Venture Capital. The company’s previous round of funding was a $20 million Series C announced in April 2019.
Lordstown Motors got a lifeline from a hedge fund managed by investment firm Yorkville Advisors about five weeks after the automaker issued a warning that it might not have enough funds to bring its electric pickup truck to market. The hedge fund agreed to buy $400 million worth of shares over a three-year period, according to a regulatory filing.
Merqueo, the on-demand delivery service that operates in Latin America, raised $50 million in a Series C round of funding co-led by IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest. MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders also participated. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.
Niron Magnetics, a company developing permanent magnets free of rare earths, raised $21.3 million in new financing from the Volvo Cars Tech Fund and Volta Energy Technologies, which joined existing investors Anzu Partners and the University of Minnesota. Niron will use the funding to build its pilot production facility in Minnesota.
Onto, the EV car subscription company raised $175 million in a combined equity and debt Series B round. The equity piece was led by Swedish VC Alfvén & Didrikson. British investment company Pollen Street Capital provided the senior-secured asset-backed debt facility. The company, which has raised a total of $245 million, says it plans to double its fleet size every three to six months and that any new vehicles will be used as collateral. Onto did not disclose how much of the round came from equity versus debt.
Zūm, a student transportation startup, was awarded a five-year $150 million contract to modernize San Francisco Unified School District transport service throughout the district. Zūm, which already operates its rideshare-meets-bus service in Oakland, much of Southern California, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas, will be responsible for handling day-to-day operations, transporting 3,500 students across 150 school campuses starting this fall semester.
I hear things. But I’m not selfish. Let me share!
You might have missed my article late Friday about Argo AI landing a permit in California that will allow the company to give people free rides in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads.
Tl;dr: The California Public Utilities Commission issued Argo the so-called Drivered AV pilot permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot. This puts Argo in a small and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing — a signal that the industry, or at least some companies, are preparing for commercial operations.
Regulatory hurdles remain and don’t expect Argo to be offering and charging for “driverless” rides anytime soon. But progress is being made and I would expect the company to secure the next permit — in a long line of them — later this year.
Argo has never officially indicated what city it is targeting for a robotaxi service in California. The company has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology in Ford vehicles around Palo Alto since 2019. Today, the company’s test fleet in California is about one dozen self-driving test vehicles. It also has autonomous test vehicles in Miami, Austin, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh and Detroit. (In July, Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin.)
I’m hearing from some sources familiar with Argo’s strategy for California that we should look south of the Bay Area. Way south.
The city that jumps to mind is San Diego. Some AV companies are already playing around the Irvine area and Los Angeles seems too unwieldy. Plus, Ford already has a footprint in San Diego. The automaker partnered way back in 2017 with AT&T, Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies to test Cellular vehicle-to-everything (CV2X) at the San Diego Regional Proving Ground with the support of the San Diego Association of Governments, Caltrans, the city of Chula Vista, and intelligent transportation solutions provider McCain. The upshot of these trials? To improve traffic efficiency, vehicle safety and “support a path towards autonomous vehicles.”
Hi everyone. Let’s dive into two key pieces of proposed legislation this week: the infrastructure bill and the tailpipe emissions standards.
After months of negotiations, U.S. senators have finally settled on a $550 billion infrastructure package that includes investments in roads, bridges, broadband and more. The bill would provide $7.5 billion to electrify buses and ferries, including school buses, and $7.5 billion to build out a national network of public EV charging stations. Subsequent statements on the bill from the White House say directly that the EV investments are intended to keep the U.S. competitive on the world stage: “U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle (EV) sales is only one-third the size of the Chinese EV market. The President believes that must change.”
The budget is just a fraction of the $2.25 trillion bill President Joe Biden originally introduced in March. That version of the bill earmarked billions more for transportation electrification, especially in rebates and incentives to get consumers buying more EVs. The bill is still with the Senate for final approval. Then it will head to the House before finally ending up on Biden’s desk.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation have proposed rules that would beef up tailpipe emissions standards, which had been rolled back under President Donald Trump. The rules would be identical to the agreement the state of California reached with Ford, VW, Honda, BMW and Volvo in 2019, the AP reported. If approved, the rules would apply starting with model year 2023 vehicles.
The aim is to cut carbon emissions from transportation and encourage more people to buy hybrid and electric. But many environmental groups like the Sierra Club — plus some EV automakers — don’t think they go far enough.
“This draft proposal would drive us in the right direction after several years in reverse–but slowly getting back on track is not enough,” Chris Nevers, senior director of environmental policy at Rivian, told TechCrunch. EPA and NHTSA must maximize the stringency of the program beyond the voluntary deal and account for current and future developments in vehicle electrification.
One more thing that caught my eye this week…The Washington Post reported that Biden and a group of automakers are negotiating for the latter group to make a “formal pledge” to have at least 40% of all vehicles sold in 2030 to be electric. The article doesn’t specify which OEMs are part of the talks. However, it’s hard to imagine automakers signing onto anything — even a “voluntary pledge” — without some hefty federal spending to go along with it. We’ll have to see if the provisions in the infrastructure bill are enough.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
As per ushe, there was a ton of transportation news this week. Let’s dig in.
Yep, ADAS gets its own section now in an effort to make it abundantly clear that advanced driver assistance systems are not self-driving cars. Never. Never ever.
New York Times’ Greg Bensinger weighs in on beta testing and Tesla in this opinion column.
Aurora co-founder and chief product officer Sterling Anderson put out a blog and a bunch of tweets to layout a blueprint for an autonomous ride-hailing business that will launch in late 2024 with partners Toyota and Uber. Aurora has spent the past year or so pushing its messaging on self-driving trucks, which the company says is its best and most viable first commercial product. Aurora never entirely ditched the robotaxi idea, but it was pretty quiet on the topic. Until now.
The blog comes about a week after competitor Argo AI and Ford announced a partnership with Lyft. While the timing might not be related, it does show that competition is heating up in both areas — robotaxis and self-driving trucks — with every AV company keen to show progress and deep partnerships.
TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that went public earlier this year, has partnered with Ryder as part of its plan to build out a freight network that will support its autonomous trucking operations. Ryder’s fleet maintenance facilities will act as terminals for TuSimple’s so-called AFN, or autonomous freight network.
Ford released Wednesday its second quarter earnings for 2021, which besides containing a surprise profit despite the ongoing chip shortage, revealed that its F-150 Lightning electric pickup has generated 120,000 preorders since its unveiling in May. Ford reported revenue of $26.8 billion, slightly below expectations, and net income of $561 million in the second quarter.
Lucid Group (formerly Lucid Motors) will be expanding its factory in Casa Grande, Arizona, by 2.7 million square feet, CEO Pete Rawlinson said just hours after the company officially went public with a $4.5 billion injection of capital. The company also said it has 11,000 paid reservations for its flagship luxury electric sedan, the Lucid Air.
Polestar said it plans to launch in nine more markets this year, doubling its global presence as it seeks to sell more of its electric sedans. The company, which is the electric performance vehicle brand under Volvo Car Group, also wants to double the number of retail stores to 100 locations and add more service centers by the end of the year. The Swedish automaker has more than 650 so-called “service points” in Polestar markets and wants to exceed 780 by the end of 2021.
REE Automotive has picked Austin for its U.S. headquarters. The company said the headquarters will help it address the growing U.S. market demand for mission-specific EVs from delivery and logistics companies, Mobility-as-a-Service and new technology players.
Tesla reported its second-quarter earnings and it was packed with news, including that the company generated $1.14 billion in net income, marking the first time the company’s quarterly profit (on a GAAP basis) has passed the three-comma threshold. And they hit that profitability metric without completely relying on the sale of zero-emissions credits to other automakers.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk weighed in on the company’s battery strategy and disclosed that the company is pushing the launch of its electric Semi truck program to 2022 due to supply chain challenges and the limited availability of battery cells. And everything is pointing to the Cybertruck also being delayed until next year.
And finally, Tesla’s latest quarterly earnings report showed growth in its energy storage and solar business. The company reported $801 million in revenue from its energy generation and storage business — which includes three main products: solar, its Powerwall storage device for homes and businesses, and its utility storage unit Megapack. More importantly, the cost of revenue for its solar and energy storage business was $781 million, meaning that for the first time the total cost of producing and distributing these energy storage products was lower than the revenue it generated. That’s good news.
Joby Aviation completed the longest test flight of an eVTOL to date: Its unnamed full-sized prototype aircraft concluded a trip of over 150 miles on a single charge. The test was completed at Joby’s Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California, earlier this month. It’s the latest in a succession of secretive tests the company’s been conducting, all part of its goal to achieve certification with the Federal Aviation Administration and start commercial operations.
Lilium, the electric air taxi startup, has tapped German manufacturer Customcells to supply batteries for its flagship seven-seater Lilium Jet.
AEye, a lidar company, has been adding to its executive team in the past few months. The most recent is the hiring of automotive veteran and former Valeo executive Bernd Reichert as senior vice president of ADAS. the company has also hired Velodyne’s former COO Rick Tewell, Bob Brown from Cepton and Hod Finkelstein as chief research and design officer from Sense Photonics.
Cruise is also on a bit of an executive and engineering hiring spree. The company sent me a list of recent folks who have joined including former Southwest Airlines employee Anthony Gregory as VP of market development, Phil Maher, the former Virgin Atlantic COO, as VP of central operations and Bhavini Soneji as VP of product engineering. Soneji was most recently VP of engineering at Headspace, and was at Microsoft and Snapchat before that.
Cruise also hired Vinoj Kumar, who oversaw Google’s cloud infrastructure and software systems, as VP of Infrastructure and Yuning Chai, former lead perception researcher at Waymo, as head of AI Research. In all, Cruise now employs more than 1,900 people.
Don Burnette, the co-founder and CEO of self-driving trucks company Kodiak Robotics, sat down with TechCrunch as part of our ongoing Q&A series with the founders of transportation startups. The interview covers a lot of ground, including Burnette’s views on the company’s strategy, current funding conditions in the industry and what he learned at Otto. the self-driving trucks startup he co-founded and that was acquired by Uber.
Trevor Milton, the fast-talking showman founder of Nikola and the electric truck startup’s former CEO and executive chairman, was charged with three counts of fraud. He is free on $100 million bail.
Milton “engaged in a fraudulent scheme to deceive retail investors” for his own personal benefit, according to the federal indictment unsealed by U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Milton was charged with two counts of securities fraud and wire fraud by a federal grand jury.
A 13-tonne Tesla Megapack caught fire on Friday morning at a battery storage facility in south-east Australia. The blaze occurred during testing at between 10 and 10.15am local time, according to Victorian Big Battery. The regional fire service said a specialist fire crew had been dispatched to the site in Geelong, Victoria. Firefighters were using a hazmat appliance designed for hazardous chemical spills and specialist drones to conduct atmospheric monitoring, according to Fire Rescue Victoria.
The site was evacuated and there were no injuries, Victorian Big Battery said in a statement. It added that the site had been disconnected from the power grid and that there will be no impact to the electric supply. French energy company Neoen, which operates the facility, and contractor Tesla are working with emergency services to manage the situation.
As a result of the fire, a warning for toxic smoke has been issued in the nearby Batesford, Bell Post Hill, Lovely Banks and Moorabool areas, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. Residents were warned to move indoors, close windows, vents and fireplace flues and bring their pets inside.
The Victorian Big Battery site, a 300 MW/450 MWh battery storage facility, is viewed as key to the Victorian government’s 50 percent renewable energy target by 2030. It follows the success of Neoen and Tesla’s 100 MW/129 MWh battery farm in Hornsdale in South Australia, which was completed ahead of schedule and has resulted in multi-million dollar savings for market players and consumers. Both sites essentially provide a regional power backup for when renewable energy is not available, effectively filling the gap when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
In February, Neoen announced that the Victorian Big Battery would utliize Tesla’s megapacks — utility-sized batteries produced at the company’s Gigafactory — and Autobidder software to sell power to the grid. Victorian Big Battery has a contract with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). As part of the pact, the site will provide energy stability by unlocking an additional 250 MW of peak capacity on the existing Victoria to New South Wales Interconnector over the next decade of Australian summers.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.
Elon Musk is siding with Epic Games in the App Store monopoly case, with the Tesla CEO firing off a tweet Friday morning that called Apple’s Store fees “a de facto global tax on the Internet,” also adding that “Epic is right.”
Epic Games legal battle with Apple is sure to last years and the Fortnite maker has hardly been secretive about its aims to win the battle for popular opinion as well. Musk’s vote of confidence could hold sway with consumers who have yet to develop a clear opinion on the topic.
Apple has argued publicly that dissatisfied developers can take their products to Android or mobile web on iOS, but Epic Games and others have argued that Apple’s stranglehold on apps is nothing short of a monopoly.
What’s less clear is why Musk is taking up this issue right now. While Musk is rarely one to pass up offering an outside opinion on a contentious issue that doesn’t involve him, none of Musk’s current companies seem to be deeply affected by the fees from the App Store, though there certainly could be action happening behind the scenes.
Apple app store fees are a de facto global tax on the Internet. Epic is right.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 30, 2021
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
We were a smaller team this week, with Natasha and Alex together with Grace and Chris to sort through a week that brought together both this quarter’s earnings cycle, and the Q3 IPO rush. So, it was just a little busy!
Before we get to topics, however, a note that we are having a lot of fun recording these live on Twitter Spaces. We’ve found a hacky way to capture local audio and also share the chats live. So, hit us up on Twitter so you can hang out with us. It’s fun – and we may even bring you up on stage to play guest host.
Ok, now, to the Great List of Subjects:
Drivers for Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas have been instructed to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.
Using public records laws, TechCrunch obtained documents that detail daily operations at the Loop, which opened in June to transport attendees around the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) using modified Tesla vehicles. Among the documents is a “Ride Script” that every new recruit must follow when curious passengers ask questions.
The script shows just how serious The Boring Company (TBC), which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially its founder, Elon Musk.
“Your goal is to provide a safe ride for the passengers, not an entertaining ride. Keep conversation to a minimum so you can focus on the road,” advises the document. “Passengers will pepper you with questions. Here are some you may be asked and the recommended responses.”
If riders ask a driver how long they have been with the company, they are instructed to respond with: “Long enough to know these tunnels pretty well!” The document goes on to note: “Passengers will not feel safe if they think you’ve only been driving for a week (even though that could mean hundreds of rides). Accordingly, do not share how long you’ve been employed here, but instead, find a way to evade the question or shift the focus,” the document advises drivers.
When asked how many crashes the system has experienced (the script uses the term “accidents”), drivers are told to respond: “It’s a very safe system, and I’m not sure. You’d have to reach out to the company.” Riders should expect similarly vague responses if they wonder how many employees or drivers TBC has, or how much the tunnels cost to dig. (About $53 million in total).
The use of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system that is branded “Autopilot” is clearly a sore point at TBC. Clark County does not currently permit the use of the various driver assistance features anywhere within the Loop system, including automatic emergency braking or technologies that make the vehicle aware of obstacles and keep the vehicle in lane.
Officials even require mechanics to check the vehicles to ensure these are not activated.
“In addition to completing the actions under the initial inspection checklist, maintenance staff will verify that the automatic features of the vehicle, such as steering and braking/acceleration/deceleration assist (commonly known as Autopilot) are disabled for manual loop operation,” the document reads. The following checks will be conducted on a daily basis by CWPM technicians, according to the Vehicle Maintenance plan viewed by TechCrunch.
If a passenger should ask whether the Loop’s Tesla vehicles use Autopilot, drivers will give a response. However, this content was marked “Public Safety Related Confidential” in the documents TechCrunch received and was redacted, as were many other technical details.
TechCrunch’s repeated requests to officials to explain this decision went unanswered.
The script also covers responses to questions about Musk himself: “This category of questions is extremely common and extremely sensitive. Public fascination with our founder is inevitable and may dominate the conversation. Be as brief as possible, and do your best to shut down such conversation. If passengers continue to force the topic, politely say, ‘I’m sorry, but I really can’t comment’ and change the subject.”
Nevertheless, the script provides a number of replies to common Musk questions. Ask what Musk is like and you should expect the answer: “He’s awesome! Inspiring / motivating / etc.”
Follow up with: “Do you like working for him?” and you’ll get a response that could have come straight from North Korea: “Yup, he’s a great leader! He motivates us to do great work.”
Should a customer wonder how involved Musk is in the business, the driver will tell them: “He’s the company founder, and has been very involved and supportive.” Questions about Musk’s erratic tweets will be brushed off: “Elon is a public figure. We’re just here to provide an awesome transportation experience!”
One question, however, seems to hint that not everyone is happy working for Musk: “Is it true what I’ve read about him in the papers that he [is a mean boss / smokes pot / doesn’t let employees take vacations / etc.]?” Your driver’s rather equivocal response will be: “I haven’t seen that article, but that hasn’t been my experience.”
On a side note: While the hundreds of pages of training documents and operational manuals that TechCrunch obtained detail strong policies against drug use and harassment at the Loop, the word “vacation” does not otherwise appear.
Because Clark County currently forbids the use of automated driving features in the Loop, human drivers could be part of the system for some time. But the system is home to plenty of other advanced technologies, according to design and operational documents submitted to Clark County. Each of the 62 Teslas in the underground Loop has a unique RFID chip — as used in contactless payment systems — that pinpoints its location when it passes over one of 55 antennas installed in the roadway, stations and parking stalls.
Each vehicle also streams data to 24 hotspots through the system, sharing its speed, state of charge, the number of passengers in the car, and whether they are wearing seatbelts. Riders should be aware that every car is also constantly streaming real-time video from a camera inside the passenger cabin. All this data, along with video from 81 fixed cameras throughout the Loop, is fed to an Operations Control Center (OCC) located a few blocks away from the Convention Center. Video is recorded and stored for at least two weeks.
In the OCC, an operator is monitoring the camera feeds and other sensors for security threats or other problems — such as a driver using their own cellphone or speeding. The OCC can communicate with any driver via a Bluetooth headset or an in-car iPad that displays messages, alerts and a map of the car’s location in the tunnels. Vehicles have strict speed limits, ranging from 10 mph within stations to 40 mph on straight tunnel sections, and must maintain at least 6 seconds of separation from the car in front.
During testing this spring, the documents reveal that Clark County officials found some drivers were not following all the rules. “When asked about the speed limitations, several drivers replied with wrong straightaway and/or curved tunnel speeds. None provided at station, express lane, or ramp speeds,” reads one document. “Drivers were not announcing to the passengers to buckle their seatbelts. When asked, [some were saying] that they are optional or not required.”
Several drivers were also failing to maintain the 6-second safety margin with cars in front. TBC told Clark County that it would provide refresher training in those areas.
TBC, Clark County, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which oversees the LVCC, did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The LVCVA recently signed a contract with Alphabet’s spin-out urban advertising agency, Intersection Media, to sell naming rights to the Loop system, which it hopes will net it $4.5 million.
TBC is currently building two extensions to the Loop to serve nearby hotels and ultimately wants to build a transit system covering much of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas with more than 40 stations. That system would be financed by TBC and supported by ticket sales.
Tesla will secure nickel from the commodity production giant BHP, the automaker’s latest move to secure direct sources of raw materials that are projected to surge in demand before the decade is out.
BHP’s Nickel West division will supply an undisclosed amount of the mineral from its mines in Western Australia. The two companies also agreed to work together to increase battery supply chain sustainability and to identify ways to decrease carbon emissions from their respective operations using energy storage paired with renewable energy.
Nickel is a key mineral in lithium-ion batteries, and a cornerstone of Tesla’s next-gen battery chemistry. While many lithium-ion batteries have cathodes made from nickel, manganese and cobalt, Tesla is taking a different tack. At Tesla’s Battery Day 2020, Musk said the automaker would invest in a nickel-rich, cobalt-free cathode for some models, citing greater energy density.
Tesla also hasn’t been shy about its own intention to increase battery cell production in the coming decade, aiming to produce 100 gigawatt hours of batteries by 2022, to a staggering 3 terawatt hours per year by 2030.
To that end, the company is moving fast to secure purchase agreements with leading nickel producers. Earlier this year, the automaker announced a partnership with a nickel producer in the French Pacific territory New Caledonia. Just a few months later, Tesla chairperson Robyn Denhlm confirmed that the company was looking to purchase around $1 billion per year in battery minerals from Australia alone.
Musk has repeatedly urged miners to produce more nickel. On an investment call last July, he told producers, “Tesla will give you a giant contract for a long period of time if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.” At Battery Day, he reiterated his position: “In order to scale, we really need to make sure that we’re not constrained by total nickel availability,” he said. “I actually spoke with the CEOs of the biggest mining company in the world and said, ‘Please make more nickel, it’s very important.’”
But finding an environmentally friendly nickel source is a challenge. Some of that has to do with issues endemic to present-day recovery and smelting techniques; others are more directly manageable by mining companies. For example, nickel mining operations in Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of the metal, have come under fire for their reliance on coal and their waste disposal techniques.
BHP claims its operation is one of the most sustainable in the world, and Tesla’s decision to partner with it could be seen as something of a confirmation of that fact. The commodity producer in February said up to 50% of the electricity to power one of its nickel refineries would come from solar energy resources.
The vast majority of the world’s nickel supply is currently consumed by the steel industry. While nickel demand in the EV and energy storage sectors is currently relatively small, the International Energy Agency estimates that will increase more than 4,000% over the next 20 years – from 81 metric tons in 2020 to 3,352 metric tons by 2040.
Nickel West has historically been a tiny fraction of BHP’s overall business, dwarfed by its iron ore, copper and petroleum businesses. The commodity producer tried to sell Nickel West a number of times since around 2015, but it appears to have changed its tune with the forecasted groundswell of demand from the EV and energy storage sectors.
Industry analysts Benchmark Minerals estimated the deal with Tesla could be worth up to 18,000 tons of nickel annually.
A Tesla in full self-driving mode makes a left turn out of the middle lane on a busy San Francisco street. It jumps in a bus lane where it’s not meant to be. It turns a corner and nearly plows into parked vehicles, causing the driver to lurch for the wheel. These scenes have been captured by car reviewer AI Addict, and other scenarios like it are cropping up on YouTube. One might say that these are all mistakes any human on a cell phone might have made. But we expect more from our AI overlords.
Earlier this month, Tesla began sending out over-the-air software updates for its Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta version 9 software, an advanced driver assist system that relies only on cameras, rather than cameras and radar like Tesla’s previous ADAS systems.
In reaction to videos displaying unsafe driving behavior, like unprotected left turns, and other reports from Tesla owners, Consumer Reports issued a statement on Tuesday saying the software upgrade does not appear to be safe enough for public roads, and that it would independently test the software update on its Model Y SUV once it receives the necessary software updates.
Running preproduction software is both work & fun. Beta list was in stasis, as we had many known issues to fix.
Beta 9 addresses most known issues, but there will be unknown issues, so please be paranoid.
Safety is always top priority at Tesla.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 9, 2021
The consumer organization said it’s concerned Tesla is using its existing owners and their vehicles as guinea pigs for testing new features. Making their point for them, Tesla CEO Elon Musk did urge drivers not to be complacent while driving because “there will be unknown issues, so please be paranoid.” Many Tesla owners know what they’re getting themselves into because they signed up for Tesla’s Early Access Program that delivers beta software for feedback, but other road users have not given their consent for such trials.
Tesla’s updates are shipped out to drivers all over the country. The electric vehicle company did not respond to a request for more information about whether or not it takes into account self-driving regulations in specific states — 29 states have enacted laws related to autonomous driving, but they differ wildly depending on the state. Other self-driving technology companies like Cruise, Waymo and Argo AI told CR they either test their software on private tracks or use trained safety drivers as monitors.
“Car technology is advancing really quickly, and automation has a lot of potential, but policymakers need to step up to get strong, sensible safety rules in place,” says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at CR in a statement. “Otherwise, some companies will just treat our public roads as if they were private proving grounds, with little holding them accountable for safety.”
In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a standing general order that requires manufacturers and operators of vehicles with SAE Level 2 ADAS or SAE levels 3, 4 or 5 automated driving systems to report crashes.
“NHTSA’s core mission is safety. By mandating crash reporting, the agency will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s acting administrator, in a statement. “In fact, gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles.”
The FSD beta 9 software has added features that automates more driving tasks, like navigating intersections and city streets with the driver’s supervision. But with such excellent graphics detailing where the car is in relation to other road users, down to a woman on a scooter passing by, drivers might be more distracted by the tech that’s meant to assist them at crucial moments.
“Tesla just asking people to pay attention isn’t enough — the system needs to make sure people are engaged when the system is operational,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center in a statement. “We already know that testing developing self-driving systems without adequate driver support can — and will — end in fatalities.”
Fisher said Tesla should implement an in-car driver monitoring system to ensure drivers are watching the road to avoid accidents like the one involving Uber’s self-driving test vehicle, which struck and killed a woman in 2018 in Phoenix as she crossed the street.
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Hello and welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.
Before we jump into the deals, policy moves and micromobbin’ news, I wanted to share the latest founders interview, a new series we launched this spring over at Extra Crunch.
Here’s the opener to the interview:
Jen Young and Jeff Cavins were sitting in a beige conference room at a downtown Vancouver hotel, wasting away under fluorescent lights, an endless PowerPoint and a pair of sad Styrofoam cups of coffee between them. Young was there on a marketing contract. Cavins was a board member. They shared one of those looks that only couples can understand. It said: There’s got to be something better than this.
The “something better than this” ended up becoming Outdoorsy, peer-to-peer RV and camper rental startup.
The interview with Cavins and Young covers why they started Outdoorsy, how they have evolved and improved their business model and what is coming next. Our series has a tiny twist: We will check in with these founders a year from the date that the interview was published.
You know how those memes keep going around about why it makes total sense the Roaring 20s happened after the Spanish Flu a century ago? They bring up an important point. A very drunken, boisterous summer is already underway in places that are opening up (sorry, Melbourne), and these shenanigans are flying parallel to the rise of electric micromobility vehicles. The end result? People will — and already are — trying to ride these things drunk.
Bird announced this week it is launching Safe Start, a new in-app checkpoint designed to discourage people, but ultimately not stop them, from riding under the influence. It kicks off between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., when trouble is usually afoot, asking riders attempting to unlock a Bird if they can safely handle the vehicle by correctly entering a keyword into the app. The hope is that within the time it takes a would-be rider to stop swaying, close one eye, squint with the other and punch in those letters, they’ll have realized that they’re in no position to operate machinery and call a cab or hail a ride via an app instead.
Lime has had a similar feature for the past couple of years, also activating after 10 p.m. in most markets. It asks riders to type in “Y-E-S” in response to the question, “Do you affirm you are not drunk and fit to ride?” I think it should be a simple, “Are you drunk?” but I have a thing against negative sentence structures.
A spokesperson from Lime told me the company is working on a more robust cognitive test as well as something else he can’t share yet, but if I were a betting woman, I’d say it has something to do with sensing whether someone is driving in a straight line or wobbling, an idea the company talked to The Verge about two years ago.
Spin also has a similar feature it’s working on that hasn’t yet been launched. However, it’s a bit more involved than what Bird and Lime have launched.
Spin will soon feature a quiz that will test reaction times of the rider. The logic follows that people with higher blood alcohol content have slower reaction times. A Spin spokesperson told me the company would work with the city to determine which hours are of most concern and only implement the test during those hours. Slowpokes will have to source another means of transport home, probably with a stop off at the pizza place.
Fenix, the shared e-scooter operator out of Abu Dhabi, is launching a 10-minute fresh grocery delivery service on Reem Island, some boujie, high-tech, super dense mixed-use development off the city’s coast. The company figures it’s already paying for the vehicles themselves, the space to charge batteries and the employees to swap batteries and service the scooters, why not put those to use with another business line?
It might be a logistical stroke of genius, especially if the software managing the fleets, deliveries and rides are integrated well. The company will have an undisclosed number of “dark stores” or private convenience stores (which will also house the batteries for charging) around the island so that those fresh avocados or packs of diapers are never too far from a millionaire’s penthouse. Fenix’s full-time employees will be stationed within the dark stores, accepting orders and putting together the delivery in two minutes before relaying it to a, no doubt, anxious co-worker who will have eight minutes to drop off the goods.
I have my doubts about that 10-minute success rate, many of which reside in my concern for the workers, but we’ll see how it goes, I guess. It’s a cool business model.
Irish micromobility company Zipp Mobility is making its first expansion off the island, launching its e-scooter operations in Katowice, Poland. It’s a small city in the southern part of the country, but Zipp appears to be putting a stake hold in the region, with plans to launch in the surrounding cities of Sosnowiec and Dabrowa Gornicza by the end of August.
Meanwhile, Veo is on its own expansion plans. The company raised $16 million in a Series A, which it’ll use to fund the expansion of its fleet to new cities like Santa Monica, San Diego and New York, while also focusing on developing new form factors for untapped use cases.
Speaking of New York, Revel has announced a partnership with GridRewards, an app that develops “virtual power plant” software. Essentially, Revel wants to save money while also not messing up NYC’s power grid, so it’s going to try its best to only charge its e-moped fleet when peak demand is low, and less expensive.
Revel is also doing a thing with FlixBus, an intercity bus operator. If you book with one, you get discounts with the others. FlixBus passengers travelling between DC and New York City will be eligible for a $5 one-time credit when booking electric mopeds in Revel’s app.
Finally, Santa Cruz-based electric bike startup Blix has some new updates to their rides that provide better performance, increased power and range, better brakes, fatter tires and a range of new colors.
— Rebecca Bellan
The big AV and deal news of the week is Aurora Innovation’s move to become a publicly traded company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson.
The announcement confirmed my reporting in June that the companies were close to finalizing a deal.
Once the transaction closes, the combined company will be listed on Nasdaq with the ticker symbol AUR and have an implied valuation of $13 billion. Aurora was last valued at $10 billion following its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving unit.
Through the deal, Aurora is capturing $1 billion from private investors, including Baillie Gifford, funds and accounts managed by Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., PRIMECAP Management Company, Reinvent Capital, XN, Fidelity Management and Research LLC, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital, as well as strategic investments from Uber, PACCAR and Volvo Group.
One other note; Aurora also laid out some financial and deployment projections. Aurora plans to begin to generate revenue from trucks without vehicle operators in late 2023 and from cars without vehicle operators in late 2024, according to regulatory filings. Aurora expects to own and operate the trucks Aurora deploys through 2024, and cars that Aurora deploys through 2025 and will transition to a “Driver as a Service” (I guess, DaaS is going to be a thing?) business model.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Bookaway, the travel tech startup, raised $46 million in funding from investors Aleph, Corner Ventures and Entrée Capital.
Carmera, an HD mapping startup based in New York, has been acquired by Woven Planet Holdings. The announcement comes less than two months since Woven Planet Holdings — an entity created by Toyota to invest in, develop and eventually bring future of transportation technologies like automated driving to market — acquired Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit known as Level 5 for $550 million. The financial terms were not disclosed.
Under terms of the deal, Carmera will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Woven Planet. Carmera will essentially become the U.S. outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is headquartered in Tokyo. Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, will report to Mandali Khalesi, who heads up AMP.
The startup’s 50-person team will maintain its offices in New York and Seattle and will eventually be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise, according to Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner.
Colis Privé, the French parcel delivery company, has postponed its initial public offering initially planned for early July, citing unfavorable market conditions, Reuters reported.
Delhivery gained FedEx Express, a subsidiary of delivery services giant FedEx, as a backer via $100 million investment. The investment comes less than two months after the Indian startup, which is valued at $3 billion, secured $277 million ahead of an initial public offering in the coming quarters.
Heart Aerospace, the Swedish electric aviation startup, raised a $35 million Series A funding round. Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, United Airlines’s venture arm and its regional airline partner Mesa Air Group led the round. Seed investors EQT Ventures and Lowercarbon Capital also participated. The company also received an order from United and Mesa for 200 of its inaugural ES-19 electric aircraft.
LG Chem earmarked $5.2 billion over the next four years to build out its battery materials business. The investment comes as automakers and state regulators set targets to transition away from internal combustion engine vehicles, in a shift that will likely be the most transformative to the mobility industry since the invention of the car.
Lineage Logistics, a temperature-controlled industrial REIT and logistics provider, has agreed to a strategic alliance with venture capital firm 8VC to invest in and “revolutionize” the transportation and logistics technology sector. The two companies have already co-invested in several companies over 8VC’s past three funds, including Project44, Trackonomy and Baton.
Netradyne, a startup that uses cameras and edge computing to improve commercial driver safety, raised $150 million in Series C funding led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Existing investors Point72 Ventures and M12 also participated in the round, bringing Netradyne’s total funding to more than $197 million.
Shopmonkey, a startup that offers a cloud-based shop management software designed for the auto repair industry, raised $75 million in a Series C round led by previous investors Bessemer Venture Partners and Index Ventures, as well as additional participation from returning investors Headline and I2BF, and new investor ICONIQ Growth. The funding comes less than a year after announcing a $25 million Series B.
NoTraffic, an Israeli-based startup that has built an AI-based traffic management platform, raised $17.5 million in a Series A that it will use to support its “rapid scale” of deployments. The company says it will be expanding into dozens of U.S. cities during the second half of this year, and hopes to move into European and Asian markets, as well.
The $17.5 million Series A was led by Nielsen Ventures, a fund founded by former Uber and Dropbox executive and Balderton Capital GP Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen and VEKTOR Partners. Leading early-stage venture capital investment firm Grove Ventures, insurance leader Menora Mivtachim Group and Meitav Dash, as well as existing investors like lool ventures, Next Gear Ventures and North First Ventures also participated. Lior Handelsman, one of the founders of Solar Edge, an energy manager system, will join the company’s board.
Taylor Hatmaker spent quite a bit of time with the VanMoof X3 and published her review this week. As she writes, “some of the best consumer tech from the last decade, I didn’t know I needed an e-bike until I was on one, breezing down the bike lane contemplating my newfound freedom.”
Hatmaker provides a deep dive into the tech, appearance, value, rideability and other features in the bike. Check it out.
(We hope and plan to be doing more bike reviews in the future; stay tuned!)
Welcome back to Policy Corner! It’s finally here: The European Commission released its ambitious plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and as everyone expected, a proposed ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine cars by 2035 is included.
I mentioned in last week’s Policy Corner that I was curious if it would include any mandates for EV chargers or other infrastructure to support transportation electrification, and I was pleased to see that it does. While not quite a mandate, the proposal says it wants EU countries to install public charging stations every 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) on major roads by 2025, and every 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) for hydrogen refueling stations. The ultimate goal is to build 3.5 million new EV charging stations by 2030 and 16.3 million by 2050. Measures like these will hopefully help dissipate range anxiety, a common reason people cite for not choosing an EV today.
But hold onto your hats: The proposal still needs to be approved by all 27-member states before it can take effect. And France — where automaking is a cornerstone of the economy, thanks to OEMs like Stellantis and Renault — is reportedly pushing back against the terms. It could mean a longer battle over the specific deadlines and emissions reductions targets.
It’s an interesting question, whether a technology ban is the best path forward to achieve some end goal (in this case, lowering carbon emissions). That seems like the stick. I’ll be looking out for the honey — how legislators are going to sweeten the deal for consumers and automakers alike, so there can be as few jobs lost as possible and as many new EVs purchased.
For what it’s worth, I read an interesting post from Christian Brand, associate professor in the Transport Studies Unit at Oxford University, who argues that the focus on EVs is slowly down the path to zero emissions. He points out that as many as 50% of car trips are less than five kms (3.11 miles), so he suggests cities should invest in making areas more micromobility friendly to encourage more people to take up these forms of transport. Food for thought.
Speaking of carbon emissions, there’s a new partnership between eVTOL developer Joby Aviation, aircraft carrier JetBlue Airways and Signature Flight Support to help develop a new system for carbon credits in the aviation industry. Right now, there’s no current pathway for companies like JetBlue to purchase carbon credits from green aviation companies, probably because they’re just so new.
The three companies will “define the framework for the creation, validation and eventual use of these new credits on aviation carbon markets, including identifying a third party to oversee and validate transactions,” a news release said. The companies anticipate releasing more details later this year.
This could be a very profitable development for Joby. Tesla, for example, made $518 million in revenue from the first quarter of 2021 alone from selling regulatory credits to other automakers.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
Let’s get right to it. Here’s what else happened this week.
Audi, BMW, Denso and chipmaker NXP have partnered on an international working group aimed at defining a safe automated driving system architecture for self-driving vehicles. The inaugural group, which was actually created last month but that I’m just sharing with you now, is being spearheaded by The Autonomous. Companies from the industry are invited to learn more about this cross-industry collaboration at The Autonomous Main Event on September 29, 2021.
Volkswagen laid out a plan to ramp up its software, mobility as a service and battery tech to stay competitive in the coming decades. CEO Herbert Diess said the strategy will cover everything from manufacturing to revenue streams.
Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal said it will double the number of its electric vehicle fast charging stations in the United States and Canada by the end of 2025. The commitment, if successful, means 1,800 fast charging stations — or 10,000 individual chargers — will be installed and operational by that time.
GM and its new EV business unit BrightDrop are launching a fleet-charging service as the automaker aims to ramp up its bet on connected and electric commercial vehicles. The service, branded Ultium Charge 360 fleet charging service offers many of the tools that a commercial delivery, sales or motor pool business might need. It also includes an effort to add home charging for drivers.
Rivian pushed back deliveries of its long-awaited R1T electric pickup truck and R1S SUV several more months due to delays in production caused by “cascading impacts of the pandemic,” particularly the ongoing global shortage of semiconductor chips, according to a letter sent to customers from CEO RJ Scaringe. The R1T deliveries will begin in September with the R1S to follow “shortly,” Scaringe wrote in the message.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration issued an alert recommending owners of Chevrolet Bolt Model Year 2017-2019 park their vehicles away from homes due to the risk of fire. Those are the same vehicles that were recalled in November 2020, due to the possibility of fire from the battery pack underneath the backseat’s cushion. The recall affected 50,932 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt vehicles.
Mark Moore, who was most recently director of engineering at Uber Elevate until its acquisition by Joby Aviation, launched his own company called Whisper Aero. The startup is aiming to design an electric thruster it says will blend noise emitted from delivery drones and eVTOLs alike into background levels, making them nearly imperceptible to the human ear.
Tesla launched a monthly subscription for its Full Self-Driving subscription package for $199 per month or a cheaper $99 for those who already purchased the since discontinued Enhanced Autopilot package, according to its website.
Elon Musk is testifying Monday morning in a lawsuit over Tesla’s 2016 acquisition of SolarCity, a $2.6 billion transaction that a group of shareholders allege was a “bailout” of the failing solar company. The shareholders are seeking repayment to Tesla of the cost to purchase SolarCity.
The suit, filed in the Delaware District Court in 2017, alleges that SolarCity was near bankruptcy at the time of the acquisition. Musk, who was the ailing company’s chairman of the board of directors and its largest stockholder, directly benefited from the transaction, as did some of his friends and family, the lawsuit alleges. SolarCity’s founders, Lyndon and Peter Rive, are Musk’s cousins.
SolarCity “had consistently failed to turn a profit, had mounting debt, and was burning through cash at an unsustainable rate,” the plaintiffs say. The suit goes on to note that the company had accumulated over $3 billion in debt in its ten-year history, nearly half of which was due for repayment before the end of 2017. The purchase by Tesla was approved by vote by 85% of shareholders.
Attorneys for Musk say that the acquisition was part of the CEO’s longer-term vision to transform Tesla into a transportation and energy company. In a blog post titled “Master Plan, Part Deux,” published to Tesla’s website around the time of the deal’s closing, Musk says that combining SolarCity and the electric vehicle startup was key to realizing his vision of combining Powerwall (Tesla’s home and industry battery storage product) and solar roof panels.
A Model X stood ready for inspection by attendees at the Kauai solar storage facility launch. Tesla acquired SolarCity in November 2016.
In his testimony Monday, Musk said Tesla was forced to shift focus away from its solar business to meet production deadlines for the Model 3 sedan, the Washington Post’s Will Oremus tweeted from outside the courtroom. USA Today reporter Isabel Hughes, also at the courtroom, tweeted that Musk blamed the pandemic for poor performance of the company’s solar division. He was being questioned by attorney for the plaintiffs Randall Baron, whom Musk called “a shameful person” at a 2019 deposition.
Musk’s lawyers say that he recused himself from board discussions and negotiations relating to the acquisition – but the plaintiffs maintain that the recusal was “superficial.” A primary question for the court will be whether Musk exerted undue influence over the transaction, and whether he and other board members concealed information relating to the transaction from shareholders.
The other board members named in the suit – Robyn Denholm, Ira Ehrenpreis, Antonio Gracias, Kimbal Musk and Stephen Jurvetson – settled for $60 million last year, plus $16.8 million in legal fees and expenses, paid for by insurance. The trial, with Musk as the sole defendant, was postponed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The trial is expected to last ten business days. The Delaware Court of Chancery, where the suit is being heard, does not have a jury; instead, the case will be heard by judge Vice-Chancellor Joseph Slights III. Even if Slights finds that the deal was improper, he could order Musk to pay far less than the $2.6 billion that Tesla paid for SolarCity at the time.