FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Rivian’s electric R1T pickup truck, R1S SUV get their official EPA ranges

By Kirsten Korosec

Rivian announced Friday that the first edition version of its all-electric R1T pickup truck has an official EPA range of 314 miles, while its R1T SUV comes in a skosh higher at 316 miles.

The official range and fuel economy values have been posted on the U.S. EPA website. The official numbers align with Rivian’s own previous estimates, which it has advertised as 300 miles.

While EPA estimates can’t account for different driving styles, the test cycle is robust enough to provide an accurate benchmark for customers shopping for an electric vehicle.

In this case, Rivian has the benefit of being the first electric truck on the market. Ford’s F-150 Lightning, which isn’t expected to come on the market until spring 2022, has a targeted range of 230 miles in the standard and up to 300 miles in the extended version. The EPA has not issued official ranges for the Ford Lightning.

Rivian’s “Launch edition” R1T truck and R1S SUV come equipped with a 135-kWh battery pack that is branded as the “large pack.” Deliveries of the Launch Edition vehicles are slated to begin this month.

The official EPA range values for our Launch Edition vehicles are in:
R1T Large Pack: 314 miles
R1S Large Pack: 316 miles
We'll share more EPA information about other editions as we have it. https://t.co/MPY1wVzkz9 pic.twitter.com/rzrCkQpggd

— Rivian (@Rivian) September 3, 2021

The R1T and R1S vehicles will be offered in two trims, both of which are offered with the same 135-kWh-pack size. The Adventure variant of the R1T, which has a premium interior, starts at $73,000. The R1T Explore trim starts at $67,500.

The Adventure trim in the R1S SUV starts at $75,500, while the Explore package has a base price of $70,000.

Rivian intends to begin deliveries of the Adventure and Explore packages in January 2022.

Rivian also plans to offer an even larger pack, dubbed the “Max pack,” for the R1T. That larger pack costs an additional $10,000 and is expected to push the range of the R1T past 400 miles. The EPA has not posted an official range for the max pack or other editions, including a planned smaller battery pack option.

DoorDash workers protest outside CEO Tony Xu’s home demanding better pay, tip transparency and PPE

By Rebecca Bellan

California DoorDash workers protested outside of the home of DoorDash CEO Tony Xu on Thursday, prompted by a recent California Superior Court Judge ruling calling 2020’s Proposition 22 unconstitutional. Prop 22, which was passed last November in California, would allow app-based companies like DoorDash, Uber and Lyft to continue classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

A group of about 50 DoorDash workers who are affiliated with advocacy groups We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising traveled caravan style to the front of Xu’s house in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. They demanded that DoorDash provide transparency for tips and 120% of minimum wage or around $17 per hour, stop unfair deactivations and provide free personal protective equipment, as well as adequate pay for car and equipment sanitizing. 

“Dasher concerns and feedback are always important to us, and we will continue to hear their voices and engage our community directly,” a DoorDash spokesperson told TechCrunch. “However, we know that today’s participants do not speak for the 91% of California Dashers who want to remain independent contractors or the millions of California voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 22. The reality is, the passage of Prop 22 has addressed in law many of the concerns raised today through its historic benefits and protections: workers earn 120% of their local minimum wage per active hour in addition to 100% of their tips, receive free PPE and enjoy access to healthcare funds.”

DoorDash drivers say getting paid for the time they’re “active,” meaning actively driving to either pick up food and drop it off, rather than when they’re online and waiting for gigs to come through, leads to inadequate pay. They also say much of their living wage comes from tips, which should be an added bonus, but ends up helping make ends meet based on DoorDash’s pay structure. Prop 22 is also meant to guarantee a reimbursement of 30 cents per engaged mile, which drivers say “would be great if it were true.” DoorDash did not respond to follow ups regarding its pay structure or claims from dashers that they have not been given free PPE. 

Rondu Gantt, a gig worker who’s been working for DoorDash for two and a half years and also drives for Uber and Lyft to get by, says his base pay from DoorDash is often as low as $3 per hour, and that around 40% to 60% of his money comes from tips. Although this model sounds similar to the restaurant industry in the United States, which can be quite lucrative for servers and bartenders, for a delivery driver, it’s an unsustainable way to make a living because tipping culture isn’t nearly as strong. 

“DoorDash pays so low because they want to make it affordable for the customer, but I would say for the driver it becomes unaffordable,” Gantt told TechCrunch, citing the costs of owning, maintaining, parking and fueling a vehicle as potentially crippling. “Last week, I drove for 30 hours and I made $405. That’s $13.50 per hour, which is below minimum wage.”

Gantt said drivers also have had to deal with pressure to drive in unsafe conditions, and we can look to the images of delivery drivers in New York City during Hurricane Ida as an example of some conditions drivers feel compelled to accept. Over the past two years, DoorDash drivers have also been deemed essential workers, interacting with and providing services for many people during a pandemic at the risk of their health. 

Gig Workers Rising says DoorDash workers “have received little to no safety support” with some workers reporting “being reimbursed as little as 80 cents per day for cleaning/sanitizing equipment and PPE that they use to keep themselves and customers safe.”

“Right now gig work isn’t flexible,” a spokesperson for Gig Workers Rising told TechCrunch.  “Workers are at the mercy of when there’s demand. If they were employees the work would change as they’d work in the knowledge that they’ve healthcare and can take a sick day off.”

Because Prop 22 was ruled unconstitutional, the spokesperson said by rights it shouldn’t be in operation. 

“The gig corporations violate that law everyday by choosing not to comply with it,” he said. 

For Gantt’s part, he doesn’t necessarily want to be an employee, he just wants to make sure that he’s being paid what he deserves. 

“Which is not minimum wage,” he said. “Minimum wage would be unacceptable as well. The cost of doing this, the danger, makes minimum wage unacceptable pay. And realistically, they’re only sometimes paying you minimum wage before taxes. After taxes you’re definitely making less.”

TechCrunch was given access to DoorDash workers’ dashboards that break down their pay. For the week of July 12 to July 19, one dasher was paid a total of $574.21 for 53 deliveries, $274 of which came from customer tip. His “active time” was 14 hours and 21 minutes, and his “dash time,” or when he was logged onto the app waiting for gigs to come through and doing deliveries, was about 30 hours. 

The dasher’s “guaranteed earnings” from DoorDash for the week was $300.21. (DoorDash did not respond to clarification on how guaranteed weekly earnings are calculated or what they’re based on, but a post on the company’s site says that guaranteed earnings are incentives for dashers in specific areas.) His base pay ended up at about $257.62, but DoorDash added an additional $42.59 to adjust to guaranteed earnings. If we divide the amount DoorDash paid by the number of hours of “active time,” the worker was paid about $21 per hour. If we divide it by the “dash time,” it looks more like $10 per hour. 

Again, this is before tax. Independent contractors are usually advised to put aside around 30% of their paycheck because they have to pay self-employment tax, which is 15.3% of taxable income, federal income tax, which varies depending on tax bracket, and potentially state income tax. After taxes, this dasher’s total pay for 30 hours of work, including his $274 worth of tip, would be around $402, which comes out to $13.40 per hour. 

Tips were of concern at the protest on Thursday as drivers called for transparency. Gantt says dashers can see a cumulative amount of tip earnings per week, as well as how much tip they’re receiving from each order, but they don’t trust the amount they’re receiving is actually the amount customers are tipping them.

Gantt and other drivers aren’t just being paranoid. Last November, DoorDash agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the company stole drivers’ tips and allowed customers to think their tip money was actually going to the drivers. The suit, filed by Washington, D.C. attorney general Karl Racine, alleged DoorDash reduced drivers’ pay for each job by the amount of any tip. 

One of the rallying cries of the protest was for Xu to “share the wealth.” In 2020, the CEO was reportedly the highest paid CEO in the Bay Area, making a total salary of $413.67 million. During the second quarter, DoorDash saw a $113 million profit adjusted for EBITDA, but was overall unprofitable with a net loss of $102 million. 

“We all work for money and how that money gets distributed when they go through their earnings is telling you who matters and who doesn’t matter,” said Gantt. “It’s a clear sign of who’s important, who has value. If they don’t pay you, they don’t value you.”

BMW Group’s Neue Klasse lineup to focus on circular economy to achieve reduction in CO2 emissions

By Rebecca Bellan

The BMW Group announced Thursday its intentions to commit to a 50% reduction from 2019 levels in global carbon dioxide emissions during the use-phase of its vehicles by 2030, as well as a 40% reduction in emissions during the life cycle of the vehicle. These goals, including a plan to focus on the principles of a circular economy to achieve a more sustainable vehicle life cycle, will manifest in the company’s Neue Klasse platform, which should be available by 2025.

Announced in March, the BMW “New Class” is a reboot of a line of sedans and coupes the German automaker produced from 1962-1977, a line that established BMW’s identity as a sports car manufacturer. The new line will feature “a completely redefined IT and software architecture, a new generation of high-performance electric drivetrains and batteries and a radically new approach to sustainability across the entire vehicle life cycle,” according to the company.

“With the Neue Klasse we are significantly sharpening our commitment and also committing ourselves to a clear course for achieving the 1.5 degree target,” said Oliver Zipse, chairman of the board of management of BMW AG, in a statement. “How companies are dealing with CO2 emissions has become a major factor when it comes to judging corporate action. The decisive factor in the fight against global warming is how strongly we can improve the carbon footprint of vehicles over their entire life span. This is why we are setting ourselves transparent and ambitious goals for the substantial reduction of CO2 emissions; these are validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative and will deliver an effective and measurable contribution.”

BMW says the utilization phase of its vehicles accounts for 70% of the group’s total CO2 footprint, which makes sense given the fact that most of BMW’s car sales are still ICE vehicles. In the first half of 2021, about 11.44% of BMW’s total sales volume were either electric or plug-in hybrid, according to its 2021 half-year earnings report. The company has expressed a goal of selling 1 million plug-in units, including hybrids, by the end of 2021. As of Q2, it’s already at around 850,000, but in order to reach its goal of halving emissions during the utilization phase, BMW will need to seriously up its sales of low or zero-emissions vehicles. BMW already has its i3 compact EV out and plans to launch two long-range models, the i4 sedan and iX SUV, later this year, with plans for more in 2022. But unlike GM or Volvo, the automaker has not yet announced plans to kill its ICE vehicles, nor has it begun to sell a full line of vehicles designed from the ground up to run on batteries.

This announcement comes just a couple of months after BMW, along with other German automakers Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, acknowledged its involvement in colluding on an emissions cartel since the 1990s. The automakers collectively hid technology that would have been able to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emissions standards. The EU fined BMW $442 million, a slap on the wrist given BMW’s second-quarter profits of close to $6 billion.

In addition, the EU’s “Fit for 55” energy and climate package, which was released last month, upgraded the overall carbon emissions reductions goal from 40% to 55% by 2030, which means automakers need to pick up the pace of electrification, and BMW knows that. Other proposals reportedly under discussion in the European Commission involve a 60% emissions reduction by 2030, followed by 100% cut by 2035, which would make it near impossible to sell ICE vehicles by that time.

BMW says its Neue Klasse will further the momentum to get EVs to market. The automaker aims to have 10 million all-electric cars on the road over the next decade, with at least half of all BMW Group sales being all-electric and the Mini brand offering exclusively all-electric from 2030. As part of its circular economy focus, BMW also intends to incorporate an increase of use of secondary materials and promote a better framework for establishing a market for secondary materials with the Neue Klasse. The company says it aims to raise the percentage of secondary materials it uses from its current rate of 30% to 50%, but didn’t specify by when.

BMW says its use of secondary nickel in the iX battery, for example, is already 50%, with the battery housing containing up to 30% secondary aluminum, and the goal is to improve those numbers. BMW is also piloting a project with BASF and the ALBA Group to increase the recycling of plastics used in cars.

As part of what BMW is calling a comprehensive recycling system, “the ALBA Group analyses end-of-life BMW Group vehicles to establish whether a car-to-car reuse of the plastic is possible,” according to a statement by the company. “In a second step, BASF assesses whether chemical recycling of the pre-sorted waste can be used in order to obtain pyrolysis oil. This can then be used as a basis for new products made of plastic. In the future, a new door trim or other components could be manufactured from a used instrument panel, for example.”

To ensure an easier recycling process, BMW is also incorporating early-stage design of vehicles. Materials must be put together in a way that’s easy to disassemble at the end of life and then reuse. The automaker says it will increasingly build the interior of a car with monomaterials that can be transferred back into usable material.

“For example, the onboard wiring systems must be easy to remove, in order to avoid mixing steel with copper from the cable harnesses in the vehicles,” the company said in a statement. “If this mixing does take place, the secondary steel loses its essential material properties and therefore no longer meets the high safety requirements of the automotive industry.”

A circular economy also involves using higher-quality vehicles, which will reduce the overall number of materials used because those parts can be recycled or fixed more easily.

With this announcement, BMW promises transparency when it comes to the life cycle of its vehicles. The company does indeed publish life cycle assessments (LCAs), as does almost every other major car manufacturer, but there’s no standard in the industry yet, which means it’s sometimes difficult to compare different vehicles. Looking at the overall life cycle of a vehicle will be increasingly important if we actually want to cut emissions goals. The emissions that come from the supply chains and manufacturing processes to obtain all the materials needed to even build batteries and vehicles is a body of research that’s only just coming to light, and what that light reveals is the possibility that these moves could even increase emissions in the aggregate.

“Embodied emissions can be devilishly difficult to accurately quantify, and nowhere are there more complexities and uncertainties than with EVs,” writes Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a recent TechCrunch article about what it takes to calculate the real carbon cost of EVs. “While an EV self-evidently emits nothing while driving, about 80% of its total lifetime emissions arise from the combination of the embodied energy in fabricating the battery and then in ‘fabricating’ electricity to power the vehicle. The remaining comes from manufacturing the non-fuel parts of the car. That ratio is inverted for a conventional car where about 80% of lifecycle emissions come directly from fuel burned while driving, and the rest comes from the embodied energy to make the car and fabricate gasoline.”

Nikola and Bosch ink deal for hydrogen fuel cell modules

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Beleaguered electric truck developer Nikola Corp. has inked a new agreement with Bosch for its hydrogen fuel cell modules. The modules will be used to power two of Nikola’s hydrogen-fueled semi-trucks, the short-haul Nikola Tre and Nikola Two sleeper.

“This announcement is the result of a multi-year working relationship with Bosch,” Nikola CEO Mark Russell said in a statement. “After extensive analysis of the best options out there, we are proud to enter into this strategic relationship with Bosch.”

The news is a positive sign for the relationship between the two companies, which has not always been smooth. Bosch invested at least $100 million in the hydrogen truck startup in 2019 but reduced its shares in the company the following year. Bosch also said last year it would supply fuel cells for Nikola’s European operations.

Nikola declined to share the financial terms of the deal or details regarding fuel cell system volume. Nikola will assemble the hydrogen fuel cell power modules at its facility in Coolidge, Arizona. Bosch will also supply fully assembled power modules, the company said in a statement Thursday. To support power module assembly, Nikola said it will expand the Arizona facility by 50,000 square feet and up to 50 new employees by 2023. The truck maker is also planning to expand its engineering and testing facilities at its headquarters in nearby Phoenix.

A Nikola spokesperson said the new agreement does not affect the company’s relationships with other companies for fuel cell systems and components, including a non-binding MOU with General Motors for the automaker’s Hydrotec fuel cell system that was announced in November last year.

Nikola went public via a merger with blank-check firm VectoIQ Acquisition Corp. At the beginning of this month, the company told investors that it was cutting its delivery outlook for electric semis from 50 to 100 units to just 25 to 50. However, company executives did say that it had built 14 pre-production vehicles, including five alpha and nine beta prototypes.

Meanwhile, Nikola’s former CEO and founder, Trevor Milton, promised a criminal court that he would reside at his Utah ranch until he can be tried for securities fraud and misleading investors.

AxleHire to scale Tortoise and URB-E zero-emissions delivery solutions nationally

By Rebecca Bellan

Last-mile logistics supplier AxleHire provides same-day and next-day delivery through a network that includes gig economy, couriers and traditional carriers. Over the past year, it has been quietly piloting automated repositioning startup Tortoise’s remote controlled delivery robots in Los Angeles and compact container delivery service URB-E’s e-bike container delivery in New York City. On Thursday, it announced plans to scale the two very different zero-emissions pilot programs nationally over the next 12 months.

AxleHire, which is known for parcel delivery and restaurant meal kit delivery like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, plans to bring over 100 Tortoise robots across the country. During URB-E’s summer deployment with AxleHire in NYC, it deployed 10 vehicles moving 100 containers per week. Now it will deploy 50 URB-E vehicles moving anywhere from 300 to 500 containers per week in NYC, LA and San Francisco, as well as other launch cities. The company, which raised a $20 million round in April, didn’t specify every city it would be entering with these new programs, but Tortoise and URB-E said we can look to the cities AxleHire already operates in: Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Phoenix, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

AxleHire’s style is to establish delivery hubs in or near dense metro areas, which makes for easier trips and less miles traveled in total. The partnerships with Tortoise and URB-E are a part of AxleHire’s mission to create more sustainable and cheaper last-mile delivery. The company says its partnerships with the two startups have also lowered its emissions by 95%. AxleHire is providing an example of one company trialing two very different greener and tech-focused forms of transporting goods, so it will likely serve as an interesting case study for other last-mile logistics providers.

Image Credits: URB-E

In New York, AxleHire and URB-E have been working together on a microcontainer delivery system between Brooklyn and Manhattan. URB-E’s vehicles are specifically designed to be able to ride in the bike lanes, despite their ability to haul over 800 pounds. AxleHire says its pilot with URB-E resulted in a six times reduction in traffic and a model that is three times cheaper than EV delivery vans, largely based on the avoidance of parking tickets.

Over the past year in Los Angeles, AxleHire stationed Tortoise’s electric, 4-mph remote-piloted carts, which carried up to 120 pounds worth of goods, in its delivery microhubs in cities, allowing the little bots with friendly smiley faces to go back and forth, making about 15 deliveries per day within a three-mile radius. In addition, AxleHire loaded a large truck with multiple packages and a Tortoise robot, which would then drive into a dense residential area. This truck would serve as a mobile delivery hub, doing its own deliveries while the bot goes back and forth delivering parcels and being reloaded all day long.

“It’s basically the hive model, where we’re augmenting the existing van or truck in terms of how many deliveries they could do in a two-hour stretch,” Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder of Tortoise, told TechCrunch. “There’s communication happening with our subject confirming they’ll be home to receive it. If so, they get notified that the robot’s on the way when it’s about 10 minutes away, and then when it arrives, the customer will come out and get it from the containers in the robot.”

The Tortoise bots, which can ride on sidewalks or bike lanes, have both swappable batteries and can be plugged and charged, according to Shevelenko. On a single charge, they can get around 10 to 15 miles of range.

While Tortoise’s bots will be operated 100% remotely over the next year, remote positioning is not Tortoise’s end goal at all. Autonomy is the goal, and doing partnerships like this, as well as with shared e-scooter operators like Spin, allows Tortoise not only to get into markets that currently don’t have regulation for self-driving vehicles, but also to just get into the market now, rather than spending multiple years mapping it first. The only real infrastructure the bots need is 4G connectivity.

“The beauty is that we can ship the robot to a new location and because we have the benefit of human judgment oversight every inch of the journey,” said Shevelenko. “We don’t need perfect routing or perfect mapping. We’re filling in the maps over time, and that gives us a big data advantage.”

By slowly collecting routing data over the course of the next year, Tortoise will be giving its system more data to learn on and create the most optimal route for the specific use case of low-speed and lightweight delivery vehicles. Shevelenko says the long-term vision of Tortoise is to have its tech on any light electric vehicle, whether it be a delivery robot, a scooter, a cleaning robot, security robot or construction robot. Delivery is a great place to start, given the massive demand in the COVID marketplace.

“The more vehicles we have with Tortoise eyes on them, the more data we’re collecting, which means we’re doing trips with higher autonomy and lower costs,” said Shevelenko.

Aside from allowing for max data collection, remote controlled delivery bots over the next year also give Tortoise the advantage of getting the community used to this new tech.

“We think the right way to enter a community is first to reassure people that this is safe and get them comfortable with it,” said Shevelenko. “Once it’s part of daily life, then slowly over time, we can turn on more autonomy, but there’s no need to rush into that right now. The practical reality is, everybody’s claiming they’re doing autonomy but they aren’t. They always have a fallback like safety drivers or remote monitors. Nobody actually trusts their economy system, and so we’re kind of leaning into that and not trying to do something that is impossible.”

Massachussetts AG greenlights Uber, Lyft-backed gig worker ballot initiative

By Rebecca Bellan

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey gave a coalition of app-based service providers like Uber and Lyft the go-ahead to start collecting signatures needed to put a proposed ballot measure before voters that would define drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Backers of the initiative, which is essentially a MA version of Proposition 22, would need to gather tens of thousands of signatures for the measure to make it to the November 2022 ballot. Despite the fact that last year Healey filed a lawsuit that challenged Uber and Lyft’s classifications of drivers as contractors who are therefore not entitled to benefits like sick leave, overtime or minimum wage, on Wednesday, the AG certified the current measure met constitutional requirements.

The news comes nearly two weeks after a superior court judged ruled California’s Prop 22, which was passed in 2020, unconstitutional. The union-backed Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights urged Healey to reject the measure under the same grounds, and told Reuters that it is considering suing to challenge the measure.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, the coalition of members including Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart, filed the petition for this ballot initiative last month, a move that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he thinks is “the right move.” The proposed initiative would also allow drivers to earn a minimum of $18 per hour in 2023 before tips and provide those who work for at least 15 hours per week with healthcare stipends. Drivers would also be guaranteed at least 26 cents per mile to cover vehicle upkeep and gas.

The coalition has until December 1 to collect and file 80,239 signatures from voters. If they miss that deadline, they can gather an additional 13,374 signatures by July 6, 2022 to get the initiative on the ballot.

Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike review: Utility that shreds

By Rebecca Bellan

A recent move to Auckland, New Zealand — a city with lackluster public transit and hills that can turn a quick bike ride to the store into a sweaty workout — piqued my interest in e-bikes. 

Strong demand and skyrocketing prices, however, made it difficult to access these coveted e-bikes here in the Land of the Long White Cloud. That changed after learning about Ubco, the New Zealand-based electric utility bike startup that recently raised $10 million from investors. 

The company provided me with the Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike for nearly a month, which gave me plenty of time to put it to the test. 

I may not be Ubco’s target audience, although I did my best to use the bike as its design suggests, and packed it up with bags of books and other heavy things that might simulate the weight of delivered garlic bread, mail and other packages. The Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike is made for city utility riding, with the option of going off-road, which I would later try with gusto.

The company’s flagship is the Ubco 2X2 Work Bike, an electric dirt bike that was originally designed to help farmers. The fresh capital the company raised in June will be used to expand into existing verticals like food delivery, postal service and last-mile logistics, scale a commercial subscription business and target sales growth in the United States. 

Domino’s drivers in Auckland, and I hear in the U.K., can be seen delivering hot pizzas on Ubco bikes, and the company has a range of other national clients, like the New Zealand Post, the Defense Force, the Department of Conservation, and Pāmu, or Landcorp Farming Limited, as well as other local restaurants and stores.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

The handoff

CEO and co-founder Timothy Allan drove out from the company headquarters in Tauranga to hand off the bike personally. It was a sunny day in my neighborhood, and I listened impatiently as he described the various bits and bobs, how to work the machine and how to charge it.

Allan helped me download the Ubco app to pair my phone with the bike, which, among other functionalities, allowed me to select beginner mode, which would cap the vehicle speed at around 20 miles per hour. I made a mental note so that I could write about it here, but was determined to reach the top speed of 30 miles per hour right away. 

I did, and it was … pretty sick. I’m not supposed to gush, but man! It’s a sweet ride. Here’s why:

Appearance

The Adventure Bike comes standard in white and sits on 17X2.75-inch multi-use tires with aluminum rims, both of which are DOT compliant. My version also had Maori decals on the frame, in a nod to the indigenous people of New Zealand.  

The bike’s height is about 41 inches and the seat comes to 32 inches. From wheel to wheel, it’s about 72 inches. The payload, including the rider, is about 330 pounds, so both my partner (6’2” man) and I (5’7” female) rode this bike with ease, needing only to adjust the wide rearview mirrors sticking out of the handlebars. And no, we didn’t ride it together. This bike is designed as a one-seater. 

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

That said, there’s a little cargo rack above the back wheel, which holds the license plate (apparently these are classified as mopeds, which require registration in many places) and any other cargo one might carry. I didn’t try, but I reckon it could hold at least five pizza boxes tied down with a bungee cord. The bike rack also allows for saddlebags to be strapped on. Ubco sells what it calls the Pannier Back Pack, a weather-resistant roll-top cargo bag, for $189 that slots in very nicely and is actually a quality bag with 5.28-gallon capacity. 

Accessories aside, the alloy frame is lightweight and step-through, which I love in a bike — it lets me start to shift myself off before I fully park and I feel super agile and swift. Speaking of parking, the rules are different everywhere, I assume, but here, you park it on the street or in parking spaces, not on the sidewalk. It’s got a kickstand to hold it in place, and you can lock the front wheel so no one can just wheel it away. They could, however, probably chuck it into the back of their pickup truck if they so chose, since it’s only 145 pounds. 

The appearance of the bike stood out, and not just to me. During my multi-week test drive, numerous tradesmen and bike folks went out of their way to compliment its design, the exact demographic that Ubco is aiming for. 

Rideability

The lightness of the bike means that it’s easy to take off and find your balance. The battery is also in the middle of the frame, just near where your feet sit, which anchors the bike and gives you a stable center of gravity.

The lightweight nature of the bike is a blessing and a curse. Cutting a turn is easy, but on a windy day and an open road, there were moments I worried that I’d be knocked off it — but maybe that had more to do with riding next to a 10-wheeler on the street. Because it’s so light, it did feel a bit strange to me to be in the street lane with the other bigger, meaner cars rather than in the bike lanes.

The bike accelerates quickly via the fully electronic throttle control, even up steep hills, due to the high torque geared drivetrain. The drivetrain has two 1kw Flux2 motors with sealed bearings, active heat management and active venting for residual moisture — a necessity in this moistest of cities.

The acceleration sound, which mimics those of a gas-powered dirt bike but with a softer electronic tone, was a surprising plus. I didn’t realize how much I relied on my sense of sound to tell how fast I was going until I rode the Ubco. 

The braking system was a bit touchy. It felt very sensitive to me, probably because hydraulic and regenerative brakes are operating together on the vehicle. There’s also a passive regenerative braking system, which I gather is what put the brakes on for me when I was just trying to coast down one of those mammoth hills.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

Both the front suspension, 130 mm, and rear suspension, 120 mm, have a coil spring with a hydraulic dampener and have preload and rebound adjustment. In other words, the shocks are awesome. Even when I actively drove myself off sidewalks and over speed bumps, I could barely feel a thing. 

To test its off-road capabilities, I took the bike to Cornwall Park, where I ran it at full speed on the grass, swerving between trees, flying over roots and rocks, doing doughnuts in the field. It was good fun and I felt completely in control of the vehicle. I can imagine why farmers have turned to the Work Bike.

When it was time to test out its use as a delivery bike, I packed the two saddlebags with books and groceries and took it for a spin. Still a great ride, although I was a little wobbly turning corners until I got the hang of it.

Value

Since the Ubco Adventure Bike doesn’t neatly fit into a specific bike category, it’s not a simple price comparison. An electric moped, like a Lexmoto Yadea or a Vespa Elettrica, could set you back anywhere from $2,400 or $7,000, respectively. Electric dirt bikes could cost anywhere from $6,000 to $11,000 for something like a KTM or Alta Motors. 

With that in mind, the Ubco Adventure Bike costs $6,999 with a 2.1 kW power supply and $7,499 for a 3.1 kW power supply. Depending on what you want it for, I’d say it’s somewhere around mid-range for a bike like this. Since you’d probably use it for work-related activities, it could get a tax write-off. Plus, you want quality in a bike that’s down to do some heavy lifting, and Ubco has plenty of that. It’s not only a handy utility bike, but it’s also got some excellent tech under the proverbial hood, which we’ll get to later. 

Ubco estimates a 10- to 15-year life expectancy, depending on use. Over-the-air software updates, replacing parts and full refurbishments can help keep the bike going for longer. The company encourages riders to send back the dead bikes because it’s committed to full product stewardship.

That said, if you wanted to buy a bike now, it’d be a preorder (unless your local Ubco dealer had some in stock). Ordering now could get you an Ubco by September if you live in the States. The company says it’s still feeling the effects of COVID, with high demand and a stretched supply chain causing delays. The preorder requires a $1,000 deposit. 

Ubco also has a subscription model, which is mainly available for enterprise customers at the moment and priced on a case-by-case basis. However, it’s piloting subscriptions for individuals in Auckland and Tauranga before rolling the program out globally. Subscriptions will start at around NZD $300 per month for a 36-month term.

Range

The Adventure Bike comes with either the 2.1 kWh battery pack, which has around 40 to 54 miles of range, or the 3.1 kWh, with 60 to 80 miles.

The battery is run off a management system, called “Scotty,” to monitor real-time performance and safety. The battery, which is sealed with alloy and vented during use, is made with 18650 lithium-ion cells, which means it’s a powerful battery that can handle up to 500 charging cycles. Ubco says its batteries are designed to be disassembled at the end of life.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

The 10amp alloy fast charger can fuel the battery fully within four to six hours. You can charge it while it’s still in the vehicle by just connecting it to a power outlet, or you can unlock the battery and yank it out (it’s a little heavy) and charge it inside. Note: Charging is loud. Not sure if this is standard, but probably is. 

I charged it every two to three days, but that will depend on use and where you are. It’s winter in Auckland, so a bit cold, which affects battery life, and the hills are brutal, which also use up a lot of battery life.

I’d ride it downtown and around my neighborhood every day, but I’d wager a delivery driver would need to charge it nightly. As I mentioned earlier, the battery can be removed for charging, so if you take it to work, you can always take it up to the office or wherever to charge while you’re doing other things. 

Tech features

Vehicle management system

The vehicle runs off what Ubco calls its Cerebro vehicle management system, which integrates all electronic and electrical functions of the vehicles and provides control and updates via Bluetooth. Ubco builds with end of life in mind, so the CAN bus is isolated so future CAN devices can be easily integrated. 

Now, one of my first questions, given the heftiness of this bike and the likelihood of gig economy workers who would ride it for work living in urban dwellings, was this: How can I ensure no one will steal this thing when it’s on the street, because there’s no way I’m lugging it up to my fifth-floor walkup?

Like I said, you can lock the wheel in place, which would make it far more difficult for someone to wheel it off. If someone did decide to capture the whole cumbersome vehicle, Ubco would be able to track it for you. Each Ubco bike has telemetry, aka a SIM card, hardwired inside, and that can help provide data that can be used for location, servicing, theft, safety, route planning, etc. 

This VMS architecture is made for handling fleets via Ubco’s enterprise subscription vehicles, but it obviously has other uses, like providing peace of mind (personally, I’d still lock it up with chains, but I’m a New Yorker and trust no one). Obviously, if you think this telemetry is creepy, you can opt out, but it does come standard with subscriptions, allowing subscribers to track their bike’s location on the app.

Display

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

Mounted on the handlebar is an LCD display that shows speed, power levels and more. Also on the handlebars are switch controls for high or low beams, indicators and a horn. I found the indicators to be a bit sticky and sometimes I would slip and hit the horn. What I wish the handlebars also had was a mount for your phone so you could follow directions. I had my headphones in and was listening to Google Maps tell me how to get around, but that felt less safe and efficient. 

Turning it on

You can turn the power on with a keyless fob by either clicking the button on the fob or the button on the handlebars. I will note that the keyless fob button is weirdly sensitive. At multiple points, I had it in my pocket with my phone or other pocket inhabitants and it must have knocked into the button, turning the vehicle off while I was riding it. Thankfully, that never happened anywhere busy, but that’s something to be wary about. 

App

As I mentioned earlier, you could pair your phone, as well as other users’ phones, to the bike using the app. The app allows you to choose learner mode or restricted mode, which controls ride settings; turn the bike and lights on and off; change the metrics; and check the status of things like battery life, speed and motor temperature. It’s basically all the info on the dash, but on an app. I didn’t really feel the need to use it.

Lights

The LED headlights are on at all times when the vehicle is turned on, but there’s also a high and low beam, as well as peripheral parking lights, all of which are designed for disassembly at the end of life. There are also LED rear, brake and number plate lights, as well as DOT-approved indicator lights.

Other stuff

Among the features that don’t fit neatly into the other categories, there’s the field kit, which is fastened to the lift-up seat and contains a user manual and tools to set up and maintain the 2X2, which is really handy. Usually, when people buy an Ubco bike, it comes in a box and there are “a few simple steps to follow to get it ready to ride.” There’s also an UBCO University course that shows how to set it up. If you buy from one of Ubco’s dealers, they’ll unpack it and set it up when you come to collect it. 

Maintenance

Maintenance comes with the cost of a monthly subscription. Ubco has a network of technicians placed wherever the company sells its bikes if they’re in need of fixing. If there’s no authorized mechanic nearby, Ubco’s head office will work with customers to help them fix the bike. Ubco did not respond to information about how many authorized mechanics are in its network.

Again, being from New York, I’ve seen probably thousands of delivery riders on bikes and mopeds, oven mitts covered in a plastic bag taped onto the handlebars so drivers can keep their hands warm during the colder months. This bike can handle a hefty load for delivering goods, it’s quick and agile for weaving in and out of traffic, and it’s easy to ride and use.

The subscription offering, especially for enterprise, makes this a great city utility bike that can probably handle a range of weather conditions. I already know it can handle rain and mud, so all signs point to success in the sloshy, icy hell of a Northern city winter. And for the adventurer — the person who just wants to ride something sweet on- and off-road, out of the city and into the wilderness — this is also a great consumer ride that will last you quite a while.

Cox Automotive acquires battery health company Spiers as ‘EVs take center stage’

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Cox Automotive is getting into the electric vehicle battery lifecycle business.

The company said Wednesday it acquired Oklahoma City-based Spiers New Technologies (SNT), a business that provides repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing services for EV battery packs.

The two companies did not disclose the terms of the deal. Cox said the acquisition will help it establish its battery servicing offerings, particularly as “EVs take center stage.” It added that electric vehicles have completely difference service profiles than their internal combustion engine vehicle counterparts, and much of that comes down to the battery. EV battery support is particularly critical as the battery pack itself can comprise as much as 40% of the vehicle’s cost.

Even as federal investment in electric vehicles grow, and more automakers announce billions to build out their EV businesses, public skepticism remains. Eight out of 10 people not considering purchasing an EV are skeptical about the value of the battery and its useful life, according to research conducted by Cox.

This is not Cox’s only foray into EV battery management; the company also build a battery health diagnostic tool with SNT that uses Spiers’ software platform, Alfred. Cox said it would use the diagnostic tool to push greater confidence in electric vehicles, likening it to the way that Kelley Blue Book has provided greater transparency about ICE vehicles’ condition for consumers.

The acquisition will also give Cox a stake in the battery repurposing business. Spiers is one of a few companies that specializes giving EV batteries a “second life” after they are no longer fit in a vehicle. Around 80% to 90% of the batteries SNT receives are from OEMs, with the rest from auto dismantlers, the company told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. It’s a business segment that is likely only to grow as more EVs come off the roads, so the transaction is likely giving Cox a stake in end-of-life purposes as well.

Cake launches the Makka, a $3,500 electric moped for city riding

By Rebecca Bellan

Swedish electric motorcycle manufacturer Cake has released its newest vehicle, the Makka, a super lightweight e-moped that’s built for urban convenience. The bike starts at $3,500 and is now available for pre-order in the U.S. and Europe.

The Makka is a step outside the norm for Cake, which is best-known for off-road motorbikes like its flagship high-performance Kalk and its utility machine Ösa. This third platform will be Cake’s first motorbike specifically made for city riding like short-haul commercial transportation and commuting needs. 

“These new electric mopeds further define Cake’s ambition of making two-wheeled electric vehicles accessible to everyone, while constantly pushing the envelope of performance, durability and relevancy in line with the company’s mission to inspire towards a zero-emission lifestyle,” the company said in a statement.

The Makka weighs about 132 pounds and comes standard with a rear cargo rack. Mounts and other accessories like saddlebags, a child seat or even a passenger seat can be attached to the rack.

The e-moped comes in white or gray and is street legal. In the U.S., it’s classified as a motor-driven cycle, meaning it produces 5-brake horsepower or less, and requires a car or motorcycle license. In the EU, the Makka has an L1e-b classification, which means the motor does not exceed 45 kilometers per hour (28 miles per hour), and requires a moped or car license.

[gallery ids="2196758,2196759,2196760"]

Cake’s newest moped comes in two forms. The Makka Range, which is available only in Europe, has a lower maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and a range of up to 35 miles. The Makka Flex, which is available in Europe and the U.S., costs $3,800 and can hit top speeds of 28 miles per hour,. The range of this vehicle is slightly less at 30 miles.

Both bikes feature a foot board and aluminum step-through frame, which rides on top of two 14 by 3 inch motorcycle tires. The Makka range comes with a touchscreen display that shows information like battery, speedometer, odometer, ride mode (for extended range or balanced performance) and brake mode selection.

The Makka’s drivetrain has 3.6 kW of power and a battery capacity of 1.5 kWh. It takes about two hours to charge the battery up to 80%, which can be done by removing the battery or plugging the bike in. It takes three hours to charge the battery to 100%. The electronic motorcycle braking system with hand levers for both front and rear braking regenerates braking power into the battery to increase range.

Cake isn’t the only manufacturer to see the utility in repurposing off-road bikes for urban use. Ubco, a New Zealand electric utility bike brand, has recently raised $10 million to expand sales of its moped, which has a similar look and feel to the Makka, internationally to the U.S. Cake’s last funding round was a $14 million Series A in 2019.

Yandex buys out Uber’s stake in Yandex Self-Driving Group, Eats, Lavka and Delivery for $1B

By Rebecca Bellan

Russian internet and ride-hail giant Yandex has acquired Uber’s stake in its Self-Driving Group (SDG), as well as Uber’s indirect interest in Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery. The total cost of the deal came to $1 billion, giving the Russian company 100% ownership over all four businesses.

Yandex SDG is an autonomous technology spinout from MLU B.V., the ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture Yandex formed with Uber in 2018 by merging Yandex.Taxi and Uber’s Russian operations. At the time, Uber had a 36.6% stake in the new company. Last year, when SDG was spun out into a separate business, Uber was left with an 18.2% stake in the company, which has just been bought out by Yandex. Yandex also purchased Uber’s 33.5% collective interest in Yandex’s food delivery service, last-mile logistics service and 15-minute convenience store delivery service.

Back in 2019, Yandex and Uber were reportedly considering an IPO for their JV, which Morgan Stanley estimated to be valued at around $7.7 billion. Yandex says autonomous driving technology is “highly synergistic to the Yandex ecosystem, which includes ride-hailing, e-commerce and food-tech businesses.” It makes sense that the company would want to control all of that potential growth. Uber, which reported a Q2 loss of $509 million before EBITDA this year, might be looking to make a lucrative exit and refocus its priorities closer to home. 

“This acquisition will enable Yandex to further increase its capacity for strategic management and flexibility when it comes to self-driving technology,” a Yandex spokesperson told TechCrunch. “It will unlock further growth potential for both Yandex and Yandex SDG, creating new sources of value for shareholders.”

The acquisitions are part of a larger restructuring of the MLU B.V. and Yandex SDG joint ventures, according to Uber’s SEC filing on Monday. They will happen in two stages. Stage 1, which is expected to close by the end of Q3 this year, will give Yandex a 4.5% interest in the newly restructured MLU, which will focus on mobility businesses like ride-hailing and car-sharing. This gives Yandex a total of 71% ownership in the JV, 2.8% of which is reserved for an employee equity incentive program. Uber’s total 18.2% stake in SDG is also expected to be sold during the first stage.

Stage 2, which is expected to close by the end of this year, includes the demerger of Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery from MLU and subsequent acquisition of Uber’s interest in these businesses.

Yandex will also receive a two-year American call option to acquire the rest of Uber’s interest in MLU at a more or less fixed price of $1.8 billion, depending on agreed increases over the option period. This number will increase to $2 billion if exercised in 2023. The Russian company will also continue to use the Uber brand exclusively in Russia and other countries until August 2030.

Yandex will also get an extension of the current license for the exclusive right to use the Uber brand in Russia and certain other countries until August 2030, assuming the exercise of the option. Yandex’s stock was up 5.16% on Tuesday at market close.

China roundup: Beijing takes aim at algorithms, Xiaomi automates electric cars

By Rita Liao

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

The biggest news of the week again comes from Beijing’s ongoing effort to dampen the influence of the country’s tech giants. Regulators are now going after the exploitative use of algorithm-powered user recommendations. We also saw a few major acquisitions this week. Xiaomi is acquiring an autonomous vehicle startup called Deepmotion, and ByteDance is said to be buying virtual reality hardware startup Pico.

Algorithmic regulation

Beijing has unveiled the draft of a sweeping regulation to rein in how tech companies operating in China utilize algorithms, the engine of virtually all lucrative tech businesses today from short videos and news aggregation to ride-hailing, food delivery and e-commerce. My colleague Manish Singh wrote an overview of the policy, and here’s a closer look at the 30-point document proposed by China’s top cyberspace watchdog.

Beijing is clearly wary of how purely machine-recommended content can stray away from values propagated by the Communist Party and even lead to the detriment of national interests. In its mind, algorithms should strictly align with the interest of the nation:

Algorithmic recommendations should uphold mainstream values… and should not be used for endangering national security (Point 6).

Regulators want more transparency on companies’ algorithmic black boxes and are making them accountable for the consequences of their programming codes. For example:

Service providers should be responsible for the security of algorithms, create a system for… the review of published information, algorithmic mechanisms, security oversight… enact and publish relevant rules for algorithmic recommendations (Point 7).

Service providers… should not create algorithmic models that entice users into addiction, high-value consumption, or other behavior that disrupts public orders (Point 8).

The government is also clamping down on discriminative algorithms and putting some autonomy back in the hands of consumers:

Service providers… should not use illegal or harmful information as user interests to recommend content or create sexist or biased user tags (Point 10).

Service providers should inform users of the logic, purpose, and mechanisms of the algorithms in use (Point 14).

Service providers… should allow users to turn off algorithmic features (Point 15).

The regulators don’t want internet giants to influence public thinking or opinions. Though not laid out in the document, censorship control will no doubt remain in the hands of the authorities.

Service providers should not… use algorithms to censor information, make excessive recommendations, manipulate rankings or search results that lead to preferential treatment and unfair competition, influence online opinions, or shun regulatory oversight (Point 13).

Like many other aspects of the tech business, certain algorithms are to obtain approval from the government. Tech firms must also hand over their algorithms to the police in case of investigations.

Service providers should file with the government if their recommendation algorithms can affect public opinions or mobilize civilians (Point 20).  

Service providers… should keep a record of their recommendation algorithms for at least six months and provide them to law enforcement departments for investigation purposes (Point 23).

If passed, the law will shake up the fundamental business logic of Chinese tech companies that rely on algorithms to make money. Programmers need to pore over these rules and be able to parse their codes for regulators. The proposed law seems to have even gone beyond the scope of the European Union’s data rules, but how the Chinese one will be enforced remains to be seen.

Lei Jun bets on autonomous cars

In Xiaomi’s latest earnings call, the smartphone maker said it will acquire DeepMotion, a Beijing-based autonomous driving startup, to aid its autonomous driving endeavor. The deal will cost Xiaomi about $77.3 million, and “a lot of that will be in terms of stock” and “a lot of these payments will be deferred until certain milestones are hit,” said Wang Xiang, Xiaomi president on the call.

Xiaomi’s founder Lei Jun earlier hinted at the firm’s plan to enter the crowded space. On July 28, Lei announced on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, that the company is recruiting 500 autonomous driving experts across China.

Automation has become a selling point for China’s new generation of electric vehicle makers, often with companies conflating advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) with Level 4 autonomous driving. Such overstatements in marketing material mislead consumers and make one question the real technical capability of these nascent EV players.

Xiaomi has similarly unveiled plans to manufacture electric cars through a separate car-making subsidiary. The ADAS capabilities brought by DeepMotion are naturally a nice complement to Xiaomi’s future cars. As Wang explained:

We believe that there’s a lot of synergies with [DeepMotion’s ADAS] technology with our EV initiatives. So I think it tells you a couple of points. Number one is, we will roll out EV business. And I said in our prepared remarks, we’ve been very focused on hiring the right team for the EV business at this point in time, formulating our strategy, formulating our product strategy, et cetera, et cetera. But at the same time, we are not afraid to apply it and integrate other teams if we find that those will help us accelerate our plan right.

It’s noteworthy that DeepMotion, founded by Microsoft veterans, specializes in perception technologies and high-precision mapping, which puts it in the vision-driven autonomous driving camp. A number of major Chinese EV makers rely on consumer-grade lidar to automate their cars.

ByteDance goes virtual

ByteDance is said to be buying Beijing-based VR hardware maker Pico for 5 billion yuan ($770 million), according to Chinese VR news site Vrtuoluo. ByteDance could not be immediately reached for comment.

Advanced VR headsets are often expensive due to the cost of high-end processors. Experts observe that most VR hardware makers are yet to enter the mass consumer market. They are hemorrhaging cash and living off generous venture money and corporate deals.

ByteDance might be buying a money-losing business, but Pico, one of the major VR makers in China, provides a fast track for the TikTok parent to enter VR manufacturing. As the world’s largest short video distributor and an aggressive newcomer to video games, ByteDance has no shortage of creative talent. We will see how it works on producing virtual content if the Pico deal goes through.

Tesla wants to sell electricity in Texas

By Aria Alamalhodaei

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.

YC grad Buoyant wants to solve middle-mile delivery with cargo airships

By Aria Alamalhodaei

A number of companies have emerged in recent years aiming to resurrect the airship, an early technology that was abandoned in favor of airplanes and helicopters.

Flying Whales in France, Hybrid Air Vehicles in the U.K., Lockheed Martin and billionaire Sergey Brin all have airship projects in development, particularly focused on carrying cargo. None have yet started servicing customers.

Buoyant wants to be the first.

The startup graduated from Y Combinator this year with the goal of building small unmanned airships to move middle-mile cargo. Think depot-to-depot delivery, rather than depot-to-home. The two founders, Ben Claman and Joe Figura, say they can cut the cost of delivery in half, relative to flights performed by small planes or helicopters. And they say they’ll succeed where others have stalled by staying small — instead of building massive, multi-hundred-foot airships that need a lot of capital to build and a lot of gas to lift, Buoyant’s final vehicle will only be around 60 feet long.

Claman and Figura are two MIT hardware engineers who cut their teeth building spacecraft and antennas. Both had worked on projects with previous employers that involved providing low-cost connectivity to remote places, like Alaska (Claman also grew up there).

Image Credits: Buoyant. Buoyant founders Joe Figura and Ben Claman.

“What [Joe and I] were talking about when we were working at these companies was how hard it is to get actual goods to these places, not just the internet,” Claman said. “In these places, people are shopping online, they’re getting things sent to them. They sometimes have to wait weeks or months for them to arrive.”

Claman added when the company started YC, they had imagined building an airship that’s closer to their existing prototype — a small craft capable of doing last-mile deliveries for Amazon, for example.

“We’ve talked to a bunch of companies, and it seemed like from talking to them, that rural middle-mile is a much bigger problem than rural last-mile. Let’s say you have 5,000 people living in a community, you can basically subcontract the postal service to one of those people to do the last-mile delivery. … But getting the parcels from your main hub to that place is actually really challenging and really, really expensive.”

To solve that problem, Buoyant developed a “hybrid” battery electric airship, meaning that it generates around 70% of its lift using lighter-than-air gas — in this case, helium. The remaining 30% of the lift comes from its tilt-rotor architecture. This hybrid design is what Buoyant says solves the notoriously difficult problem of dropping off cargo – difficult because as airships offload weight, they risk shooting back up into the air. The tilt-rotor allows the airship to operate closer to a helicopter during takeoff and landing.

But where helicopters need to be capable of lifting their weight — anywhere from 1,500 to 10,000 pounds of carbon fiber and stainless steel — Buoyant’s airship will only need to lift the weight of the payload itself and its airframe. Not only do Buoyant’s founders say this saves on capital costs, but they’re developing the ship to eventually run autonomously, so the company won’t have to use pilots.

Buoyant has built and flown four prototype airships. The most recent sub-scale ship that went to air is 20 feet long, with airspeeds of up to 35 miles per hour and a payload capacity of 10 pounds, but the ultimate aim is to build an airship that’s capable of delivering up to 650 pounds of cargo at a cruise speed of around 60 miles per hour.

The airship has been operating under a Part 107 license. Before the company can start serving customers, it will need to achieve two certifications: a type certification verifying the airworthiness of the craft and operator certifications for the groups flying them. “Both require a lot of flight hours, which will be our main development activity,” Figura said on HackerNews.

Looking ahead, the company is planning to continue iterating its flight control system and doing a field demo with the sub-scale prototype in the coming months. Buoyant wants to build a full-scale version next year, which Claman said they will likely manufacture in-house.

These next few steps will be crucial for Buoyant to turn letters of intent worth $5 million that it has signed with several potential customers —  including from an Alaskan regional air carrier — into official contracts.

Buoyant also has two pilot programs in the pipeline: one with the sub-scale prototype this fall, and the second with the full-scale ship in a year’s time, both with logistics/parcel delivery companies.

“People were building blimps before computers, people were building blimps before they really understood aerodynamics, so we have some advantage there on just the length of time that people have been building airships,” Claman added. “There’s a lot of data out there. It’s not like airship development has stopped. People have been developing airships continuously, basically, over 100 years.”

Cruise is buying solar energy from California farmers to power its electric, self-driving fleet

By Rebecca Bellan

Cruise, the self-driving car company under General Motors, has launched a new initiative called Farm to Fleet that will allow the company to source solar power from farms in California’s Central Valley. The San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report the news that Cruise is directly purchasing renewable energy credits from Sundale Vineyards and Moonlight Companies to help power its fleet of all-electric autonomous vehicles in San Francisco.

Cruise recently secured a permit to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles in San Francisco without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The company is also ramping up its march to commercialization with a recent $5 billion line of credit from GM Financial to pay for hundreds of electric and autonomous Origin vehicles. While this partnership with California farmers is undoubtedly a boon to the state’s work in progressing renewable energies while also providing jobs and financial opportunities to local businesses, Cruise isn’t running a charity here.

The California Independent System Operator has been soliciting power producers across the western United States to sell more megawatts to the state this summer in anticipation of heat waves that will boost electricity demand and potentially cause blackouts. Power supplies are lower than expected already due to droughts, outages and delays in bringing new energy generation sources to the grid, causing reduced hydroelectric generation. To ensure California’s grid can handle the massive increase in fleet size Cruise is planning, it seems that the company has no choice but to find creative ways to bolster the grid. Cruise, however, is holding firm that it’s got loftier goals than securing the energy from whatever sources are available.

“This is entirely about us doing the right thing for our cities and communities and fundamentally transforming transportation for the better,” Ray Wert, a Cruise spokesperson, told TechCrunch.

With droughts continuing to plague California farmers, converting farmland to solar farms is a potential way to help the state meet its climate change targets, according to a report from environmental nonprofit Nature Conservancy. Which is why Cruise saw the logic in approaching Central Valley farmers now.

“Farm to Fleet is a vehicle to rapidly reduce urban transportation emissions while generating new revenue for California’s farmers leading in renewable energy,” said Rob Grant, Cruise’s vice president of social affairs and global impact, in a blog post.

Cruise is paying negotiated contract rates with the farms through its clean energy partner, BTR Energy. The company isn’t disclosing costs, but says it’s paying no more or less than what it would pay for using other forms of renewable energy credits (RECs). RECs are produced when a renewable energy source generates one megawatt-hour of electricity and passes it on to the grid. According to Cruise, Sundale has installed 2 megawatts of solar capacity to power their 200,000 square footage of cold storage, and Moonlight has installed a combined 3.9 MW of solar arrays and two-battery storage system for its sorting and storage facilities. So when Cruise buys credits from these farms, it’s able to say that a specific amount of its electricity use came from a renewable source. RECs are unique and tracked, so it’s clear where they came from, what kind of energy they used and where they went. Cruise did not share how many RECs it plans to purchase from the farms, but says it will be enough to power its San Francisco fleet.

“While the solar power still flows through the same grid, Cruise purchases and then ultimately ‘retires’ the renewable energy credits generated by the solar panels at the farms,” said Wert. “Through data that we submit to the California Air Resources Board quarterly, we retire a number of RECs equivalent to the amount of electricity we used to charge our vehicles.”

Wert says using fully renewable power is actually profitable for Cruise in California due to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is designed to decrease the carbon intensity of transportation fuels in the state and provide more low-carbon alternatives. Cruise owns and operates all of its own EV charging ports, so it’s able to generate credits based on the carbon intensity score of the electricity and amount of energy delivered. Cruise can then sell its credits to other companies seeking to reduce their footprints and comply with regulations. 

Aside from practicalities, Cruise is aiming to set a standard for the industry and create demand for renewable energy, thus incentivizing more people and businesses to create it. 

“Transportation is responsible for over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we announced our Clean Mile Challenge in February, where we challenged the rest of the AV industry to report how many miles they’re driving on renewable energy every year,” said Wert. “We’re hoping that others follow our lead.”

Point Pickup acquires e-commerce platform GrocerKey for $42M to allow for same-day delivery

By Rebecca Bellan

Point Pickup Technologies, a last-mile delivery service, has acquired white label e-commerce platform GrocerKey for $42 million, according to the company. With the acquisition, Point Pickup now allows retailers to offer same-day delivery, from purchase to fulfillment to delivery, under their own brand name, rather than under third parties like Instacart.

Instacart made a killing delivering groceries and goods for retailers during the coronavirus pandemic, with a generated revenue of $1.5 billion in 2020 and $35 billion worth of sales. The company has an estimated 9.6 million active users and over 500,000 “shoppers” who pick up and deliver goods. 

New entrants to the same-day delivery space are cropping up, which aligns with the expected growth of the industry to $20.36 billion by 2027, according to Allied Market Research. But companies like Amazon and Instacart that perform this service and host a delivery marketplace get far more than sales revenues – they also get all the customer data. 

Tom Fiorita, founder and CEO of Point Pickup, says retailers should have a right to own that data themselves. The acquisition of GrocerKey, which brings on board the company’s front-end consumer-facing sales engine and predictive analytics, puts the data and brand recognition back in the retailer’s hands. 

“If you are a customer of Instacart, you pay them a subscription, they own your buying habits, your credit cards, your data,” Fiorita told TechCrunch. “Instacart was a big thing during COVID because no one had delivery. So now retailers woke up and said, ‘Oh my god, I can’t just have an Instacart-like marketplace be selling my goods. I don’t know who my customers are, I don’t have their credit cards or data.’ And you know data runs the world now.”

Another recent, if not smaller, entrant to the space is Canadian startup Tyltgo, which operates under a similar model to what Point Pickup is now offering via GrocerKey’s technology. In both cases, the buyer goes directly onto the merchant’s platform and places the order through them, so it feels like they’re interacting with the brand they purchased from. And on Tuesday, Walmart also announced a new white-label delivery service that would allow other merchants to tap into its own delivery platform to get orders to their customers.

Fiorita founded Point Pickup in 2015 as a reaction to Amazon’s increased omnipotence with the noble, if not naive, mission to “save local America.” Walmart and Kroger, two of the largest grocery retailers in the U.S., are Point Pickup’s top customers, alongside other nationwide retailers like Albertsons, Giant Eagle and more. But Fiorita believes the service his company is offering will be even more impactful when it starts to work its way down to the mid-sized and small- to medium-sized businesses. 

“We built this not only to survive against Amazon or Instacart, but because these small businesses need this for their survival,” Fiorita said. “These companies will no longer survive if they continue to allow other companies to sell their merchandise and to own their customer, including the data, the advertising, the CPG dollars and everything.”

Point Pickup offers deliveries of everything from grocery to general merchandise, pharmacy and oversized delivery. It has a network of 350,000 gig economy drivers across 25,000 ZIP codes in all 50 states. 

Since the company’s network of drivers, who often pick and pack the products for the customer as well as deliver the goods, comprises all gig workers with their own vehicles, Point Pickup doesn’t have a clear picture of the percentage of its fleet that’s electric or hybrid. Fiorita speculates it’s probably on par with nationwide rates, if not higher. A recent Pew Research report found that 7% of Americans say they own an EV or hybrid. 

Fiorita said that the type of car drivers own is taken into account during recruitment and that the company is looking for ways to incentivize drivers to buy less polluting vehicles. He also said Point Pickup is a vehicle-agnostic platform, meaning it’s piloting other delivery vessels like drones and autonomous robots.

To compete with the big dogs in the space like Amazon and Walmart, both of which are either testing or already have in place electric delivery vans, Point Pickup will have to also make efforts to beef up its strategy in the carbon emissions space.

GM Recalls Every Chevy Bolt Ever Made Over Faulty Batteries

By Tim De Chant, Ars Technica
The automaker is recalling the electric vehicle after investigating two manufacturing defects linked to car fires.

Musk admits Full Self-Driving system ‘not great,’ blames a single stack for highway and city streets

By Rebecca Bellan

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.

 

Extra Crunch roundup: Zūm CEO interview, Cisco’s M&A ethos, neoinsurance bad romance

By Annie Siebert

It was once common practice for doctors to visit sick patients in their homes: In 1930, 40% of all consultations were house calls. By 1980, that figure was less than 1%.

Today, urgent care centers occupy Main Street storefronts and 33% of all medical expenditures occur in hospitals. It’s clear that the additional overhead is generating higher prices, but not necessarily better results, according to Sumi Das and Nina Gerson, who lead healthcare investments at Capital G.

“We can improve both outcomes and costs by moving care from the hospital back to the place it started — at home,” they write in a post that explores five innovations enabling at-home care and identifies investment opportunities like acute care and infrastructure development.

Today, in-home care comprises just 3% of overall healthcare spending, but Gerson and Das estimate that will expand to 10% in the next 10 years.

“To make these improvements, in-home healthcare strategies will need to leverage next-generation technology and value-based care strategies. Fortunately, the window of opportunity for change is open right now.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


Image Credits: Cowboy Ventures / Guild Education

Tomorrow’s episode of Extra Crunch Live will feature guests VC Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures and Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education.

Among other topics, Lee will talk about how Guild Education met her criteria for investment before the duo offer feedback on startup pitches submitted by audience members.

Register now to join the free chat on Hopin on Wednesday, August 25, at 11:30 a.m. PDT/2:30 p.m. EDT.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; have a great week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Zūm CEO Ritu Narayan explains why equity and accessibility works for mobility services

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Ritu Narayan founded Zūm with her two brothers in 2016 to disrupt student transportation, a space that hasn’t seen much innovation since pupils began finding their way to and from little red schoolhouses.

Since then, Zūm has inked partnerships with school districts around the country to create more efficient routes and reduce vehicle emissions.

By 2025, Narayan says her company will have 10,000 electric school buses and plans to put the fleet into service to generate power and feed it back to the grid.

To learn more about the company’s development, its immediate plans for the future and how the pandemic impacted operations, read on.

Bird shows improving scooter economics, long march to profitability

For The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm looked at recent financial data from scooter sharing service Bird, which — like Lyft, Uber, Airbnb and others — took a beating during the pandemic as potential riders stayed home.

Bird flipped its business model and its results improved, but it still has a ways to go. “In the bull case, Bird can get rid of its adjusted losses in a few years,” Alex writes.

“If any issues arise at the top of the company’s table — say, for example, that rides per scooter do not scale as the company rolls out more hardware, or merely slower than expected — the anticipated profitability results could evaporate or be pushed into the future.”

India’s path to SaaS leadership is clear, but challenges remain

Image Credits: Thitima Thongkham / Getty Images

By 2030, India’s SaaS industry is estimated to comprise 4%-6% of the global market and generate between $50 billion and $70 billion in yearly revenue, according to a SaaSBOOMi/McKinsey report.

“With the right approach, it won’t be long before the Indian SaaS community becomes a large-scale employer of talent, a significant contributor to India’s GDP and a creator of unmatched products,” says Manav Garg, CEO and founder of Eka Software Solutions.

In a guest post, he lays out several key growth drivers, which include “the largest concentration of developers in the world” and the fact that “SaaS is not a winner-take-all market.”

Even so, the region still faces challenges, since “growth requires a growth mindset.”

Why have the markets spurned public neoinsurance startups?

As Alex Wilhelm has repeatedly noted in The Exchange, neoinsurance companies, from healthcare to auto to home and rental, have taken a whacking by the market.

But he hadn’t quite figured out why until he chatted with Pie Insurance co-founder and CEO John Swigart, who had an interesting hypothesis.

Summing up their conversation in a single sentence: “From the public markets’ perspective, it’s the results, stupid.”

How Cisco keeps its startup acquisition engine humming

The Cisco Systems logo is displayed at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on February 25, 2019. - Phone makers will focus on foldable screens and the introduction of blazing fast 5G wireless networks at the world's biggest mobile fair starting February 25 in Spain as they try to reverse a decline in sales of smartphones. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Image Credits: Josep LAGO /AFP/ Getty Images

Ron Miller interviewed three Cisco executives to learn more about the company’s “rich history of buying its way to global success”:

  • CFO Scott Herren
  • Derek Idemoto, SVP for corporate development and Cisco investments
  • Jeetu Patel, EVP and GM, Security and Collaboration

Since its founding, Cisco has acquired 229 companies, buying more than 30 startups in the last four years that focus on everything from edtech to event management.

“Indeed, one of the big reasons for all these acquisitions could be about maintaining growth,” writes Ron.

Future tech exits have a lot to live up to

Image Credits: Sam Salek/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

“Inflation may or may not prove transitory when it comes to consumer prices, but startup valuations are definitely rising — and noticeably so — in recent quarters.”

That’s Alex Wilhelm’s summation of a recent PitchBook report rounding up valuation data from U.S. startup funding events.

He dug into the report and analyzed what the numbers mean for startup valuations and potential exits.

Zūm CEO Ritu Narayan explains why equity and accessibility works for mobility services

By Rebecca Bellan

Getting children to school safely and reliably is a challenge as old as public education itself. But rarely have any entrepreneurs tackled the problem of updating and optimizing one of the nation’s largest legacy transit systems, now nearly a century old. It’s still common to find people at U.S. student transportation hubs speaking into walkie-talkies and wrangling clipboards as they sort passengers into gas-guzzling yellow buses.

Ritu Narayan was working as a product executive at eBay when her two children began attending school. Finding safe and reliable options for getting them to campus was sometimes so difficult that anytime those options would fall out, she would be on the verge of leaving her job.

“We had the minimum viable product, which we expanded upon, built the entire platform, and we kept on going to better places with our solutions.”

Bearing in mind that her mother in India had set aside a career to raise Narayan and her three siblings, she founded Zūm in 2016 with brothers Abhishek and Vivek Garg to optimize routes, create transparency and make school commutes greener; since then, Zūm has operated in several California districts (including San Francisco), as well as in Seattle, Chicago and Dallas. In Oakland, Zūm has optimized routes to reduce the previous bus requirement by 29 percent, with the balance being serviced by midsized vehicles.

Zūm also plans to have a fleet of 10,000 electric school buses by 2025 and is partnering with AutoGrid to transform that fleet into a virtual power plant with the potential capacity to route 1 GW of energy back to the grid.

To get a deeper look into the startup’s plans and hear what Narayan has learned from its journey so far, we discussed the pandemic’s impacts on Zūm’s development, where she thinks the company will be a year from now, and how she convinced investors to back a business model that embraces accessibility and equity.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

How did COVID-19 affect your business? What percentage of your business is back now?

It’s funny, because we used to say that student transportation is a recession-proof business, and no matter what, kids are still going to go to school, but the pandemic was the first time in probably the last 100 years when kids across the globe did not go to school. It was an interesting time for us, because overnight, all the rides were closed and we had to focus on what was needed immediately to support our districts and students.

We realized that the school is such an important physical infrastructure that’s not just for education, but students get meals there as well as physical and emotional help. So we helped the school districts with reverse logistics, taking the meals or laptops from the school districts and delivering them to homes, because our software could handle that kind of thing. That was just an interim to make sure the communities settled. Starting last year, rides started coming back around 30%, and this year starting in April, it has been 100% back in the business.

The Station: Bird’s improving scooter-nomics, breaking down Tesla AI day and the Nuro EC-1

By Kirsten Korosec

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

Hello readers: 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. I’m handing the wheel over to reporters Aria Alamalhodaei and Rebecca Bellan.

Before I completely leave though, I have to share the Nuro EC-1, a series of articles on the autonomous vehicle technology startup reported by investigative science and tech reporter Mark Harris with assistance from myself and our copy editorial team. This deep dive into Nuro is part of Extra Crunch’s flagship editorial offerings.

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

New York City finally launched its long-awaited scooter pilot in the Bronx this past week. Over 90 parking corrals specifically for e-scooters have been installed across the borough, but residents can also park in unobstructive locations on the sidewalk. Bird, Lime and Veo were the operators chosen for the pilot, each bringing their own sets of strengths. 

Bird says it intends to focus on the mobility gap in the Bronx and will use its AI drop engine to ensure equitable deployment across all neighborhoods in the pilot zone. Veo is focused on safety and accessibility, bringing its Astro VS4, the first e-scooter with turn signals, to the mix, as well as its Cosmo, a seated e-scooter. Lime is also focusing on accessibility, with its Lime Able program, which offers an on-demand suite of adaptive vehicles. Lime also highlighted a safety quiz it will require new riders to take before hopping on a vehicle. 

All three companies have promised to partner with community organizations to hire locally as well as to offer discounted pricing for vulnerable groups.

Big week for Bird

Not only has Bird officially launched in NYC, but it was also awarded a 12-month permit to operate 1,500 scooters in San Francisco. Well, technically it’s Scoot that got the permit, but Scoot is owned by Bird, and was kind of Bird’s backdoor way into the city. Last month, the SFMTA asked Scoot to halt its operations just as the fresh round of scooter permits were kicking off because the company was implementing its fleet manager program with unauthorized subcontractors. 

On Friday, after careful evaluation of Scoot’s application, SFMTA determined Scoot has qualified for a permit to operate. Scoot intends to have its vehicles back on the roads in the coming weeks. 

Bird also officially launched its consumer e-bike, dubbed the Bird Bike (which I think is also the name of their shared e-bike). Bird hasn’t had the easiest time with profitability, and really, not many scooter companies have, so this is a chance for Bird to diversify, get a piece of the $68 billion e-bike sales pie and create more brand awareness across marketplaces. The bike costs $2,229 and consumer sales will likely make up about 10% of Bird’s revenue going forward, per the company’s S-4 filing.

Bird (and Scoot) are now integrated with Google Maps. So is Spin, as of this week. More integrations like these, as we saw a couple weeks ago with Lime joining Moovit, demonstrate how shared micromobility is becoming more integrated with the way we think about moving around cities and planning our journeys. I heartily welcome such integrations. 

Finally, Alex Wilhelm dug into new financial data released by Bird. The tl;dr: the quarterly data shows an improving economic model and a multiyear path to profitability. However, that path is fraught unless a number of scenarios all work out in concert and without a glitch, Wilhelm reports.

 

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Imagine a future in which drivers don’t charge their electric vehicles but instead swap out the batteries at small, roadside pods. That’s the future Ample is imagining, and this week it announced a fresh $160 million funding round to scale its operations.

The internationally funded Series C was led by Moore Strategic Ventures with participation from PTT, a Thai state-owned oil and gas company, and Disruptive Innovation Fund. Existing investors Eneos, a Japanese petroleum and energy company, and Singapore’s public transit operator SMRT also participated. Ample’s total funding is now $230 million.

It’s an interesting idea but one that will require considerable buy-in from automakers to make it a reality — for example, by selling vehicles with either a standard battery or Ample’s battery system pre-built in. But according to Ample co-founders John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah, it wouldn’t be all that complicated for OEMs to separate the battery from the car.

“The marketing departments at the OEMs want to tell you that … ‘This is a super-duper battery that is very well integrated with the car; there’s no way you can separate it,’ ” Hassounah said. “The truth of the matter is they’re built completely separately and so true for almost — not almost, for every battery in the car, including a Tesla.

“Since we’ve built our system to be easy to interface with different vehicles, we’ve abstracted the battery component … from the vehicle,” he added.

Other deals that got our attention this week …

AEye, the lidar startup, completed its reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company CF Finance Acquisition Corp. III. AEye is now a publicly traded company that trades on the Nasdaq exchange.

Canada Drives, an online car shopping and delivery platform, announced $79.4 million ($100 million CAD) in Series B funding that it will use to expand its service across Canada. The company is going to use its recent funding to keep enhancing the product, grow its inventory in existing and new markets and hire around 200 people over the next year, particularly in product development.

DigiSure, a digital insurance company that caters to modern mobility form factors like peer-to-peer marketplaces, is officially coming out of stealth to announce a $13.1 million pre-Series A funding round. The startup will use the funds to hire more than 50 engineers, data scientists, business development, insurance and compliance specialists, as well as scale into new industry verticals and across into Europe.

High Definition Vehicle Insurance Group, a commercial auto insurance company that is initially focused on trucking, raised $32.5 million in Series B funding round led by Weatherford Capital, with new investors Daimler Trucks North America and McVestCo, and continued participation from Munich Re Ventures, 8VC, Autotech Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures LLC.

RepairSmith, a mobile auto repair service that sends a mechanic right to the driver’s home, raised $42 million in fresh funding with the aim of expanding to all major metros by the end of 2022. The company is looking to disrupt auto servicing and repair, a massive industry that hasn’t seen much change in the past 40 years.

REE Automotive was awarded $17 million from the UK government as part of a $57 million investment, coordinated through the Advanced Propulsion Centre. The investment, the company said, is in line with the UK government’s ambition to accelerate the shift to zero-emission vehicles.

Swvl, a Dubai-based transit and mobility company, will be expanding into Europe and Latin America after it acquired a controlling interest in Shotl. Shotl, which is in 22 cities across 10 countries, matches passengers with shuttles and vans heading in that same direction. The company partners with governments and municipalities to provide mobility solutions for populations that are underserved by traditional mass transit options. While Swvl declined to share the financials of the transaction, a spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company’s “footprint is being doubled by this acquisition.”

Xos Inc., a manufacturer of electric Class 5 to Class 8 commercial vehicles completed its business combination with NextGen Acquisition Corporation. As a reuslt, Xos made its public debut on the Nasdaq exchange.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

Regarding Tesla investigations, when it rains it pours. First, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance system, citing 11 incidents in which vehicles crashed into parked first responder vehicles while the system was engaged.

The Tesla vehicles involved in the collisions were confirmed to have either have had engaged Autopilot or a feature called Traffic Aware Cruise Control, according to investigation documents posted on the agency’s website. Most of the incidents took place after dark and occurred despite “scene control measures,” such as emergency vehicle lights, road cones and an illuminated arrow board signaling drivers to change lanes.

A few days later, Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) 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 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.”

Autonomous Vehicles

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, is seriously scaling up its autonomous trucking operations across Texas, Arizona and California. The company said it was building a dedicated trucking hub in Dallas and partnering with Ryder for fleet management services.

The Dallas hub will be a central launch point for testing not only the Waymo Driver, but also its transfer hub model, which is a mix of automated and manual trucking that optimizes transfer hubs near highways to ensure the Waymo Driver is sticking to main thoroughfares and human drivers are handling first and last mile deliveries.

Electric vehicles

Canoo is expecting 25,000 units out of its manufacturing partner VDL Nedcar’s facility by 2023, CEO Tony Aquila said during the company’s quarterly earnings call.

Year over year, Canoo upped its workforce from 230 to 656 total employees, 70% of which are hardware and software engineers. The startup’s operating expenses have increased from $19.8 million to $104.3 million YOY, with the majority of that increase coming from R&D.

Ford, Stellantis, Toyota and Volkswagen are among the carmakers this week that have announced production cuts in response to the ongoing global shortage of semiconductors. It’s been a grim week.

A brief run-down: Toyota said it anticipated a production drop of anywhere from 60,000-90,000 vehicles across North America in August. Then Ford joined the chorus, saying it would temporarily close its F-150 factory in Kansas City. Volkswagen told Reuters it couldn’t “rule out further changes to production” in light of the chip shortage. And finally, Stellantis is halting production at one of its factories in France.

Tesla unveiled what it’s calling the “D1” computer chip to power its advanced AI training supercomputer, Dojo, at its AI Day on Thursday. According to Tesla director Ganesh Venkataramanan, the D1 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.”

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.

But there was more, of course. CEO Elon Musk also unveiled that the company is developing a humanoid robot, with a prototype expected in 2022. 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.

Reality check: Tesla is not the first automaker, or company, to dip its toe into humanoid robot development.  Honda’s Asimo robot has been around for decades, Toyota and GM have their own robots and Hyundai recently acquired robotics company Boston Dynamic.

The full rundown of Tesla’s AI Day can be found here.

In-car tech

General Motors and AT&T will be rolling out 5G connectivity in select Chevy, Cadillac and GMC vehicles from model year 2024, in a boost that the two companies say will bring more reliable software updates, faster navigation and downloads and better coverage on roadways.

5G technology has generated a lot of hype for its promises to boost speed and reduce latency across a range of industries, a next-gen tech that everyone thought would change the world far sooner than now. That hasn’t happened (yet), in part because network rollout was much slower than people anticipated. So this announcement can be taken as a clear signal that, at the very least, AT&T thinks its 5G network will be mature enough to handle “millions” of connected vehicles by 2024.

Ride-hailing

RubiRides, a new ride-hailing company focuses on transporting kids, launched in the Washington D.C. metro area. The ride-hailing service is designed for children ages 7 and older. But the service also offers ride services for seniors and people with special needs. The company was founded by Noreen Butler, who was inspired to start the company after searching for transportation to support the busy schedules of her children.

❌