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Yesterday — February 19th 2020Your RSS feeds

Tortoise co-founder Dmitry Shevelenko is bringing autonomous scooters to TC Sessions: Mobility

By Megan Rose Dickey

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 is gearing up to be a lit event. The one-day event, taking place May 14 in San Jose, has just added Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of an automatic repositioning startup for micromobility vehicles. Yes, that means we’ll be having autonomous scooters rolling around onstage. #2020

Tortoise, which recently received approval to deploy its tech in San Jose, is looking to become an operating system of sorts for micromobility vehicles. Just how Android is the operating system for a number of mobile phones, Tortoise wants to be the operating system for micromobility vehicles.

Given the volume of micromobility operators in the space today, Tortoise aims to make it easier for these companies to more strategically deploy their respective vehicles and reposition them when needed. Using autonomous technology in tandem with remote human intervention, Tortoise’s software enables operators to remotely relocate their scooters and bikes to places where riders need them, or, where operators need them to be recharged. On an empty sidewalk, Tortoise may employ autonomous technologies, while it may rely on humans to remotely control the vehicle on a highly trafficked city block.

Before co-founding Tortoise, Shevelenko served as Uber’s director of business development. While at Uber, Shevelenko helped the company expand into new mobility and led the acquisition of JUMP Bikes . Needless to say, Shevelenko is well-versed to talk about the next opportunities in micromobility.

Other speakers at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 include Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana; Uber’s director of Policy, Cities & Transportation, Shin-pei Tsay; and Argo AI co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky.

Tickets are on sale now for $250 (early-bird status). After April 9, tickets go up, so be sure to get yours before that deadline. If you’re a student, tickets cost just $50.

Early-stage startups in the mobility space can book an exhibitor package for $2,000 and get four tickets and a demo table. Packages allow you to get in front of some of the biggest names in the industry and meet new customers. Book your tickets here.

Autonomous yard trucking startup Outrider comes out of stealth with $53 million in funding

By Kirsten Korosec

The 400,000 distribution yards located in the U.S. are critical hubs for the supply chain. Now one startup is aiming to make the yard truck — the centerpiece of the distribution yard — more efficient, safer and cleaner, with an autonomous system.

Outrider, a Golden, Colo. startup previously known as Azevtec, came out of stealth Wednesday to announce that it has raised $53 million in seed and Series A funding rounds led by NEA and 8VC. Outrider is also backed by Koch Disruptive Technologies, Fraser McCombs Capital, warehousing giant Prologis, Schematic Ventures, Loup Ventures and Goose Society of Texas.

Outrider CEO Andrew Smith said distribution yards are ideal environments to deploy autonomous technology because they’re well-defined areas that are also complex, often chaotic and with many manual tasks.

“This is why a systems approach is necessary to automate every major task in the yard,” Smith said.

Outrider has developed a system that includes an electric yard truck equipped with a full stack self-driving system with overlapping suite of sensor technology such as radar, lidar and cameras. The system automates the manual aspect of yard operations, including moving trailers around the yard as well as to and from loading docks. The system can also hitch and unhitch trailers, connect and disconnect trailer brake lines, and monitor trailer locations.

The company has two pilot programs with Georgia-Pacific and four Fortune 200 companies in designated sections of their distribution yards. Over time, Outrider will move from operating in specific areas of these yards to taking over the entire yards for these enterprise customers, according to Smith.

“Because we’re getting people out of these yard environments, where there’s 80,000 pound vehicles, we’re delivering increased efficiency,” Smith told TechCrunch in a recent interview. That efficiency is not just in moving the trailers around the yard, Smith added. It also helps move the Class 8 semi trailers used for hauling freight long distances through the system and back on the road quickly.

“We can actually reduce the amount of time the over-the-road guys are stuck sitting at a yard trying to do a pickup or drop-off,” Smith said.

Smith sees a big opportunity to demonstrate the responsible deployment of autonomy as well as clean up yards filled with diesel-powered yard trucks.

“If there was ever a location for near-term automation and electrification of the supply chain, it’s here,” he said. “Our customers and suppliers understand there’s a big opportunity for these autonomy systems to accelerate the deployment of 50,000 plus electric trucks in the market because they are a superior platform for automation.”

Europe sets out plan to boost data reuse and regulate ‘high risk’ AIs

By Natasha Lomas

European Union lawmakers have set out a first bundle of proposals for a new digital strategy for the bloc, one that’s intended to drive digitalization across all industries and sectors — and enable what Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has described as ‘A Europe fit for the Digital Age‘.

It could also be summed up as a “scramble for AI,” with the Commission keen to rub out barriers to the pooling of massive European data sets in order to power a new generation of data-driven services as a strategy to boost regional competitiveness vs China and the U.S.

Pushing for the EU to achieve technological sovereignty is a key plank of von der Leyen’s digital policy plan for the 27-Member State bloc.

Presenting the latest on her digital strategy to press in Brussels today, she said: “We want the digital transformation to power our economy and we want to find European solutions in the digital age.”

The top-line proposals are:

AI

  • Rules for “high risk” AI systems such as in health, policing, or transport, requiring such systems are “transparent, traceable and guarantee human oversight.”
  • A requirement that unbiased data is used to train high-risk systems so that they “perform properly, and to ensure respect of fundamental rights, in particular non-discrimination.”
  • Consumer protection rules so authorities can “test and certify” data used by algorithms in a similar way to existing rules that allow for checks to be made on products such as cosmetics, cars or toys.
  • A “broad debate” on the circumstances where use of remote use of biometric identification could be justified.
  • A voluntary labelling scheme for lower risk AI applications.
  • Proposing the creation of an EU governance structure to ensure a framework for compliance with the rules and avoid fragmentation across the bloc.

Data

  • A regulatory framework covering data governance, access and reuse between businesses, between businesses and government, and within administrations to create incentives for data sharing, which the Commission says will establish “practical, fair and clear rules on data access and use, which comply with European values and rights such as personal data protection, consumer protection and competition rules.” 
  • A push to make public sector data more widely available by opening up “high-value datasets” to enable their reuse to foster innovation.
  • Support for cloud infrastructure platforms and systems to support the data reuse goals. The Commission says it will contribute to investments in European High Impact projects on European data spaces and trustworthy and energy efficient cloud infrastructures
  • Sectoral specific actions to build European data spaces that focus on specific areas such as industrial manufacturing, the green deal, mobility or health

The full data strategy proposal can be found here.

While the Commission’s white paper on AI “excellence and trust” is here.

Next steps will see the Commission taking feedback on the plan — as it kicks off public consultation on both proposals.

A final draft is slated by the end of the year after which the various EU institutions will have their chance to chip into (or chip away at) the plan. So how much policy survives for the long haul remains to be seen.

Tech for good

At a press conference following von der Leyen’s statement Margrethe Vestager, the Commission EVP who heads up digital policy, and Thierry Breton, commissioner for the internal market, went into some of the detail around the Commission’s grand plan for “shaping Europe’s digital future”.

The digital policy package is meant to define how we shape Europe’s digital future “in a way that serves us all”, said Vestager.

The strategy aims to unlock access to “more data and good quality data” to fuel innovation and underpin better public services, she added.

The Commission’s digital EVP Margrethe Vestager discussing the AI whitepaper

Collectively, the package is about embracing the possibilities AI create while managing the risks, she also said, adding that: “The point obviously is to create trust, rather than fear.”

She noted that the two policy pieces being unveiled by the Commission today, on AI and data, form part of a more wide-ranging digital and industrial strategy with additional proposals still to be set out.

“The picture that will come when we have assembled the puzzle should illustrate three objectives,” she said. “First that technology should world for people and not the other way round; it is first and foremost about purpose The development, the deployment, the uptake of technology must work in the same direction to make a real positive difference in our daily lives.

“Second that we want a fair and competitive economy — a full Single Market where companies of all sizes can compete on equal terms, where the road from garage to scale up is as short as possible. But it also means an economy where the market power held by a few incumbents cannot be used to block competition. It also means an economy were consumers can take it for granted that their rights are being respected and profits are being taxed where they are made”

Thirdly, she said the Commission plan would support “an open, democratic and sustainable society”.

“This means a society where citizens can control the data that they provide, where digit platforms are accountable for the contents that they feature… This is a fundamental thing — that while we use new digital tools, use AI as a tool, that we build a society based on our fundamental rights,” she added, trailing a forthcoming democracy action plan.

Digital technologies must also actively enable the green transition, said Vestager — pointing to the Commission’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Digital, satellite, GPS and sensor data would be crucial to this goal, she suggested.

“More than ever a green transition and digital transition goes hand in hand.”

On the data package Breton said the Commission will launch a European and industrial cloud platform alliance to drive interest in building the next gen platforms he said would be needed to enable massive big data sharing across the EU — tapping into 5G and edge computing.

“We want to mobilize up to €2BN in order to create and mobilize this alliance,” he said. “In order to run this data you need to have specific platforms… Most of this data will be created locally and processed locally — thanks to 5G critical network deployments but also locally to edge devices. By 2030 we expect on the planet to have 500BN connected devices… and of course all the devices will exchange information extremely quickly. And here of course we need to have specific mini cloud or edge devices to store this data and to interact locally with the AI applications embedded on top of this.

“And believe me the requirement for these platforms are not at all the requirements that you see on the personal b2c platform… And then we need of course security and cyber security everywhere. You need of course latencies. You need to react in terms of millisecond — not tenths of a second. And that’s a totally different infrastructure.”

“We have everything in Europe to win this battle,” he added. “Because no one has expertise of this battle and the foundation — industrial base — than us. And that’s why we say that maybe the winner of tomorrow will not be the winner of today or yesterday.”

Trustworthy artificial intelligence

On AI Vestager said the major point of the plan is “to build trust” — by using a dual push to create what she called “an ecosystem of excellence” and another focused on trust.

The first piece includes a push by the Commission to stimulate funding, including in R&D and support for research such as by bolstering skills. “We need a lot of people to be able to work with AI,” she noted, saying it would be essential for small and medium sized businesses to be “invited in”.

On trust the plan aims to use risk to determine how much regulation is involved, with the most stringent rules being placed on what it dubs “high risk” AI systems. “That could be when AI tackles fundamental values, it could be life or death situation, any situation that could cause material or immaterial harm or expose us to discrimination,” said Vestager.

To scope this the Commission approach will focus on sectors where such risks might apply — such as energy and recruitment.

If an AI product or service is identified as posing a risk then the proposal is for an enforcement mechanism to test that the product is safe before it is put into use. These proposed “conformity assessments” for high risk AI systems include a number of obligations Vestager said are based on suggestions by the EU’s High Level Expert Group on AI — which put out a slate of AI policy recommendations last year.

The four requirements attached to this bit of the proposals are: 1) that AI systems should be trained using data that “respects European values and rules” and that a record of such data is kept; 2) that an AI system should provide “clear information to users about its purpose, its capabilities but also its limits” and that it be clear to users when they are interacting with an AI rather than a human; 3) AI systems must be “technically robust and accurate in order to be trustworthy”; and 4) they should always ensure “an appropriate level of human involvement and oversight”.

Obviously there are big questions about how such broad-brush requirements will be measured and stood up (as well as actively enforced) in practice.

If an AI product or service is not identified as high risk Vestager noted there would still be regulatory requirements in play — such as the need for developers to comply with existing EU data protection rules.

In her press statement, Commission president von der Leyen highlighted a number of examples of how AI might power a range of benefits for society — from “better and earlier” diagnosis of diseases like cancer to helping with her parallel push for the bloc to be carbon neutral by 2050, such as by enabling precision farming and smart heating — emphasizing that such applications rely on access to big data.

Artificial intelligence is about big data,” she said. “Data, data and again data. And we all know that the more data we have the smarter our algorithms. This is a very simple equation. Therefore it is so important to have access to data that are out there. This is why we want to give our businesses but also the researchers and the public services better access to data.”

“The majority of data we collect today are never ever used even once. And this is not at all sustainable,” she added. “In these data we collect that are out there lies an enormous amount of precious ideas, potential innovation, untapped potential we have to unleash — and therefore we follow the principal that in Europe we have to offer data spaces where you can not only store your data but also share with others. And therefore we want to create European data spaces where businesses, governments and researchers can not only store their data but also have access to other data they need for their innovation.”

She too impressed the need for AI regulation, including to guard against the risk of biased algorithms — saying “we want citizens to trust the new technology”. “We want the application of these new technologies to deserve the trust of our citizens. This is why we are promoting a responsible, human centric approach to artificial intelligence,” she added.

She said the planned restrictions on high risk AI would apply in fields such as healthcare, recruitment, transportation, policing and law enforcement — and potentially others.

“We will be particularly careful with sectors where essential human interests and rights are at stake,” she said. “Artificial intelligence must serve people. And therefore artificial intelligence must always comply with people’s rights. This is why a person must always be in control of critical decisions and so called ‘high risk AI’ — this is AI that potentially interferes with people’s rights — have to be tested and certified before they reach our single market.”

“Today’s message is that artificial intelligence is a huge opportunity in Europe, for Europe. We do have a lot but we have to unleash this potential that is out there. We want this innovation in Europe,” von der Leyen added. “We want to encourage our businesses, our researchers, the innovators, the entrepreneurs, to develop artificial intelligence and we want to encourage our citizens to feel confident to use it in Europe.”

Towards a rights-respecting common data space

The European Commission has been working on building what it dubs a “data economy” for several years at this point, plugging into its existing Digital Single Market strategy for boosting regional competitiveness.

Its aim is to remove barriers to the sharing of non-personal data within the single market. The Commission has previously worked on regulation to ban most data localization, as well as setting out measures to encourage the reuse of public sector data and open up access to scientific data.

Healthcare data sharing has also been in its sights, with policies to foster interoperability around electronic health records, and it’s been pushing for more private sector data sharing — both b2b and business-to-government.

“Every organisation should be able to store and process data anywhere in the European Union,” it wrote in 2018. It has also called the plan a “common European data space“. Aka “a seamless digital area with the scale that will enable the development of new products and services based on data”.

The focus on freeing up the flow of non-personal data is intended to complement the bloc’s long-standing rules on protecting personal data. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in 2018, has reinforced EU citizens’ rights around the processing of their personal information — updating and bolstering prior data protection rules.

The Commission views GDPR as a major success story by merit of how it’s exported conversations about EU digital standards to a global audience.

But it’s fair to say that back home enforcement of the GDPR remains a work in progress, some 21 months in — with many major cross-border complaints attached to how tech and adtech giants are processing people’s data still sitting on the desk of the Irish Data Protection Commission where multinationals tend to locate their EU HQ as a result of favorable corporate tax arrangements.

The Commission’s simultaneous push to encourage the development of AI arguably risks heaping further pressure on the GDPR — as both private and public sectors have been quick to see model-making value locked up in citizens’ data.

Already across Europe there are multiple examples of companies and/or state authorities working on building personal data-fuelled diagnostic AIs for healthcare; using machine learning for risk scoring of benefits claimants; and applying facial recognition as a security aid for law enforcement, to give three examples.

There has also been controversy fast following such developments. Including around issues such as proportionality and the question of consent to legally process people’s data — both under GDPR and in light of EU fundamental privacy rights as well as those set out in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Only this month a Dutch court ordered the state to cease use of a blackbox algorithm for assessing the fraud risk of benefits claimants on human rights grounds — objecting to a lack of transparency around how the system functions and therefore also “insufficient” controllability.

The von der Leyen Commission, which took up its five-year mandate in December, is alive to rights concerns about how AI is being applied, even as it has made it clear it intends to supercharge the bloc’s ability to leverage data and machine learning technologies — eyeing economic gains.

Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, visiting the AI Intelligence Center in Brussels (via the EC’s EbS Live AudioVisual Service)

The Commission president committed to publishing proposals to regulate AI within the first 100 days — saying she wants a European framework to steer application to ensure powerful learning technologies are used ethically and for the public good.

But a leaked draft of the plan to regulate AI last month suggested it would step back from imposing even a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition technology — leaning instead towards tweaks to existing rules and sector/app specific risk-assessments and requirements.

It’s clear there are competing views at the top of the Commission on how much policy intervention is needed on the tech sector.

Breton has previously voiced opposition to regulating AI — telling the EU parliament just before he was confirmed in post that he “won’t be the voice of regulating AI“.

While Vestager has been steady in her public backing for a framework to govern how AI is applied, talking at her hearing before the EU parliament of the importance of people’s trust and Europe having its own flavor of AI that must “serve humans” and have “a purpose” .

“I don’t think that we can be world leaders without ethical guidelines,” she said then. “I think we will lose it if we just say no let’s do as they do in the rest of the world — let’s pool all the data from everyone, no matter where it comes from, and let’s just invest all our money.”

At the same time Vestager signalled a willingness to be pragmatic in the scope of the rules and how they would be devised — emphasizing the need for speed and agreeing the Commission would need to be “very careful not to over-regulate”, suggesting she’d accept a core minimum to get rules up and running.

Today’s proposal steers away from more stringent AI rules — such as a ban on facial recognition in public places. On biometric AI technologies Vestager described some existing uses as “harmless” during today’s press conference — such as unlocking a phone or for automatic border gates — whereas she stressed the difference in terms of rights risks related to the use of remote biometric identification tech such as facial recognition.

“With this white paper the Commission is launching a debate on the specific circumstance — if any — which might justify the use of such technologies in public space,” she said, putting some emphasis on the word ‘any’.

The Commission is encouraging EU citizens to put questions about the digital strategy for Vestager to answer tomorrow, in a live Q&A at 17.45 CET on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — using the hashtag #DigitalEU

Do you want to know more on the EU’s digital strategy?
Use #DigitalEU to share your questions and we will ask them to Margrethe Vestager this Thursday. pic.twitter.com/I90hCR6Gcz

— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) February 18, 2020

Platform liability

There is more to come from the Commission on the digital policy front — with a Digital Services Act in the works to update pan-EU liability rules around Internet platforms.

That proposal is slated to be presented later this year and both commissioners said today that details remain to be worked out. The possibility that the Commission will propose rules to more tightly regulate online content platforms already has content farming adtech giants like Facebook cranking up their spin cycles.

During today’s press conference Breton said he would always push for what he dubbed “shared governance” but he warned several times that if platforms don’t agree an acceptable way forward “we will have to regulate” — saying it’s not up for European society to adapt to the platforms but for them to adapt to the EU.

“We will do this within the next eight months. It’s for sure. And everybody knows the rules,” he said. “Of course we’re entering here into dialogues with these platforms and like with any dialogue we don’t know exactly yet what will be the outcome. We may find at the end of the day a good coherent joint strategy which will fulfil our requirements… regarding the responsibilities of the platform. And by the way this is why personally when I meet with them I will always prefer a shared governance. But we have been extremely clear if it doesn’t work then we will have to regulate.”

Internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton

Coinbase becomes a Visa Principal Member to double down on debit card

By Romain Dillet

Cryptocurrency company has been working with Paysafe to issue the Coinbase Card, a Visa debit card that works with your Coinbase account balance. The company is now a Visa Principal Member, which should help Coinbase rely less on Paysafe and control a bigger chunk of the card payment stack.

Coinbase says it is the only cryptocurrency company that has reached that level of certification. The company will offer the Coinbase Card in more markets in the future. The new status could open up more possibilities and features as well.

While Coinbase originally launched the Coinbase Card in the U.K., it is now available in 29 European countries. It works with any Visa-compatible payment terminal and ATM. Users can decide in the app which wallet they want to use for upcoming transactions. This way, you can spend money in 10 cryptocurrencies.

There are some conversion fees just like on Coinbase. In addition to those fees, there can be some additional fees if you withdraw a lot of money or make a purchase abroad. More details here.

Still, half of users who ordered a card are actively using it. The U.K., Italy, Spain and France are the main markets so far. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies might not replace Visa and Mastercard just yet, so traditional debit cards represent a good alternative for now.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

How a Street-Smart Supercar Got Ready for the Racetrack

By Eric Adams
To build an NSX for racing, Acura had to "dumb down" its model by omitting its smartest part: the electric motor.

The Station: Lucid Motors spy shot and the birth of an AV startup

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 Saturday in your inbox.

Hello again — or perhaps for the first time. This is Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch and your host here at The Station. This weekly newsletter will also be posted as an article after the weekend — that’s what you’re reading now. To get it first, subscribe for free. Please note that there will not be a newsletter February 22.

It was a drama-filled week with a hearing on the hill in D.C. about autonomous vehicle legislation that got a bit tense at times. Meanwhile, Uber tipped its hat to the past, EV startup Lucid started to lift the veil on its Air vehicle (scroll down for a spy shot!) and micromobility prepared for headwinds in Germany.

Before I ride off into the sunset for my vacation, one reminder for y’all. Don’t forget to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Welcome back to micromobbin’, a regular feature in The Station by reporter Megan Rose Dickey. Before we get into her micromobility insights, a quick note that shared scooters are facing a fight in Germany that has prompted companies to unite over their “shared” cause. (Get it?)

Micromobility vehicles, first legalized in Germany last June, have flooded the marketplace and caused a backlash in cities like Berlin, where at least six apps, including Bird, Circ (now owned by Bird), Lime, Tier, Uber Jump and Voi operate. As the Financial Times first reported, amendments to the country’s Road Traffic Act would give individual cities the power to heavily restrict the areas in which e-scooters can be parked or ban them altogether.

Now back to Dickey’s micromobbin’.

Swiftmile, the startup that wants to become the gas station for electric micromobility vehicles, announced its move into advertising this week. Swiftmile already supplies cities and private operators with docks equipped to park and charge both scooters and e-bikes. Now, the company is starting to integrate digital displays that attach to its charging stations to provide public transit info, traffic alerts and, of course, ads.

“It adds tremendous value because it’s a massive market,” Swiftmile CEO Colin Roche told TechCrunch. “Tons of these corporations want to market to that group but you cannot do that on a scooter, nor should you. So there’s a massive audience that wants to market to that group but also cities like us because we’re bringing order to the chaos.”

Meanwhile, Bird unveiled more details about its loyalty program, called Frequent Flyer. It’s currently in the pilot phase, which means it’s only available in select markets. But the benefits for riding five times in 28 days include no start fees for rides between 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday and the ability to reserve your Bird in advance for up to 30 minutes at no cost.

— Megan Rose Dickey

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We don’t just hear things. We see things too. This week in a little bird — the place where we share insider news, not gossip — I’m going to share two spy shots of a production version of Lucid Motors’ upcoming Air electric vehicle. See below.

The photos of the production version of the Lucid Air were taken during an event hosted for some of the vehicle’s first reservation holders. (I wasn’t there, but luckily some readers of The Station were.) By the way, we also hear that reservations are in the “low four figures.”

Lucid Air production reveal

You’ll notice that the production version of the Air is nearly identical to the beta version. Unfortunately, we don’t see the interior. But reports suggest it falls in the understated luxury category and without giant screens.

Lucid is preparing for one of the more important moments in its history as a company. The production version of Air will be unveiled in April at the New York Auto Show. In the run-up to the auto show, Lucid is revealing more information about the vehicle, including a recent video that suggested the vehicle had a real-world range of more than 400 miles. Lucid has hit that 400-mile range in simulated testing, but how it operates on the roads is what really matters.

What’s impressive, if those numbers bear out, is that it was accomplished with a 110-kWh battery pack. That’s an improvement from back in 2016 when Lucid said it would need a 130-kWh battery pack to achieve that range. In my past conversations with CEO Peter Rawlinson — and one wild ride with him behind the wheel of an early Air prototype in Vegas — it’s clear he is obsessed with battery efficiency. That apparently hasn’t waned.

Car and Driver, which was at this special event, noted in its report that Rawlinson has a goal to get to five miles per kilowatt-hour. Right now, Tesla can lay claim to the most efficient electric vehicle with the upcoming Model Y at a claimed 4.1 miles per kilowatt-hour.

And late Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the Tesla Model S now has an estimated EPA range above 390 miles or ~630 km.

Inside the beltway

It got a little prickly on Capitol Hill during a House panel hearing this week that aimed to tackle how best to regulate autonomous vehicles. Watch the hearing to see it all unfold. Here’s a handy link to it.

A quick history lesson: The SELF DRIVE ACT was unanimously passed in 2017 by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. AV START, a complementary bill introduced in the Senate, failed to pass because Democrats said it didn’t go far enough to address safety and liability issues.

A bipartisan group revived efforts to come up with legislation that would address Democrat concerns and give auto manufacturers and AV developers greater freedom to deploy vehicles that lack controls like a steering wheel or pedals, which are currently required by federal law.

There was some level of public agreement between the traditional auto manufacturers and AAJ over the issue of accountability. But there is still a huge divide between organizations like the Consumer Technology Association and safety advocates and trial lawyers over the issue of forced arbitration.

Groups like the American Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers, want to ban forced arbitration in any autonomous vehicle bill.

Meanwhile, CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro submitted testimony that was clearly opposed to limiting the use of arbitration. The CTA argues that arbitration reduces the cost of litigation and provides more timely remedies.

People who were in the room told me they were surprised by how unwavering Shapiro’s comments were, and suggested that it wasn’t in step with how some auto manufacturers view the issue.

Following the hearing, the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committees circulated seven sections to industry groups covering issues such as crash-data sharing and cybersecurity, according to reporting by Bloomberg Government. There was one missing provision. Any guesses? Yup, the provision dealing with forced arbitration. That has caused some Democrats to abandon the bill.

There are two ways for this bill to survive in this congressional session — by unanimous consent, meaning everyone agrees to it, or by being attached to another bill. The first option is highly unlikely. And the second is just as slim, as there are limited opportunities in the Senate to attach self-driving legislation to another bill.

Adventures in ride hailing

Two items to mention that illustrate how the world of ride hailing continues to evolve.

First up is Uber. The company is piloting a new feature aimed at older adults that will let customers dial a 1-800 number and speak to an actual human being to hail a ride. The pilot is launching in Arizona, followed by other yet unnamed states. Sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it?

It’s not quite like calling a taxi dispatcher, though. You’ll still need a phone that can receive SMS or text messages to get information on the driver and their ETA.

Now let’s jump over to Nigeria where new regulations in the country’s commercial center of Lagos are creating some chaos.

Lagos has started to restrict where shared motorcycles, called okadas, can operate. That is affecting motorcycle-taxi businesses like ORide, Max .ng and Gokada.

In a statement via email, ORide’s senior director of Operations, Olalere Ridwan, said the rules entail “a ban on commercial motorcycles…in the city’s core commercial and residential areas, including Victoria Island and Lagos Island.”

The motorcycle taxi limitations have also thrown off Lagos’s disorderly transit grid — overloading other mobility modes (such as mini-buses) and forcing more people to pound pavement and red-dirt to get to work, according to reporter Jake Bright.

Google’s axe sparks a spin-off

Google bookbot-cartken

I wanted to highlight one of our ONMs, otherwise known as original news manufacturers. Ba dum bump.

Freelancer Mark Harris is back with a scoop on Google’s short-lived Bookbot program and how its death sparked a new and still-in-stealth startup called Cartken.

Bookbot was a robot created within Google’s Area 120 incubator for experimental products. The plan was to pilot an autonomous robot in Mountain View that would pick up library books from users and bring them back to the library. Apparently, it was well received. But it was killed off far before its nine-month pilot was slated to end. Bookbot’s demise followed Google’s decision to scale back efforts to compete with Amazon in shopping.

But Bookbot appears to be back, albeit in a slicker form and with a broader use case than a library book shuttle. Engineers working on Bookbot as well as a logistics expert who was once in charge of operations at Google Express left the company to form Cartken in fall 2019.

Check out Harris’ deep dive into Bookbot, Google’s shift away from shopping and Cartken.

TC Sessions: Mobility savings

You might have heard or read here in this newsletter that TC Sessions: Mobility is returning for a second year on May 14 in San Jose — a day-long event brimming with the best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.

Now here’s my discount deal for you. To get 10% off tickets, including early-bird, use code AUTO. The early-bird sale ends April 9. Early-bird tickets are available now for $250 — that’s $100 savings before prices go up. Students can book a ticket for just $50. Book your tickets today.

So far, we’ve announced:

  • Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber
  • Boris Sofman, who is leading Waymo’s autonomous trucking efforts
  • Nancy Sun, Ike Robotics chief engineer and co-founder
  • Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan
  • Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer
  • Olaf Sakkers, general partner at Maniv Mobility

Expect more announcements each week leading up to the May 14th event.

Augmented Reality From the Driver's Seat, and More Car News This Week

By Aarian Marshall
Plus: Retailers aim to improve delivery performance, and Airbus displays a model of a new blended-wing plane.

Tesla locks in stock surge with $2B offering at $767 per share

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla has priced its secondary common stock offering at $767, a 4.6% discount from Thursday’s share price close, according to a securities filing Friday.

Tesla said in the filing it will sell 2.65 million shares at that discounted price to raise more than $2 billion. Lead underwriters Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have the option to buy an additional 397,500 shares in the offering.

Tesla shares closed at $804 on Thursday. The share price opened lower Friday, jumped as high at $812.97 and has hovered around $802.

The automaker surprised Wall Street on Thursday when it announced plans to raise more than $2 billion through a common stock offering, despite signaling just two weeks ago that it would not seek to raise more cash.

CEO Elon Musk will purchase up to $10 million in shares in the offering, while Oracle co-founder and Tesla board member Larry Ellison will buy up to $1 million worth of Tesla shares, according to the securities filing.

Tesla said it will use the funds to strengthen its balance sheet and for general corporate purposes. In a separate filing Thursday that was posted prior to the stock offering notice, Tesla said capital expenditures could reach as high as $3.5 billion this year.

The stock offering conflicts with statements Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn made last month during Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call. An institutional investor asked that given the recent run in the share price, why not raise capital now and substantially accelerate the growth in production? At the time, Musk said the company was spending money sensibly and that there is no “artificial hold back on expenditures.”

At the time of Thursday’s announcement, Tesla shares had risen more than 35% since the January 29 earnings call, perhaps proving too tempting of an opportunity to ignore.

Innovaccer wants to be the service that unifies all healthcare data

By Jonathan Shieber

The holy grail for technology companies working in the healthcare industry is becoming the gateway for all healthcare data.

Big legacy providers like Epic and Cerner are trying to reach out to hospital networks to hoover up all of their data. Google is interested in it. Salesforce is interested in it. Everyone wants to be the resource that organizes and manages healthcare data for physicians and hospital providers — everyone including the San Francisco-based startup Innovaccer, which has raised $70 million in new financing to finance its mission.

The new investment from firms including Steadview Capital, Tiger Global, Dragoneer, Westbridge Capital, the Abu Dhabi investment firm Mubadala Capital, and Microsoft’s corporate investment arm, M12.

These are deep-pocketed investors for whom money is no object, but Innovaccer has shown a fair bit of traction among hospitals and health systems with its data analysis and management platform.

The company’s software pulls from datasets including those generated by Cerner and Epic’s healthcare records, as well as insurance companies and pharmacies to create a more holistic view of a patient, the company says.

Since its launch in 2014, Innovaccer has provided a single source or healthcare information for 3.8 million patients and saved healthcare systems more than $400 million, the company said.

“Healthcare still needs a lot of work to become patient-centered and connected by organizing information and making it more accessible. It is really important to make patient data seamlessly available to all providers along the patient’s care journey,” said Abhinav Shashank, the co-founder and chief executive at Innovaccer, in a statement. “We have been fortunate to work with transformational healthcare initiatives that our amazing customers are engaged in. The vision of helping healthcare work as one needs a connected and open technology framework. We are excited to be at the forefront of providing the tech platform for our customers to drive that change.”

Its technology relies on over 200 APIs to take data from health plans, primary care providers, pharmacies, labs and hospitals and serves that data to 25,000 care providers. The company hopes to take that number ot over 100 million healthcare records and 500,000 caregivers over the next several years.

It’s a lofty goal, but one that appeals to the Ravi Mehta, the founder of the $2.5 billion hedge fund Steadview Capital.

“By using their connected care framework coupled with their leading-edge data aggregation and analytics platform, they are unifying patient records and enabling care teams to coordinate patient care at a new level,” said Mehta. “We believe this will achieve greater efficiencies, enable better care and reduce overall healthcare spend in the years to come.” 

Maniv Mobility General Partner Olaf Sakkers is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

By Kirsten Korosec

In case you haven’t heard, TC Sessions: Mobility is back for second year. This one-day event, which will be held May 14 in San Jose, promises to feature some of best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.

Attendees of TC Sessions: Mobility can expect interviews with founders, investors and inventors, demos of the latest tech, breakout sessions, dozens of startup exhibits and opportunities to network and recruit.

We have announced several speakers for the event, including Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, Waymo’s  href="https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/08/tc-sessions-mobility-2020-boris-sofman-of-waymo-and-nancy-sun-of-ike/">Boris Sofman, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan and Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber.

And now we have another star to add to our TC Sessions: Mobility list. TechCrunch is excited to announce that Olaf Sakkers, general partner at Maniv Mobility will be joining us on stage this year. Sakkers is a founding partner at Maniv Mobility, a global fund investing in mobility.

Maniv started out with a focus on transportation and mobility-related startups in Israel, with a few in investments in the U.S. It expanded its mission to the global stage, a move buoyed by a $100 million fund that it closed last July with backing from 12 corporations, including the venture arms of Aptiv, BMW, Hyundai, Lear Corp., LG Electronics, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Shell and Valeo.

Maniv’s portfolio includes vehicle security company Owlcam, peer-to-peer car-sharing company Turo, teleoperations startup Phantom Auto, autonomous vehicle-focused chipmaker Hailo, shared electric moped company Revel, Spain-based car subscription startup Bipi and in-vehicle software management firm Aurora Labs.

Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.

And … $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.

If you’re an early-stage, mobility startup, make sure you grab an exhibitor package to get your startup in front of today’s leading mobility leaders. Packages come with 4 tickets each and are just $2000. Book yours here.

Tesla is going back to the markets to raise more than $2B through stock offering

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla said Thursday it plans to raise more than $2 billion through a common stock offering and will use the funds to strengthen its balance sheet and for general corporate purposes, despite signaling just two weeks ago that it would not seek to raise more cash.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk will purchase up to $10 million in shares in the offering, while Oracle co-founder and Tesla board member Larry Ellison will buy up to $1 million worth of Tesla shares, according to the securities filing.

The automaker has also granted underwriters a 30-day option to purchase up to $300 million of additional common stock. If underwriters exercise that option, Tesla could raise as much as $2.3 billion.

The stock offering conflicts with statements Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn made last month during Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call. An institutional investor asked that given the recent run in the share price, why not raise capital now and substantially accelerate the growth in production? At the time, Musk said the company was spending money sensibly and that there is no “artificial hold back on expenditures.”

“We’re spending money I think efficiently and we’re not artificially limiting our progress,” Musk said dueing the January 29 call. “And then despite all that we are still generating positive cash. So in light of that, it doesn’t make sense to raise money because we expect to generate cash despite this growth level.”

Kirkhorn added to Musk’s comments noting that the company had laid a good foundation and was not holding back on growth.

“We have two products, two vehicle products launching right now and that will consume much of the bandwidth of the company to stabilize those over the course of the year,” Kirkhorn said. “And then looking into next year, we have even more products launching, more factories. So we want to be smart about how we spend money and grow in a way that’s sustainable. So we don’t fall victim to the mistakes I think we made a year and a half or so ago.”

However, Tesla shares have risen more than 35% since the January 29 earnings call, perhaps proving too tempting of an opportunity to ignore.

This latest stock raise could prove critical to fund Tesla’s number of projects. A regulatory filing posted prior to the stock offering notice indicates Tesla’s capital expenditures could reach as high as $3.5 billion this year.

“Considering the expected pace of the manufacturing ramps for our products, construction and expansion of our factories, and pipeline of announced projects under development, and consistent with our current strategy of using partners to manufacture battery cells, as well as considering all other infrastructure growth, we currently expect our average annual capital expenditures in 2020 and the two succeeding fiscal years to be $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion,” Tesla said in its 10K filing, which was posted Thursday.

Karma Automotive to lay off 60 more workers at California headquarters

By Kirsten Korosec

Karma Automotive is laying off 60 workers at its Irvine, Calif., headquarters, just three months after cutting 200 workers, according to documents filed with the California Employment Development Department.

The Chinese-backed California-based startup filed the notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires employers to alert the state of mass layoffs. The WARN report was updated Wednesday. The Orange County Register was first to report the layoffs.

A Karma spokesperson confirmed the layoffs and said a majority would be at the headquarters, with a significantly smaller number being impacted at its Moreno Valley, Calif. assembly plant. Karma didn’t provide details on its total employee count, but did say “adjustments” will be made at its Irvine headquarters, Moreno Valley assembly plant and its Detroit Technical Center in Troy, Mich.

Here’s the complete statement from spokesman Dave Barthmuss.

As Karma evolves beyond its initial birth as car company and emerges as a technology-focused innovator, there is a continuous need to adjust the size and skillset of its workforce to fulfill the task at hand. The company has therefore determined it necessary to realign resources in some business functions so it can grow its capabilities beyond just creating and selling luxury electric vehicles.

As Karma builds partnerships with other OEMs and start-ups to speed product development, we must staff appropriately to fully leverage and realize the kinds of efficiencies partnerships and collaborations can provide. The result of that decision is some adjustments at Karma’s Global Headquarters in Irvine, Calif.; the Karma Innovation and Customization Center in Moreno Valley, Calif.; and our Detroit Technical Center in Troy, Mich. Although clearly regrettable for the individuals involved, this action is part of the natural trajectory of a start-up enterprise and underlines Karma’s commitment to remain lean, nimble and focused on building partnerships to encourage success in a changing and hugely competitive marketplace.

The company continues to actively recruit, with emphasis on technology innovation, in functions across the company as we focus on retail deliveries of our current products and developing new vehicle platforms, technologies and business partnerships.

The layoff notice comes just a month after several executive hires at the company, including a chief revenue officer, a new vice president of strategy and vehicle line engineering and a head of supply chain. Karma does have a handful of jobs posted on its website, including 11 positions at its Irvine headquarters and two spots at the Moreno Valley plant.

Karma Automotive launched out of the remnants of Fisker Automotive, the startup led by Henrik Fisker  that ended in bankruptcy in 2013. China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and Karma Automotive was born.

It hasn’t been the easiest of roads for the company. Karma’s first effort, known as the Revero, wasn’t received warmly. The Revero GT, which has been described as the first fully conceived product under the Karma name, followed with better reviews. The 2020 Revero GT is being delivered to retail customers, according to Karma.

Karma unveiled in November the Revero GTS and a new electric concept car called the SC2, just weeks after it laid off about 200 workers following a restructuring. Production of the GTS is slated for later this year.

The SC2 is a big part of Karma’s restructuring and plan to reinvent itself as a technology and design incubator that supplies other automakers. The company’s new business strategy is to open its engineering, design, customization and manufacturing resources to other companies. The GTS and SC2 were meant to show automakers what it is capable of.

With In-Car AR, Drivers Get a New View of the Road Ahead

By Alex Davies
Navigation screens with augmented reality are the latest in an arms race among upscale auto makers like Mercedes and Cadillac.

Activist gig workers seek to form nonprofit to support fellow workers

By Megan Rose Dickey

Vanessa Bain (pictured above), a well-known gig worker-activist, has teamed up with fellow gig worker-activist Sarah Clarke (pseudonym) to form the Gig Workers Collective. It’s early days for the organization, which is a pending 501(c)(3) organization, but its ambitions are big.

“We want to be the first responders that, whenever gig workers find out there is a pay cut or some type of issue, they’ll feel comfortable coming to us,” Clarke told TechCrunch.

The plan is to continue fighting for fair pay and better treatment for gig workers, whether they shop for Instacart, drive for Uber or Lyft, or deliver for Postmates and DoorDash. Through the organization, Clarke hopes to be able to help other gig workers effectively organize, file grievances and advocate for themselves.

“Vanessa and I have been organizing for four years,” Clarke said. “We’ve been doing it on the side while also maintaining working 40 hours a week gig jobs. If we focus solely on organizing, we can accomplish so much more.”

Over the years, Bain and Clarke have led a number of campaigns. More recently, they led a nationwide campaign that entailed six days of action in protest of Instacart. Last year, they also went on strike for 72 hours in demand of a better tip and fee structure.

Right now, the organization has a board of five gig workers and six workers who are contributing to the organization.

“Assuming we get funding, we can pay for everything they do,” Clarke said. “Right now, everything we pay for is out of pocket. With proper funding, we can pay workers who are working on the campaign.”

The next steps for the young organization are to try to get funding. However, Clarke said they will be selective about who they take funding from in order to ensure those funders don’t try to exert too much control.

She said, “the workers will always need to come first.”

Tangerine’s pretty self-care app combines habit and mood tracking

By Sarah Perez

Millennials’ interest in self-care has helped to fuel an entirely new market for mobile apps focused on health and wellness. Last year alone, the top 10 meditation apps pulled in $195 million — a 52% increase from 2018, for example. A newcomer to the self-care app market is Tangerine, an app that focuses on habit and mood tracking with the goal of offering users a way to better organize their routines and achieve personal goals.

According to Tangerine’s creator Pedro Marques, he and fellow co-founder Raphael Cruzeiro built the app in their free time over the past seven months or so.

“We realized that people, in general, tend to feel better and happier when they actually have a healthier, organized routine. So building an app that would combine habit and mood tracking seemed like something that could work out,” explains Marques, of how they got started. “At the end of the day, we not only want to help people be more productive, but also more conscious, grateful and reflective of their life.”

Mood tracking apps are already commonplace across today’s App Store, thanks to the self-care app boom. However, many apps focus mainly only on allowing users to record their moods, often with a simple emoji. The app would then derive certain insights from the user’s emotional state history over time. Tangerine, on the other hand, aims to better connect how someone’s daily routine impacts how they’ve been feeling.

Your goal may be to exercise more, eat healthier, or meditate daily, perhaps. Or you may want to learn something new — like a new language or how to code. Or perhaps your aim is to improve your relationships with family, friends and loved ones. But making a commitment to change your behavior or to fit new activities into your day’s routine can be difficult. While alerts and reminders can help you to remember you’re supposed to do a certain activity, they don’t help to motivate you to do so.

Tangerine aims to be the extra push of encouragement you need and gives you the ability to reflect on your day, which the team believes is in itself a powerful motivator. The end result is an app that combines habit tracking, journaling, and mood tracking to offer an improved set of insights over mood tracking alone.

For example, Tangerine may be able to tell you things like “When your days were awesome, you completed X habits per day on average.” You can also see your completion rate broken down over time, your current streak, longest streak, a mood graph, and more.

Soon, the app plans to add integration with the iOS Health app so you’ll be able to tie these insights with other health data — like your exercise schedule or sleep cycle. That way you’ll see if completing your habits helped you sleep better, or you had a better work week when you made time to exercise, among other things.

But what makes Tangerine stand out isn’t just its feature set alone. The app’s design is compelling, as well. It’s simple, but polished in a way that you don’t always see from a scrappy side project built by a team of two.

Tangerine launched in mid-January and under a month has seen around 15,000 downloads and 2,000 daily active users. The app is currently bootstrapped and monetizes through subscriptions for premium features ($4.99/mo or $29.99/year). Because the app is still new, most subscribers are still on free trials for now. Over time, Tangerine aims to expand the premium feature set to make subscription conversions more compelling.

The self-care app market today is led by meditation apps, like Calm and Headspace, but many other top apps also offer mood tracking, mindfulness, journaling, and other self-care activities. For example, the No. 10 most-downloaded self-care app of 2019, Sanity & Self, offers audio programs, reminders, and journaling, and No. 8 app Aura includes a mood tracker, life coaching service, and community features.

As the market continues to grow, there’s room for more variety than just apps focused on meditation alone.

Tangerine is available today for iOS, but an Android version is planned for later this year.

 

 

Students, score $50 tickets to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020

By Emma Comeau

Are you a student enthralled by robots and the AI that powers them? Do you live within striking distance of UC Berkeley? Ready to learn from the greatest minds and makers in the field? Then we want you at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 on March 3 at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.

We’re investing in the next generation of makers by making our day-long conference super-affordable. Buy your $50 student pass right here.

If you’re not familiar with our Robotics/AI session, listen up. It’s a full day of interviews, panel discussions, Q&As, workshops and demos. And it’s all dedicated to these two world-changing technologies. Last year, we hosted 1,500 attendees. We’re talking the industries’ top leaders, founders, investors, technologists, executives and engineering students.

As a student, you’ll rub elbows with the greats. You’ll have ample time to learn and network. Who knows? You might impress the pants off the right person and land an internship, a prime job — or find the co-founder of your dreams.

If networking feels like a chore, never fear. CrunchMatch, our free business matching platform, removes the pain and adds efficiency. Win-win!

You’ll hear from our great slate of speakers, including VCs Eric Migicovsky (Y Combinator), Kelly Chen (DCVC) and Dror Berman (Innovation Endeavors). You’ll also hear from plenty of founders, including experts focused on agricultural, construction and human assistive robotics. And that’s just for starters.

Here are a few more examples of presentations you’ll find in our program agenda:

  • Fostering the Next Generation of Robotics Startups: Robotics and AI are the future of many or most industries, but the barrier of entry is still difficult to surmount for many startups. Joshua Wilson (co-founder & CEO, Freedom Robotics) and Scott Phoenix (co-founder & CEO, Vicarious) will discuss the challenges of serving robotics startups and companies that require robotics labor, from bootstrapped startups to large-scale enterprises.
  • Live Demo from the Stanford Robotics Club: It just wouldn’t be a robotics conference without the opportunity to see robots in action. We’ve got you covered.
  • Pitch Night Pitch-off Finalists: Early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their wares.
  • Saving Humanity from AI: UC Berkeley’s Stuart Russell argues in his acclaimed new book, “Human Compatible,” that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.

TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 takes place on March 3. We’re making the event affordable for students, because there’s no future tech without them. Invest $50 in your tomorrow — buy your student ticket today, and join us in Berkeley!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

UK public sector failing to be open about its use of AI, review finds

By Natasha Lomas

A report into the use of artificial intelligence by the U.K.’s public sector has warned that the government is failing to be open about automated decision-making technologies which have the potential to significantly impact citizens’ lives.

Ministers have been especially bullish on injecting new technologies into the delivery of taxpayer-funded healthcare — with health minister Matt Hancock setting out a tech-fueled vision of “preventative, predictive and personalised care” in 2018, calling for a root and branch digital transformation of the National Health Service (NHS) to support piping patient data to a new generation of “healthtech” apps and services.

He has also personally championed a chatbot startup, Babylon Health, that’s using AI for healthcare triage — and which is now selling a service in to the NHS.

Policing is another area where AI is being accelerated into U.K. public service delivery, with a number of police forces trialing facial recognition technology — and London’s Met Police switching over to a live deployment of the AI technology just last month.

However the rush by cash-strapped public services to tap AI “efficiencies” risks glossing over a range of ethical concerns about the design and implementation of such automated systems, from fears about embedding bias and discrimination into service delivery and scaling harmful outcomes to questions of consent around access to the data sets being used to build AI models and human agency over automated outcomes, to name a few of the associated concerns — all of which require transparency into AIs if there’s to be accountability over automated outcomes.

The role of commercial companies in providing AI services to the public sector also raises additional ethical and legal questions.

Only last week, a court in the Netherlands highlighted the risks for governments of rushing to bake AI into legislation after it ruled an algorithmic risk-scoring system implemented by the Dutch government to assess the likelihood that social security claimants will commit benefits or tax fraud breached their human rights.

The court objected to a lack of transparency about how the system functions, as well as the associated lack of controlability — ordering an immediate halt to its use.

The U.K. parliamentary committee that reviews standards in public life has today sounded a similar warning — publishing a series of recommendations for public-sector use of AI and warning that the technology challenges three key principles of service delivery: openness, accountability and objectivity.

“Under the principle of openness, a current lack of information about government use of AI risks undermining transparency,” it writes in an executive summary.

“Under the principle of accountability, there are three risks: AI may obscure the chain of organisational accountability; undermine the attribution of responsibility for key decisions made by public officials; and inhibit public officials from providing meaningful explanations for decisions reached by AI. Under the principle of objectivity, the prevalence of data bias risks embedding and amplifying discrimination in everyday public sector practice.”

“This review found that the government is failing on openness,” it goes on, asserting that: “Public sector organisations are not sufficiently transparent about their use of AI and it is too difficult to find out where machine learning is currently being used in government.”

In 2018, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights raised concerns about the U.K.’s rush to apply digital technologies and data tools to socially re-engineer the delivery of public services at scale — warning then that the impact of a digital welfare state on vulnerable people would be “immense,” and calling for stronger laws and enforcement of a rights-based legal framework to ensure the use of technologies like AI for public service provision does not end up harming people.

Per the committee’s assessment, it is “too early to judge if public sector bodies are successfully upholding accountability.”

Parliamentarians also suggest that “fears over ‘black box’ AI… may be overstated” — and rather dub “explainable AI” a “realistic goal for the public sector.”

On objectivity, they write that data bias is “an issue of serious concern, and further work is needed on measuring and mitigating the impact of bias.”

The use of AI in the U.K. public sector remains limited at this stage, according to the committee’s review, with healthcare and policing currently having the most developed AI programmes — where the tech is being used to identify eye disease and predict reoffending rates, for example.

“Most examples the Committee saw of AI in the public sector were still under development or at a proof-of-concept stage,” the committee writes, further noting that the Judiciary, the Department for Transport and the Home Office are “examining how AI can increase efficiency in service delivery.”

It also heard evidence that local government is working on incorporating AI systems in areas such as education, welfare and social care — noting the example of Hampshire County Council trialing the use of Amazon Echo smart speakers in the homes of adults receiving social care as a tool to bridge the gap between visits from professional carers, and points to a Guardian article which reported that one-third of U.K. councils use algorithmic systems to make welfare decisions.

But the committee suggests there are still “significant” obstacles to what they describe as “widespread and successful” adoption of AI systems by the U.K. public sector.

“Public policy experts frequently told this review that access to the right quantity of clean, good-quality data is limited, and that trial systems are not yet ready to be put into operation,” it writes. “It is our impression that many public bodies are still focusing on early-stage digitalisation of services, rather than more ambitious AI projects.”

The report also suggests that the lack of a clear standards framework means many organisations may not feel confident in deploying AI yet.

“While standards and regulation are often seen as barriers to innovation, the Committee believes that implementing clear ethical standards around AI may accelerate rather than delay adoption, by building trust in new technologies among public officials and service users,” it suggests.

Among 15 recommendations set out in the report is a call for a clear legal basis to be articulated for the use of AI by the public sector. “All public sector organisations should publish a statement on how their use of AI complies with relevant laws and regulations before they are deployed in public service delivery,” the committee writes.

Another recommendation is for clarity over which ethical principles and guidance applies to public sector use of AI — with the committee noting there are three sets of principles that could apply to the public sector, which is generating confusion.

“The public needs to understand the high level ethical principles that govern the use of AI in the public sector. The government should identify, endorse and promote these principles and outline the purpose, scope of application and respective standing of each of the three sets currently in use,” it recommends.

It also wants the Equality and Human Rights Commission to develop guidance on data bias and anti-discrimination to ensure public sector bodies’ use of AI complies with the U.K. Equality Act 2010.

The committee is not recommending a new regulator should be created to oversee AI — but does call on existing oversight bodies to act swiftly to keep up with the pace of change being driven by automation.

It also advocates for a regulatory assurance body to identify gaps in the regulatory landscape and provide advice to individual regulators and government on the issues associated with AI — supporting the government’s intention for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), which was announced in 2017, to perform this role. (A recent report by the CDEI recommended tighter controls on how platform giants can use ad targeting and content personalisation.)

Another recommendation is around procurement, with the committee urging the government to use its purchasing power to set requirements that “ensure that private companies developing AI solutions for the public sector appropriately address public standards.”

“This should be achieved by ensuring provisions for ethical standards are considered early in the procurement process and explicitly written into tenders and contractual arrangements,” it suggests.

Responding to the report in a statement, shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah MP accused the government of “driving blind, with no control over who is in the AI driving seat.”

“This serious report sadly confirms what we know to be the case — that the Conservative Government is failing on openness and transparency when it comes to the use of AI in the public sector,” she said. “The Government is driving blind, with no control over who is in the AI driving seat. The Government urgently needs to get a grip before the potential for unintended consequences gets out of control.

“Last year, I argued in parliament that Government should not accept further AI algorithms in decision making processes without introducing further regulation. I will continue to push the Government to go further in sharing information on how AI is currently being used at all level of Government. As this report shows, there is an urgent need for practical guidance and enforceable regulation that works. It’s time for action.”

UK’s Tiney raises $6.5M to source, train and connect childminders to improve early years care

By Ingrid Lunden

A shortage of good teachers and carers is an acute problem in the world of education. Getting smart people into the profession is hard when the pay is not great and the stresses coming from above and below are very real and very persistent.

And it turns out that challenge is compounded in the early years, before children even enter school: the pay for nursery teachers and childminders (individuals who take charge usually of up to six children depending on age, who apply for and get licenses from the educational authority to operating childminder schemes in the country) is even less than that for K-12 teachers, a fact not helped by the lack of a cohesive institutional system to bring in and bring up talent in an area that has a wide array of permutations (nursery, nanny, family, etc.).

Now, a startup out of London is announcing some funding to tackle that very large early years challenge with a two-sided marketplace of sorts. Tiney, which sources people interested in being childminders, trains them to run childcare services out of their homes and then helps childcare-seeking parents discover them, all while running the admin underpinning that ecosystem, has raised £5 million ($6.5 million) to scale its idea in earnest.

The funding is being led by Index Ventures with LocalGlobe (founded by former Index partners Saul and Robin Klein) and JamJar Investments (the investment firm linked to the founders of Innocent Drinks) also participating. Hannah Seal, a principal from Index Ventures, is joining the board with this round.

The startup is the brainchild of Brett Wigdortz, a London-based, American-bred ex-McKinsey consultant who has already started and grown two celebrated non-profit organisations to tackle teacher shortage problems in K-12 public education.

In the UK, he started Teach First, which recruits recent university grads take jobs as teachers in state schools — with a particular focus on disadvantaged school catchments — as their first foray into the job market. (It is now the single biggest employer out of Oxford and Cambridge.) Buoyed by that growth, he then took the idea international with Teach for All, co-founded with Wendy Kopp, who had built a similar teachers corps in the U.S. called Teach For America.

As with Teach for All, Wigdortz, who is the CEO, has a co-founder for his latest effort: Edd Read (CTO), who previously had been a founder of Graze, the healthy snack company that sold to Unilever last year, is Tiney’s other founder, which makes JamJar’s investment an interesting one. Healthy-but-fun foods are essentially focused on products to improve the well-being of families and kids. In a sense, so is Tiney.

The problem as Wigdortz sees it is one of quality and quantity.

On the quality side, there has been, relatively speaking, more focus on children once they enter school — a focus he himself cultivated with his previous organisations — with a lot of neglect of the years preceding that time. But when you look closer, you can chart a good part of children’s outcomes starting before they ever entered school. One part of the problem is that early-years care is not often thought of as early-years education, and in keeping with that, the people providing that care are often thought of as babysitters rather than educators, with little in the way of providing ongoing training and support for best practices around fun activities that help with child development.

“The big gap was that kids weren’t getting good preschool educations,” he said in an interview. “We were finding that a lot of kids in year one [kindergarten age in the US] weren’t verbal and just weren’t ready for school. In some cases, parents are working all the time or really struggling.” And on the part of the providers, “they weren’t treated as professionals,” he continued. “They just didn’t get good professional development or support. Realising how broken it was is what got me interested in the sector.”

On the quantity side, the numbers speak for themselves. In 2000, there were 100,000 registered childminders in the UK. Today there are only 40,000.

What caused that massive drop? Apart from having less interest in a field that isn’t respected much and has a lot of stress associated with it, there is the problem of simply proactively recruiting people and making childminders easy to find.

While each local authority (how a lot of social services are administered in the UK) provides directories to parents of childminders in a given region, the system is not ideal for sourcing much information beyond names, contact details and addresses — making it a daunting task to find someone to entrust with your child.

On the part of the childminders themselves, a process does exist today that sits within the public system. You get a paediatric first aid certificate; you complete a short training course approved by your local authority; you join the Ofsted Early Years Register and get a criminal record check for anyone over 16 living with you; you get a home inspection and you get insurance. Childminders subsequently keep journals on each child to communicate progress on early-years targets both to parents and the authorities.

But Wigdortz notes that while that looks like a simple enough list, it’s actually a long and bureaucratic process and any recruitment of new people is virtually nonexistent because of all the cutbacks local authorities have faced.

Going the usual route is also not ideal in terms of providing any kind of continuous training or monitoring of the childminders once they have completed the final step. Tiney is taking a tech approach to solving what is essentially an analogue challenge.

It is trying to “streamline the process,” in his words, while at the same time create a platform for more enriched training — which involves both in-person and online coursework — before people get started as childminders. And subsequent to that, it provides more continuous development, and a way of tracking progress online that is easily monitored by the parent compared to a hand-written journal.

When childminders are ready to work, they get listed on Tiney’s site, are booked through there, and Tiney handles all of the messaging and invoicing between childminders and parents after. While all of the training, onboarding, development and ongoing support are free, Tiney makes a 10 percent commission on every job and contract booked through its platform. It’s a formula that is currently attracting more people than it has room to handle: only about 20 percent of applicants to Tiney’s program get accepted to complete the training, Wigdortz said.

The system is not just about bringing in more people into the childminding profession, but about making the whole concept and opportunity more open to more people. The average age today of a Tiney minder is early thirties, with about half of the population classified as “BAME” with a good dose of immigrants, but also white professionals, he said. “We have bankers who are taking career breaks when they have kids, and some have worked in nurseries before and now want to do something more independent,” he said.

Wigdortz came at this problem from the perspective of being able to source more talent and get it into the early-years caregiving and education pipeline. But the reason why it, and other programs like it — which include the likes of nanny service Koru Kids (also coincidentally started by a McKinsey alum) and Wonderschool in the U.S. Like Tiney also focuses on the ‘home-based childminder’ running small ad hoc nurseries format — are needed and will hopefully succeed is because they are filling a critical gap with parents and guardians.

On that side, three of the issues that Tiney is helping to address are discovery, trust and affordability.

When you are a working parent, securing good childcare can be one of the more stressful aspects of raising your kids when they are young. Choosing from many options (nursery? nanny? au pair? family? quit job and hang with kid yourself because the options are too expensive or scary?), and then finding people who you trust will understand and nurture your kids, is not easy. And throwing money at the challenge doesn’t necessarily help, and if money is an issue, that comes with its own set of problems.

In the UK, the childminder option is one that cuts across those famous British class lines, I’ve found. Those with financial means might opt for it to give their kids a more social experience than a one-per-family nanny or au pair but without the more institutional feeling and class numbers of a full-on nursery. Those with less means will consider childminders because they might be on par with the price of a nursery (and will be coverable by the same vouchers they might use if they’re on income support) but, again, provide more of a home-based environment that will feel more comfortable to a child under the age of 5, or for pre-secondary school aged kids in the after-school hours.

Tiney is currently adding around 25 new childminders per month, Wigdortz said, which is small but growing. The idea is that with this funding, it will be able to onboard more and grow faster.

“After improving primary and secondary education for millions of children through Teach First, Brett is now tackling some of the biggest challenges parents, children and the society face in the very early years,” said Seal at Index Ventures. “For parents of young children, sorting out childcare is often a struggle with limited often-costly and inadequate options. For educators, there is not always an easy path to a career in early years education, which has led to rapidly declining numbers of childminders across the UK. We’re excited to partner with Brett to address this growing crisis and create a system that puts more focus on children during the most critical years of development.”

Samsung teases videocalling on its next foldable during the Oscars

By Natasha Lomas

It was South Korea’s — rather than Netflix’s — night at the Oscars, thanks to Bong Joon-ho’s biting class satire Parasite, which won best picture (among other well-deserved gongs)

But tech giant Samsung appears to have been hoping to steal a little of the national limelight: The Korean phone maker chose a prime Oscars ad slot to show off a 360-degree view of its next foldable, running it as a teaser for its Unpacked 2020 unboxing event — which takes place in San Francisco tomorrow.

#Samsung showing off the new foldable during the #Oscars ahead of #unpacked2020 pic.twitter.com/PD9KdZKjmB

— Carolina Milanesi (@caro_milanesi) February 10, 2020

The ad shows the flip phones from all angles, opening and closing while the Comic Strip sounds of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot pop and crackle in the background.

Notably we see the foldable propping itself up, with the screen half or three-quarters open, for a hands-free face-time style chat. (In case you were wondering what the point of a flip phone might be in 2020.)

There’s also an eye-popping iridescent purple colorway on show that seems intended to make the most of the screen-concealing clamshell design. A black version does a much better job of blending into the background.

And if you’re wondering how you’ll screen incoming calls when the clam is closed the ad shows a micro display that tells you the name of the person calling. tl;dr you can still ghost your frenemies while packing a flip.

We’ve seen renders of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip leak online before but this is an official full view of the foldable Samsung hopes will spark a retro fashion craze for clamshell flip phones. (See also the rebooted Motorola Razr.)

Samsung will also of course be hoping this foldable can bend without immediately breaking

Stay tuned for all the details from Samsung Unpacked 2020 as we get them (we’re most keen to find out the price-tag for this foldable) — including our first look at the next flagship Galaxy S device. TechCrunch’s intrepid hardware editor, Brian Heater, will be on the ground in San Francisco tomorrow to get hands on with all the new kit so you don’t have to.

Los Angeles-based SureSale is developing an independent certification service for used cars

By Jonathan Shieber

Donny Hall, the chief executive and co-founder of the used car certification service, SureSale, knows used cars. The serial entrepreneur built and sold a previous business, CarSure, which was an insurance plan for vehicle repairs.

After selling that business in 2017 to Innovative Aftermarket Systems, Hall decided that his next venture would be to take on the used car industry’s dominant source for historical information about a vehicle — Carfax .

His Santa Monica, Calif.-based SureSale has raised $7 million in financing from the LA-based investment firm Upfront Ventures to create a national used car certification service that dealers and car shoppers around the country can turn to for an unbiased assessment of a vehicle and its problems, according to Hall.

“66 percent of consumer want to buy cars that are certified and only 7 percent do,” says Hall. “Independents don’t have any national [certification] program and dealers don’t have national programs.”

The company integrates background checks, insurance, and provides a limited warranty and five-day exchange options for vehicles assessed through its program.

To launch the business, Hall partnered with Jeffrey Schwartz, the co-founder of the used car marketplace and review platform, Autobytel.

Used car dealerships are hurting in the ecommerce age just like other traditional retailers. SureSale is betting that its value-added services and better reporting standards can give dealers a competitive advantages versus online services like Carmax.

Dealerships pay for the service, but in return their customers get a full inspection, a title and a background check alongside the five month warranty.

“Even though there have been a number of recent startups that have seen massive exits in this category like Carvana ($13BN market cap) and Carmax ($16BN market cap), given that each company has less than 2% market share, any market this large is always ripe for continued efficiency gains,” wrote UpFront Ventures partner and SureSale director, Kobie Fuller, in a blog post.

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