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Cruise doubles down on hardware

By Kirsten Korosec

Ten months ago, Cruise declared it would hire at least 1,000 engineers by the end of the year, an aggressive target — even for a company with a $7.25 billion war chest — in the cutthroat autonomous vehicle industry, where startups, automakers and tech giants are battling over talent.

What Cruise didn’t talk about then — or since — was who it planned to hire. The assumption was that Cruise was aiming for software engineers, the perception, planning and controls, simulation and mapping experts who would help build the “brain” of its self-driving cars. And that has certainly been one objective.

Cruise, a subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, automaker Honda and T. Rowe Price & Associates, now employs more than 1,700 people, a considerable chunk of whom are software engineers.

Cruise has embarked on another initiative over the past 18 months that isn’t as well known. The company is building out a team of hardware engineers so large that, if successful, it will get its own building. Today, the first fruits of that mission are toiling away in an ever-expanding lab located in the basement of Cruise’s Bryant Street building in San Francisco. 

The basement won’t hold them for long — if Cruise gets its way. The company plans to dedicate the Bryant Street location, a 140,000-square-foot building that once served as its headquarters, to the hardware team, according to sources familiar with Cruise’s plans.

Some software engineers will remain at Bryant Street. But the bulk of Cruise’s software team and other employees will move to 333 Brannan Street, the former Dropbox headquarters that the company took over in 2019.

Cruise wouldn’t provide specific employment numbers for its hardware or software teams. A glimpse at its current job openings, as well as other resources such as LinkedIn, suggests that it has amassed more than 300 employees dedicated to hardware. At least 10% of those people were hired in the past 90 days, according to a review of LinkedIn’s database. 

And it’s not done hiring. There are more than 160 open positions posted on Cruise’s website. About 106 are for software-related jobs and 35 are for hardware engineers. The remaining 24 positions are for other departments, including government, communications, office and security.

Hardware HQ

Below the airy, sunlit dining hall and the garage that houses Cruise’s self-driving test vehicles, hundreds of hardware engineers are developing everything from sensors and network systems to the compute and infotainment system for its present and future vehicles.

The upshot: Cruise is developing hardware as aggressively as its software with an eye toward future vehicles. The world will likely get the first glimpse of that future-looking hardware handiwork at Cruise’s “Beyond the Car” event that will be held late Tuesday in San Francisco. 

Cruise’s value has largely been wrapped up in its software. Even six years ago, when the company was founded with a plan to develop an aftermarket kit that could be retrofitted to existing cars to give them automated highway driving capabilities, Cruise was a software company.

GM’s venture team had been tracking Cruise since early 2014, according to sources familiar with the company’s early history. But it wouldn’t be until Cruise abandoned its aftermarket kit to focus on developing an autonomous vehicle capable of city driving that the relationship would bloom.

It was then that Cruise realized it needed deeper expertise in integrating hardware and software. By late 2015, talks with GM had progressed beyond fact-finding. GM announced it acquired Cruise in March 2016.

With GM as its parent, Cruise suddenly had access to a manufacturing giant. GM’s Chevrolet Bolt EV would become the platform Cruise would use for its self-driving test vehicles. Today, Cruise has about 180 test vehicles, most of which can be seen on public roads in San Francisco.

Cruise has always employed hardware engineers. But a more focused effort on hardware development and systems integration began in early 2018 after Cruise hired Carl Jenkins as vice president of hardware and Brendan Hermalyn as director of autonomous hardware systems.

Around the same time, GM announced it would build production versions of the Cruise AV — a vehicle that would be built from the ground up to operate on its own with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or manual controls — at its Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan. Roof modules for the self-driving vehicles would be assembled at its Brownstown plant. The automaker said it would invest $100 million in the two Michigan plants to prepare for production. GM’s Orion factory already produces the Chevy Bolt EV and the third-generation test versions of Cruise’s autonomous vehicle.

Six months later, the companies announced that Honda would commit $2.75 billion as part of an exclusive agreement with GM and Cruise to develop and produce a new kind of autonomous vehicle.

Systems approach

Systems integration would become more important than ever. Hermalyn, who previously worked as the camera lead at Waymo, is one of the primary drivers of this pursuit.

To say Hermalyn is passionate about systems integration might be an understatement. In an hour-long interview last year, he frequently leaned on the term, exclaiming at one point, while standing amongst a row of test vehicles, that the “most exciting thing is the integration.” He has also published a blog post that describes Cruise’s philosophy and approach to building a system that can conduct real-time, safety-critical sensing and perception tasks at scale. 

The ability to integrate hardware and software is critical for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles, and it is a common pursuit among AV developers. But the scale of Cruise’s effort, along with the fact that the team is developing much of these hardware components in house, illustrates how important this area has become for the company.

Cruise hardware development is focused on the entire AV topology, which includes the sensors, compute, network systems, connectivity, infotainment and UX.

A Cruise autonomous vehicle Saturday, January 12, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear for Cruise)

While Cruise does some early-stage manufacturing in house, Hermalyn stressed that Cruise isn’t trying to go it alone.

“We’re lucky to have General Motors and Honda as partners,” he said during TechCrunch’s interview with him in October. “We’re able to leverage their expertise in vehicle engineering, and collaborate with them throughout the development process to seamlessly integrate that AV topology into the completed vehicles assembled on the factory production line.”

The baffle on the camera system on Cruise’s vehicle is just one tiny example of this partnership developed with GM. It’s here that a self-cleaning system has been developed and installed. Other hardware development included a bumper that better integrates sensors, mounts and lidar. Cruise acquired lidar startup Strobe in 2017.

“Our goal is to make it the fastest, not to make everything,” Hermalyn later added. “We obviously use a supplier to manufacture them, we don’t want to have the Geppetto problem where we’re stuck making one by one.”

Back in October when TechCrunch visited Cruise’s office, the basement lab was in flux. Certain areas were jammed and preparations to expand had clearly begun.

That lab build-out has continued. The hardware team is particularly focused on sensor development and is conducting some “low volume manufacturing capabilities for rapid maturation of hardware,” he said in a followup email.

“It’s not that different from what the aerospace industry has done,” Hermalyn said of the systems approach. But how you solve that I think is the unique part. With our partners, we’re able to go after these systems problems and be able to address that in the marketplace.”

Tesla calls claims of unintended acceleration in NHTSA petition ‘completely false’

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla pushed back Monday against claims that its electric vehicles may suddenly accelerate on their own, calling a petition filed with federal safety regulators “completely false.”

Tesla also questions the validity of the petition, noting that it was submitted by a Tesla short-seller.

Last week, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration said it would review a defect petition that cited 127 consumer complaints of alleged unintended acceleration of Tesla electric vehicles that may have contributed to or caused 110 crashes and 52 injuries.

The petition, which was first reported by CNBC, was filed by Brian Sparks, an independent investor who is currently shorting Tesla’s stock. Sparks has hedged his bets and has been long Tesla in the past, according to the CNBC report.

At the time, Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment. Now, in a blog post, the company said that it routinely reviews customer complaints of unintended acceleration with NHTSA.

“In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly,” Tesla wrote in a blog post on its website.

The automaker argued that its vehicles are designed to avoid unintended acceleration, noting that its system will default to cutting off motor torque if the two independent position sensors on its accelerator pedals register any error.

“We also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional,” the company wrote.

Here is the complete response from Tesla:

This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed. In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.

While accidents caused by a mistaken press of the accelerator pedal have been alleged for nearly every make/model of vehicle on the road, the accelerator pedals in Model S, X and 3 vehicles have two independent position sensors, and if there is any error, the system defaults to cut off motor torque. Likewise, applying the brake pedal simultaneously with the accelerator pedal will override the accelerator pedal input and cut off motor torque, and regardless of the torque, sustained braking will stop the car. Unique to Tesla, we also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional. Each system is independent and records data, so we can examine exactly what happened.

We are transparent with NHTSA, and routinely review customer complaints of unintended acceleration with them. Over the past several years, we discussed with NHTSA the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition. In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly.

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A $100 Million Investment Pulls an EV Startup Out of Stealth Mode

By Alex Davies
Hyundai and Kia are backing Arrival, a startup British maker of electric delivery vans, a good use case for EVs.

Baraja’s unique and ingenious take on lidar shines in a crowded industry

By Devin Coldewey

It seems like every company making lidar has a new and clever approach, but Baraja takes the cake. Its method is not only elegant and powerful, but fundamentally avoids many issues that nag other lidar technologies. But it’ll need more than smart tech to make headway in this complex and evolving industry.

To understand how lidar works in general, consult my handy introduction to the topic. Essentially a laser emitted by a device skims across or otherwise very quickly illuminates the scene, and the time it takes for that laser’s photons to return allows it to quite precisely determine the distance of every spot it points at.

But to picture how Baraja’s lidar works, you need to picture the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

GIFs kind of choke on rainbows, but you get the idea.

Imagine a flashlight shooting through a prism like that, illuminating the scene in front of it — now imagine you could focus that flashlight by selecting which color came out of the prism, sending more light to the top part of the scene (red and orange) or middle (yellow and green). That’s what Baraja’s lidar does, except naturally it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The company has been developing its tech for years with the backing of Sequoia and Australian VC outfit Blackbird, which led a $32 million round late in 2018 — Baraja only revealed its tech the next year and was exhibiting it at CES, where I met with co-founder and CEO Federico Collarte.

“We’ve stayed in stealth for a long, long time,” he told me. “The people who needed to know already knew about us.”

The idea for the tech came out of the telecommunications industry, where Collarte and co-founder Cibby Pulikkaseril thought of a novel use for a fiber optic laser that could reconfigure itself extremely quickly.

We thought if we could set the light free, send it through prism-like optics, then we could steer a laser beam without moving parts. The idea seemed too simple — we thought, ‘if it worked, then everybody would be doing it this way,’ ” he told me, but they quit their jobs and worked on it for a few months with a friends and family round, anyway. “It turns out it does work, and the invention is very novel and hence we’ve been successful in patenting it.”

Rather than send a coherent laser at a single wavelength (1550 nanometers, well into the infrared, is the lidar standard), Baraja uses a set of fixed lenses to refract that beam into a spectrum spread vertically over its field of view. Yet it isn’t one single beam being split but a series of coded pulses, each at a slightly different wavelength that travels ever so slightly differently through the lenses. It returns the same way, the lenses bending it the opposite direction to return to its origin for detection.

It’s a bit difficult to grasp this concept, but once one does it’s hard to see it as anything but astonishingly clever. Not just because of the fascinating optics (something I’m partial to, if it isn’t obvious), but because it obviates a number of serious problems other lidars are facing or about to face.

First, there are next to no moving parts whatsoever in the entire Baraja system. Spinning lidars like the popular early devices from Velodyne are being replaced at large by ones using metamaterials, MEMS, and other methods that don’t have bearings or hinges that can wear out.

Baraja’s “head” unit, connected by fiber optic to the brain.

In Baraja’s system, there are two units, a “dumb” head and an “engine.” The head has no moving parts and no electronics; it’s all glass, just a set of lenses. The engine, which can be located nearby or a foot or two away, produces the laser and sends it to the head via a fiber-optic cable (and some kind of proprietary mechanism that rotates slowly enough that it could theoretically work for years continuously). This means it’s not only very robust physically, but its volume can be spread out wherever is convenient in the car’s body. The head itself also can be resized more or less arbitrarily without significantly altering the optical design, Collarte said.

Second, the method of diffracting the beam gives the system considerable leeway in how it covers the scene. Different wavelengths are sent out at different vertical angles; a shorter wavelength goes out toward the top of the scene and a slightly longer one goes a little lower. But the band of 1550 +/- 20 nanometers allows for millions of fractional wavelengths that the system can choose between, giving it the ability to set its own vertical resolution.

It could for instance (these numbers are imaginary) send out a beam every quarter of a nanometer in wavelength, corresponding to a beam going out every quarter of a degree vertically, and by going from the bottom to the top of its frequency range cover the top to the bottom of the scene with equally spaced beams at reasonable intervals.

But why waste a bunch of beams on the sky, say, when you know most of the action is taking place in the middle part of the scene, where the street and roads are? In that case you can send out a few high frequency beams to check up there, then skip down to the middle frequencies, where you can then send out beams with intervals of a thousandth of a nanometer, emerging correspondingly close together to create a denser picture of that central region.

If this is making your brain hurt a little, don’t worry. Just think of Dark Side of the Moon and imagine if you could skip red, orange and purple, and send out more beams in green and blue — and because you’re only using those colors, you can send out more shades of green-blue and deep blue than before.

Third, the method of creating the spectrum beam provides against interference from other lidar systems. It is an emerging concern that lidar systems of a type could inadvertently send or reflect beams into one another, producing noise and hindering normal operation. Most companies are attempting to mitigate this by some means or another, but Baraja’s method avoids the possibility altogether.

“The interference problem — they’re living with it. We solved it,” said Collarte.

The spectrum system means that for a beam to interfere with the sensor it would have to be both a perfect frequency match and come in at the precise angle at which that frequency emerges from and returns to the lens. That’s already vanishingly unlikely, but to make it astronomically so, each beam from the Baraja device is not a single pulse but a coded set of pulses that can be individually identified. The company’s core technology and secret sauce is the ability to modulate and pulse the laser millions of times per second, and it puts this to good use here.

Collarte acknowledged that competition is fierce in the lidar space, but not necessarily competition for customers. “They have not solved the autonomy problem,” he points out, “so the volumes are too small. Many are running out of money. So if you don’t differentiate, you die.” And some have.

Instead companies are competing for partners and investors, and must show that their solution is not merely a good idea technically, but that it is a sound investment and reasonable to deploy at volume. Collarte praised his investors, Sequoia and Blackbird, but also said that the company will be announcing significant partnerships soon, both in automotive and beyond.

Discount student tickets available for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

By Emma Comeau

“Revolutionary” may be an over-used adjective, but how else to describe the rapid evolution in mobility technology? Join us in San Jose, Calif., on May 14 for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020. Our second annual day-long conference cuts through the hype and explores the current and future state of the technology and its social, regulatory and economic impact.

If you’re a student with a passion for mobility and transportation tech then listen up. We can’t talk about the future if we’re not willing to invest in the next generation of mobility visionaries. That’s why we offer student tickets at a deep discount — $50 each. Invest in your future, save $200 and spend the day with more than 1,000 of mobility tech’s brightest minds, movers and makers.

As always, you can count on a program packed with top-notch speakers, panel discussions, fireside chats and workshops. We’re in the process of building our agenda, but we’re ready to share our first two guests with you: Boris Sofman and Nancy Sun.

Sofman is the engineering director at Waymo and former co-founder and CEO of Anki. Sun is the co-founder and chief engineer of Ike Robotics. You can read more about Sofman and Sun’s accomplishments. We can’t wait to hear what they have to say about automation and robotics.

Keep checking back, because we’ll announce more exciting speakers in the coming weeks.

You’ll also have plenty of time for world-class networking. What better place for a student to impress — and possibly score a great internship or job? You might even meet a future co-founder or an investor. That knocking sound you hear is opportunity. Open the door.

Hold up…you’re not a student but still love a bargain? We’ve got you covered, too. You can save $100 if you purchase an early-bird ticket before April 9.

Be part of the revolution. Join the mobility and transportation tech community — the top technologists, investors researchers and visionaries — on May 14 at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 in San Jose. Get your student ticket today.

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

Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

By Kirsten Korosec

The future of transportation industry is bursting at the seams with startups aiming to bring everything from flying cars and autonomous vehicles to delivery bots and even more efficient freight to roads.

One investor who is right at the center of this is Reilly Brennan, founding general partner of Trucks VC, a seed-stage venture capital fund for entrepreneurs changing the future of transportation.

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Brennan will join us on stage for TC Sessions: Mobility.

In case you missed last year’s event, TC Sessions: Mobility is a one-day conference that brings together the best and brightest engineers, investors, founders and technologists to talk about transportation and what is coming on the horizon. The event will be held May 14, 2020 in the California Theater in San Jose, Calif.

Brennan is known as much for his popular FoT newsletter as his investments, which include May Mobility, Nauto, nuTonomy, Joby Aviation, Skip and Roadster.

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.

Mobileye takes aim at Waymo

By Kirsten Korosec

Mobileye has built a multi-billion-dollar business supplying automakers with computer vision technology that powers advanced driver assistance systems. It’s a business that last year generated nearly $1 billion in sales for the company. Today, 54 million vehicles on the road are using Mobileye’s computer vision technology.

In 2018, the company made what many considered a bold and risky move when it expanded its focus beyond being a mere supplier to becoming a robotaxi operator. The upshot: Mobileye wants to compete directly with the likes of Waymo and other big players aiming to deploy commercial robotaxi services.

TechCrunch sat down with Amnon Shashua, Mobileye’s president and CEO and Intel senior vice president, to find out why and how — yep, acquisitions are in the future — the company will hit its mark.

All the high-tech, powerful vehicles TechCrunch reviewed in 2019

By Matt Burns

TechCrunch occasionally reviews cars. Why? Vehicles are some of the most complex, technical consumer electronics available. It’s always been that way. Vehicles, especially those available for the consumer, are the culmination of bleeding-edge advancements in computing, manufacturing, and material sciences. And some can go fast — zoom zoom.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve looked at a handful of vehicles from ultra-luxury to the revival of classic muscle cars. It’s been a fun year full of road trips and burnouts.


In the last weeks of 2018, we drove Audi’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. The familiar e-tron SUV.

I spent a day in an Audi e-tron and drove it hundreds of miles over Abu Dhabi’s perfect tarmac, around winding mountain roads and through sand-covered desert passes. The e-tron performs precisely how a buyer expects a mid-size Audi SUV to perform. On the road, the e-tron is eager and quiet, while off the road, over rocks, and through deep sand, it’s sturdy and surefooted.

Read the review here.

A few months later, we got an Audi RS 5 Sportback for a week. It was returned with significantly thinner tires.

This five-door sedan is raw and unhinged, and there’s an unnatural brutality under the numerous electronic systems. Its twin-turbo 2.9L power plant roars while the Audi all-wheel drive system keeps the rubber on the tarmac. It’s insane, and like most vacations, it’s lovely to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live with the RS 5.

Read the review here.

At the end of Spring, a 2019 Bentley Continental GT blew us away.

The machine glides over the road, powered by a mechanical symphony performing under the hood. The W12 engine is a dying breed, and it’s a shame. It’s stunning in its performance. This is a 200 mph vehicle, but I didn’t hit those speeds. What surprised me the most is that I didn’t need to go fast. The new Continental GT is thrilling in a way that doesn’t require speed. It’s like a great set of speakers or exclusive liquor. Quality over quantity, and in this mechanical form, the quality is stunning.

Read the review here.

In late May, we drove Audi’s 2019 Q8 from Michigan to New York City and back. To the passengers, it was comfortable. For the driver (me), it wasn’t very pleasant.

Yet after spending a lot of time in the Q8, I found it backwards. Most crossovers provide the comfort of a sedan with the utility of an SUV. This one has the rough comfort of an SUV with the limited utility of a sedan. Worse yet, driving the Q8 around town can be a frustrating experience.

Read the review here.

2019 bmw i8 1

The BMW i8 is a long for this world, so we took it out for one last spin, several years after reviewing it just after it was released.

The BMW i8 is just a stepping stone in BMW’s history. An oddball. It’s a limited-edition vehicle to try out new technology. From what I can tell, BMW never positioned the i8 as a top seller or market leader. It was an engineer’s playground. I love it.

Read the review here.

2020 gt500 3

This fall, we went to Las Vegas to get the first taste of Ford’s latest GT500. It’s exhilarating and yet manageable.

During my short time with the 2020 GT500, I never felt overwhelmed with power when driving it on city streets. The 2020 GT500 is an exercise in controlled restraint. Somehow this 760 HP Ford can hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and still be easy to putz around town. It’s surprising and a testament to the advances made within Dearborn.

Read the review here.

McLaren Senna GTR doors

Supercars are often an exercise in excess, and yet the McLaren Senna GTR is something different. It’s a testament to how McLaren operates.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I feel at home. The cockpit is purposeful. The track was cold with some damp spots, and the GTR is a stiff, lightweight race car with immense power on giant slick tires. Conventional wisdom would suggest the driver — me in this case — should slowly work up to speed in these otherwise treacherous conditions. However, the best way to get the car to work is to get the temperature in the tires by leaning on it a bit right away. Bell sent me out in full “Race” settings for both the engine and electronic traction and stability controls. Within a few corners — and before the end of the lap — I had a good feel for the tuning of the ABS, TC, and ESC, which were all intuitive and minimally invasive.

Read the review here.

Quick thoughts on other cars we drove this year.

2020 BMW M850i xDrive Coupe
A grand tourer for the modest millionaire. With all-wheel drive, a glorious engine, and heated armrests, the 850i is exciting and comfortable anywhere.

2019 Ford GT350
Forget the GT500. The GT350, with a standard gearbox and naturally aspirated 5.2L V8, this pony car gives the driver more control and more thrills than its more expensive, supercharged cousin.

2020 BMW M2 Competition Coupe
This small BMW coupe is perfectly balanced. It’s powerful, controllable, and, during our week with it, gave endless thrills (and donuts). This was my favorite car this year.

2019 Ford Raptor
Need a pickup that’s faster than a sports car? You probably don’t, but if so, we discovered the Raptor was capable and enjoyable if not a bit unwieldy in traffic thanks to its wide body.

Tesla to begin delivering China-built Model 3 cars next week

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla will start making the first deliveries of its Shanghai-built Model 3 sedans on Monday, Bloomberg reports. The cars are rolling off the assembly line at the new Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory, which is operational but which will also be expanding in future thanks to a fresh $1.4 billion injection in local funding reported earlier this week.

The Shanghai gigafactory’s construction only began earlier this year, and its turnaround time in terms of construction and actually producing vehicles is impressive. The Model 3 vehicles built in China will provide a price break vs. imported vehicles, since cars made in-country enjoy exemption from a 10% tax applied to imported cars. Tesla Model 3s build in China will also get a government purchase incentive of as much as $3,600 per car, which should drive even higher sales.

Tesla’s Shanghai factory is its first manufacturing facility outside of the country, though there’s also a gigafactory in the works in Germany just outside of Berlin, and Tesla has teased plans for at least a fifth gigafactory with a location to be revealed later.

Tesla’s production capacity in Shanghai probably isn’t ver high-volume to begin with, although the company has said previously it was targeting a production rate of around 1,000 cars per week by year’s end, with potential to ramp up to around 3,000 cars per week. Tax breaks and incentives have helped demand for the Model 3 in China grow significantly in 2019, so any progress on production in-country is bound to help lift global vehicle sales.

When the Transportation Revolution Hit the Real World

By Alex Davies
Ten years ago, they promised us self-driving cars. We got a scooter surge, clashes with regulators, and the brutal realities of mobility.

Waymo buys Latent Logic, drives deeper into simulation and Europe

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo has acquired Latent Logic, a UK company that spun out of Oxford University’s computer science department, as the autonomous vehicle company seeks to beef up its simulation technology.

The acquisition also marks the launch of Waymo’s first European engineering hub will be in Oxford, UK. This likely won’t be the end of Waymo’s expansion and investment in Europe and the UK. The former Google self-driving project that is now an Alphabet business said it will continue to look for opportunities to grow the team in the UK and Europe.

Earlier this year, Waymo locked in an exclusive partnership with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan. In October, Waymo said that its working with Renault to study the possibility of establishing an autonomous transportation route in Paris.

Waymo has made simulation a one of the pillars of its autonomous vehicle development program. But Latent Logic could help Waymo make its simulation more realistic by using a form of machine learning called imitation learning.

Imitation learning models human behavior of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The idea is that by modeling the mistakes and imperfect driving of humans, the simulation will become more realistic and theoretically improve Waymo’s behavior prediction and planning.

Waymo isn’t sharing financial details of the acquistion. But it appears that the two founders Shimon Whiteson and João Messia, CEO Kirsty Lloyd-Jukes and key members of the engineering and technical team will join Waymo. The Latent Logic team will remain in Oxford.

“By joining Waymo, we are taking a big leap towards realizing our ambition of safe, self-driving vehicles,” said Latent Logic co-founder and chief scientist Shimon Whiteson. “In just two years, we have made significant progress in using imitation learning to simulate real human behaviors on the road. I’m excited by what we can now achieve in combining this expertise with the talent, resources and progress Waymo have already made in self-driving technology.”

The electric Porsche Taycan Turbo has an EPA range of 201 miles

By Kirsten Korosec

The Porsche Taycan Turbo, one of several variants of the German automaker’s first all-electric vehicles, has an EPA estimated range of 201 miles, according to government ratings posted Wednesday.

This is the first variant of the Taycan — Porsche’s first all-electric vehicle — to receive an estimated range from the EPA. The range, which indicates how far the vehicle can travel on a single charge, is far behind other competitors in the space, notably the Tesla Model S. But it also trails other high-end electric vehicles, including the Jaguar I-Pace and the Audi e-tron.

The biggest gulf is between the Taycan Turbo and the long-range version of the Model S, which has an EPA range of 373 miles. The performance version of the Model S has a range of 348 miles. It was also below the Jaguar I-Pace, an electric vehicle that launched in 2018. The EPA has given the Jaguar I-Pace an official estimated range of 234. However, the company recently said it was able to add another 12 miles of range to the vehicle through what it learned in the I-Pace racing series.

The European standard known as the WLTP placed the range of the Porsche Taycan Turbo at up to 279 miles.

Despite the lower EPA range estimate, Porsche said it’s not disappointed.

“We sought to build a true Porsche, balancing legendary performance our customers expect of our products with range sufficient to meet their everyday needs,” a Porsche spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The Taycan is a phenomenal car built to perform and drive as a Porsche should. We stand by that.”

epa electric range

Porsche introduced in September the Taycan Turbo S and Taycan Turbo — the more powerful and expensive versions of its all-electric four-door sports car with base prices of $185,000 and $150,900, respectively.

In October, the German automaker revealed a cheaper version called the Porsche Taycan 4S that is more than $80,000 cheaper than its leading model. All of the Taycans, including the 4S, are the same chassis and suspension, permanent magnet synchronous motors and other bits. However, this third version, which will offer a performance-battery-plus option, is a little lighter, cheaper and slightly slower than the high-end versions of the Taycan that were introduced earlier this year. Theoretically, the 4S should also have a higher range.

Porsche has always said it would have multiple versions of the Taycan. The 2020 Taycan Turbo will be among the first models to arrive in the United States.

While Porsche said it isn’t disputing the EPA range, the automaker did send an email to dealers Wednesday to share additional data that shows a far rosier picture.

Porsche asked AMCI Testing to conduct independent tests to evaluate the Taycan Turbo range, according to an email the automaker sent to dealers for Taycan customers. The independent automotive research firm came up with a range of 275 miles, a result that was calculated by averaging the vehicle’s performance over five test cycles.

Audi experiments with a ride share service in Southern Germany using an EV and gasoline fleet

By Jonathan Shieber

Audi Business Innovation is testing out a ride sharing service in Southern Germany called BITS that uses both gasoline and electric vehicles in its fleet.

To manage the service, Audi has turned to Fleetonomy, a fleet management service that offers white labeled ride hailing app services and fleet management technology.

The company develops technology to handle fleet utilization and improve efficiency by bringing visibility to maintenance constraints, real-time demand and supply availability.

The service provides long-distance drives across Southern Germany with a mix of electric and internal combustion powered vehicles.

“The need for flexible mobility among customers is growing and is set to become an additional focus area for the automotive industry said Nico Gropper, Audi Business Innovation GmbH, in a statement. “We always aspire to be at the forefront of these developments. Services that include both electric and ICE vehicles have to deal with additional levels of complexity in order to run smoothly and solving these complexities with the right technology partner is crucial to the operational and financial success of the entire service.”

After a successful initial test in October, the company is planning on doing more with the service. The new partnership with Fleetonomy gives Audi both an app-based bespoke ride hailing service and a way to manage a fleet of both electric and combustion vehicles.

The tech can be used to address range anxiety issues by supplying specific vehicles for trips that are scheduled for certain distances so that battery capacity isn’t as much of an issue and so that routes can be managed by optimizing for charging time and locations.

Using Fleetonomy, Audi has dispatch and scheduling management dashboards, and presents a mobile  app for both passengers and drivers (it’s an Uber-like experience that automakers can control themselves).

“Automotive manufacturers worldwide are expanding their role as service providers of on-demand mobility services and are looking for efficient ways to manage their fleets in order to create services that are both profitable as well as provide a great traveling experience,” said Fleetnomy Co-Founder & CEO Israel Duanis, in a statement. “Fleetonomy’s advanced mobility platforms are up for the task in Audi Business Innovation’s new mobility project, BITS, and we are immensely honored to be the technology partner chosen to power this first-of-its-kind service. We are looking forward to continuing to support Audi Business Innovation in their New Mobility journey.”

Daimler and Bosch take a mixed mobility approach to autonomous vehicles

By Kirsten Korosec

A fleet of Mercedes-Benz S Class vehicles are now plying the roads of San Jose, California as part of a robotaxi pilot project that Daimler and Bosch have been developing for two and a half years, but the launch itself could be chalked up as a mere blip on the autonomous vehicle scene.

At last count, 65 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles in California. And a handful of companies, including Waymo and Zoox, have the additional permit from the California Public Utilities Commission to transport passengers in their robotaxis through the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot.

It’s a milestone for German automaker Daimler and Bosch, one of the world’s largest automotive tech and hardware suppliers, but the most noteworthy aspect is how the pilot has been structured. The companies’ approach provides a marker of sorts for exactly where the “race” to develop and deploy commercial autonomous vehicle stands. In short: this is no sprint. Adventure or expedition racing — a contest that requires strategy, partnerships, expertise in multiple areas, endurance and a head for navigating risk— might be a more apt analogy.

Much of the media coverage has focused on the launch of the pilot or that it will use self-driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class vehicles, the Sonderklasse (special class) of the automaker’s portfolio. What might have been missed is that this is really two projects in one.

Electric vehicle startup Nio lays off 141 employees at its North American headquarters

By Catherine Shu

Electric vehicle startup Nio is laying off 141 people at its North American headquarters. According to a filing from Employment Development Department of California, the employees at its San Jose office received notice on December 6.

Nio, whose global headquarters are in Shanghai, announced last month that it is partnering with Intel’s Mobileye to develop autonomous vehicles for consumers. Under the agreement, Nio will engineer and produce a self-driving system designed by Mobileye.

The Intel partnership was a spot of bright news after a difficult year for Nio. Nio’s third quarter saw an uptick in sales, thanks in part to competitive pricing, but its share prices have fallen about 78% since the end of February.

The company reported losses in the first and second quarters of the year and in June, voluntarily recalled 5,000 of its ES8 electric SUVs after battery fires in China, impacting its production and delivery. CEO William Li said during the company’s earnings report in September that it would implement cost-cutting measures, including reducing its workforce from 9,900 people down to 7,800 by the end of the third quarter. Nio has offices in 11 cities, including Beijing, London and Munich.

Carsome raises $50M for its used-car sales platform in Southeast Asia

By Manish Singh

Carsome, a Malaysia-based marketplace for trading users cars, has closed a new $50 million financing round to fend off its rivals and grow its business in Southeast Asian markets.

The new financing round, dubbed Series C, was funded by MUFG Innovation Partners (MUIP), corporate venture capital arm and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), Daiwa PI Partners, the private equity arm of Japan’s securities group Daiwa Securities, Endeavor Catalyst, and Ondine Capital.

Existing investors including Gobi Partners and Convergence Ventures also participated in the round, which pushes four-year-old startups’s total raise to date to $85 million.

Carsome operates one of the largest car trading platforms in Southeast Asia, connecting individuals who wish to sell cars to dealers. The startup, which is operational in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, claims its platform sees more than 40,000 cars worth more than $300 million trade on the platform.

Carsome, which employs about 700 people uses an online auction model to conduct sales, with prospective cars typically listed the day after they are submitted by consumers following a check-up conducted by the startup’s staff.

That approach allows dealers to check in at a set time each day to look over the cars on offer, while the focus on vetting autos quickly — Carsome can dispatch vehicle checkers directly to a prospective seller’s home– means that consumers can quickly get a sale.

The auction model adds competition and the potential for a seller to make more money than they originally anticipated. That’s a dynamic that is tricky to replicate in other static sale models.

Eric Cheng, co-founder and chief executive of Carsome, told TechCrunch that the startup is attempting to challenge “opaque and inefficient” middle parties that “exploit the misinformation in the market.”

He added, “we want to establish a brand and a standard that advocates trust, transparency, consistency of service and quality assurance across the region that people and businesses can rely on to make their purchasing decisions.”

The startup, which competes with a number of players including Carro in Singapore, plans to use the fresh capital to expand to more markets in Southeast Asia such as the Philippines.

More to follow…

Elon Musk's ‘Pedo Guy’ Trial, Uber’s Crime Report, and More Car News This Week

By Aarian Marshall
Plus, the Air Force 3D prints parts for old planes, flying car execs consider the little people, and self-driving cars learn about selfish humans.

Hyundai and Seoul set to test self-driving cars on city roads starting next month

By Darrell Etherington

Hyundai has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city of Seoul to begin testing six autonomous vehicles on roads in the Gangnam district beginning next month, BusinessKorea reports. The arrangement specifies that six vehicles will begin testing on 23 roads in December. Looking ahead to 2021, there will be as many as 15 of the cars, which are hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, testing on the roads.

Seoul will provide smart infrastructure to communicate with the vehicles, including connected traffic signals, and will also relay traffic and other info as frequently as every 0.1 seconds to the Hyundai vehicles. That kind of real-time information flow should help considerably with providing the visibility necessary to optimize safe operation of the autonomous test cars. On the Hyundai said, they’ll be sharing information too — providing data around the self-driving test that will be freely available to schools and other organizations looking to test their own self-driving technology within the city.

Together, Seoul and Hyundai hope to use the partnership to build out a world-leading downtown self-driving technology deployment, and to have that evolve into a commercial service, complete with dedicated autonomous vehicle manufacture by 2024.

Tesla all-electric ATV makes a surprise debut at Cybertruck event

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla CEO Elon Musk definitely didn’t have the most issue-free presentation during last night’s Cybertruck unveil, but he did pull off a pretty impressive ‘one more thing moment’ – revealing a surprise all-electric all-terrain vehicle (ATV) that Tesla created to pair with its futuristic pickup.

The Tesla electric ATV didn’t get a lot of time to shine on its own, and instead was used primarily to demonstrate how the Tesla Cybertruck bed and active suspension works for loading up cargo, but it’s a real enough thing that Tesla made sure to point out that you can charge the electric four-wheeler right from the Cybertruck while the ATV is loaded in the bed.

Musk didn’t reveal anything about pricing or availability regarding the ATV, but a demo drive did actually drive it up on stage and load it into the bed, so it’s real enough to be functional. Like the Cybertruck itself, it also featured a body design with a lot of intersecting flat planes and angels, and it was done up in matte black, which makes it look like the ATV version of a stealth bomber.

In the past, Musk has discussed the idea of electric motorcycles, dismissing Tesla’s interest in the category in favor of electric bikes. Musk said that a motorcycle was not in the cards at a Tesla shareholder meeting in 2018, and also floated the idea of doing an e-bike instead that same year.

An ATV is a very different kind of vehicle – designed more for utility and recreation than for road use, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of consumer launch Tesla has in mind for such a vehicle. A ‘Cybertruck: ATV Edition’ would probably incur a lot of demand.

Feds Pin Uber Crash on Human Operator, Call for Better Rules

By Alex Davies, Aarian Marshall
For starters, self-driving car companies should be required to submit safety evaluation letters—and those letters should be formally assessed.
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