Waymo, the self-driving car company under Alphabet, has been testing in the suburbs of Phoenix for several years now. And while the sunny metropolis might seem like the ideal and easiest location to test autonomous vehicle technology, there are times when the desert becomes a dangerous place for any driver — human or computer.
The two big safety concerns in this desert region are sudden downpours that cause flash floods and haboobs, giant walls of dust between 1,500 and 3,000 feet high that can cover up to 100 square miles. One record-breaking haboob in July 2011 covered the entire Phoenix valley, an area of more than 517 square miles.
Waymo released Friday a blog post that included two videos showing how the sensors on its self-driving vehicles detect and recognize objects while navigating through a haboob in Phoenix and fog in San Francisco. The vehicle in Phoenix was manually driven, while the one in the fog video was in autonomous mode.
The point of the videos, Waymo says, is to show how, and if, the vehicles recognize objects during these extreme low visibility moments. And they do. The haboob video shows how its sensors work to identify a pedestrian crossing a street with little to no visibility.
Waymo uses a combination of lidar, radar and cameras to detect and identify objects. Fog, rain or dust can limit visibility in all or some of these sensors.
Waymo doesn’t silo the sensors affected by a particular weather event. Instead, it continues to take in data from all the sensors, even those that don’t function as well in fog or dust, and uses that collective information to better identify objects.
The potential is for autonomous vehicles to improve on visibility, one of the greatest performance limitations of humans, Debbie Hersman, Waymo’s chief safety officer wrote in the blog post. If Waymo or other AV companies are successful, they could help reduce one of the leading contributors to crashes. The Department of Transportation estimates that weather contributes to 21% of the annual U.S. crashes.
Still, there are times when even an autonomous vehicle doesn’t belong on the road. It’s critical for any company planning to deploy AVs to have a system that can not only identify, but also take the safest action if conditions worsen.
Waymo vehicles are designed to automatically detect sudden extreme weather changes, such as a snowstorm, that could impact the ability of a human or an AV to drive safely, according to Hersman.
The question is what happens next. Humans are supposed to pull over off the road during a haboob and turn off the vehicle, a similar action when one encounters heavy fog. Waymo’s self-driving vehicles will do the same if weather conditions deteriorate to the point that the company believes it would affect the safe operation of its cars, Hersman wrote.
The videos and blog post are the latest effort by Waymo to showcase how and where it’s testing. The company announced August 20 that it has started testing how its sensors handle heavy rain in Florida. The move to Florida will focus on data collection and testing sensors; the vehicles will be manually driven for now.
Waymo also tests (or has tested) its technology in and around Mountain View, Calif., Novi, Mich., Kirkland, Wash. and San Francisco. The bulk of the company’s activities have been in suburbs of Phoenix and around Mountain View.
The 2020 Chevy Bolt EV now has 259 miles of range, a 9% increase from previous year models of the electric hatchback, according to the EPA.
To get there, the company focused on cell chemistry, not the battery pack. The GM brand did not add more battery cells or change the battery pack or the way it is integrated into the vehicle structure, a spokesperson confirmed.
Instead, Chevrolet’s battery engineering team made what the company described as “impactful changes to the cell chemistry.” The changes to the cell chemistry allowed the team to improve the energy of the cell electrodes, and ultimately enabled them to squeeze more range out of the battery.
The increase pushes the 2020 Chevy Bolt ahead of the Kia Niro and the standard range plus variant of the Tesla Model 3, with 239 and 240 miles of range, respectively. Other versions of the Model 3, the long-range and performance, have a much longer 310-mile range. It’s also just one mile better than the 258-mile range Hyundai Kona EV. Nissan Leaf Plus, the laggard in the group, can travel 226 miles on a single charge.
That might not seem like much. But in this small, yet growing pool of electric vehicle models, jumping from 238 to 259 miles could help Chevrolet sell more Bolt EVs next year. It could also cannibalize sales this year.
The electric vehicle has never been a top seller for the GM brand, particularly compared to its top-selling SUVs and trucks. It has beat out some of its other Chevy models and sales are high enough for the company to stick with the compact hatchback for now.
GM delivered 23,297 Chevy Bolt EVs in 2017, the first model year of the electric vehicle. But the following year, deliveries fell 22%, to 18,019. Sales have rebounded in the first half of the year.
The 2020 model year, which will be offered in two new exterior colors, is expected to arrive in dealerships later this year. The base price of the electric vehicle is $37,495, which includes destination and freight charges. Tax, title, license and dealer fees are excluded.
Porsche has taken the wraps off of the interior of the all-new, all-electric Porsche Taycan ahead of its world debut September 4. Gone are the buttons and the clutter. This is a minimalist and sleek interior for the modern digital age.
Porsche released Thursday several images of the interior. Earlier this week, TechCrunch was among numerous media outlets that got an up close view of the interior (along with some other things we can’t talk about) and a chance to play around with the infotainment system.
Porsche didn’t just slap a bunch of screens in and call it a day. Here are the inside details and what stood out.
At first glance, the dashboard might give viewers a twinge of deja vu. And they wouldn’t be wrong.
Designers used the dashboard from the 1963 Porsche 911 as inspiration. And that’s evident in the pictures below, which shows a clean and sleek dashboard.
The 911 DNA is evident. But this isn’t some throwback. This is a modern vehicle with its own design story, which includes horizontal digital screens that are sandwiched between the upper and lower dash lines and stretch all the way over to the passenger seat.
The elevated center console stretches down from the horizontal central screen to two air vents that are not the mechanically-operated louvres found most vehicles today. Instead, the direction of the airflow is controlled digitally via an 8.4-inch touch panel that is located just below the central screen. This touch panel houses the climate control system and includes a track pad with haptic feedback. The trackpad can also be used for quick address inputs.
Tucked under the touch panel is a small flat space to place a wallet or phone. Two cups holders and then a storage unit, which is equipped with wireless charging and two USB ports, completes the center console.
Porsche’s design team repeatedly talked to TechCrunch about the emphasis on the driver. And that shows. (The design team worked on the interface alone for 3.5 years.) Although there are plenty of passenger features here as well. From the driver’s seat, everything is in reach and without constantly looking over to the center display. Natural voice integration courtesy of Nuance is activated by a “Hey Porsche” trigger or simply pressing the voice button on the central display or dedicated button on the steering wheel.
The minimalist design continues to the all-digital instrument cluster. This free-standing panel, which houses the instrument cluster, has a slight curve to it. Interestingly, it doesn’t have the standard cowl or lip that is often used to prevent reflection. Instead, Porsche used glass coated with a vapor-deposited, polarizing filter.
Inside the 16.8-inch cluster display, the driver will see three round instruments that display information. Drivers can customize what each of these instruments displays. Drivers can also remove the information for a more streamlined look in “pure mode.”
This pure mode displays only essential information such as speed, navigation or traffic sign recognition (so you know what the speed limit is). Pure mode, which manages to give the interior an even more minimalist look, could be a handy and fun feature for a Taycan owner on track day.
Perhaps one of the most functional features is the map mode. The map replaces the central power meter in this mode. But it really becomes useful when “full map mode” is turned on, which extends the map across the full display. TechCrunch wasn’t allowed to take photos of the interior during its visit to Porsche North America headquarters, so readers will have to imagine it a digital map taking up most of the instrument cluster.
Finally, just to the left and right of the main instrument cluster, drivers will see small, touch-control fields at the edges of the screen for operating the light and chassis functions. One of these buttons is a trigger key, which lets drivers customize what it operates.
The Porsche Taycan has several screens. Oh, so many screens. Beyond the digital instrument cluster is a horizontal 10.9-central display. Directly below this is a tilted screen that houses climate control as well as a digital track pad that gives haptic feedback.
From the central screen and moving to the right, is a display for the passenger. The passenger display cannot be turned on if the driver is the only one in the vehicle, according to Oliver Fritz, director of driver experience at Porsche.
Porsche is experimenting with streaming video on the passenger display. This likely won’t be available when Porsche begins delivery before the end of the year. But could be rolled out in future over-the-air software updates. For now, the company is testing technology that would prevent the driver from being able to view the screen. Fritz emphasized that this idea was still in testing and Porsche won’t roll out streaming video unless it’s sure the driver cannot see the screen.
Porsche designers have made “dark mode” the default in the instrument cluster and rest of the infotainment system. That can be changed to a white background, Porsche said. TechCrunch doesn’t recommend that though. The dark mode, and the ability to turn off the central 10.9-inch infotainment display and optional passenger one, should let drivers enjoy the road and escape the annoying “blue light” that is emanates from so many vehicles these days.
Porsche will offer a number of color combinations in the interior, including an all-black matte look, which TechCrunch viewed. The company’s design team didn’t reveal the total number of interior color combinations, but they did list a few. There will be four exclusive interior colors for the Taycan, a black-lime beige, blackberry, Atacama beige and Meranti brown. An optional interior accent package will include black matte, dark silver or neodyme, which is like a champagne gold color.
The doors and center consoles can have wood trim, matte carbon, embossed aluminum or fabric.
The company is also offering a leather-free trim interior, which includes the steering wheel. Porsche designer Thorsten Klein was careful not to call it vegan. He told TechCrunch that even synthetic materials can be treated using animal products. Porsche is pushing to source materials that don’t use these processes, but until then Porsche won’t use the vegan term.
Earlier this week, Porsche announced it will integrate Apple Music into the Taycan, the first time the music streaming service has been offered as a standalone app within a vehicle.
But Apple Music is just one of the many features in the infotainment system. The user interface is laid out to always show a home, vehicle and messages button, which will lists notifications coming into the vehicle. The voice feature can also be used so the driver doesn’t need to glance at the screen.
Other buttons on the central screen include navigation, phone, settings, climate, news, calendar, charging information, weather and Homelink, which can be used to open the owner’s garage door.
SpotHero, the Chicago-based company that has developed an on-demand parking app, has raised $50 million in a Series D round led by Macquarie Capital.
Union Grove Venture Partners participated in the round, along with existing investors including Insight Venture Partners, Global Founders Capital, OCA Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and others, according to the company. SpotHero has raised $118 million to date.
The new capital will be used to expand its reach in the 300 U.S. and Canadian cities where it is already operating, build out its digital platform and strengthen partnerships with mobility companies, CEO and co-founder Mark Lawrence told TechCrunch.
SpotHero, which has operations in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, initially set out to develop software that connects everyday drivers to parking spots in thousands of garages across North America.
It’s secret sauce is its software, which can sit on top of the 40 or so different point-of-sales systems used by parking garages. This acts as a single protocol, allowing SpotHero to bring some kind of standardization to an otherwise fragmented system. From this single protocol, SpotHero can add in features that will allow for automated parking services such as license plate recognition.
“We’ve built the pipes, so to speak, and this powers out consumer app,” Lawrence said in a recent interview. Now the company is focus is on building out partnerships, features in the software and services, he added.
Capital will also be used to hire talent to support these new endeavors. SpotHero has 210 employees today and is working on hiring 50 more engineers this year.
In the eight years since its founding, SpotHero has expanded beyond its core consumer-focused compentcy. The company has added other services as urban density has increased and on-street parking has become more jumbled and confused thanks to an increase in traffic, ride-hailing and on-demand delivery services that take up valuable curb space. It has locked in more than 900 distribution partnerships and integrations including Google Assistant, for voice-enabled parking and Waze in-app navigation to parking. Other partners include Hertz and car2go for fleet parking, WeWork, for commuter parking and Moovit, for multi-modal parking.
Most recently, SpotHero launched a new service dubbed “SpotHero for Fleets” that targets shared mobility and on-demand services.
The service aims to be a one-stop shop for car-sharing and commercial fleets to handle all that goes into ensuring there is access and the right number of designated parking areas on any given day within SpotHero’s large network of 6,500 garages across 300 cities. That means everything from managing the relationships between garage owners and the fleet companies to proper signage so car-sharing customers can find the vehicles, as well as flexible plans that account for seasonal demands on businesses.
Under the new service, customers are able to source and secure parking inventory in high-traffic areas across multiple cities and pay per use across multiple parking facilities on one invoice to streamline payments.
The company has signed on car-sharing companies and other commercial fleets, although it’s not naming them yet.
The Bugatti Centodieci is the French automaker’s most powerful supercar yet — coming in a skosh above the Chiron at 1,600 horsepower. But it’s not just the power — or the $8.9 million price tag — that makes the Centodieci stand out.
The angular supercar, still dotted with the signature Bugatti design elements, tips its hat to the mid-engine EB110 supercar that debuted in 1991 when the company was owned by Romano Artioli.
One look at the Bugatti Centodieci, which had its world debut at the Quail Gathering during Monterey Car Week, and it’s clear that the early 1990s supercar was an inspiration.
But the Centodieci isn’t a copycat of the wedge-shaped, seemingly two-dimensional EB110. Instead, Bugatti designers aimed to bring the EB110 into the modern era.
“Transporting this classic look into the new millennium without copying it was technically complex, to say the least,” Bugatti head designer Achim Anscheidt said in a statement. “We had to create a new way of combining the complex aerothermal requirements of the underlying Chiron technology with a completely different aesthetic appearance.”
The Centodieci, which means 110 in Italian to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the company’s founding, has a newly developed, deep-seated front spoiler along with three-section air intakes. The iconic Bugatti horseshoe is smaller than its counterparts — a decision made to fit in with the car’s the low-dropping front. The Centodieci also has new, very narrow headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights and five round air inserts to ensure sufficient air intake for its 16-cylinder engine.
The nod to the 1990s ends inside the Centodieci. In here, it’s all modern-day engineering. The 8.0-liter W16 engine produces 1,600 horsepower and can accelerate from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 2.4 seconds. The top speed has been electronically limited to 236 mph.
Here’s a 360-degree view of the vehicle.
Bugatti will only produce 10 of the Centodieci and they’re already sold, Pierre Rommelfanger, Bugatti’s head of exterior and structure development confirmed to TechCrunch. Typically, supercars such as these can be highly customized to meet the desires of their owners.
And the Bugatti Centodieci will be no different — to a point. “There are limits in order to reduce complexity,” Rommelfanger said.
Deliveries to the first Centodieci customers will begin in 2022. Bugatti has other orders to fill besides the Centodieci. The company is also producing 40 of the Bugatti Divo and just one La Voiture Noire, which is the world’s most expensive new car ever sold at $18.68 million. The company also plans to produce 500 Bugatti Chiron cars.
If president Stephan Winkelmann sticks to his plan to introduce two new products each year, more Bugatti models will soon join the Centodieci, Chiron, Divo and La Voiture Noire.
Tesla is pitching customers on a new rental offering for solar power as a way to revive the flagging fortunes of its renewable energy business.
Once among the largest installers of renewables in the country through SolarCity, Tesla has seen its share of the market decline significantly since its acquisition of SolarCity three years ago. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts respectively.
One click to order solar & save ~$500/year in utility bills with no long-term contract (cancel anytime)
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 18, 2019
According to Musk, the new program is “like having a money printer on your roof” for potential customers who live in states with high energy costs. “Still better to buy,” Musk exhorted, “but the rental option makes the economics obvious.”
Unlike SunRun and Vivint, which both used partnerships with homebuilders and retailers like Home Depot, BJ’s Wholesale, Costco and Sam’s Club to acquire customers, Tesla slashed ended door-to-door marketing and abandoned its partnership with Home Depot. The company began relying almost entirely on direct sales to power its solar business and eschewed the no-money-down lease model, which SolarCity had used so effectively.
Under the new system, Telsa is offering customers the option to rent solar systems for anywhere from $65 for a small installation to $195 for its largest installation. Customers only need to pay a fully refundable $100 charge.
Tesla said the contract can be canceled any time, but it would charge users $1,500 to remove the system once it has been installed.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
SoftBank has a plant to loan up to $20 billion to its employees, including CEO Masayoshi Son, for the purposes of having that capital re-invested in SoftBank’s own Vision venture fund, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. That’s a highly unusual move that could be risky in terms of how much exposure SoftBank Group has on the whole in terms of its startup bets, but the upside is that it can potentially fill out as much as a fifth of its newly announced second Vision Fund’s total target raise of $108 billion from a highly aligned investor pool.
SoftBank revealed its plans for its second Vision Fund last month, including $38 billion from SoftBank itself, as well as commitments from Apple, Microsoft and more. The company also took a similar approach to its original Vision Fund, WSJ reports, with stakes from employees provided with loans totalling $8 billion of that $100 billion commitment.
The potential pay-off is big, provided the fund has some solid winners that achieve liquidation events that provide big returns that employees can then use to pay off the original loans, walking away with profit. That’s definitely a risk, however, especially in the current global economic client. As WSJ notes, the Uber shares that Vision Fund I acquired are now worth less than what SoftBank originally paid for them according to sources, and SoftBank bet WeWork looks poised to be another company whose IPO might not make that much, if any, money for later stage investors.
UPS said Thursday it has taken a minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple just months after the two companies began testing the use of autonomous trucks in Arizona.
The size of minority investment, which was made by the company’s venture arm UPS Ventures, was not disclosed. The investment and the testing comes as UPS looks for new ways to remain competitive, cut costs and boost its bottom line.
TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, believes it can deliver. The startup says it can cut average purchased transportation costs by 30%.
TuSimple, which is backed by Nvidia, ZP Capital and Sina Corp., is working on a “full-stack solution,” a wonky industry term that means developing and bringing together all of the technological pieces required for autonomous driving. TuSimple is developing a Level 4 system, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.
An important piece of TuSimple’s approach is its camera-centric perception solution. TuSimple’s camera-based system has a vision range of 1,000 meters, the company says.
The days of when highways will be filled with autonomous trucks are years away. But UPS believes it’s worth jumping in at an early stage to take advantage of some of the automated driving such as advanced braking technology that TuSimple can offer today.
“UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently,” Scott Price, chief strategy officer at UPS said in a statement. “While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering. All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition — and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet.”
UPS initially tapped TuSimple to help it better understand how Level 4 autonomous trucking might function within its network. That relationship expanded in May when the companies began using self-driving tractor trailers to carry freight on a freight route between Tucson and Phoenix to test if service and efficiency in the UPS network can be improved. This testing is ongoing. All of TuSimple’s self-driving trucks operating in the U.S. have a safety driver and an engineer in the cab.
TuSimple and UPS monitor all aspects of these trips, including safety data, transport time and the distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, the companies said Thursday.
UPS isn’t the only company that TuSimple is hauling freight for as part of its testing. TuSimple has said its hauling loads for for several customers in Arizona. The startup has a post-money valuation of $1.095 billion (aka unicorn status).
The 2019 Audi e-tron has become the first battery-electric vehicle to earn a top safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an achievement that Tesla and other electric models like the Chevy Bolt have not been able to capture.
Scoring an IIHS top safety award isn’t easy. A vehicle has to earn good ratings in six crashworthiness evaluations, as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.
IIHS said Wednesday that the e-tron fulfills the criteria to earn a top safety rating with standard equipment. The vehicle performed well in crashworthiness testing, earning good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, according to IIHS.
The SUV’s standard front crash prevention system rated superior in IIHS track tests. It avoided a collision in the 25 mph test and reduced its impact speed by an average of 11 mph in the 12 mph test. Its forward collision warning component meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.
The award provides a much needed boost to the e-tron. There’s a lot riding on the e-tron, the German automaker’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. And while TechCrunch’s Matt Burns found it quick, comfortable and familiar, the vehicle has had a rocky start that included a voluntary recall in the U.S. due to the risk of battery fire.
Tesla has gotten close to the top safety pick designation. A Tesla Model S was tested in 2017 and performed well, but fell short of earning the top score due to poor headlights and an “acceptable” score in the small overlap crash test. The IIHS has never tested the Tesla Model X.
The electric automaker does have another chance. This time, it’s with the Tesla Model 3, which IIHS is currently testing, according to a recent tweet from the organization.
Tests of the 2019 Tesla Model 3 commence next week with the side crash test. pic.twitter.com/yXtbGDC9h9
— IIHS (@IIHS_autosafety) August 7, 2019
The Model 3 has already achieved an all-around five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite the high marks, NHTSA and Tesla have tussled over how the automaker has characterized the rating in an October 7 blog post when it said the Model 3 had achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested.
Earlier this month, Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell SUV, the Nexo, became the first fuel cell vehicle to be tested and to earn IIHS’s top safety award.
In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.
Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)
This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land Rover.
Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.
The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.
Voyage wants to unlock both.
Uber disclosed earnings for the second time since becoming a public company, reporting revenues of $3.16 billion on losses of $5.2 billion for the second quarter of 2019.
Uber (NYSE: UBER) closed up more than 9% Thursday at $42.98 per share, just below its $45 IPO price, but took a nose dive more than 11% on the news.
$5.2 billion in net losses represents the company’s largest-ever quarterly loss. Revenue, for its part, is up only 14% year-over-year. The company says a majority of 2Q losses are a result of stock-based compensation expenses for employees following its May IPO. Stock compensation aside, Uber still lost $1.3 billion, up 30% from Q1.
Analysts had expected losses per share of $3.12 versus Uber’s $4.72. As for revenue, analysts, per CNBC, had expected $3.36 billion.
“While we will continue to invest aggressively in growth, we also want it to be healthy growth, and this quarter we made good progress in that direction,” Uber chief financial officer Nelson Chai said in the earnings document.
Uber’s had a rough few months since making the leaps to the public markets. The stock has tumbled as the business finds it footing. Recently, Uber announced it was laying off one-third of its 1,200-person strong marketing department in an effort to slash costs and make operations more efficient.News of Uber’s piling losses comes one day after its key U.S. competitor, Lyft, beat on revenue with $867 million for the quarter on net losses of $644 million. That’s up from $505 million in revenue in Q2 2018 on losses of $179 million. Lyft closed up 3% Thursday at $62 per share. The company’s stock sunk in after-hours trading Wednesday after it announced the IPO lockup period would end more than a month early.
Uber Eats “monthly active platform consumers,” or MAPCs, grey 140% YoY, Uber said. The company now works with 320,000 restaurants.
This story is updating.
A year after coming out of stealth mode with $40 million, self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics will begin making its first commercial deliveries in Texas.
Kodiak will open a new facility in North Texas to support it freight operations along with increased testing in the state. The commercial route
There are some caveats to the milestone. Kodiak’s self-driving trucks will have a human safety driver behind the wheel. And it’s unclear how significant this initial launch is; the company didn’t provide details on who its customers are or what it will be hauling.
Kodiak has eight autonomous trucks in its fleet, and according to the company it’s “growing quickly.”
Still, it does mark progress for such a young company, which co-founders Don Burnette and Paz Eshel say is due to its talented and experienced workforce.
Burnette, who is CEO of Kodiak, was part of the Google self-driving project before leaving and co-founding Otto in early 2016, along with Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron and Claire Delaunay. Uber would acquire Otto (and its co-founders). Burnette left Uber to launch Kodiak in April 2018 with Eshel, a former venture capitalist and now the startup’s COO.
In August 2018, the company announced it had raised $40 million in Series A financing led by Battery Ventures . CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Tusk Ventures also participated in the round. Itzik Parnafes, a general partner at Battery Ventures, joined Kodiak’s board.
Kodiak is the latest autonomous vehicle company to test its technology in Texas. The state has become a magnet for autonomous vehicle startups, particularly those working on self-driving trucks. That’s largely due to the combination of a friendly regulatory environment and the state’s position as a logistics and transportation hub.
“As a region adding more than 1 million new residents each decade, it is important to develop a comprehensive strategy for the safe and reliable movement of people and goods,” Thomas Bamonte, senior program manager of Automated Vehicles for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said in a statement. “Our policy officials on the Regional Transportation Council have been very forward-thinking in their recognition of technology as part of the answer, which is positioning our region as a leader in the automated vehicle industry.”
Self-driving truck startup TuSimple was awarded a contract this spring to complete five round trips, for a two-week pilot, hauling USPS trailers more than 1,000 miles between the postal service’s Phoenix and Dallas distribution centers. A safety engineer and driver will be on board throughout the pilot.
Other companies developing autonomous vehicle technology for trucks such as Embark and Starsky Robotics have also tested on Texas roads.
High-priced, handmade boutique sports cars typically make their debut where the well-heeled and the media gather. Pagani took a different approach this time around.
The Italian supercar manufacturer unveiled its new nearly $3.5 million Huayra Roadster BC in CSR2, the mobile game produced by Zynga .
The physical car will eventually get its moment. Pagani will show off the hypercar to the public next month at the Monterey Car Show. In the meantime, Zynga rebuilt the Pagani Huayra Roadster BC in CSR2, giving users a chance to “drive” the supercar.
“When Horacio Pagani first began designing cars 44 years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that a car like the Roadster BC would ever be unveiled to the world in a mobile game,” Michael Staskin, managing director of Pagani Automobili America, said in a statement. “We chose to partner with CSR2 on the reveal of the Roadster BC because we are both leaders in our respective industries, we both show incredible attention to design and detail and we both continue to disrupt what is considered normal in the automotive industry.”
CSR2 players can enter the 80-race ladder by using a Pagani Huayra Coupé. During the game, players get the chance to add the Pagani Huayra Roadster BC to their collection. Using augmented reality, players can also park their Pagani cars in their real-world driveways and open every panel to study the details close up.
In the real world, the Pagani Huayra Roadster BC gets its power from a 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V12 engine built for Pagani by Mercedes-AMG. The result is an engine that produces 800 horsepower at 5,900 rpm and 774 pound feet of torque. It boasts a seven-speed, single-clutch automated manual transmission and weighs 2,756 pounds, just a skosh lighter than the regular Huayra Roadster.
As one might expect, the Roadster BC is a fast can-you-handle-how-it-corners beast that accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds and generates 1.9 of lateral grips through corners.
Sadly, few will get to drive this real-world version. Pagani will make only 40 of Roadster BCs.
Porsche Digital, the subsidiary of car maker Porsche, is opening its second U.S. location after launching its first in 2017 in Silicon Valley. The second North American office for this software and digital product-focused wing of Porsche will open in Atlanta, which is also the seat of Porsche’s North American car business. Porsche Digital cited proximity to their auto business headquarters as one reason they picked Atlanta, but also pointed to Atlanta’s “local tech talent” and “robust and constantly growing startup and tech sector” as key factors in its selection.
The need for a second office is specifically about serving the U.S. market, Porsche Digital notes, and the company expects to have 45 employees total in the U.S. across both offices within the next year. The subsidiary overall has 120 employees worldwide, with offices in Berlin, Shanghai and Tel Aviv, as well as the U.S.
Porsche Digital focuses on creating software and digital products for the automaker’s customers, but it’s actually probably more valuable to its parent company as a sort of distributed tech talent scouting and business development arm of the company. Its offices definitely occupy global hotspots when it comes to startup tech companies, and having a permanent presence in these locations has got to come in handy when looking to attract engineering talent and potential acquisitions of complementary early-stage companies.
Founded in Cairo in 2017, Swvl is a mass transit service that has positioned itself as an Uber for shared buses. “Think ride hailing, but with a bus…and instead of the vehicle coming to you…you go to the bus, and the bus picks you up at a certain point and time,” Swvl’s general manager for Kenya, Shivachi Muleji, told TechCrunch via email.
In Kenya, BRCK has installed 15 of its units in Swvl buses and looks to offer its Moja Wi-Fi service in 700 by 2020, BRCK’s chief operating officer Nivi Sharma told TechCrunch. Swvl pays a monthly fee for the routers and for maintenance of the routers, Swvl confirmed.
Both BRCK and Swvl see a solid fit in pairing up their product offerings. “SWVL’s objectives to provide an alternative in the transportation industry line up nicely with BRCK’s objectives of providing connectivity to commuters,” said BRCK COO Nivi Sharma.
Backed by $10 million from investors including, Steve Case, BRCK built its platform around providing internet solutions in East Africa. Founder Erik Hersman has described Africa’s internet challenges — mainly the lowest penetration rates in the world — as shifting toward more of an affordability than availability problem.
“The demand on internet in Africa is largely driven by the 10 to 15 percent who can afford it. The real massive opportunity is trying to connect the 70 to 80 percent of the people who can’t,” Hersman told TechCrunch in 2017.
To that end, BRCK paired up its Africa-specific Wi-Fi routers to its Moja service to offer free internet and content supported by commercial partners. Users can access Moja on their mobile phones, tablets or laptops on public transportation or in public areas. They earn points from their browsing to apply to faster connectivity or premium content.
In 2018, BRCK began offering SupaBRCK devices to drivers of Nairobi’s highly used Matatu buses for Kenyan commuters to access Moja. In February, the startup acquired Nairobi-based internet provide Surf and its network of hotspots.
BRCK currently has 445,000 unique monthly active users on its Matatu-based Moja mobile network in Kenya and Rwanda and 150,000 unique monthly active users on its fixed network — including users connecting at cafes, barbershops and marketplaces, according to company data.
BRCK and Swvl wouldn’t confirm plans on expanding their mobile internet partnership to additional countries outside of Kenya.
Ride-hail markets in Africa have become an active sector for VC investment and global and local startups. The big players such as Uber and Bolt are competing in Kampala and Nairobi — where in addition to car-service they offer rickshaw taxis.
On-demand motorcycle startups are multiplying and piloting EVs with funds from international partners. And many ride-hail companies in Africa are adapting unique product solutions to local transit needs. The collective startup activity is making the continent home to a number of fresh mobility use cases, including the BRCK and Svl Wi-Fi partnership.
Uber is laying off about 25% of its 1,200-person strong marketing department in an effort to slash costs and make operations more efficient following its public debut and first quarter losses of $1 billion.
The layoffs were first reported by The New York Times.
About 400 people in Uber’s marketing department were laid off across its 75 offices globally, according to the company. Uber’s latest public global headcount was 24,494 global employees as of March 31, 2019.
Jill Hazelbaker, who leads marketing and public affairs at Uber, and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told employees Monday that the marketing team would have a more centralized structure, according to an internal email viewed by TechCrunch.
The reorganized marketing team will be under the leadership of Mike Strickman, vice president of performance marketing, joined from TripAdvisor a month ago and another soon-to-be-hired head of global marketing. Strickman will oversee performance marketing, CRM, and analytics, while the global marketing executive will manage the heads of product marketing, brand, Eats, B2B, research, planning and creative.
The layoffs are the latest cost-driven changes to occur at the company since it went public in May.
Many of Uber’s teams are “too big, which creates overlapping work, makes for unclear decision owners, and can lead to mediocre results,” Khosrowshahi said in an email sent to employees and shared with TechCrunch. “As a company, we can do more to keep the bar high, and expect more of ourselves and each other.”
Khosrowshahi said the restructuring aims to put the marketing team, and the company, back on track.
“Today, there’s a general sense that while we’ve grown fast, we’ve slowed down. You can see it in Pulse Survey feedback and All Hands questions, and you can feel it in much of our day-to-day work. This happens naturally as companies get bigger, but it is something we need to address, and quickly,” he wrote.
Uber’s first quarterly earnings report as a publicly traded company gave a snapshot of a growing business with stunning operational losses. Uber’s revenue grew 20% to 3.1 billion compared to $2.5 billion in the same period last year. And its gross bookings rose 34% to $14.6 billion in the first quarter, with Uber Eats driving much of that growth.
But it’s loss from operations exploded 116% to $1 billion in the first quarter compared to the same year-ago period.
In June, chief operating officer Barney Harford and chief marketing officer Rebecca Messina stepped down as part of an organizational shakeup put into motion just a month after the ride-hailing company went public.
At the time, Khosrowshahi explained in an email to employees, that the changes were prompted by his decision to more directly control core parts of the business. Khosrowshahi told employees that he wants to be even more involved in the day-to-day operations of its biggest businesses, the core platform of Rides and Eats, and has decided they should report directly to him.
Tesla is getting ready to “soon” deliver the in-car video streaming services that CEO Elon Musk suggested would eventually come to the automaker’s cars. Musk shared this (somewhat vague) updated timeline on Twitter over the weekend, after noting earlier in June at E3 that Tesla’s infotainment displays would eventually be getting YouTube and streaming video support.
This is also the first time Musk has specifically said that both YouTube and Netflix would be coming, after previously noting that version 10 of the in-car software would support video streaming generally in reply to a question from a fan on Twitter. Musk added that these would be available to stream video only while the vehicle is stopped — but the plan is to change that once full self-driving becomes a reality.
Once full autonomous driving capabilities are “approved by regulators,” Musk said, the plan is to turn on the ability to stream video in the vehicle while it’s in motion. This plan likely extends to Tesla’s in-car gaming features, too — though that’s a separate level of distraction as you’re actually interacting with what’s happening on the screen, which may not be the best idea for initial roll-out of autonomous features where a driver might be required to take over manual control in case of any incidents.
The Tesla CEO said the experience of watching video on Netflix and YouTube in a Tesla vehicle is akin to “an old-school drive-in movie experience, but with much better sound” and that it has an “immersive, cinematic feel” thanks to the surround audio available via the Tesla’s audio system and its “comfy seats.”
It may seem like a weird software update priority for a car, but it’s entirely possible Tesla owners spent so much on their vehicles that they don’t have spare cash for a fixed address, in which case an entertainment system for their tiny apartment actually makes a lot of sense.