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Alexis Ohanian is leaving Initialized Capital

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian is leaving Initialized Capital, the investment firm he co-founded in 2011 with Garry Tan, as first reported Axios and confirmed by TechCrunch. The move comes weeks after Ohanian publicly stepped down from the Reddit board of directors, with Y Combinator president Michael Seibel taking his spot.

Ohanian launched Initialized Capital back in 2011 with a $7 million investment vehicle. Since, the San Francisco-based firm has grown immensely and made early stage bets in companies like Flexport, Instacart, Cruise, Coinbase, and Codecademy. Most recently, it closed a $225 million investment vehicle in 2018, its fourth fund to date.

Ohanian is leaving Initialized Capital to work on “a new project that will support a generation of founders in tech and beyond,” Kim-Mai Cutler, a partner at Initialized and former long-time writer for TechCrunch, said in a statement to TechCrunch. According to the Axios story, Ohanian is leaving Initialized to work more closely on pre-seed efforts. On its website, Initialized details that many teams it talks to already have launched products and have a plan to earn revenue.

“We understand that products and business models evolve, but it’s good to see in a very concrete way how teams are able to ship products and work together,” the firm wrote. If Ohanian raises a pre-seed fund, it will be interesting to see how he changes this methodology.

Ohanian did not directly respond to a request for comment.

It’s worth mentioning that partner departures in venture capital are rarely crystal clear break ups. As Initialized confirmed, Ohanian will remain involved in the firms existing investment vehicles and portfolio companies due to legal ties. It is unclear if Ohanian will remain on any board seats he is on. Ro, a company in which Ohanian has a board seat on, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One big question is whether Ohanian’s departure would trigger a key man clause in the firm’s limited partnership agreement. “Key man” clauses, which are typical in limited partner agreements, require that certain designated people (typically the main partners in a firm) must stay continuously employed at a firm and be active investors. When a key man clause is triggered, limited partners often have a variety of tools ranging from control over new hiring to outright ending the investing at a fund in order to protect their investment in a fund.

In this case, it would be surprising if Alexis Ohanian wasn’t a key man since he is one of the leading general partners and a founder of the firm.

Ohanian stepped away from being involved in the day to day of Reddit in 2018 and recently left his board seat at the company following protests against police brutality. The co-founder urged Reddit to fill the seat with a Black board member. Reddit ultimately selected Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel to fill the position.

Tan, the other founding partner of Initialized, helped YC grow in its early days and helped build the famed accelerator’s internal software system and late-stage funding program. “[Tan] will continue to lead Initialized Capital into the future, finding and funding great entrepreneurs as he has done for nearly a decade,” Cutler said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Garry and Alexis remain committed to each other as long-standing friends and business partners. The firm fully supports Alexis in his future pursuits.”

Initialized Capital currently has $500 million assets under management and has backed over 200 companies to date.

Additional reporting by Danny Crichton.

The Station: Amazon eyes Zoox, Aurora goes back to school and Cabana hits the road

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.

Hi and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

The mobility world got busy this week. Really. busy. This is gonna be a long one, buckle up.

Take a look at the most recent survey we conducted with a bunch of venture capitalists about mobility and what areas interest them most. We talked to Ernestine Fu with Alsop Louie Partners, Stonly Baptiste and Shaun Abrahamson with Urban Us, Shahin Farshchi with Lux Capital, Kate Schox with Trucks VC and Jeff Peters of Autotech Ventures.

Reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Alright, time to dig in. Vamos.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Uber tossed more than 20,000 JUMP bikes into a recycling yard following its deal to offload the JUMP brand to Lime. A photo below, courtesy of Cris Moffitt, shows a sliver of the thousands of bikes at the yard in North Carolina.

“The extent of waste is unfathomable,” the Bike Share Museum said in a tweet.

Since then, Tier Mobility CEO and co-founder Lawrence Leuschner said he wants to take some of those bikes, “repair them, and give them a second life – as we do for all of our vehicles,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

Jump bikes recycled

Image Credits: Cris Moffitt

Keaks (Kirsten Korosec) has been working on a big(ish) story about JUMP for the last week. Stay tuned and/or holler at her if you have any tips.

Meanwhile, we noticed Superpedestrian, the startup that makes self-diagnosing electric scooters, has teamed up with Zagster. Superpedestrian quietly launched LINK, its shared electric scooter service in partnership with Zagster in Fort Pierce, Florida in late December.

As of at least February 2020, Zagster had an agreement with Superpedestrian’s LINK to manage the fleet of shared scooters in Kansas, according to city commission documents. In March, the city council in Manhattan, Kansas authorized the city to negotiate a permitting contract with Zagster to run a six-month electric scooter pilot in partnership with Superpedestrian’s LINK.

Over in Europe, long-distance ridesharing startup BlaBlaCar said it’s expanding to scooter sharing. The company doesn’t plan to operate its own fleet of scooters. Instead, BlaBlaCar is partnering with Voi, a European e-scooter service that has raised $136 million over multiple rounds. Voi scooters will feature three different brands — Voi, BlaBlaCar and BlaBla Ride.

— Megan Rose Dickey

Deal of the week

money the station

It’s not a deal yet — well, as far as we know, but I’d be remiss not to highlight it here. I’m talking, of course, about the WSJ report that Amazon is in advanced talks to acquire self-driving vehicle startup Zoox.

Zoox is unlike any other autonomous vehicle startup I’ve encountered in the past five or so years. The company has taken on several capitally intensive and ambitious roles — electric vehicle designer and manufacturer, full stack autonomous vehicle developer and robotaxi operator. Zoox co-founder Jesse Levinson will disagree with me here — we’ve had this discussion before — but the company is essentially doing this alone. Yes, it has relationships and support from suppliers; it has investors. But it doesn’t have a meaningful OEM partner and backer like its competitors Argo AI and Cruise . And it has no where near the piggy bank that Waymo holds.

It’s a bold and risky strategy. It’s also expensive.

It’s a poorly kept secret that Zoox has had to do some belt tightening over the past 12 months. The company cut costs last year and tried to renegotiate some supplier contracts, sources told me at the time. In October, it raised $200 million in new convertible note funding, which was supposed to be folded into a Series C round and close by the end of 2019 or early 2020. As far as we know, that never happened. Sources have told me Zoox was in talks with OEMs about sealing a deal with a manufacturing partner that might also include financial backing. Daimler and FCA were name dropped in different conversations at the time, but I was never able to verify that the deals were close.

Then COVID-19 hit. Zoox tightened its belt further and cut nearly all of its contract drivers.

There’s no doubt that Zoox needs money to survive. But an Amazon-Zoox deal, if it happens, is bittersweet.

Zoox is the plucky startup — the stand-at-the-cliff’s edge pioneer that you want to succeed. Going it alone carries existential risk, but it has also given it the freedom to stick to its vision.

If acquired, Zoox will get sucked up into the Amazon ether and one wonders what it will become.

Other deals that got our attention:

Bolt, the Estonia-based company that provides on-demand ridesharing, scooters and other transportation services across some 150 cities in Europe and Africa, raised €100 million ($109 million) in a convertible note. Bolt also confirmed that is now valued at €1.7 billion (or nearly $1.9 billion at today’s rates). The money is coming from a single investor, Naya Capital Management, which was also a major backer of the company in its last round, a $67 million Series C announced in July 2019.

Ola Electric, the EV business that spun out of the ride-hailing giant Ola in 2019, acquired  electric scooter startup Etergo. The Dutch startup built a scooter that uses a swappable, high energy battery that delivers a range of up to 240 km (149 miles). Ola Electric is aiming to produce and launch its own line of two wheelers as soon as this year.

Tesla’s board certified a financial milestone that unlocks the first tranche — worth more than $700 million — of an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar pay package for CEO Elon Musk, according a document filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The milestone allows Musk to purchase the first grouping or tranche of nearly 1.69 million shares at a steep discount. As far as we know (based on SEC filings) Musk has not exercised those options yet.

AV spotlight: Aurora

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If you haven’t heard, there’s a battle over talent in the autonomous vehicle industry. One AV founder once described it to me as a “knife fight.”

It’s not just about hiring talent though. It’s about building the right culture to get the job done. In this case, it’s the not-so-small goal to develop and deploy autonomous vehicle technology at commercial scale.

Self-driving vehicle startup Aurora recently hit the 500-employee mark, an internal milestone capped by several new key hires, including Sagar Behere, as director of systems and safety engineering and Tara Green, who is leading human resources, recruiting and IT.

It wasn’t the 500-employee figure that I found interesting. It’s a new in-house program the company is calling Aurora Academy and Raul Rojas, a former professor of computer science and mathematics at the Free University of Berlin who was hired to lead it. The idea is to create a program where employees can build specific technical skills in the self-driving technology domain using its own experts. Rojas comes with deep background in robotics and autonomous vehicle technology. He met two of Aurora’s co-founders Chris Urmson and Drew Bagnell while participating in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. Rojas also co-founded in 2011 Autonomous GmbH, an autonomy startup acquired by TomTom in 2017.

Aurora has hired computer scientists, engineers, physicists, and mathematicians to help in the complex task of integrating different hardware and software modules into an AV system. And yet, Rojas noted there is still a need “to build bridges across the various disciplines so that we can propagate expertise across all levels of the company.” He said that’s where Aurora Academy comes in.

The program kicked off in mid-March with a six-week course entitled “Essential Skills for Poses, Transformations and Lie Groups.” (Light stuff, right?) These are the mathematical tools that give roboticists a uniform and powerful framework for localization and motion planning.

Other classes will cover software engineering, sensor development, mathematical foundations, visualization, planning, control and machine learning. The academy will also be open to non-technical employees who want to learn more diverse skills, including how to program in Python.

“The self-driving world is still a small community, so there’s a limited pool of candidates to begin with, and not many universities offer specialized programs on autonomous driving, so it’s unlikely you will find someone right out of school with all the skills needed,” Rojas said.

For instance, Aurora acquired last year Blackmore, one of the few companies developing Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar, which emits a low-power and continuous wave.

“It’s unlikely someone could have studied it in school, so in June we’re starting a course to teach the physics of Doppler lidar, how to process the data at the fastest possible rate, and how to profit from the measurements in perception tasks,” Rojas noted.

Is your AV company doing something interesting — you know, beyond bringing autonomous vehicles into the mainstream? Hit me up and tell me about it.

Dispatches from Africa

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On demand mobility powered by electric and solar is coming to Africa.

Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe this week with plans to expand across the continent.

The South Africa-headquartered company is using Nissan Leaf EVs and has developed its own solar-powered charging stations. Vaya is finalizing partnerships to take its electric taxi services on the road to countries that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch.

The initiative comes as Africa’s on-demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital platforms.

Uber and Bolt have been operating in Africa’s major economies since 2015, where there are also a number of local app-based taxi startups. Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around motorcycles.

Beyond environmental benefits, Vaya highlights economic gains for passengers and drivers of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets, where fuel costs compared to personal income is generally high for drivers.

Using solar panels to power the charging station network also helps Vaya’s new EV program overcome some of challenges in Africa’s electricity grid.

Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from min-buses to Tuk Tuk taxis.

— Jake Bright

Layoffs, business disruptions and people

Let’s kick this section off this week by highlighting a new company hoping to disrupt van life.

Cabana is a new startup launched by a former Lime executive that’s bringing tricked-out vans with all the amenities of a Holiday Inn hotel room to cities on the West Coast, starting in Seattle. As TechCrunch reporter Jonathan Shieber noted, companies like Tentrr,  HipCamp and even Airbnb have gotten in on the vanlife movement, and Cabana’s founder definitely thinks he can ride the wave.

Cabana has already raised $3.5 million from investors, led by Craft Ventures — the investment firm founded by David Sacks. Other investors include Goldcrest Capital, Travis VanderZanden (the chief executive and founder of Bird), and Sunny Madra, vice president of Ford X at Ford Motor Company.

Hiring news

Rivian appears to be planning to offer its own insurance to customers based on a new job posting for an insurance agency data manager first spotted by RivianForums, which passed along the tip.

The job is to lead Rivian’s property and casualty (P&C) insurance agency, a position that entails recruiting, training, coaching and managing employed licensed sales agents and an insurance customer care team, according to the posting on Rivian’s website. The employee will also sell insurance products and provide feedback to partners on opportunities, the posting said. It’s an unusual move, but not unprecedented. Last August, Tesla launched an insurance product.

Cruise has a new board member who comes with deep experience in tech and hardware. Regina Dugan has a lengthy resume that includes former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the current CEO of Wellcome Leap, a non-profit founded by Wellcome Trust to accelerate innovations that benefit global health. In between DARPA and Wellcome Leap, Dugan was head of Google’s Advanced Technology And Products (ATAP) Group and led Building 8, Facebook’s hardware skunkworks.

“In health care and in transportation, I believe in the power of science and technology to change our world. With this power comes the responsibility to deliver life-saving advances at scale — Cruise has the tech, the team, and the tenacity to get it done. I’m stoked to join,” Dugan said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

Sweden-headquartered Voi Technology recruited Richard Corbett to head up its U.K., Ireland and Benelux operations. Corbett joins from rival Bird, where he spent two years as the U.S. company’s U.K. and Ireland chief, as well as helping to launch e-scooter rentals in Netherlands.

Layoffs and other departures

AirMap, an airspace services platform for unmanned aircraft, cut its staff. Layoffs.fyi reported that around 30% of the team was let go.

Aston Martin announced  CEO Andy Palmer was leaving his post. His replacement is Tobias Moers, the current head of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division, Car and Driver reported.

Welp … Audi fired Daniel Abt from its Formula E racing team after learning he had a professional sim driver race for him during a virtual competition called the “Race at Home Challenge” held last weekend. It appeared Abt was going to merely be suspended. Abt said in a video message published Tuesday on YouTube that Audi had dropped him from the team.

German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen plans to cut up to 15,000 jobs, or around 10% of its work force, by 2025 as a result of a slump in demand, according to a company memo that Automotive News reported. ZF said in an email to employees that half of the 12,000-15,000 job cuts would be in Germany.

Uber is cutting 600 jobs in India, or 25% of its workforce in the country. The job cuts, which affect teams across customer and driver support, business development, legal, policy, marketing, and finance, are part of the company’s global restructuring that eliminated 6,700 jobs this month.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Here are a few other items that caught my eye …

Deloitte Insights tackled a topic that many of us might be mulling as well. They looked at what mobility might look like after COVID-19. The report specifically explores four possible futures over the next three to five years. You can check out the full report here, which provides a high-level description of society, economy and geopolitics and then narrows in on transportation.

In one rosier scenario, dubbed “a passing storm,” the COVID-19 pandemic shakes society but, after a slow start, is met with an increasingly effective health system and political response, according to Deloitte. The pandemic causes long-term economic impact: e-commerce and last-mile delivery networks proliferate and are increasingly supported by autonomous vehicles and digitization of the logistics value chain. Vehicle sanitation becomes a priority, which leads to new self-cleaning materials, certification programs and form factors such as passenger partitions. The in-transit experience benefits from advances in digital entertainment and productivity prompted by the pandemic, including, potentially, AR and VR applications.

AV stuff …

I recommend reserving an hour or two to play around with this Global Autonomous Vehicles Index created by the autonomous vehicles group at law firm Dentons. It’s free and lets users compare the nuances of AV testing and deployment regulations across 18 countries and all 50 U.S. states. For instance, regulations in Canada don’t require a human driver in a vehicle when testing AVs. In China, rules require each organization to buy the compulsory liability insurance for traffic accidents for each vehicle. Yet in Germany, there are no special requirements for AVs which go beyond the motor vehicle liability insurance.

Baidu completed Apollo Park, an autonomous driving and vehicle-infrastructure testing base that houses more than 200 autonomous vehicles and is located in the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area. The facility is used for vehicle storage, cloud control on remotely sensed big data, operational command, maintenance and calibration, as well as research and development.

Baidu-Apollo Park 2

Baidu has completed Apollo Park, an autonomous vehicle testing and development center. Photo: Baidu

Waymo will bring its autonomous vehicles back to public roads in the Bay Area starting June 8, The Verge reported. The plan, according to an email viewed by The Verge, is to use the self-driving vehicles to deliver packages for two Bay Area non-profits: illustrator Wendy McNaughton’s #DrawTogether, which provides art kits to Bay Area kids; and Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Autonomous robotics startup Nuro will test prescription delivery in Houston through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy. The pilot, which will use a fleet of the startup’s autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles and transition to using its custom-built R2 delivery bots, is slated to begin in June.

It’s electric …

Mercedes-Benz is now selling its EQV 300 all-electric premium van in Europe, the second EV to come out of the automaker’s initiative to produce a line of battery-powered models under its new EQ brand.

Rivian has resumed work at its factory in Normal, Ill. following a temporary shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Investor and customer Amazon provided an update this week stating that Rivian is still on track to supply it with electric delivery vans. Vans will begin delivering to customers in 2021, as previously planned. About 10,000 electric vehicles will be on the road as early as 2022 and all 100,000 vehicles will be on the road by 2030.

Audi created a new business unit called Artemis to bring electric vehicles equipped with highly automated driving systems and other tech to market faster.

Tesla slashed prices across its electric vehicle portfolio as the automaker aims to boost sales in an economy beaten down by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Model S and Model X saw base prices cut by $5,000, while the Model 3 standard range plus saw a $2,000 drop.

Ride-hailing and miscellaneous bits …

Uber is launching a book-by-the-hour feature in the U.S., starting Monday. The feature lets users book rides for $50 an hour and make multiple stops. The hourly booking feature, which is already available in a handful of international cities in Australia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, will initially launch in a dozen U.S. cities.

Core Investments, a Boston-based real estate development company,  has proposed a last-mile delivery station for Amazon, Boston Business Journal reported.

Review: Lotus Evora GT

I delayed my first road trippin’ review to make room for Matt Burns’ take on his recent weekend with the $100,000 2020 Lotus Evora GT.

As Burns’ explains:

The Lotus Evora GT is supersized go-kart with nary an advanced technical feature. And I love it. While most cars are coming equipped with supercomputers, the lack of technical wizardry makes the 2020 Evora GT interesting, and that’s why it’s on TechCrunch.

Join Burns on his ride.

Lotas Evora GT-2

SpaceX’s astronaut launch marks the dawn of the commercial human spaceflight industry

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX on Saturday launched two NASA astronauts aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the accomplishment is a tremendous one for both the company and the U.S. space agency. At a fundamental level, it means that the U.S. will have continued access to the International Space Station, without having to rely on continuing to buy tickets aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to do so. But it also means the beginning of a new era for the commercial space industry – one in which private companies and individual buying tickets for passenger trips to space is a consistent and active reality.

With this mission, SpaceX will complete the final step required by NASA to human-rate its Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, which means that it can begin operationally transporting people from Earth essentially as soon as this mission concludes (Crew Dragon still has to rendezvous with the space station tomorrow, and make its way back to Earth with astronauts on board in a few weeks). Already, SpaceX has signed an agreement with Space Adventures, a private space tourism booking company that has previously worked with Roscosmos on sending private astronauts to orbit.

SpaceX wants to start sending up paying tourists on orbital flights (without any ISS stops) starting as early as next year aboard Crew Dragon. The capsule actually supports up to seven passengers per flight, though only four seats will ever be used for official NASA crew delivery missions for the space station. SpaceX hasn’t released pricing on private trips aboard the aircraft, but you can bet they’ll be expensive since a Falcon 9 launch (without a human rated capsule) costs around $60 million, and so even dividing that by seven works out to a high price of entry.

So this isn’t the beginning of the era of accessible private spaceflight, but SpaceX is the first private company to actually put people into space, despite a lot of talk and preparatory work by competitors like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. And just like in the private launch business, crossing the gulf between having a private company that talks about doing something, and a company that actually does it, will absolutely transform the space industry all over again.

Here’s how.

Tourism

SpaceX is gearing up to launch tourists as early as next year, as mentioned, and while those tourists will have to be deep-pocketed, as eight everything that SpaceX does, the goal is to continue to find ways to make more aspects of the launch system reusable and reduce costs of launch in order to bring prices down.

Even without driving down costs, SpaceX will have a market, however niche, and one that hasn’t yet really had any inventory to satisfy demand. Space Adventures has flown a few individuals by buying tickets on Soyuz launches, but that hasn’t really been a consistent or sustainable source of commercial human spaceflight, and SpaceX’s system will likely have active support and participation from NASA.

That’s an entirely new revenue stream for SpaceX to add to its commercial cargo launches, along with its eventual launch of commercial internet service via Starlink. It’s hard to say yet what kind of impact that will actually have on their bottom line, but it could be big enough to have an impact – especially if they can figure out creative ways to defray costs over successive years, since each cut will likely considerably expand their small addressable audience.

SpaceX’s impact on the launch business was to effectively create a market for small satellites and more affordable orbital payloads that simply didn’t make any economic sense with larger existing launch craft, most of which were bankrolled almost entirely by and for defence and NASA use. Similarly, it’s hard to predict what the space tourism market will look like in five years, now that a company is actually offering it and flying a human-rated private spacecraft that can make it happen.

Research

Private spacefarers won’t all be tourists – in fact, it could make a lot more financial sense for the majority of passengers to and from orbit to be private scientists and researchers. Basically, imagine a NASA astronaut, but working for a private company rather than a publicly-funded agency.

Astronauts are essentially multidisciplinary scientists, and the bulk of their job is conducing experiments on the ISS. NASA is very eager to expand commercial use of the ISS, and also to eventually replace the aging space station with a private one of which they’re just one of multiple customers. Already, the ISS hosts commercial experiments and cargo, but if companies and institutions can now also send their own researchers as well, that may change considerably how much interest their is in doing work on orbit, especially in areas like biotech where the advantages of low gravity can produce results not possible on Earth.

Cost is a gain a significant limiting factor here, since the price per seat will be – no pun intended – astronomical. But for big pharma and other large companies who already spend a considerable amount on R&D it might actually be within reach. Especially in industries like additive manufacturing, where orbit is an area of immense interest, private space-based labs with actual rotating staff might not be that farfetched an idea.

Marketing & Entertainment

Commercial human spaceflight might actually be a great opportunity to make actual commercials – brands trying to outdo each other by shooting the first promo in space definitely seems like a likely outcome for a Superbowl spot. It’s probably not anyone’s priority just now, given the ongoing global pandemic, but companies have already discussed the potential of marketing partnerships as a key driver of real revenue, including lunar lander startup ispace, which has signed a number of brand partners to fund the build and flight of its hardware.

Single person rides to orbit are definitely within budget for the most extreme marketing efforts out there, and especially early on, there should be plenty of return on that investment just because of how audacious and unique the move is. The novelty will likely wear off, but access to space will remain rarified enough for the forseeable future that it could still be part of more than a few marketing campaigns.

As for entertainment, we’ve already seen the first evidence of interest there – Tom Cruise is working on a project to be filmed at least in part in space, apparently on board the International Space Station. SpaceX is said to be involved in those talks, and it would make a lot of sense for the company to consider a Crew Dragon flight with film crew and actors on board for both shooting, and for transportation to ‘on location’ shoots on the ISS.

Cruise probably isn’t the only one to consider the impact of a space-based motion picture project, and you can bet at least one reality show producer somewhere is already pitching ‘The Bachelor’ in space. Again, it’s not going to be within budget for every new sci-fi project that spins up, but it’s within blockbuster budget range, and that’s another market that grew by 100% just by virtue of the fact that it didn’t exist as a possibility before today.

NASA confirms work on a Tom Cruise movie to be shot aboard the International Space Station

By Darrell Etherington

NASA is indeed working with actor Tom Cruise on a film to be shot in space – aboard the International Space Station (ISS) it turns out. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the news, which was first reported last night, via a tweet today. The ISS setting is a new detail to the plan, which was first reported by Deadline, and which also named SpaceX as a potential partner on the film project, which is said to be in an early preparatory phase.

NASA has previously talked about how it would like to open the ISS to more commercial ventures, and offering it as a filming location is definitely one way to do that. Bridenstine notes that including scientific endeavours like the floating orbital platform in popular media serves as a way “to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists” that can help the agency achieve its goals.

SpaceX will presumably take part as Cruise ride to the ISS (assuming the actor is actually going to be the one heading there to film on site, but I have a hard time imagining Cruise would pass that up). The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule which is set for a final demonstration mission later this month to establish its ability to carry humans to and from the ISS, with a crew launch of two NASA astronauts.

NASA and SpaceX have planned to make part of the Crew Dragon’s passenger capacity available to commercial entities: The spacecraft can carry up to seven passengers, but NASA will only ever book four of those seats, according to the agency’s plans. The idea is that commercial bookings can help the agency offset the cost of launches further still.

Paying for an actor (or two?) and a film set to take a trip to the ISS will definitely help with sharing the cost of gas for the ride. No word yet on when this will actually take place, or how set in stone the plans are, however. SpaceX has previously announced that it will be offering private tourist flights aboard Crew Dragon, with the current plan to start those either late next year, or in 2022.

Daily Crunch: Tom Cruise might shoot a movie in space

By Anthony Ha

Tom Cruise is talking to SpaceX about taking the ultimate step to top his crazy movie stunts, Apple and Google’s exposure notification API will not provide access to detailed location data and we survey seven VCs about the new media landscape.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for May 5, 2020.

1. Tom Cruise reportedly talking to SpaceX about shooting a movie in space

Perennial action star Tom Cruise, who has a penchant for striving for ever bigger and more blustery stunts and set pieces, may be aiming for the crowning action movie achievement of them all: Shooting a movie in space.

Deadline reports that Cruise is in early discussions with Elon Musk’s SpaceX about the possibility of filming a feature film in space, with NASA also involved in the early chats. (Somehow, the film in question is not the next Mission Impossible sequel.)

2. Apple and Google release sample code, UI and detailed policies for COVID-19 exposure-notification apps

The first version of the Exposure Notification API was released to developers last week along with beta updates of iOS and Xcode. Today, Apple and Google are providing new sample resources for developers, along with new policies (like a prohibition on accessing detailed geolocation data) that any developers working with the API must adhere to in order to get their apps approved.

3. Seven VCs discuss how COVID-19 is changing the media startup landscape

We checked in a variety of top VCs about the new media landscape, where they’re investing and what kind of advice they’re giving their portfolio companies. The consensus? You can’t count on the ad business to recover in the next few months, but there are still opportunities for startups exploring new formats and new business models. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. N26 raises another $100 million in Series D extension

N26’s Series D seems like a never-ending list of big numbers. In January 2019, the company announced a $300 million Series D at a $2.7 billion valuation. In July 2019, the company added $170 million at a $3.5 billion valuation. And now, here comes another $100 million.

5. As Uber (reportedly) squeezes Lime, scooter startups run low on juice

The Information recently reported that Uber may invest in Lime at a dramatically lowered valuation, with an option to buy the company at a later date. Alex Wilhelm discusses why Uber might be doing this, especially when Uber already has its own micro-mobility bet. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Back Market raises $120M for its refurbished device marketplace

Back Market doesn’t refurbish devices in-house. Instead, it partners with certified sellers and let them list their items on the site.

7. Watch the first trailer for Netflix’s Space Force starring The Office’s Steve Carell

The show arrives on May 29 (coincidentally just two days after NASA and SpaceX are set to mark a return to U.S. crewed spaceflight with their first Commercial Crew astronaut demonstration mission), and stars Steve Carell alongside John Malkovich, Diana Silvers, Tawny Newsome, Lisa Kudrow and Ben Schwartz.

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Tom Cruise reportedly talking to SpaceX about shooting a movie in space

By Darrell Etherington

Perennial action star Tom Cruise, who has a penchant for striving for ever bigger and more blustery stunts and set pieces, may be aiming for the crowning action movie achievement of them all: Shooting a movie in space. Deadline reports that Cruise is in early discussions with Elon Musk’s SpaceX about the possibility of filming a feature film in space, with NASA also involved in the early chats.

This isn’t a booked project, but rather early discussions, according to Deadline, but the talks are serious. They also fit perfectly with Cruise’s daring-do profile, since the actor frequently takes on his own stunts, including some of the more hair-raising epic scenes from the Mission Impossible series.

This movie would not be a Mission Impossible sequel, according to the report, but any film actually set in space probably doesn’t need the cache of a legacy film franchise to attract audiences.

No word on how this would actually work, but SpaceX is just about to certify their first human-rated spacecraft for service. Their Crew Dragon is readying for a launch on May 27, carrying NASA astronauts for the first time during a demonstration mission that will act as the final preparatory step before the spacecraft can be used for normal astronaut-ferrying operations to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceX and NASA specifically embarked on their public-private partnership to develop Crew Dragon with the plan that it would also then be made available to commercial partners for other contracts. The agency’s public-private partnership efforts with industry are intended to defray its costs long-term by opening up the market, and SpaceX is already working with another partner on booking private launches aboard Crew Dragon.

Musk’s company is also currently working on Starship, a fully reusable spacecraft that should have much more room on board for a film crew to occupy, once it’s ready to fly. That vehicle is still likely a few years out from human rating, though it was selected by NASA as one of the contract providers for its future human lander missions, which should begin in 2024 if all goes to the agency’s plan.

GM and Honda are co-developing two new electric vehicles due to arrive in 2024

By Kirsten Korosec

GM and Honda will jointly develop two new electric vehicles slated for 2024, the latest move by the two automakers to deepen their existing partnership.

Under the plan, the automakers will focus on their respective areas of expertise. Honda will design the exterior and interiors of the new electric vehicles; GM will contribute its new electric vehicle architecture and Ultium batteries. This new architecture, which GM unveiled last month to showcase its own EV plans, is capable of 19 different battery and drive-unit configurations. The architecture includes large-format pouch battery cells manufactured as part of a joint venture between LG Chem and GM.

The vehicles, which will have a Honda nameplate, will incorporate GM’s OnStar safety and security services. GM’s hands-free advanced driver assistance technology, known as Super Cruise, will also be available in the new vehicles.

The vehicles will be produced at GM plants in North America. Sales are expected to begin in the 2024 model year in Honda’s U.S. and Canadian markets.

The aim is to pull the strengths of both companies to unlock economies of scale around electric vehicles, according to Rick Schostek, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., who added that the two companies are already in discussions about further extending the partnership.

GM and Honda have worked together on projects before. The two automakers partnered on hydrogen fuel cells and electric vehicle batteries, and are both invested in autonomous vehicle company Cruise .

The automakers formed a joint venture in 2017 to produce hydrogen fuel cell systems. A year later, the companies announced an agreement for Honda to use battery cells and modules from GM in electric vehicles built for the North American market.

GM acquired Cruise in 2016; Honda later committed $2.75 billion as part of an exclusive agreement with GM and its self-driving technology subsidiary Cruise to develop and produce a new kind of autonomous vehicle. Cruise Origin, an electric, self-driving and shared vehicle and the first product of that arrangement, was revealed January 21.

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