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Yesterday — February 19th 2020Your RSS feeds

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Jaguar Land Rover debuts electric urban mobility concept vehicle with plans for 2021 pilot

By Darrell Etherington

Jaguar Land Rover has introduced a new concept vehicle that cuts a very different figure relative to its usual fare: It’s a four-wheeled electric urban mobility concept called ‘Project Vector’ that looks more like a low-floored airport shuttle train car than a traditional car.

This is a look that’s increasingly become popular among automakers designing for a future in which shared electric autonomous mobility plays a big role: Cruise, for instance, debuted a very similar looking long rectangle of a vehicle in January, with the crucial difference that its vehicle is a production model instead of just a concept.

Externally, JLR’s Vector concept looks very similar, with a front and end that could easily pass for one another, as well as sliding doors that open from the middle to allow the maximum amount of space for entry and exit. The floor is low to the ground to similarly accommodate easy onboarding and disembarkation, and that same floor houses the battery and drivetrain that make the vehicle go.

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Unlike Cruise’s strictly driverless design, however, the Jaguar vehicle features front-facing seats and a steering wheel for human control, though the interior is also “configurable” to eventually allow autonomous use, and to also offer flexibility for accommodating goods delivery as well as passenger transportation.

Jaguar Land Rover’s concept isn’t just the kind to get your noodle churning, either: The company says that it aims to work together with the Coventry City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority to actually deploy a pilot mobility service using the Vector starting as early as “late 2021,” which it says will act as a “living laboratory for future mobility on the streets of Coventry.”

Most people probably don’t love the idea of hearing their streets will be made into a laboratory, but on the other hand pioneering shared electric transportation that more closely resembles public transit than traditional ride-hailing is likely a good thing.

Volocopter and Grab to study the feasibility of deploying air taxi services in Southeast Asia

By Darrell Etherington

Air mobility startup Volocopter will be working together with on-demand transportation, food delivery and payments company Grab on a feasibility study around air mobility in Southeast Asia. The joint study is part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the two companies that covers exploration of the potential deployment of air taxi services in some of the cities in the region.

This is the first step in a partnership that could eventually result in actually running test flights and establishing routes for air taxi service deployment, though how far things go will likely depend on the results of this study and the subsequent appetites of both parties involved.

Volocopter, a German startup that has been building and demonstrating vertical takeoff and landing craft powered by electricity since 2011, has already demonstrated its aircraft in Singapore, working with local Singapore aviation regulators. It also unveiled a “world first” full-scale air taxi “VoloPort” last October in the city, working with partner Skyport to develop a commercially scalable model for these urban air taxi stations.

Grab seems to see Volocopter and its aerial taxi services as another potential piece of the overall puzzle that it’s putting together across various transportation methods. “This partnership will enable Volocopter to further develop urban air mobility solutions that are relevant for Southeast Asian commuters so they can decide on their preferred journey option based on their budgets, time constraints and other needs, in a seamless way,” said Grab Ventures CEO Chris Yeo in an emailed press release.

Volocopter has said Singapore could be one of the best contenders for commercial service launch and opened offices in the region last year. Other potential commercial launch markets include Dubai and Germany, the company has said previously.

Karma Automotive to lay off 60 more workers at California headquarters

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

Here’s the complete statement from spokesman Dave Barthmuss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alphabet’s Loon and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile turn solar-powered drones into flying cell towers

By Darrell Etherington

Alphabet-owned Loon, the company that had been focused on delivering internet communications to remote areas via stratospheric balloons, has completed development work on a new payload for partner HAPSMobile, a subsidiary of SoftBank that’s building high-altitude solar-powered uncrewed aircraft. The two companies jointly adapted the communications technology that enables Loon’s balloons to beam communications networks to Earth for use on HAPSMobile’s drones, effectively turning them into high-flying mobile cell towers.

This is the result of a strategic partnership that the two companies announced back in April of last year, but an important step because it means that Loon’s technology will get its first functional tests on vehicles other than its ballon-based platform. The HAWK30 aircraft that HAPSMobile developed is a solar-powered electric aircraft that flies at speeds of over 100 km/h (around 60 mph) in the stratosphere (with an operating altitude or around 65,000 feet) which is much faster than Loon’s balloons, which meant adapting the payload to perform at these speeds. Part of that customization included making the antenna used to beam the LTE connectivity to devices on the ground much more responsive, allowing them to rotate quickly to maintain the best possible connection.

Loon and HAPSMobile say the their communications technology can provide connections between devices as far as 700 km (435 miles) apart, with data transfer speeds reaching as high as 1Gpbs. HAPSMobile’s goal with the HAWK30 project is to expand the scope of coverage vs. terrestrial cell towers, since their high-altitude position can cover a much larger surface area vs. even the tallest cell towers. In fact, the company notes that just 40 of its aircraft could provide coverage to the entirety of Japan, vs. “tens of thousands of existing terrestrial base stations.” Plus, fewer areas would be considered out-of-range as a result of inhospitable terrain or difficult to reach areas in terms of infrastructure installation.

For Loon, this is a signifiant expansion of their current operating model, providing another path to revenue that includes adapting their communications technology for use on different types of aircraft and delivery models. It’s yet another example of the type of commercial partnerships available to the company, even as it ramps up its existing balloon-based deployment plans with partners including Telefonica and others.

Wisk signs deal to deploy an air taxi trial in New Zealand

By Darrell Etherington

Air mobility company Wisk has signed an agreement with the New Zealand government to set up and run an air taxi trial in the region of Canterbury, with the goal of flying passengers once its Cora aircraft is certified to do so by the country’s aviation authority. Cora is an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft with space for two passengers that works primarily autonomously, with a remote pilot as backup.

Cora was originally a project developed by Sebastian Thrun’s Kitty Hawk, which it revealed in 2018, and actually began testing quietly in New Zealand in 2017 with an eye toward eventual certification. Kitty Hawk partnered with Boeing on the project, and ultimately the two formed a more formal joint venture that became Wisk, while Kitty Hawk shifted focus to its Heaviside land-anywhere electric vehicle.

The aircraft features a 12-rotor flight system, which provides redundancy and vertical lifts, with one large fixed prop that kicks in post-take off to propel it around 100 miles per hour through the air. It’s definitely designed for short hops, with a range of around 25 miles initially, but the point is that it’s for getting around more flexibly in urban and more densely developed areas, replacing cars and other forms of ground transportation.

If this trial gets underway relatively quickly, it’ll be the first major initiative of its kind active in the world, which would be a significant step toward commercial short-hop air taxi service and definitely something closely watched by the rest of the aviation and mobility industry.

NASA reveals the payloads for the first commercial Moon cargo deliveries

By Darrell Etherington

NASA has finalized the payloads for its first cargo deliveries scheduled to be carried by commercial lunar landers, vehicles created by companies the agency selected to take part in its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. In total, there are 16 payloads, which consist of a number of different science experiments and technology experiments, that will be carried by landers built by Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines. Both of these landers are scheduled to launch next year, carrying their cargo to the Moon’s surface and helping prepare the way for NASA’s mission to return humans to the Moon by 2024.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine is set to launch aboard a rocket provided by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), while Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander will make its own lunar trip aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Both landers will carry two of the payloads on the list, including a Laser Retro-Reflector Array (LRA) that is basically a mirror-based precision location device for situating the lander itself; and a Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NDL) – a laser-based sensor that can provide precision navigation during descent and touchdown. Both of these payloads are being developed by NASA to ensure safe, controlled and specifically targeted landing of spacecraft on the Moon’s surface, and their use here be crucial in building robust lunar landing systems to support Artemis through the return of human astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

Besides those two payloads, everything else on either lander is unique to one vehicle or the other. Astrobotic is carrying more, but its Peregrine lander can hold more cargo – its payload capacity tops out at around 585 lbs, whereas the Nova-C can carry a maximum of 220 lbs. The full list of what each lander will have on board is available below, as detailed by NASA.

Overall, NASA has 14 total contractors that could potentially provide lunar payload delivery services through its CLPS program. That basically amounts to a list of approved vendors, who then bid on whatever contracts the agency has available for this specific need. Other companies on the CLPS list include Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and more. Starting with these two landers next year, NASA hopes to fly around two missions per year each year through the CLPS program.

Astrobotic Payloads

  • Surface Exosphere Alterations by Landers (SEAL): SEAL will investigate the chemical response of lunar regolith to the thermal, physical and chemical disturbances generated during a landing, and evaluate contaminants injected into the regolith by the landing itself. It will give scientists insight into the how a spacecraft landing might affect the composition of samples collected nearby. It is being developed at NASA Goddard.
  • Photovoltaic Investigation on Lunar Surface (PILS): PILS is a technology demonstration that is based on an International Space Station test platform for validating solar cells that convert light to electricity. It will demonstrate advanced photovoltaic high-voltage use for lunar surface solar arrays useful for longer mission durations. It is being developed at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
  • Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS): The LETS radiation sensor will collect information about the lunar radiation environment and relies on flight-proven hardware that flew in space on the Orion spacecraft’s inaugural uncrewed flight in 2014. It is being developed at NASA Johnson.
  • Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS): NIRVSS will measure surface and subsurface hydration, carbon dioxide and methane – all resources that could potentially be mined from the Moon — while also mapping surface temperature and changes at the landing site. It is being developed at Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.
  • Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo): MSolo will identify low-molecular weight volatiles. It can be installed to either measure the lunar exosphere or the spacecraft outgassing and contamination. Data gathered from MSolo will help determine the composition and concentration of potentially accessible resources. It is being developed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  • PROSPECT Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) for Lunar Surface Volatiles: PITMS will characterize the lunar exosphere after descent and landing and throughout the lunar day to understand the release and movement of volatiles. It was previously developed for ESA’s (European Space Agency) Rosetta mission and is being modified for this mission by NASA Goddard and ESA.
  • Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS): NSS will search for indications of water-ice near the lunar surface by measuring how much hydrogen-bearing materials are at the landing site as well as determine the overall bulk composition of the regolith there. NSS is being developed at NASA Ames.
  • Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface (NMLS): NMLS will use a neutron spectrometer to determine the amount of neutron radiation at the Moon’s surface, and also observe and detect the presence of water or other rare elements. The data will help inform scientists’ understanding of the radiation environment on the Moon. It’s based on an instrument that currently operates on the space station and is being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Fluxgate Magnetometer (MAG): MAG will characterize certain magnetic fields to improve understanding of energy and particle pathways at the lunar surface. NASA Goddard is the lead development center for the MAG payload.

Intuitive Machines Payloads

  • Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator (LN-1): LN-1 is a CubeSat-sized experiment that will demonstrate autonomous navigation to support future surface and orbital operations. It has flown on the space station and is being developed at NASA Marshall.
  • Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (SCALPSS): SCALPSS will capture video and still image data of the lander’s plume as the plume starts to impact the lunar surface until after engine shut off, which is critical for future lunar and Mars vehicle designs. It is being developed at NASA Langley, and also leverages camera technology used on the Mars 2020 rover.
  • Low-frequency Radio Observations for the Near Side Lunar Surface (ROLSES): ROLSES will use a low-frequency radio receiver system to determine photoelectron sheath density and scale height. These measurements will aide future exploration missions by demonstrating if there will be an effect on the antenna response or larger lunar radio observatories with antennas on the lunar surface. In addition, the ROLSES measurements will confirm how well a lunar surface-based radio observatory could observe and image solar radio bursts. It is being developed at NASA Goddard.

Inside Skip’s plan to appeal San Francisco’s scooter permit decision

By Megan Rose Dickey

Electric scooter operator Skip is gearing up to appeal San Francisco’s decision to not grant it a permit to operate in the city. When the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced the permit grantees in September, it came as a surprise to Skip, which had previously received a permit to operate as part of the city’s pilot program.

Ahead of the appeal hearing last Thursday, TechCrunch caught up with Skip CEO Sanjay Dastoor to learn about the company’s game plan and why he thinks it can prevail in a battle that other electric scooter providers have lost.

Prior to the city’s decision last year to grant permits to Lime, Uber’s JUMP, Bird’s Scoot and Ford’s Spin, Skip was one of only two companies operating shared electric scooter services in San Francisco. Leading up to the new permitting application process, Skip said it had been working to ensure its electronic locks would be fully integrated by the beginning of the new permit period, Dastoor told TechCrunch. The company did this with guidance from the SFMTA, so when Skip was denied a permit, the team was caught off guard.

“It was a huge surprise,” Dastoor said. “We found out basically the same time as the press did that we didn’t get that permit, so it was pretty surprising to all of us.”

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.

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.

How scooter charging startups want to make the industry more profitable

By Megan Rose Dickey

In an industry where unit economics are low, operators are seeking ways to improve margins while also maintaining fleet reliability and low prices for riders. Charging stations may be part of the solution. Already, there are a handful of companies, other than the operators themselves, looking to address this issue by deploying charging stations. The latest one that has come onto our radar is called Charge, which just launched charging hubs in Los Angeles for both bikes and scooters.

“Charge came from two investors of Lime who were noticing a trend in the several markets Lime was rolling out into,” Charge Global Head of Community Quemuel Arroyo told TechCrunch. “They saw the Achilles’ heel was the lack of charging infrastructure, and that infrastructure could allow scooters to be charged all day and would undo the litter and obstacles in the right of way that scooters have become in the world.”

Charge’s hubs, located on private properties, are designed to make it easier for gig workers to charge several scooters at once. Workers can reserve space at hubs for 24 hours at a time, with each secure bay supporting 18 scooters and each hub accommodating 72 scooters at a time. Once charged, workers can pick them up for redeployment.

“In addition to the solution of providing charge, we’re enhancing the experience for juicers,” Arroyo said.

Bird, Lime, Spin and other micromobility operators rely heavily on independent contractors to collect their scooters, charge them overnight and then redeploy them in the morning. That means scooter companies don’t have to use their own gas, labor and electricity in order to recharge these vehicles.

For gig workers who rely on charging scooters as a source of income, having a place to go other than their homes to charge a bunch of scooters at once is a major benefit. The catch, however, is that Charge costs $30 to charge while Bird and Lime, for example, offer a base pay of $3 to $5 for every charged and released scooter, but pay more depending on how difficult it is to locate.

Let’s use Spin, which pays $5 per scooter charged, as an example. If someone collects 15 scooters and brings them to a Charge hub, that worker will receive $75 from Spin for charging and redeploying the scooters, but will have to pay Charge $30. That’s a net profit of just $45.

“It’s not cheaper for them, but juicers say that instead of being able to charge 12 a night, they can charge 24 or more scooters per night,” Arroyo said. “That’s where we see an incremental increase for revenue for juicers themselves.”

Trying the calculation again with 24 scooters, the worker would pay Charge $30 and get $120 from Spin for a net profit of $90. That doesn’t seem all that great, but it could be depending on someone’s situation. Maybe one person only has enough space to charge five scooters at a time, so they would only be able to make $25 per night charging Spin scooters. If that same person can then charge 24 scooters a night, they still end up making a bit more by utilizing Charge. On top of that, they don’t have to crowd their living spaces and put themselves at risk of fire hazards.

Even though micromobility is a relatively young industry, there are already a number of startups specifically focused on charging micromobility vehicles. Collectively, they have raised more than $19 million in funding.

In addition to the hubs Charge has launched in Los Angeles, the company is also in talks with the city of Paris to deploy smart charging stations on sidewalks, which can accommodate up to 12 scooters.

“We’ve gotten an exclusive contract with the city, where the mayor says her streets are compromised and they can’t continue to allow scooter takeover of pedestrian space,” Arroyo said.

In this type of model, riders would be able to rent and return vehicles using the docks. This model is more similar to that of Swiftmile, which is working with the city of Austin to deploy 10 public-use sidewalk stations. That comes out to 80 parking slips per station. The company hopes to do this by the end of the year. With this type of model, charging companies charge operators based on usage.

swiftmile scooter charging

Swiftmile’s guerilla marketing at SXSW

Swiftmile, for example, charges the operators by the minute, but not to exceed a certain amount, depending on the market. Initially, the docking system will be open to all operators in order to show them how it works and how beneficial it can be. After a certain period of time, Swiftmile will only charge its customers’ scooters. Swiftmile has also partnered with Spin to create branded charging hubs exclusively for Spin scooters.

“Cities and local officials have expressed ample concern about scooter clutter, and Spin has led the way in solving that problem, with the goal of making micromobility a true and sustainable solution for people to get around,” Spin CEO and co-founder Derrick Ko told TechCrunch. “We’ve heavily invested in our charging and parking solution — Spin Hubs — and have expanded our offerings, such as incentivizing riders to park in designated drop zones or at a Hub.”

Perch Mobility is another competitor in this space, which says it’s “built by chargers for chargers.” Perch, which also operates in Los Angeles, offers three types of products: the pod, the tri-pod and the suite. All three offer unlimited charging for a fixed price, ranging from $25 per night for charging 14 scooters and $45 per night to charge 21 scooters at a time.

Using Spin again as an example, a worker paying $25 a night to charge 14 scooters would earn $70 from Spin, resulting in a net income of $45.

“We are focused on providing our users both sustainable incomes and community sustainability,” Perch Mobility CEO Tom Schreiber told TechCrunch. “We serve all parts of a community, including lower-income areas.”

Perch Mobility gets workers more money, but Charge says its systems are better for the environment, as they utilize lithium-ion green battery power.

“We’re confident we have a completely green, environmentally sound asset that really helps introduce a missing parameter to make micromobility more successful,” Arroyo said.

If I were a charger, I’d surely continue to care about the environment, but I’d probably be more interested in making the most money.

*This story has been updated to clarify Charge’s pricing structure.

Foxconn and Fiat Chrysler partner to develop EVs and an ‘internet of vehicles’ business

By Kirsten Korosec

Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese electronics giant best known for its iPhone manufacturing contract, is forming a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to build electric vehicles in China.

The joint venture was disclosed in a regulatory filing. Nikkei was first to report the joint venture.

According to the filing, each party will own 50% of the venture to develop and manufacture electric vehicles and engage in an IOV, what Foxconn parent company Hon Hai calls the “internet of vehicles” business. Hon Hai’s direct shareholding in the subsidiary will not exceed 40%, the filing says.

The venture will initially focus on making electric vehicles for China. But these vehicles could be exported at a later date, according to Foxconn.

The wording in the regulatory filing suggests these will be new vehicles that are designed and built from the ground up and not a project to electrify any of the vehicles in FCA’s current portfolio.

The venture could give FCA a better path to capturing more business in China, the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.

Foxconn has invested in other electric vehicle ventures before, although this appears to be the first tie-up in which the company will develop and build the product. EV startup Byton was originally started as Future Mobility Corporation as a joint venture between Harmony Auto, Tencent and Foxconn. And Foxconn is also an investor in XPeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup that recently raised a fresh injection of $400 million in capital and has taken on Xiaomi  as a strategic investor.

Joby Aviation raises $590 million led by Toyota to launch an electric air taxi service

By Darrell Etherington

Joby Aviation has raised a $590 million Series C round of funding, including $394 million from lead investor Toyota Motor Corporation, the company announced today. Joby is in the process of developing an electric air taxi service, which will make use of in-house developed electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that will in part benefit from strategic partner Toyota’s vehicle manufacturing experience.

This brings the total number of funding in Joby Aviation to $720 million, and its list of investors includes Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures and more. Alongside this new round of funding, Joby gains a new board member: Toyota Motor Corporation EVP Shigeki Tomoyama.

Founded in 2009, Joby Aviation is based in Santa Cruz, California. The company was founded by JoeBen Bevirt, who also founded consumer photo and electronics accessory maker Joby. Its proprietary aircraft is a piloted eVTOL, which can fly at up to 200 miles per hour for a total distance of over 150 miles on a single charge. Because it uses an electric drivetrain and multi rotor design, Joby Aviation says it’s “100 times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing, and near-silent when flying overhead.”

These benefits make eVTOL craft prime candidates for developing urban aerial transportation networks, and a number of companies, including Joby as well as China’s EHang, Airbus and more are all working on this type of craft for use in this kind of city-based short-hop transit for both people and cargo.

The sizeable investment made by Toyota in this round is a considerable bet for the automaker on the future of air transportation. In a press release detailing the round, Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda indicated that the company is serious about eVTOLs and air transport in general.

“Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky,” Toyoda is quoted as saying. “As we take up the challenge of air transportation together with Joby, an innovator in the emerging eVTOL space, we tap the potential to revolutionize future transportation and life. Through this new and exciting endeavor, we hope to deliver freedom of movement and enjoyment to customers everywhere, on land, and now, in the sky.”

Joby Aviation believes that it can achieve significant cost benefits vs. traditional helicopters for short aerial flights, eventually lowering costs through maximizing utilization and fuel savings to the point where it can be “accessible to everyone.” To date, Joby has completed sub-scale testing on its aircraft design, and begun full flight tests of production prototypes, along with beginning the certification process for its aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the end of 2018.

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.

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.

Here’s why the Tesla Cybertruck has its crazy look

By Matt Burns

Elon Musk revealed the Cybertruck last night, saying it looks like nothing else on the market. That’s true, but the Cybertruck shares several key features with an unlikely pickup — the first-generation Honda Ridgeline.

Both the Cybertruck and Honda Ridgeline are built differently from standard pickups. They employ a unibody design, much like what’s used in most passenger vehicles. Instead of a body sitting on a frame, the Cybertruck and Ridgeline are built around what is essentially a metal cage. A unibody truck makes sense for Tesla, which doesn’t want a large, bulky frame under the body. Tesla wants batteries under the vehicle and uses the body to protect them.

Because of the unibody pickup design, the vehicle has to employ a key design element to enable high-capacity towing: a sail pillar.

Most often, a vehicle’s towing capacity is limited by body design rather than engine strength. Towing places a lot of stress on the vehicle’s frame. Want to pull more? Make a beefier frame under the truck. But with the unibody Tesla Cybertruck, to increase the towing capacity, it had to use as big of a sail pillar as possible, explaining the unconventional design.

A vehicle naturally wants to twist. Think of wringing out a washcloth. In a body-on-frame design, the engine rests on a large frame, which absorbs a lot of the stresses. In a unibody design, vertical supports help, and are employed throughout, starting with an A pillar by the windshield and ending with a D pillar in the rear window of SUVs.

With a body-on-frame design, like what’s used in most pickups, the force from a trailer rests on the frame. Most of the energy is absorbed in the structure located under the body of the truck. The truck’s cab is decoupled from the bed, allowing the cab and bed to move relative to one another and better compensate for the stress on the frame.

In a unibody design, like in the Cybertruck, Ridgeline or most SUVs, the body is subjected to the same forces, but has to use the body to prevent twisting. The buttress-like sail pillar helps absorb the energy and prevent the truck from twisting.

Unibody SUVs have D pillars — the vertical supports at the rear of the vehicle — where pickups do not. This D pillar is needed to prevent the unibody from twisting and flexing when under load. But without the D pillar in a unibody pickup, a sail pillar connects the C pillar to the rear of the truck, achieving a similar result.

The first-generation Honda Ridgeline had a modest sail pillar, but Honda was able to ditch the feature for the second generation by reinforcing critical points throughout the unibody.

Honda described the redesign like this:

The rear frame structure of the 2017 Ridgeline is vitally important to the overall structural rigidity of the body, to collision safety performance and to the Ridgeline’s hauling and towing capability. Utilizing fully boxed frame members for the body sides and rear tailgate frame, the truss-style rear inner construction contributes to the new Ridgeline’s more conventional three-box design profile—allowing for the elimination of the buttress-style body structure in the forward portion of the upper bed on the previous model—while contributing to a 28-percent gain in torsional rigidity versus the previous model. Also, the U-shaped rear frame member serves as a highly rigid mounting structure for the rear tailgate, allowing for a highly precise tailgate fit.

The Chevrolet Avalanche also used a sail pillar to compensate for the lack of a D pillar. To make the Avalanche, Chevy took a full-size Suburban SUV and cut off the rear quarter.

It’s unclear if Tesla unveiled the final version of the Cybertruck. We still have significant questions. And if it’s not the final design, there’s a chance Tesla will be able to use some of Honda’s tricks to reduce the flying buttresses and produce a more conventional pickup design.

We have five questions about Tesla’s Cybertruck

By Matt Burns

Tesla just unveiled its first pickup truck, and the Cybertruck gets a lot of things right. The look is polarizing, but from a truck perspective, it’s capable, practical and relatively affordable compared to other pickups. Of course, all those qualifiers come with an asterisk. Tesla didn’t say when it will hit the market and past Tesla vehicles have been hit with delays and missing features.

Now that the dust has settled, some questions stick out. Is the design final or how will Tesla have to change it to meet regulations? Tesla says the Cybertruck has a maximum range of 500 miles, but how will that change once a trailer is behind it? And what’s the size? It looks significantly longer than a full-size Ford F-150. Why does it have super glass and who does Tesla expect to buy it?

How does the design need to change to meet safety regulations?

There are many safety regulations throughout the world. Each market has slightly different variations. Does the current design meet these regulations? What changes are expected to meet these regulations?

The tires look to stick out from the wheel-wells, and that’s not allowed. The vehicle seems to lack a pedestrian-friendly front bumper. Where are the windshield wipers and turn signals and side mirrors?

How does load affect the range?

Weight kills range — in electric and gas vehicles. In my F-150 Ecoboost, when towing a large camper, my mpg drops from 19 mpg to 10 mpg. Where I can generally get around 700 miles on a tank, when towing a camper, I get about 400 miles.

Tesla seems to be addressing this in a few ways. One, adding another motor should increase the efficiency and help increase range, and the Cybertruck will be offered with two and three motors. Two, an air suspension is better suited to handle the added weight on the rear axle, allowing the vehicle to distribute the weight better.

What are the vehicle dimensions?

The Cybertruck looks massive. During the presentation, it’s showed next to several other vehicles, including a Ford F-150 SuperCrew with a five-and-a-half-foot bed. The Cybertruck looks significantly longer and wider.

I drive a Ford F-150 SuperCrew with a six-and-a-half-foot bed. It’s longer than a standard parking spot. It’s very long and hard to park, even in suburban parking spots. I worry the Cybertruck will be even harder to park — though the tough exterior will help door dings.

If the Cybertruck is longer and wider than a standard pickup truck, it will need additional lights to drive on U.S. roads. The U.S. government mandates any vehicle wider than 80 inches must have five orange safety lights to illustrate the width. The Cybertruck showed during the presentation lacked these lights.

Why super glass?

The Cybertruck is a unibody design, something Elon talked up extensively throughout the introduction. A unibody vehicle distributes stress throughout the body instead of a decoupled frame. But unibody trucks are not new, and there are several on the market, including the Honda Ridgeline. None have bulletproof glass.

With more stress hitting the body, durable glass is wanted to help handle the pressure.

But why extra-strong glass? Adding extra-durable glass seems like a waste of weight, and Tesla didn’t explain the justification outside of saying it’s cool.

What’s the target market?

Who does Tesla expect to buy the Cybertruck?

For construction companies, the massive (and necessary) sail pillar is polarizing and impractical, as it limits the utility of the bed. Plus, Tesla doesn’t like owners wrenching on their vehicles, which could hamper on-the-spot repairs construction companies generally employ.

For those hauling trailers, the Cybertruck’s range is dramatically less than what’s possible with gasoline and diesel engines and will be even less once under load.

For the weekend DIY, the Cybertruck appears to be extremely long, limiting its appeal as a daily driver when it needs to navigate parking lots and city streets.

Eventually, Tesla will answer the questions above as the Cybertruck nears release.

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