Wing, the drone delivery company that started its life within the Google X lab before spinning out into its own thing under the Alphabet umbrella, is prepping for takeoff.
As part of the program, Wing will be able to deliver kids’ snacks (goldfish, water, gummy bears and yogurt were mentioned as examples) and over-the-counter meds (like Tylenol or cough drops) from Walgreens, select packages from FedEx Express and sweets and stationary from Sugar Magnolia.
Alas, unless you’re one of the roughly 22,000 people in Christiansburg, Va. and happen to be in a neighborhood they’ve deemed eligible, you’re not going to be able to check it out just yet. Wing says the pilot program is limited to the small Montgomery County town for now as they work with locals to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The company declined to give any sort of timeline for when the program might expand to other parts of the U.S.
So how does it work?
When the customer places an order, one of Wing’s delivery drones heads for a pickup location. As Wing’s drones are only allowed to takeoff or land in specific locations, pickups and deliveries are handled via a tether, with the drone itself hovering about 20 feet in the air. Once at the pickup location, a tether is lowered and a human operator hooks the package onto the line. The drone winches the package into the air, secures it, and heads for its destination.
Once in flight, Wing says its drone cruises at about 60-70mph, with a range of about six miles each way. Once the drone arrives at the delivery location, the same tether line lowers the package. When the drone detects that the package has reached the ground, the package is released and the drone heads back home. All in all, Wing estimates they can make a delivery within about 10 minutes of a customer finalizing their order.
And if the tether gets stuck on something, or someone tries to grab it and tug it down? The drone is designed to detect the resistance and release the tether, dropping the line to the ground.
Wing says its drone can currently handle a payload of about 3 lbs, with the drone itself weighing roughly 10 lbs.
Wing won’t charge pilot program customers for delivery; customers will pay the store’s sticker price, and delivery during this test phase will be free.
Wing says the first deliveries should start next month.
In Washington today, Amazon announced a series of initiatives and issued a call for companies to reduce their carbon emissions 10 years ahead of the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement as part of a sweeping effort to reduce its own environmental footprint.
“We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue—we’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and chief executive, in a statement. “If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon—which delivers more than 10 billion items a year—can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early, then any company can.”
Bezos’ statement comes as employees at his own company and others across the tech industry plan for a walkout on Friday to protest inaction on climate change from their employers.
Amazon’s initiatives include an order for 100,000 delivery vehicles from Rivian, a company in which Amazon has previously invested $440 million.
Electric vans will appear on roads by 2021 and Amazon expects to have 10,000 of the new electric vehicles on the road by 2022 and 100,000 by 2030. The fleet is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 4 million metric tons per year by 2030, the company said.
In addition, Amazon said it would commit another $100 million to reforestation projects through the Right Now Climate Fund in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. That fund will invest in the protection of forests, wetlands and peatlands that now serve as carbon sinks, which remove millions of metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
Finally, the company said it will speed up its adoption of renewable energy with the goal of converting 80% of the company’s energy sources to renewable energy by 2024, with the goal of reaching 100% renewable energy use by 2030.
Amazon has already initiated 15 utility-scale wind and solar renewable energy projects that will generate 1.3 gigawatts of renewable capacity and deliver some 3.8 million megawatt hours of clean energy, according to the company.
All of these efforts will be backstopped by a new sustainability reporting initiative, which will be housed on a new website monitoring and tracking the company’s progress toward its sustainability goals, the company said.
These steps are part of a push from Amazon to get other companies to sign on to a global non-binding agreement to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions.
Companies that sign on to the Amazon-inspired “Climate Pledge” agree to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions regularly; implement decarbonization strategies on a timeline that matches the Paris Agreement; and neutralize remaining emissions with quantifiable and permanent offsets to achieve net zero annual carbon emissions by 2040.
“I’ve been talking with other CEOs of global companies, and I’m finding a lot of interest in joining the pledge. Large companies signing The Climate Pledge will send an important signal to the market that it’s time to invest in the products and services the signatories will need to meet their commitments,” Bezos said in a statement.
The initiative is backed by international political luminaries like Christiana Figueres, the former climate change chief and founding partner of Amazon’s collaborator on The Climate Pledge, Global Optimism.
“Bold steps by big companies will make a huge difference in the development of new technologies and industries to support a low carbon economy,” said Figueres, in a statement. “With this step, Amazon also helps many other companies to accelerate their own decarbonization. If Amazon can set ambitious goals like this and make significant changes at their scale, we think many more companies should be able to do the same and will accept the challenge. We are excited to have others join.”
Amazon will be stepping up its efforts to reduce its climate impact, CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Thursday. The company will be ordering 100,000 electric delivery trucks from Michigan’s Rivian as part of this commitment, Bezos said. The commerce giant will seek to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040 – 10 years earlier than is outlined by the United Nations Paris Agreement.
Bezos said at a National Press Club event in Washington where he made the announcement that the updated timeline is due to the increase in climate change, which has been more aggressive than even some of the more serious predictions had anticipated five years ago whine the Paris agreement was reached.
Amazon’s overarching efforts to make the company carbon neutral are bundled under a plan the company is calling the “Climate Pledge,” which will be open to other companies as well. In addition to efforts like the Rivian order for emission-free delivery vehicles, Amazon will also be seeking to reduce its footprint through other means, including solar energy and carbon offsets.
Rivian noted that this was the largest order to date of any electric delivery vehicles, and that they’d begin actually deploying for Amazon starting in 2021. Amazon led a $700 million investment round in Rivian in February, and the company announced a further $350 million from auto industry giant Cox automotive earlier this month.
Apple Card’s rewards program, Daily Cash, is expanding today with the addition of Walgreens. The retailer joins Uber and Uber Eats to become the latest merchant to offer 3% Daily Cash to Apple Card customers who use Apple Pay at checkout. This includes purchases made in both Walgreens and Duane Reade retail stores, as well as on the web at walgreens.com, and in the Walgreens mobile app.
Daily Cash is the Apple Card’s big incentive, as it offers a percentage back on every purchase when cardholders pay with Apple Pay, or when they pay with their titanium Apple Card when Apple Pay isn’t available.
Initially, only purchases made directly with Apple — including at Apple Stores, apple.com, the App Store, the iTunes Store and for Apple services — would qualify for the 3% Daily Cash. Apple Pay purchases earned 2% Daily Cash and those made with the physical card earned 1%.
This Daily Cash is paid out with every qualifying purchase and can be used right away for other Apple Pay purchases. It can also be put towards the Apple Card balance or sent to friends and family through iMessage.
But when the Apple Card launched in August to all customers in the U.S., Apple surprised users by expanding its 3% Daily Cash program to more merchants. Uber and Uber Eats were only the first of “many popular merchants” who would join the program in the months ahead, the company said at the time.
For the merchants, participation in the rewards program means better access to Apple’s sizable customer base, and a way to increase customer loyalty with their own businesses. After all, why not shop Walgreens over CVS, when there’s 3% Daily Cash to be had?
Apple hasn’t yet said what other merchants may be joining the program in the future, but an obvious place to look would be at the big list of Apple Pay merchants who accept Apple Pay in their stores already, as Walgreens does.
Sex, despite being one of the most fundamental human experiences, is still one of those businesses that some advertisers reject, banks are hesitant to financially support and some investors don’t want to fund.
Given how sex is such a huge part of our lives, it’s no surprise founders are looking to capitalize on the space. But the idea of pleasure versus function, plus the stigma still associated with all-things sex, is at the root of the barriers some startup founders face.
Just last month, Samsung was forced to apologize to sextech startup Lioness after it wrongfully asked the company to take down its booth at an event it was co-hosting. Lioness is a smart vibrator that aims to improve orgasms through biofeedback data.
Sextech companies that relate to the ability to reproduce or, the ability to not reproduce, don’t always face the same problems when it comes to everything from social acceptance to advertising to raising venture funding. It seems to come down to the distinction between pleasure and function, stigma and the patriarchy.
This is where the trajectories for sextech startups can diverge. Some startups have raised hundreds of millions from traditional investors in Silicon Valley while others have struggled to raise any funding at all. As one startup founder tells me, “Sand Hill Road was a big no.”
Here’s something the hermetically sealed iPhone can’t do: Score a perfect 10 for repairability.
The Fairphone 3, which was released in Europe last week with an RRP of €450, gets thumbs up across the board in iFixit’s hardware Teardown. It found all the internal modules to be easily accessible and replaceable — with only basic tools required to get at them (Fairphone includes a teeny screwdriver in the box). iFixit also lauds visual cues that help with disassembly and reassembly, and notes that repair guides and spare parts are available on Fairphone’s website.
iFixit’s sole quibble is that while most of the components inside the Fairphone 3’s modules are individually replaceable “some” are soldered on. A tiny blip that doesn’t detract from the 10/10 repairability score
Safe to say, such a score is the smartphone exception. The industry continues to encourage buyers to replace an entire device, via yearly upgrade, instead of enabling them to carry out minor repairs themselves — so they can extend the lifespan of their device and thereby shrink environmental impact.
Dutch startup Fairphone was set up to respond to the abject lack of sustainability in the electronics industry. The tiny company has been pioneering modularity for repairability for several years now, flying in the face of smartphone giants that are still routinely pumping out sealed tablets of metal and glass which often don’t even let buyers get at the battery to replace it themselves.
To wit: An iFixit Teardown of the Google Pixel rates battery replacement as “difficult” with a full 20 steps and between 1-2 hours required. (Whereas the Fairphone 3 battery can be accessed in seconds, by putting a fingernail under the plastic back plate to pop it off and lifting the battery out.)
The Fairphone 3 goes much further than offering a removable backplate for getting at the battery, though. The entire device has been designed so that its components are accessible and repairable.
So it’s not surprising to see it score a perfect 10 (the startup’s first modular device, Fairphone 2, was also scored 10/10 by iFixit). But it is strong, continued external validation for the Fairphone’s designed-for-repairability claim.
It’s an odd situation in many respects. In years past replacement batteries were the norm for smartphones, before the cult of slimming touchscreen slabs arrived to glue phone innards together. Largely a consequence of hardware business models geared towards profiting from pushing for clockwork yearly upgrades cycle — and slimmer hardware is one way to get buyers coveting your next device.
But it’s getting harder and harder to flog the same old hardware horse because smartphones have got so similarly powerful and capable there’s precious little room for substantial annual enhancements.
Hence iPhone maker Apple’s increasing focus on services. A shift that’s sadly not been accompanied by a rethink of Cupertino’s baked in hostility towards hardware repairability. (It still prefers, for example, to encourage iPhone owners to trade in their device for a full upgrade.)
At Apple’s 2019 new product announcement event yesterday — where the company took the wraps off another clutch of user-sealed smartphones (aka: iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro) — there was even a new financing offer to encourage iPhone users to trade in their old models and grab the new ones. ‘Look, we’re making it more affordable to upgrade!’ was the message.
Meanwhile, the only attention paid to sustainability — during some 1.5 hours of keynotes — was a slide which passed briefly behind marketing chief Phil Schiller towards the end of his turn on stage puffing up the iPhone updates, encouraging him to pause for thought.
“iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 are made to be designed free from these harmful materials and of course to reduce their impact on the environment,” he said in front of a list of some toxic materials that are definitely not in the iPhones.
Stuck at the bottom of this list were a couple of detail-free claims that the iPhones are produced via a “low-carbon process” and are “highly recyclable”. (The latter presumably a reference to how Apple handles full device trade-ins. But as anyone who knows about sustainability will tell you, sustained use is far preferable to premature recycling…)
“This is so important to us. That’s why I bring it up every time. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of this,” Schiller added, before pressing the clicker to move on to the next piece of marketing fodder. Blink and you’d have missed it.
If Apple truly wants to push the boundaries on sustainability — and not just pay glossy lip-service to reducing environmental impact for marketing purposes while simultaneously encouraging annual upgrades — it has a very long way to go indeed.
As for repairability, the latest and greatest iPhones clearly won’t hold a candle to the Fairphone.
This fall, nearly half a million international students will begin or return to STEM degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities. If you’re among them, congratulations — look forward to being wooed by talent-hungry U.S. tech firms when you graduate. But there’s bad news, too: Under current immigration rules, switching from a student visa to an employment visa can be tricky, so it’s important to understand what’s required and how the latest policy upheavals could impact your journey.
In theory, it’s a great time to be a STEM graduate. U.S. STEM jobs are expected to grow by nearly 11% — or about 10.3 million positions — between 2016 and 2026, faster than all U.S. occupations. In practice, however, it can be tough for international students to secure permanent residence in the United States. The H-1B skilled-worker visa system is badly clogged; a federal lawsuit could slam the door on many STEM graduates, and the White House is shaking up both the skilled-worker and student visa systems.
But don’t despair: There’s still a pathway to a future in the United States — you just might face a bumpy ride. Whether you’re starting your studies or preparing to graduate, it’s crucial to understand your options.
An employment-based green card requires an executive-level job, a truly extraordinary résumé, or an employer willing to pony up thousands of dollars in fees and labor-certification costs. Because it’s hard to get a green card, most international STEM students aim for an H-1B visa, which lets you work for a specified U.S. employer for up to six years. It’s not a permanent solution, but it can be a useful launchpad for your career.
Even getting an H-1B isn’t easy, though. There’s a hard cap on H-1Bs: This year, there were more than 200,000 applicants vying for just 85,000 visas. Recipients are selected via lottery, and while you could land an H-1B on your first attempt, many tech workers have to try again — and again, and again — before they finally get lucky.
In the meantime, international students typically start out using the temporary work authorization through their student visa until they transfer to an H-1B.
Let’s dig into the details of what’s allowed under your student visa:
The F-1 student visa is one of the main on-ramps to the U.S. tech sector for foreign-born workers. That’s largely thanks to Bush- and Obama-era changes that expanded the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows F-1 holders to work at American companies after graduating, from 12 to 36 months.
Graduates with multiple STEM degrees (such as a bachelor’s and master’s degrees) can also chain together their OPT periods, working for up to six years in total before switching to another visa. That’s great news because each year of OPT is another chance to play the H-1B lottery, increasing your odds of winning a visa.
To use OPT, you’ll need to get a work permit (“Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) as you near graduation. You’ll also need to file for visa extensions in order to make the most of your OPT entitlement.
Similar to the F-1, the J-1 visa is designed for students involved in cultural exchange programs or who receive substantial funding from governments or institutions.
As a J-1 student, you won’t get OPT but 18 months of Academic Training (AT). Any internships or jobs you take during your studies will count toward your AT allotment, so it’s possible to finish your degree with less than 18 months of work authorization remaining. And while a second 18-month AT period is available for postdoctoral research, there’s no automatic extension for STEM degree holders: Once your 18 months are up, you’ll need to leave the United States.
There’s another catch: Many J-1 visas come with a home residency requirement (HRR), requiring holders to return to their home country for two years before seeking a work-based or family-sponsored U.S. visa — that or apply for an HRR waiver.
The M-1 visa is used by students at technical and vocational schools, not academic programs. As student visas go, it’s very restrictive: You won’t be able to work off-campus and can’t work for more than six months. You also won’t be able to switch to an F-1 visa and won’t find it easy to transition to an H-1B. If you hope to stay in the United States long-term, think carefully about whether an M-1 is right for you.
If you don’t have a job offer, there are other ways to stay in the United States after finishing your studies. One popular option is to enter a graduate program: Getting a master’s degree could extend your student visa by a year or two, while upgrading to a PhD program could get you several additional years. In fact, an advanced U.S. degree under your belt effectively doubles your chances of getting an H-1B in the same lottery.
If you can’t find work and don’t want to keep studying, you’ll need existing family ties to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder). If you’re the direct relative of one (for example, a spouse or child), then things are relatively easier: You have a clear path toward a family-based green card, allowing you to live and work permanently in the United States. That’s true even if you’ve become a family member through marriage: You’ll be able to obtain a marriage-based green card more quickly and easily than an H-1B or other employment-based green cards.
If you’re the spouse or child of someone on a temporary visa, such as an H-1B or O-1 visa holder, you can usually obtain a dependent’s visa. Such visas often allow you to study, but you won’t qualify for OPT after graduating. It’s also getting harder for H4 visa holders to obtain work permits, so don’t count on using a dependent’s visa to launch your career in Silicon Valley. In many cases, OPT is still a better springboard to an H-1B or green card.
If the person who claims you as a dependent applies for permanent residence, you may be able to get a green card through “derivative” benefits, meaning their green card eligibility trickles down to you.
Whatever immigration status you currently have or want to get, you’ll need to plan ahead. In some cases, you might need to start planning your next step almost as soon as you begin your studies, in order to make sure you aren’t left without a valid visa.
Whatever your plans, remember that immigration rules are constantly changing — and seldom in ways that benefit new immigrants. If you can, file your visa or green card application right away to avoid nasty surprises.
It’s important not only to understand your current visa but also to recognize that the U.S. immigration system is in flux — and many of the planned changes spell bad news even for immigrants with advanced degrees and vitally needed skills.
The new public charge rule, for instance, will make it harder to get a green card if you’ve used public benefits and allows the U.S. government to deny your application if they suspect you’ll fall on hard times in the future. For STEM grads with solid job offers, that might not seem like a major concern, but the new rule will apply even to those on temporary visas, including H-1Bs, who wish to extend or change their immigration status. At the least, it’s a sign of how much harder the immigration process is getting.
The Trump administration is also targeting students with a new “unlawful presence” rule that imposes tough punishments for minor violations of student visa terms. Fortunately, the rule is tied up in court, but if it goes through, it could lead to lengthy bans on future work visas if you overstay on your student visa, work in ways that aren’t authorized, or otherwise fail to play by the rules.
Such changes underscore the importance of doing your own due diligence and not simply relying on your college or employer to steer you right. Figuring out your immigration options can feel overwhelming — but as the many thousands of foreign-born STEM graduates who’ve successfully built careers in the United States can tell you, it’s well worth the effort.
Have a question about the complex and shifting immigration process? Boundless can help. Please send your immigration-related questions to our resident immigration expert, Anjana Prasad, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will consider your question for a future column on the Boundless blog.
VW Group of America said Friday it has reached an agreement with thousands of U.S. customers over alleged inflated fuel economy information on about 98,000 gas-powered vehicles from its four brands, Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Volkswagen.
The agreement involves alleged misinformation about fuel economy on 98,000 vehicles, or about 3.5% of the model year 2013-2017 VW Group vehicles sold or leased in the United States. The fuel economy will be restated to reflect a discrepancy of one mile per gallon, when rounded according to the U.S.-specific “Monroney” label requirements, according to the EPA.
Most of the vehicles affected by the overstatement of fuel economy were from Audi, Bentley and Porsche, including the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Audi A8L, RS7 and S8 vehicles. Other affected models include variants of the Porsche Cayenne such as the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo.
Volkswagen does not admit wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement.
Eligible customers will receive payments ranging from $5.40 to $24.30 for each month the vehicle is owned or leased. The total value of the settlement, which is subject to court approval, is $96.5 million, according to VW.
Volkswagen Group of America will also adjust its Greenhouse Gas credits to account for any excess credits associated with the fuel economy discrepancy.
Potential claimants will have to submit a claim to receive compensation. However, owners do not need to take any action at this time. Individual class members will receive information about their rights and options (including the option to “opt out” of the settlement agreement) if the court grants preliminary approval of the proposed agreement, according to VW.
Many Silicon Valley companies and fintech startups in India today share a common mission: They all want to bring their financial services to the next billion users. Dozens of fintech startups that we have spoken to in recent months have told us that they all want to address much of India, one of the last great growth markets globally, in the next few years.
So you can imagine our excitement when we learned there is at least one startup that is going after just a few million users in the immediate future. We’re talking about CRED, a nine-month-old, Bangalore-based startup that is building solutions to incentivize credit card users in India to become more responsible with money and thereby improve their credit score.
CRED has raised $120 million in a Series B financing round, Kunal Shah, founder and CEO of the startup, told TechCrunch on Monday. He declined to share more information. The startup, which has raised about $145 million to date, is now valued between $430 million to $450 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
According to a regulatory filing, existing investors Sequoia Capital, Ribbit Capital and DST Global’s Gemini Investments led the round, with participation from Tiger Global, Hillhouse Capital, General Catalyst, Greenoaks Capital and Dragoneer.
Hundreds of millions of Indians today don’t have a credit score because they have never taken a loan from a recognized entity nor owned a credit card. According to the government’s official figures, fewer than 50 million credit cards are in circulation in India currently, with industry reports suggesting that the actual number of unique credit card holders is about half of that.
“Nobody taught us about how to use money,” Shah told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “This has created a huge trust gap in India. If you look at developed markets, systematic trust is very high between all the entities. Members don’t have to rely on third-parties. In India, even if you wanted to rent a flat, you look for brokers, for instance.”
You can build that trust when you know how someone handles their money, and how they have handled it in recent history. “Our aim is to create a big membership community with high credit worthiness, therefore open up more opportunities for them,” Shah explained.
Shah is not going after the masses. He wants to focus on just the credit card users for now, and if he could win the trust of just half of those plastic card holders in India, he would consider it a success.
“Instead of chasing the mythological mass customers who are currently useful only on paper if you wanted to boast about your daily active user or monthly active user metric, our goal is to serve the existing users,” he said.
On CRED, users are offered a range of features, including the ability to better track their spending, get reminders and check their credit score, but more importantly, access to a range of lofty offers such as membership to a gym at a discounted price, access to good restaurants at low prices and subscription to various services at little to no charge. Users can access these features by earning points, which they can secure every time they pay their bills on time.
Varun Krishnan, editor of technology news site FoneArena, told TechCrunch that he has found CRED useful in getting reminders to pay his bills and likes that he can pay them through a range of payment options, including UPI apps and debit cards. “I have several cards and it is hard to track amounts and due dates of payment for each one. They send all these alerts on WhatsApp, which is a blessing,” he said.
These are the reasons that attracted many people like Krishnan to join CRED. That, and some incentive to pay his bills — though he hopes that CRED expands the range of offers it currently provides to customers.
That wish may soon come true. In the coming months, CRED will enable these highly sought-after customers to access some financial services from banks in a single-click. Additionally, it is also exploring expansion to some international markets, the aforementioned source said.
CRED does not charge users any money for joining its platform, nor for availing any of the features it offers. But it is generating revenue from some of the partners that are supplying offers on the app.
Generating revenue, however, is not the biggest focus for Shah currently. And he is one of the few people in the industry who can build a business with such conviction.
An industry veteran known for speaking the uncomfortable truth at conferences, it’s no surprise that Shah has won the trust of so many investors already. He built one of the biggest payment apps in India, Freecharge, and sold it to e-commerce giant Snapdeal for a whopping $400 million in one of the increasingly rare exits that India’s fintech market has seen to date.
Walmart came out swinging earlier this week in a lawsuit that accused Tesla of breach of contract and gross negligence over problems with rooftop solar panel systems installed at the retail giant’s stores.
Now, just days later, the lawsuit has been placed on hold while the two companies try to reach an agreement that would keep the solar installations in place and put them back in service, according to a joint statement issued late Thursday night.
“Walmart and Tesla look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed,” the statement read. “Together, we look forward to pursuing our mutual goal of a sustainable energy future. Above all else, both companies want each and every system to operate reliably, efficiently, and safely.”
Walmart hasn’t dropped the lawsuit. The complaint is still on file with New York state court. But the two parties are going to try to reach an agreement that would avoid a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which is aimed at Tesla’s energy unit that was formerly known as SolarCity, alleges that seven fires on Walmart rooftops were caused by the solar panel systems. Walmart asked Tesla to remove the solar panel systems on all 244 stores where they are currently installed and to pay for damages related to fires that the retailer alleges stem from the panels.
Now, a Walmart spokesperson said it is “actively working towards a resolution” with Tesla.
Neither Tesla or Walmart would explain the details of the negotiations.
Tesla’s share of the solar market has declined since its merger with SolarCity in 2016. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar, installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts, respectively.
Tesla’s renewable energy business includes residential and commercial solar and energy storage products. The company also has a utility-scale energy product called Megapack. While Tesla still produces solar panels for residential use, much of its focus has been on developing its solar roof, which is comprised of tiles. It still operates a commercial business, which targets municipalities, schools, affordable housing, enterprise and agriculture and water districts as customers.
The company doesn’t provide a breakdown of its solar installations, making it difficult to determine if the commercial business is flat, falling or on the rise. Language in its latest 10-Q suggests Tesla is putting a renewed effort into its solar business.
Tesla said it’s working on revamping the customer service experience for solar products, according to the 10-Q. The company said while its retrofit solar system deployments have it expects they “will stabilize and grow in the second half of the year.”
The 2020 Chevy Bolt EV now has 259 miles of range, a 9% increase from previous year models of the electric hatchback, according to the EPA.
To get there, the company focused on cell chemistry, not the battery pack. The GM brand did not add more battery cells or change the battery pack or the way it is integrated into the vehicle structure, a spokesperson confirmed.
Instead, Chevrolet’s battery engineering team made what the company described as “impactful changes to the cell chemistry.” The changes to the cell chemistry allowed the team to improve the energy of the cell electrodes, and ultimately enabled them to squeeze more range out of the battery.
The increase pushes the 2020 Chevy Bolt ahead of the Kia Niro and the standard range plus variant of the Tesla Model 3, with 239 and 240 miles of range, respectively. Other versions of the Model 3, the long-range and performance, have a much longer 310-mile range. It’s also just one mile better than the 258-mile range Hyundai Kona EV. Nissan Leaf Plus, the laggard in the group, can travel 226 miles on a single charge.
That might not seem like much. But in this small, yet growing pool of electric vehicle models, jumping from 238 to 259 miles could help Chevrolet sell more Bolt EVs next year. It could also cannibalize sales this year.
The electric vehicle has never been a top seller for the GM brand, particularly compared to its top-selling SUVs and trucks. It has beat out some of its other Chevy models and sales are high enough for the company to stick with the compact hatchback for now.
GM delivered 23,297 Chevy Bolt EVs in 2017, the first model year of the electric vehicle. But the following year, deliveries fell 22%, to 18,019. Sales have rebounded in the first half of the year.
The 2020 model year, which will be offered in two new exterior colors, is expected to arrive in dealerships later this year. The base price of the electric vehicle is $37,495, which includes destination and freight charges. Tax, title, license and dealer fees are excluded.
From the time he was a high school student, Rohit Kalyanpur thought it was peculiar that although it’s possible to create energy from a solar panel, the panels have long been used almost exclusively on rooftops and as part of industrial-scale solar grids. “I hadn’t seen [anything solar-powered] in the things people use every day other than calculators and lawn lights,” he tells us from him home in Chicago — though he’s moving to the Bay Area next month.
It wasn’t just a passing thought for Kalyanpur. Through research positions in high school, he continued to learn about energy and work on a solar charging prototype — initially to charge his iPhone — while continuing to wonder what other materials might be powered spontaneously just by shining light on it.
What he quickly discovered, he says, is there were no developer tools to build a self-charging project. Unlike with hardware projects, where developers can turn to the open-source electronic prototyping platform Arduino, and to Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer the size of a credit card and was created in 2012 to help students understand how computers work, there was “nothing you could use to optimize a solar product,” he says.
Fast-forward, and Kalyanpur says there is now — and he helped build it.
It’s been several years in the making. After attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for two years and befriending a fellow student, Paul Couston, who helped manage and invest the university’s $10 million green fund, the pair dropped out of school to start their now four-person company, Optivolt Labs. Entry into the accelerator program Techstars Chicago was the impetus they needed, and they’ve been gaining momentum since. In fact, Kalyanpur, now 21, was recently given a Thiel Fellowship, a two-year-long program that includes a $100,000 grant to young people who want to build new things, along with a lot of mentorships and key introductions.
Now, the company has closed on a separate $1.75 million round of seed funding from a long list of notable individual investors, including Eventbrite co-founders Kevin & Julia Hartz; TJ Parker, who is the founder and CEO of PillPack (now an Amazon subsidiary); Pinterest COO Francoise Brougher: and Jeff Lutz, a former Google SVP.
What they’re buying into exactly is the promise of a scalable technology stack for solar integration. Though still nascent, Optivolt has already figured out a way to provide efficient power transfer systems, solar developer and simulation tools and cloud-based API’s to enable fleets of machines to self charge in ambient light, says Kalyanpur. Think e-scooters, EVs, drones, sensors and other connected devices.
Asked how it all works on a more granular level, Kalyanpur declines to dive into specifics, but he says the company will begin testing its technology soon with a number of “enterprise fleets” that have already signed on to work with Optivolt in pilot programs.
If it works as planned, it sounds like a pretty big opportunity. Though some companies have begun making smaller solar-powered vehicles, there are presumably many outfits that would prefer to find a way to retrofit the hardware they already have in the world, which Kalyanpur says will be possible.
He says they can use their existing batteries, too — that the solar won’t just power the devices or vehicles in real time but allow them to store some of that energy, too. Optivolt’s technology “seamlessly integrates into everyday products, so you don’t have to change the product design meaningfully,” he insists.
We’ll be curious to see if see if it does what he thinks it can. It sounds like we aren’t the only ones, either.
Asked about Optivolt’s road map, Kalynapur suggests that one is coming together. The company’s top priority, however — beyond hiring more engineering talent with its brand new round — it to see first how it works in the field.
As the technologies that were once considered science fiction become the purview of science, the venture capital firms that were once investing at the industry’s fringes are now finding themselves at the heart of the technology industry.
Investing in the commercialization of technologies like genetic engineering, quantum computing, digital avatars, augmented reality, new human-computer interfaces, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, robots, and space travel that were once considered “frontier” investments are now front-and-center priorities for many venture capital firms and the limited partners that back them.
Earlier this month, Lux Capital raised $1.1 billion across two funds that invest in just these kinds of companies. “[Limited partners] are now more interested in frontier tech than ever before,” said Bilal Zuberi, a partner with the firm.
He sees a few factors encouraging limited partners (the investors who provide financing for venture capital funds) to invest in the firms that are financing companies developing technologies that were once considered outside of the mainstream.
Royal Dutch Shell, the energy giant known for its fossil fuel production and hundreds of Shell gas stations, is creeping into the electric vehicle-power business.
The company’s first DC fast charger from its newly acquired company Greenlots launched Monday at a Shell gas station in Singapore. Greenlots, an EV charging startup acquired by Shell in January, installed the charger. This is the first of 10 DC fast chargers that Greenlots plans to bring to Shell service stations in Singapore over the next several months.
The decision to target Singapore is part of Greenlots’ broader strategy to provide EV charging solutions across all applications throughout Asia and North America, the company said. Both Shell and Greenlots have a presence in Singapore. Greenlots, which is based in Los Angeles, was founded in Singapore; and Shell is one of Singapore’s largest foreign investors.
Singapore has been promoting the use of electric vehicles, particularly for car-sharing and ride-hailing platforms. The island city-state has been building up its EV infrastructure to meet anticipated demand as ride-hailing drivers and commercial fleets switch to electric vehicles.
Greenlots was backed by Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech investment firm, before it was acquired by Shell. The company, which combines its management software with the EV charging hardware, has landed some significant customers in recent years, notably Volkswagen. Greenlots is the sole software provider to Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.
Clarification: Shell has other EV chargers. These are the first through its newly acquired company Greenlots.
The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to TechCrunch’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining TechCrunch’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise.
#1 Artificial Intelligence.
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead into that future, TechCrunch will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address again it head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein).
#2. Data, The Cloud and Kubernetes.
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today. 90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO Mark Russinovitch (CTO) will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution, Joe Beda (VMWare) and Aparna Sinha (Google) and others will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data – which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks), Murli Thirumale (Portworx).
#3 Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green. We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum, the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort, Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, and Krysta Svore, style="font-weight: 400;"> who leads the Microsoft’s quantum effort.
All told, there are 21 programming sessions.
#4 Network and get your questions answered.
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, TechCrunch’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an incredible array of folks, plus the 20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer Max Wessel, SAP Chief Designer and Futurist Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO) in sessions including, how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.
Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other.
Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait till the day of to book because prices go up at the door!
We still have 2 Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!
Most of us, by now, are aware that all sorts of crazy stuff is happening to the planet’s climate, and the blame is pretty much universally recognized as lying with humans pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere. Scientists are now saying tree planting, for instance, has to happen very, very quickly if we are to avert disaster.
A few startups, such as Changers, have tried to incentivize us to do things like walk instead of taking the car, with mixed results.
Now a blockchain startup thinks it may have the making of one solution, rewarding us with crypto tokens for making the right choices for the planet. Now, before you roll your eyes, hear me out…
Imagine rewarding people for taking the bus instead of their car — and them exchanging that token to offset their carbon by planting a tree? Or incentivizing passengers for sharing their travel data — helping companies to improve their experience in the future? That’s the big idea here.
Here’s how it works: The DOVU platform offers a token, wallet and marketplace and allows users to earn tokens and spend them to carbon-offset their activity and on rewards within the mobility ecosystem, starting with their Uber rides.
Users link their Uber account to their DOVU wallet, enabling them to earn DOV tokens for every journey taken. The startup has connected to Uber APIs, meaning that, once authenticated, the user has to do nothing other than take the journey.
The DOVU CO2 calculator then automatically rewards the value of tokens depending on the length of the journey. The DOV tokens can then be spent within the DOVU Action, and the user can choose the project to back or the user can ask DOVU to choose the project on their behalf to ensure the carbon offsetting happens.
The platform can connect to any published API, meaning it is in a notional position to have an immediate impact on all the new mobility solutions globally.
With Jaguar Land Rover as shareholders, DOVU potentially has the backing to try to make this happen.
Mobility-related organizations often have a need to reward, incentivize or nudge their users to do the right thing. It might be sharing their data for better service planning, taking an alternate route to help ease traffic congestion or charging electric batteries at times that are best for the grid. Whether it’s influencing consumer behavior or encouraging data sharing, the DOVU platform could, in theory, provide a solution that meets the needs of both the mobility provider and the end user. That at least is their pitch.
Hell, given the state of the planet, it might be worth a shot…
As companies collect increasingly large amounts of data about customers, the end game is about improving the customer experience. It’s a term we’re hearing a lot of these days, and we are going to be discussing that very topic with Amit Ahuja, Adobe’s vice president of ecosystem development, next month at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise in San Francisco. Grab your early-bird tickets right now – $100 savings ends today!
Customer experience covers a broad array of enterprise software and includes data collection, analytics and software. Adobe deals with all of this including the Adobe Experience Platform for data collection, Adobe Analytics for visualization and understanding and Adobe Experience Cloud for building applications.
The idea is to begin to build an understanding of your customers through the various interactions you have with them, and then build applications to give them a positive experience. There is lots of talk about “delighting” customers, but it’s really about using the digital realm to help them achieve what they want as efficiently as possible, whatever that means to your business.
Ahuja will be joining TechCrunch’s editors along with Qualtrics chief experience officer Julie Larson-Green and Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt to discuss the finer points of what it means to build a customer experience, and how software can help drive that.
Ahuja has been with Adobe since 2005 when he joined as part of the $3.4 billion Macromedia acquisition. His primary role today involves building and managing strategic partnerships and initiatives. Prior to this, he was the Head of Emerging businesses and the GM of Adobe’s Data Management Platform business, which focuses on advertisers. He also spent 7 years in Adobe’s Corporate Development Group where he helped complete the acquisitions of Omniture, Scene7, Efficient Frontier, Demdex and Auditude.
Amit will be joining us on Sept 5 in San Francisco along with some of the biggest influencers in enterprise including Bill McDermott from SAP, Scott Farquhar from Atlassian, Aparna Sinha from Google, Wendy Nather from Duo Security, Aaron Levie from Box and Andrew Ng from Landing AI.
Early-bird savings end today, August 9. Book your tickets today and you’ll save $100 before prices go up.
Bringing a group? Book our 4+ group tickets and you’ll save 20% on the early-bird rate. Bring the whole squad here.
For nearly 15 years LanzaTech has been developing a carbon capture technology that can turn waste streams into ethanol that can be used for chemicals and fuel.
Now, with $72 million in fresh funding at a nearly $1 billion valuation and a newly inked partnership with biotechnology giant, Novo Holdings, the company is looking to expand its suite of products beyond ethanol manufacturing, thanks, in part, to the intellectual property held by Novozymes (a Novo Holdings subsidiary).
“We are learning how to modify our organisms so they can make things other than ethanol directly,” said LanzaTech chief executive officer, Jennifer Holmgren.
From its headquarters in Skokie, Ill., where LanzaTech relocated in 2014 from New Zealand, the biotechnology company has been plotting ways to reduce carbon emissions and create a more circular manufacturing system. That’s one where waste gases and solid waste sources that were previously considered to be un-recyclable are converted into chemicals by LanzaTech’s genetically modified microbes.
The company already has a commercial manufacturing facility in China, attached to a steel plant operated by the Shougang Group, which produces 16 million gallons of ethanol per-year. LanzaTech’s technology pipes the waste gas into a fermenter, which is filled with genetically modified yeast that uses the carbon dioxide to produce ethanol. Another plant, using a similar technology is under construction in Europe.
Through a partnership with Indian Oil, LanzaTech is working on a third waste gas to ethanol using a different waste gas taken from a Hydrogen plant.
The company has also inked early deals with airlines like Virgin in the UK and ANA in Japan to make an ethanol-based jet fuel for commercial flight. And a third application of the technology is being explored in Japan which takes previously un-recyclable waste streams from consumer products and converts that into ethanol and polyethylene that can be used to make bio-plastics or bio-based nylon fabrics.
Through the partnership with Novo Holdings, LanzaTech will be able to use the company’s technology to expand its work into other chemicals, according to chief executive Jennifer Holmgren. “We are making product to sell into that [chemicals market] right now. We are taking ethanol and making products out of it. Taking ethylene and we will make polyethylene and we will make PET to substitute for fiber.”
Holmgren said that LanzaTech’s operations were currently reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.
“LanzaTech is addressing our collective need for sustainable fuels and materials, enabling industrial players to be part of building a truly circular economy,” said Anders Bendsen Spohr, Senior Director at Novo Holdings, in a statement. “Novo Holdings’ investment underlines our commitment to supporting the bio-industrials sector and, in particular, companies that are developing cutting-edge technology platforms. We are excited to work with the LanzaTech team and look forward to supporting the company in its next phase of growth.”
Holmgren said that the push into new chemicals by LanzaTech is symbolic of a resurgence of industrial biotechnology as one of the critical pathways to reducing carbon emissions and setting industry on a more sustainable production pathway.
“Industrial biotechnology ca unlock the utility of a lot of waste carbon emissions. ” said Holmgren. “[Municipal solid waste] is an urban oil field. And we are working to find new sources of sustainable carbon.”
LanzaTech isn’t alone in its quest to create sustainable pathways for chemical manufacturing. Solugen, an upstart biotechnology company out of Houston, is looking to commercialize the bio-production of hydrogen peroxide. It’s another chemical that’s at the heart of modern industrial processes — and is incredibly hazardous to make using traditional methods.
As the world warms, and carbon emissions continue to rise, it’s important that both companies find pathways to commercial success, according to Holmgren.
“It’s going to get much much worse if we don’t do anything,” she said.
Nissan and EVgo said Tuesday they will install another 200 DC fast chargers in the United States to support the growing number of consumers who are buying electric vehicles, including the new Nissan Leaf e+ that came to market earlier this year.
The 100 kilowatt DC fast-charging stations will have both CHAdeMO and CCS connectors, making them accessible to more EV drivers. The inclusion of both charger connectors is logical; it’s also notable for Nissan, once the primary advocates for CHAdeMO chargers.
The announcement builds off of the companies’ six-year partnership, which included building out a corridor of EV chargers along Interstate 95 on the East Coast, as well as between Monterey, Calif., and Lake Tahoe.
Nissan says it has installed more than 2,000 quick-charge connectors across the country since 2010.
Plans to add another 200 fast chargers follows the launch of the 2019 Nissan Leaf e+. The Nissan Leaf e+, which came to the U.S. and Canada this spring, has a range of 226 miles and fast-charging capability.
This new version of the Leaf all-electric hatchback has 40% more range than other versions thanks to a 62 kilowatt-hour battery pack. That 226-mile range puts the Leaf e+ just under the Chevy Bolt EV, which has a 238-mile range, the Kia Niro EV with 239 miles and the Tesla Model 3 standard range plus with 240 miles.
“Given the tremendous driver response to the 2019 long-range all-electric LEAF, Nissan and EVgo will accelerate fast charging by committing to a multi-year charger construction program that will continue to expand fast-charging options for EV drivers across the country,” Aditya Jairaj, director, EV Sales and Marketing, Nissan North America said in a statement.
The companies also plan to partner on a marketing campaign to sell consumers on the benefits of EVs, and for Nissan, hopefully persuade more to buy its Nissan Leaf Plus. Nissan’s July sales figures were down compared to the same month last year, a slump that has affected the Leaf, as well.
There are few topics as hot right now in the enterprise as customer experience management, that ability to collect detailed data about your customers, then deliver customized experiences based on what you have learned about them. To help understand the challenges companies face building this kind of experience, we are bringing Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 in San Francisco (p.s. early-bird sales end this Friday, August 9).
At the root of customer experience management is data — tons and tons of data. It may come from the customer journey through a website or app, basic information you know about the customer or the customer’s transaction history. It’s hundreds of signals and collecting that data in order to build the experience where Reinhardt’s company comes in.
Segment wants to provide the infrastructure to collect and understand all of that data. Once you have that in place, you can build data models and then develop applications that make use of the data to drive a better experience.
Reinhardt, and a panel that includes Qualtrics’ Julie Larson-Green and Adobe’s Amit Ahuja, will discuss with TechCrunch editors the difficulties companies face collecting all of that data to build a picture of the customer, then using it to deliver more meaningful experiences for them. See the full agenda here.
Segment was born in the proverbial dorm room at MIT when Reinhardt and his co-founders were students there. They have raised more than $280 million since inception. Customers include Atlassian, Bonobos, Instacart, Levis and Intuit .
Are you an early-stage startup in the enterprise-tech space? Book a demo table for $2,000 and get in front of TechCrunch editors and future customers/investors. Each demo table comes with four tickets to enjoy the show.