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JUMP pulled its bikes from a number of markets in the last few months

By Megan Rose Dickey

Uber -owned JUMP pulled its bikes and scooters from a handful of markets over the last few months. The latest city affected is San Diego, where JUMP’s bikes and scooters will no longer be available as of September 19, with the exception of two naval bases in the city.

“We understand this may have a huge impact on your day-to-day commuting and we regret the fact that we can no longer provide this service to you,” JUMP wrote in an email to its San Diego customers.

The decision was in light of San Diego councilperson Barbara Bry calling for a moratorium on scooters in the city until it could figure out a fiscally responsible and thoughtful plan.

“We agree with local elected officials in San Diego who’ve said current micromobility regulations foster an unsustainable operating environment, which is why we’re ending our operations as of today,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We look forward to working with the city to develop more sensible regulations.”

Earlier this week, JUMP removed its bikes from Providence following acts of vandalism and misuse. This month, JUMP is also removing its bikes from Atlanta after operating in the city for just nine months. Its scooters, however, will remain.

“We are winding down our current JUMP e-bike operations in Atlanta,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We will continue to offer JUMP scooters and look forward to continuing conversations with city leaders on how we can work together to expand transportation options.”

That decision came after Atlanta halted its permitting process for dockless vehicles and implemented a nighttime curfew for them. Meanwhile, JUMP also pulled its bikes from Dallas and San Antonio, with no real explanation. In Staten Island, regulatory hurdles forced JUMP to remove its bikes. Since June, JUMP has pulled its bikes from at least six markets.

“Our goal is to make JUMP electric bikes and scooters a sustainable part of the transportation ecosystem,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We currently have JUMP products in over 25 cities worldwide and we make operational decisions on a case by case basis.”

It’s likely those case-by-case decisions are at least partially fueled by unit economics — looking at everything from ridership to vandalism to theft.

Meanwhile, San Francisco seems to remain a solid market for JUMP bikes. In August, JUMP hit one million rides in San Francisco since launching in January 2018 with a total fleet size of 500 bikes. Earlier this year, JUMP touted its high utilization rates in the city compared to docked bike providers.

Uber’s JUMP, of course, is not the only company facing issues with its micromobility operations. In July, Lyft had to pull its e-bikes from San Francisco following apparent battery fires. Then, in August, a Lime bike caught on fire in Seattle. On the positive side for Uber, at least there have not been any reports of its bikes or scooters catching on fire.

This is all to say micromobility is not an easy business. Between regulatory hurdles, potential vandalism and faulty batteries, there are a number of factors that can stand in the way of success.

On-demand parking startup SpotHero raises $50 million

By Kirsten Korosec

SpotHero, the Chicago-based company that has developed an on-demand parking app, has raised $50 million in a Series D round led by Macquarie Capital.

Union Grove Venture Partners participated in the round, along with existing investors including Insight Venture Partners, Global Founders Capital, OCA Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and others, according to the company. SpotHero has raised $118 million to date.

The new capital will be used to expand its reach in the 300 U.S. and Canadian cities where it is already operating, build out its digital platform and strengthen partnerships with mobility companies, CEO and co-founder Mark Lawrence told TechCrunch.

SpotHero, which has operations in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, initially set out to develop software that connects everyday drivers to parking spots in thousands of garages across North America.

It’s secret sauce is its software, which can sit on top of the 40 or so different point-of-sales systems used by parking garages. This acts as a single protocol, allowing SpotHero to bring some kind of standardization to an otherwise fragmented system. From this single protocol, SpotHero can add in features that will allow for automated parking services such as license plate recognition.

“We’ve built the pipes, so to speak, and this powers out consumer app,” Lawrence said in a recent interview. Now the company is focus is on building out partnerships, features in the software and services, he added.

Capital will also be used to hire talent to support these new endeavors. SpotHero has 210 employees today and is working on hiring 50 more engineers this year.

In the eight years since its founding, SpotHero has expanded beyond its core consumer-focused compentcy. The company has added other services as urban density has increased and on-street parking has become more jumbled and confused thanks to an increase in traffic, ride-hailing and on-demand delivery services that take up valuable curb space. It has locked in more than 900 distribution partnerships and integrations including Google Assistant, for voice-enabled parking and Waze in-app navigation to parking. Other partners include Hertz and car2go for fleet parking, WeWork, for commuter parking and Moovit, for multi-modal parking.

Most recently, SpotHero launched a new service dubbed “SpotHero for Fleets” that targets shared mobility and on-demand services.

The service aims to be a one-stop shop for car-sharing and commercial fleets to handle all that goes into ensuring there is access and the right number of designated parking areas on any given day within SpotHero’s large network of 6,500 garages across 300 cities. That means everything from managing the relationships between garage owners and the fleet companies to proper signage so car-sharing customers can find the vehicles, as well as flexible plans that account for seasonal demands on businesses.

Under the new service, customers are able to source and secure parking inventory in high-traffic areas across multiple cities and pay per use across multiple parking facilities on one invoice to streamline payments. 

The company has signed on car-sharing companies and other commercial fleets, although it’s not naming them yet.

Segway-Ninebot’s new scooter drives to its docking station for a recharge

By Brian Heater

At an event in Beijing last week, Chinese scooter company Segway-Ninebot Group unveiled a trio of new products. The most compelling of the bunch was no doubt the KickScooter T60, which harnesses AI to drive itself back to the charging station.

The company says it will start piloting the products next quarter, with a timeline for commercialization realized some time early next year. “The pain point for scooter operators is to better maintain the scooters at a lower cost,” Ninebot chairman Gao Lufeng told Reuters in an interview tied to the event.

Cost is an interesting point here, given that a “smart” scooter would be priced considerably higher at around $1,400 — several times the price of its more basic units. But the executive’s statement factors in the cost of having to manually collect scooters to recharge them. Obviously managing the two different factors will be a bit of a balancing act for scooter operators.

In an age when delivery robots have become something of a hot-button topic amongst various city councils, there’s also a question of sidewalk legality for a self-driving vehicle — even one designed to drive relatively short distances.

The company hasn’t offered much detail, but a video that has since appeared on YouTube shows a fleet of T60s in action. In the short promotional video, the scooters appear to be semi-autonomous, with an employee controlling them remotely via desktop computer.

Ninebot also used the opportunity to debut a pair of delivery robots for indoor and outdoor settings.

Local governments are forcing the scooter industry to grow up fast

By Megan Rose Dickey

Gone are the days when tech companies can deploy their services in cities without any regard for rules and regulations. Before the rise of electric scooters, cities had already become hip to tech’s status quo (thanks to the likes of Uber and Lyft) and were ready to regulate. We explored some of this in “The uncertain future of shared scooters,” but since then, new challenges have emerged for scooter startups.

And for scooter startups, city regulations can make or break their businesses across nearly every aspect of operations, especially two major ones: ridership growth and ability to attract investor dollars. From issuing permits to determining how many scooters any one company can operate at any one time to enforcing low-income plans and impacting product roadmaps, the ball is really in the city’s court.

Ford acquires software company Journey Holding

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford has agreed to acquire Journey Holding Corporation, a company that has developed vehicle tracking software and app-based technology designed for public transportation, as the automaker seeks to scale up its new mobility business.

Journey Holding will be housed under Ford Smart Mobility, a Ford subsidiary that invests in and builds the automaker’s transportation services. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. In a separate announcement, Ford said Tuesday it acquired Quantum Signal, a small robotics company and defense contractor known for mobile robotics and real-time simulation.

The acquisition of Journey is part of broader vision laid out by CEO Jim Hackett more than a year ago to create an ecosystem of transportation-related services that people and cities need now and in the future. The Journey acquisition follows Ford’s purchase of Autonomic and Transloc in 2018.

Today, those services might include using an app to find a Ford-owned Spin scooter or schedule a bus or on-demand shuttle. In the future, it might include finding and hailing an autonomous vehicle.

Eventually, Journey will integrate into Transloc, a transit technology business that Ford bought in 2018. Transloc develops software that helps cities manage transit services including on-demand shuttles.

The name of the combined organization will be announced at a later date, Ford said.

Journey Holding Corporation was founded in 2018 through the merger of two companies, Indianapolis-based DoubleMap and Salt Lake City-based Ride Systems. Journey offers software to municipalities, universities and corporations to help manage their fleets. It also has developed apps that lets users schedule or track rides on shuttles, buses and other public transit.

Transloc CEO Doug Kaufman will leave the new company on Aug. 16. Journey Holding CEO Justin Rees, who founded Ride Systems in 2007 with Kelly Rees and Ben Haynie, will lead the new company.

Together, this newly formed company of about 200 people will serve nearly 1,200 cities, universities, corporate campuses and other enterprises with software solutions for fixed route transportation, microtransit on-demand transportation and other related areas.

“The combination of these transit technology companies will accelerate our efforts to help cities deliver more seamless, productive, and accessible transportation solutions to their citizens and visitors,” Brett Wheatley, vice president of Ford Mobility’s marketing and growth division, said in a statement. “It also will be key to connecting customers with the other mobility solutions in our portfolio, such as Spin e-scooters and our GoRide Health service.”

These services should eventually be part the Transportation Mobility Cloud, an open cloud-based platform that Ford developed for cities to use to orchestrate and manage all the disparate transportation modes happening at any given time.

Ethics in the age of autonomous vehicles

By Arman Tabatabai

Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its annual Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.

Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts of key panels and conversations from the event, such as Megan Rose Dickey‘s chat with Voyage CEO and cofounder Oliver Cameron and Uber’s prediction team lead Clark Haynes on the ethical considerations for autonomous vehicles.

Megan, Oliver and Clark talk through how companies should be thinking about ethics when building out the self-driving ecosystem, while also diving into the technical aspects of actually building an ethical transportation product. The panelists also discuss how their respective organizations handle ethics, representation and access internally, and how their approaches have benefitted their offerings.

Clark Haynes: So we as human drivers, we’re naturally what’s called foveate. Our eyes go forward and we have some mirrors that help us get some situational awareness. Self-driving cars don’t have that problem. Self-driving cars are designed with 360-degree sensors. They can see everything around them.

But the interesting problem is not everything around you is important. And so you need to be thinking through what are the things, the people, the actors in the world that you might be interacting with, and then really, really think through possible outcomes there.

I work on the prediction problem of what’s everyone doing? Certainly, you need to know that someone behind you is moving in a certain way in a certain direction. But maybe that thing that you’re not really certain what it is that’s up in front of you, that’s the thing where you need to be rolling out 10, 20 different scenarios of what might happen and make certain that you can kind of hedge your bets against all of those.

For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Megan Rose Dickey: Ready to talk some ethics?

Oliver Cameron: Born ready.

Clark Haynes: Absolutely.

Rose Dickey: I’m here with Oliver Cameron of Voyage, a self-driving car company that operates in communities, like retirement communities, for example. And with Clark Haynes of Uber, he’s on the prediction team for autonomous vehicles.

So some of you in the audience may remember, it was last October, MIT came out with something called the moral machine. And it essentially laid out 13 different scenarios involving self-driving cars where essentially someone had to die. It was either the old person or the young person, the black person, or the white person, three people versus one person. I’m sure you guys saw that, too.

So why is that not exactly the right way to be thinking about self-driving cars and ethics?

Haynes: This is the often-overused trolley problem of, “You can only do A or B choose one.” The big thing there is that if you’re actually faced with that as the hardest problem that you’re doing right now, you’ve already failed.

You should have been working harder to make certain you never ended up in a situation where you’re just choosing A or B. You should actually have been, a long time ago, looking at A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and like thinking through all possible outcomes as far as what your self-driving car could do, in low probability outcomes that might be happening.

Rose Dickey: Oliver, I remember actually, it was maybe a few months ago, you tweeted something about the trolley problem and how much you hate it.

Cameron: I think it’s one of those questions that doesn’t have an ideal answer today, because no one’s got self-driving cars deployed to tens of thousands of people experiencing these sorts of issues on the road. If we did an experiment, how many people here have ever faced that conundrum? Where they have to choose between a mother pushing a stroller with a child and a regular, normal person that’s just crossing the road?

Rose Dickey: We could have a quick show of hands. Has anyone been in that situation?

How parking app SpotHero is preparing for an era of driverless cars

By Kirsten Korosec

On-demand parking app SpotHero wants to be ready for the day when autonomous vehicles are ubiquitous. Its strategy: target the human-driven car-sharing fleets today.

The Chicago-based company, which has operations in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, has launched a new service dubbed SpotHero for Fleets that targets shared mobility and on-demand services.

The service aims to be a one-stop shop for car-sharing and commercial fleets to handle all that goes into ensuring there is access and the right number of designated parking areas on any given day within SpotHero’s large network of 6,500 garages across 300 cities.

That means everything from managing the relationships between garage owners and the fleet companies to proper signage so car-sharing customers can find the vehicles, as well as flexible plans that account for seasonal demands on businesses.

Under the new service, customers are able to source and secure parking inventory in high-traffic areas across multiple cities and pay per use across multiple parking facilities on one invoice to streamline payments. 

The service also aims to solve the crux of accessing commercial garages, Elan Mosbacher, SpotHero’s head of strategy and operations, said in a recent interview.

“How does a car get in and out of the garage when the driver driving that car isn’t necessarily the one paying for the parking?,” Mosbacher asked rhetorically. The service provides access to gated parking facilities to provide more pickup and drop-off points for shared cars.

The company’s core competency — its bread and butter since launching in 2011 — has been directed at connecting everyday drivers to parking spots in thousands of garages across North America.

That focus has expanded in the past eight years, with the company adding other services as urban density has increased and on-street parking has become more jumbled and confused thanks to an increase in traffic, ride-hailing and on-demand delivery services that take up valuable curb space.

“Our platform has evolved as more trends emerge around everything from connected cars to urban mobility apps to fleets to autonomous vehicles more and more companies are reaching out to us about how to leverage our network and our API to service parking from their interface to their audience of drivers,” said Mosbacher.

For instance, just last month, SpotHero announced it was integrating Waze, the navigation app owned by Google, into its app to help customers find the best and most direct route to their pre-booked parking spot. The company has also partnered with Moovit as well as expanded into the corporate world with firms such as the Associated Press, Caterpillar and US Cellular.

SpotHero could continue to scale up with this consumer-focused business model. However, the company saw two overlapping opportunities that center around car-sharing fleets.

In the past year, SpotHero has been approached by a number of autonomous vehicles companies acknowledging that one day they’re going to have to solve parking, Mosbacher said. But these companies aren’t even ready to launch pilot programs.

The company realized there was a use case and an opportunity today for human-driven car-sharing fleets.

“What we’re doing now is leveraging our network of services, hardware and software to solve a number of business problems around car-sharing fleets we the hope that the technology, infrastructure improves and accelerates to a point when autonomous vehicles are capable of parking using our network,” Mosbacher said.

That opportunity is poised to get a lot wider in the next decade. Deloitte predicts that by 2030 shared vehicles will overtake personally owned vehicles in urban areas. As car-share fleets grow, companies are increasingly tasked with solving for complex parking needs at scale, according to SpotHero.

The company has signed on car-sharing companies and other commercial fleets, although it’s not naming them yet.

The business of parking — and its potential to tap fleets of human-driven and someday even driverless vehicles — has attracted venture funds. SpotHero has raised $67.6 million to date.

And there’s good reason investors and parking app companies like SpotHero are jumping in to “solve parking.” A study by Inrix released in 2017 found that, on average, U.S. drivers spend 17 hours per year searching for parking at a cost of $345 per driver in wasted time, fuel and emissions.

How top VCs view the new future of micromobility

By Arman Tabatabai

Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its annual Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.

Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts key panels and conversations from the event, including our panel on micromobility where TechCrunch VC reporter Kate Clark was joined by investors Sarah Smith of Bain Capital Ventures, Michael Granoff of Maniv Mobility, and Ted Serbinski of TechStars Detroit.

The panelists walk through their mobility investment theses and how they’ve changed over the last few years. The group also compares the business models of scooters, e-bikes, e-motorcycles, rideshare and more, while discussing Uber and Lyft’s role in tomorrow’s mobility ecosystem.

Sarah Smith: It was very clear last summer, that there was essentially a near-vertical demand curve developing with consumer adoption of scooters. E-bikes had been around, but scooters, for Lime just to give you perspective, had only hit the road in February. So by the time we were really looking at things, they only had really six months of data. But we could look at the traction and the adoption, and really just what this was doing for consumers.

At the time, consumers had learned through Uber and Lyft and others that you can just grab your cell phone and press a button, and that equates to transportation. And then we see through the sharing economy like Airbnb, people don’t necessarily expect to own every single asset that they use throughout the day. So there’s this confluence of a lot of different consumer trends that suggested that this wasn’t just a fad. This wasn’t something that was going to go away.

For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Kate Clark: One of the first panels of the day, I think we should take a moment to define mobility. As VCs in this space, how do you define this always-evolving sector?

Michael Granoff: Well, the way I like to put it is that there have been four eras in mobility. The first was walking and we did that for thousands of years. Then we harnessed animal power for thousands of years.

And then there was a date — and I saw Ken Washington from Ford here — September 1st, 1908, which was when the Model T came out. And through the next 100 years, mobility is really defined as the personally owned and operated individual operated internal combustion engine car.

And what’s interesting is to go exactly 100 years later, September 2008, the financial crisis that affects the auto industry tremendously, but also a time where we had the first third-party apps, and you had Waze and you had Uber, and then you had Lime and Bird, and so forth. And really, I think what we’re in now is the age of digital mobility and I think that’s what defines what this day is about.

Ted Serbinski: Yeah, I think just to add to that, I think mobility is the movement of people and goods. But that last part of digital mobility, I really look at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. And it’s really that intersection, which is enabling all these new ways to move around.

GettyImages 1129827591

Image via Getty Images / Jackie Niam

Clark: So Ted you run TechStars Detroit, but it was once known as TechStars Mobility. So why did you decide to drop the mobility?

Serbinski: So I’m at a mobility conference, and we no longer call ourselves mobility. So five years ago, when we launched the mobility program at TechStars, we were working very closely with Ford’s group and at the time, five years ago, 2014, where it started with the connected car, auto and [people saying] “you should use the word mobility.”

And I was like “What does that mean?” And so when we launched TechStars Mobility, we got all this stuff but we were like “this isn’t what we’re looking for. What does this word mean?” And then Cruise gets acquired for a billion dollars. And everyone’s like “Mobility! This is the next big gold rush! Mobility, mobility, mobility!”

And because I invest early-stage companies anywhere in the world, what started to happen last year is we’d be going after a company and they’d say, “well, we’re not interested in your program. We’re not mobility.” And I’d be scratching my head like, “No, you are mobility. This is where the future is going. You’re this digital way of moving around. And no, we’re artificial intelligence, we’re robotics.”

And as we started talking to more and more entrepreneurs, and hundreds of startups around the world, it became pretty clear that the word mobility is actually becoming too limiting, depending on your vantage where you are in the world.

And so this year, we actually dropped the word mobility and we just call it TechStars Detroit, and it’s really just intersection of those physical and digital worlds. And so now we don’t have a word, but I think we found more mobility companies by dropping the word mobility.

Toyota invests $600 million in Didi, with the two setting up a new joint venture for driver services

By Catherine Shu

Didi Chuxing announced today that it has received new investment totaling $600 million from Toyota Motor Corporation. As part of the deal, the two companies will also set up a joint venture with GAC Toyota Motor to provide vehicle-related services to drivers on Didi’s ride-sharing platform. GAC Toyota itself is a joint venture between Toyota and GAC Group, one of China’s largest automakers.

Nikkei Asian Review first broke news of the deal at the end of May, reporting that Toyota was considering a $550 million investment in Didi and setting up a new mobility-services company in China.

Didi and Toyota announced last year 2018 that it would work together on services that use technology developed by Toyota for its mobility and vehicle-sharing platform, which includes autonomous driving software, a fully electric battery and the “e-Palette,” or modules that can be used to build autonomous vehicles of different sizes, ranging from small ones for deliveries to passenger buses.

Toyota has also backed other vehicle-sharing companies, including Uber and JapanTaxi.

DiDi’s partnership with Toyota is one of several partnerships it has made with car manufacturers and other vehicle-related companies as part of its D-Alliance, including Toyota, Volkswagen, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, as well as major Chinese automakers like FAW, Dongfeng and GAC, with the intention of expanding its reach beyond its ride-hailing services by creating a platform that uses new energy, AI-based and mobility technology.

Didi recently announced that it will open its ride-hailing platform to third-party service providers as part of agreements with FAW, Dongfeng and GAC, three of China’s largest auto makers.

Inside the GM factory where Cruise’s autonomous Bolt is made

By Kirsten Korosec

TechCrunch took a field trip to GM’s Orion Assembly plant in Michigan to get an up-close view of how this factory has evolved since the 1980s.

What we found at the plant that employs 1,100 people is an unusual sight: a batch of Cruise autonomous vehicles produced on the same line — and sandwiched in between — the Bolt electric vehicle and an internal combustion engine compact sedan, the Chevrolet Sonic.

This inside look at how autonomous vehicles are built is just one of the topics coming up at TC Sessions: Mobility, which kicked off July 10 in San Jose. The inaugural event is digging in to the present and future of transportation, from the onslaught of scooters and electric mobility to autonomous vehicle tech and even flying cars.

With global ambitions, VC firm Maniv Mobility raises $100 million from automakers, suppliers

By Kirsten Korosec

What started as an accident has turning into a venture firm with a global reach and backing from a some of the biggest corporations in the automotive and transportation industries.

Maniv Mobility, the Israel-based venture capitalist firm, said Tuesday it has closed a new $100 million fund backed by 12 corporations, including the venture arms of the Aptiv, BMW, Hyundai, Lear Corp, LG Electronics, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Shell and Valeo.

Other investors that joined the round include Deutsche Bahn Digital Ventures, the venture arm of the German rail and logistics operator Deutsche Bahn, the Israeli car importer Carasso Motors and numerous individuals, family offices and institutional investors, according to Maniv.

The company officially considers 2016 its launch date. Although founder and managing director Michael Granoff and Maniv partner Olaf Sakkers were making smaller angel investments back in 2015. The VC began raising its first fund, which ended up at $44 million, in 2016. (Granoff will be on stage July 10 in San Jose as part of the TC Sessions: Mobility event)

“We call ourselves an accidental VC,” Sakkers explained to TechCrunch recently. Since the beginning, they have focused on the thesis that there is a significant disruption happening in mobility and working closely with founders helps them develop their technology. “We’ve just realized that running a VC is the most effective way for us to do that,” he added.

Now, Maniv is taking its core beliefs global. The VC’s initially focused on transportation and mobility-related startups in Israel with a few in investments in the U.S. The company’s portfolio includes vehicle security company Owl, peer-to-peer car sharing company Turo, teleoperations startup Phantom Auto, autonomous vehicle-focused chipmaker Hailo, shared electric moped company Revel and in-vehicle software management firm Aurora Labs. It was one of the many VCs that backed Drive.ai, the troubled autonomous vehicle tech startup that was recently acquired (in what has been described as an acqui-hire) by Apple as it prepared to shut down.

The VC has made five investments from the new fund, including Spain-based car subscription startup Bipi and Revel. Three others have not been announced yet, although one is a startup focused on food delivery and another is a digital insurance firm.

Maniv Mobility is focused on just one vertical: mobility. But it’s taking a global investment approach by working with strategic partners in Europe, North America, Israel and in the long term, possibly India and other Asian markets. Those partnerships are central to the firm’s investment strategy and are on clear display in Tel Aviv, a city that has exploded in recent years with startups and a number of automotive venture arms.

“Mobility is a very global game,” Sakkers, told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “That’s something that we want to pursue plus, our network of investors actually want global exposure.”

TC Sessions: Mobility: Three live onstage demos that shouldn’t be missed

By Kirsten Korosec

TechCrunch Sessions is heading to San Jose on July 10 — just a few days from now — to dig into the future (and present) of transportation.

The agenda at TC Sessions: Mobility is packed with startups and giants in the tech industry. TechCrunch has brought together some of the best and brightest minds working on autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles, including Dmitri Dolgov at Waymo, Karl Iagnemma of Aptiv, Seleta Reynolds of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Ford Motor CTO Ken WashingtonKatie DeWitt of Scoot and Argo AI’s chief security officer, Summer Craze Fowler.

It wouldn’t be a TechCrunch Sessions without an up-close look and demonstration of the tech. Alongside the speakers, TC Sessions: Mobility will have several demos, including the unveiling of one startup currently in stealth.

The demos will begin with Holoride, the startup that spun out of Audi that aims to bring a VR experience to the backseat of every car, no matter if it’s a Ford, Mercedes or Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Later in the day, check out Damon X Labs, a company aiming to make motorcycles safer with a system that anticipates accidents and warns the rider.

Finally, the day will wrap up with a Michigan-based startup coming out of stealth. We can’t say much yet, but this startup will show off its approach to getting things to people — even in winter.

Tickets are on sale now for $349. Prices go up at the door, so book today! And students, get a super-discounted ticket for just $45 when you book here.

Where May Mobility’s self-driving shuttles might show up next

By Kirsten Korosec

May Mobility might be operating low-speed self-driving shuttles in three U.S. cities, but its founders don’t view this as just another startup racing to deploy autonomous vehicle technology.

They describe the Ann Arbor-based company as a transportation service provider. As May Mobility’s co-founder and COO Alisyn Malek told TechCrunch, they’re in the “business of moving people.” Autonomous vehicle technology is just the “killer feature” to help them do that. 

TechCrunch recently spent the day with May Mobility in Detroit, where it first launched, to get a closer look at its operations, learn where it might be headed next and why companies in the industry are starting to back off previously ambitious timelines.

Malek will elaborate on what markets are most appealing to May Mobility while onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility on July 10 in San Jose. Malek will join Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli, head of partner product and programs at Aurora, to talk about what product makes the most sense for autonomous vehicle technology.

Wind Mobility raises additional $50M and unveils new e-scooter hardware designed for rentals

By Steve O'Hear

Wind Mobility, the Berlin and Barcelona-based micromobility startup that operates e-scooter rentals in Europe, Israel and Asia, is disclosing $50 million in Series A funding. The new round is backed by existing investors. The company last raised $22 million in funding eight months ago from Chinese Source Code Capital and Europe’s HV Holtzbrinck Ventures after it pivoted away from bike rentals to focus on e-scooters.

Coinciding with the new funding, Wind is unveiling its “third generation” e-scooters, which it says have been designed “from the ground up” for micromobility sharing. Eight months in development, the new hardware claims to be significantly more durable and best-in-class for battery life, with the ability to drive 65-80km between charges.

The battery is hot swappable, too, meaning that it should be more efficient to run the Wind e-scooter service. That’s because not only can more scooters remain in circulation at any given time, potentially increasing revenue per scooter, but there’s a reduction in the cost of collecting dead batteries for re-charging as they are de-coupled from the scooter itself.

Wind also claims its new scooter has the highest waterproofing, with IP67 standard, and that its increased durability should see it last over 12 months when used in the tough sharing environment. That, in turn, puts the startup on a better unit economic footing, as flimsy hardware that needs to be replaced frequently has been a fiscal drag for e-scooter companies using off-the-shelf e-scooters designed primarily for single ownership and not for commercial use.

In the last few months a number of other micromobility companies have announced upgrades to their hardware, including European competitors Voi and Tier, although Wind Mobility co-founder and CEO Eric Wang has long talked up the importance of hardware as a differentiator, something he echoed again in a call late last week.

Specifically, Wang argued that it is still “Day One” in the e-scooter rental race, and even though Wind hasn’t been as aggressive in its roll out and has deployed fewer scooters than Lime, Voi and Tier in Europe, he says there is still everything to play for. He said it was a conscious decision not to put too many scooters on the streets until the hardware was good enough to set the company on a path to profitability. Even with the third-generation scooter being deployed immediately, the company plans to stagger the launch so that it can gather sufficient data on how the new hardware is performing before hitting the accelerator, so to speak.

The early signs look promising, however (in a video Wang sent me via WhatsApp, the new Wind scooter survives being plunged into a pond and can be seen driving off after retrieval from the water), although the Wind CEO cautions other companies and industry commentators not to underestimate how difficult hardware is. He argues that the detailed design decisions that Wind has made and the resulting improvements aren’t easily replicated any time soon and that there are “no shortcuts” in hardware. This has seen Wind set up its own R&D center in China in order to work as closely with the supply chain as possible.

Meanwhile, I’m told Wind now offers its services in 20-plus cities, including operations in Germany, France, Spain, Israel, Austria, Portugal, Denmark, Korea and Japan. The company currently employs more than 120 people worldwide.

In addition to urban air mobility, why not rural air mobility?

By David Riggs
Jeff Miller Contributor
Jeff Miller is the retired executive vice president of marketing at Aerion Supersonic and an aerospace marketing consultant.

Personal air vehicles — those nifty electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft — have become one of the hottest aviation concepts since the Wright Flyer inspired a flood of competitors.

Touted as quieter, cleaner and cheaper than commercial helicopters, these electric air taxis promise to address city-dwellers’ mobility woes and have captured the attention of major aircraft and aerospace designers worldwide, including Bell Helicopter, Boeing and Airbus.

With hundreds of millions in startup capital flowing to a nascent urban air mobility (UAM) industry, we might pause to ask: Can these new eVTOL aircraft serve rural areas, too? Could they help lift economic prospects for the millions of people living outside of big cities? Should we be thinking beyond UAM to rural air mobility — RAM?

The initial focus of the 100 or more companies working to create eVTOL aircraft and related systems may help solve the pressing urban problems of congestion and gridlock. It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are in the thick of this pursuit, as their lives are directly affected by the terrible traffic their mushrooming enterprises help to create.

But there are good reasons to consider applying these technologies to rural America as well, or even first.  Rural residents face a host of logistical issues that have contributed to significant declines in rural population and economic stability in recent decades. If you’re living in a rural area, you’re almost certainly far away from specialized healthcare, let alone a GP. You’re a long way from community colleges and universities; and far from advanced manufacturing jobs, or knowledge-based desk jobs, or even the nearest Costco. Many rural towns are so hard to access, why would anyone want to expand or relocate a business there?

Already, we see the merits of bringing greater connectivity to rural areas, which is why rural broadband is subsidized to the tune of more than $700 million annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rural air mobility could be part of a new infrastructure plan, should DC mandarins ever create one. The FAA’s Essential Air Service program for small communities, or something like it, could be expanded to include vertiports in towns and on farms or at small manufacturing facilities. RAM operators could receive essential air service subsidies, at least as part of test projects.

RAM clearly isn’t a panacea for every economic challenge facing rural America, but it may be part of the solution. Indeed, flying these RAM flying taxis around in wide-open areas and small towns may help refine the technologies required for denser airspace.

One big challenge for urban air vehicles is operating safely over heavily populated areas. They need to pretty reliably not crash. They need complex deconfliction traffic management. They need an infrastructure of lots of landing pads on prime real estate. These challenges, and many others, will need to be addressed before eVTOLs grace urban skylines.

Do these vehicles have the range and payload capacity to fly across vast rural counties and not just across San Francisco Bay? The Lilium Jet air taxi, according to its designers, will be capable of covering 300 km in 60 minutes.

Will we ever get an infrastructure initiative from Washington? Who knows. But if we do, I would advocate for RAM test programs in selected rural areas. And if the government won’t do it, private industry certainly has that capability — and an opportunity to refine valuable technologies in the process.

Remember, the Wright Flyer wasn’t perfected over New York City.

Electric scooter and bike startup Grow hits 10 million trips across Latin America

By Megan Rose Dickey

Latin America-based Grow, which formed after micromobility companies Grin and Yellow merged earlier this year, has hit 10 million rides. Grin, which first started operating about one year ago in Mexico, has since expanded into 23 cities across Latin America. That is, of course, thanks in part to its mergers with Yellow and Ride.

This milestone is notable in part because it shows Grow is, err, growing at about the same rate as Bird and Lime did in each of those companies first years. In September, Bird hit the ten million scooter rides milestone after about one year of operations. That same month, Lime hit 11.5 million bike and scooter rides after about 14 months of being in business.

It’s also notable given Lime just expanded into Latin America yesterday with an electric scooter presence in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Chile. Lime currently counts 65 million rides.

Grow, with $150 million in funding, Grow counts five million users across its shared scooter, bike and e-moped services in Latin America. Collectively, riders have traveled more than nine million miles on Grow’s micromobility vehicles.

Toronto Raptors founder brings Bird scooters to Canada as a platform partner

By Darrell Etherington

Bird’s somewhat weird but also very clever global expansion model is to let others handle it, and one of those others is bringing their service online this month. Bird Canada, which is a wholly Canadian-owned company entirely distinct from Bird, will begin offering on-demand electric scooter rental service in Alberta this month, with plans to offer its services across more Canadian communities on a gradual rollout schedule after that.

Bird Canada will be operating its service under the Platform plan that the original Bird announced earlier this year, which will see it acquire its scooters from the U.S. Bird at cost, and gain access to the Santa Monica-based startup’s tools, software and technology to operate the service, in exchange for a 20 percent cut of ride revenue.

The new Canadian e-scooter company is founded by Canadian serial entrepreneur and Toronto Raptors founder John Bitove (he led the bid that brought the NBA expansion team to Toronto in 1993), who will act as the company’s Chairman. Bird Canada’s day-to-day operations will be overseen by CEO Steward Lyons, who previously worked with Bitove on SiriusXM’s Canadian business and the startup national wireless provider Mobilicity which the two entrepreneurs founded together.

For its part, the Canadian entity will operate the fleet, including recharging the electric, battery-powered scooters and ensuring they’re in good working order. Local operators are also the ones who’ll need to work with city and any other relevant governing officials, which is a big reason why this probably seemed like the wisest or at least most expedient path to getting revenue from markets outside the U.S. for Bird.

Bird is also being selective about how it rolls out these franchise-like Platform partnerships, by picking only one partner per region and also by avoiding any such partnerships in markets where it does have an interest in eventually expanding itself.

Both Lyons and Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden provided quotes around this news that emphasize how scooter charing can offer sustainable, affordable transportation that helps alleviate traffic, and Lyons specifically said that Alberta is “leading the way in Canada.” The regulatory environment around scooters is at best murky in most Canadian cities, and local governing authorities are scrambling to figure out what the formal rules should be ahead of the scooter explosion traveling north of the U.S. border in a bigger way.

Bird Canada is likely hoping to set the tone for that conversation and be involved in encouraging more communities beyond those in Alberta to open its arms to on-demand rental businesses, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of reception these receive, and what approach Bird Canada takes to managing their fleet in the country’s harsher winter conditions.

5 really, really good reasons to attend TC Sessions: Mobility

By Robert Frawley

It’s stunning how fast emerging new technologies can coalesce around a simple human need and suddenly change everything, not to mention spur billions in investment.

That’s what has happened in the past five years to the basics of humans getting around town, or “mobility” in the shorthand of Silicon Valley. And that’s the first of the five reasons TC Sessions: Mobility is a must: The Mobility category is too momentous to walk on by. Arguably no tech category has invoked a bigger spectrum of emerging technology to deliver results that touch more lives.

The second reason? Mobility is still the Wild West any way you look at it. Very little is settled on either the tech or business front. What is true vehicle autonomy, for example, and when will we have it? At TC Sessions: Mobility, attendees like Waymo CTO Dmitri Dolgov, Zoox co-founder Jesse Levinson and Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli from Aurora, among others, will be weighing in on those topics — and many more.

Keeping those onstage interviews real when it comes to demanding topics is always a challenge, which brings us to the third reason: TechCrunch has some of the most respected editors anywhere when it comes to covering mobility. TechCrunch’s  Kirsten Korosec, Megan Rose Dickey and Matt Burns built this show and will handle most of the interviews onstage. You can trust them to ask the right questions.

Fourth, please check out the amazing agenda for the show. It really speaks for itself. There is no hot mobility topic — from autonomy to VC investing trends, from micro-mobility to mobility-first city design, to safety and security — that the agenda does not touch.

And the last reason, but perhaps most valuable of all: Consider who you will meet at this show, and how easily you will make new connections. Thanks to our CrunchMatch system, attendees can easily discover each other based on interests and arrange to meet at the show. At every TechCrunch event, literally thousands of new connections arise through CrunchMatch.

And here’s a bonus reason: The sponsors organizing breakout sessions and exhibits at this show are recognized mobility leaders and will have top team leads on site. Catch up with ABB, AAA, Merchants Fleet, Waymo and many more — see the breakout lineup here.

We hope to see you there! 

$295 tickets are still available. Book yours today as prices go up at the door. Bringing a group of four or more? Save 15% with a group discount here.

Psst – if you’re a student you can book a $45 ticket with this link.

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