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Uber and Arrival partner to create an EV for ride-hail drivers

By Rebecca Bellan

Arrival, the electric vehicle manufacturer that’s attempting to do away with the assembly line in favor of highly automated microfactories, is partnering with Uber to create an EV for ride-hail drivers. 

Arrival expects to reveal the final vehicle design before the end of the year and to begin production in the third quarter of 2023. Uber drivers have been invited to contribute to the design process to ensure the vehicles are built to suit their needs.

Uber is trying to make good on a promise it made last year to become a fully electric mobility platform by 2025 in London, 2030 in North America and Europe and platform-wide by 2040. The company recently launched Uber Green which gives passengers the opportunity to select an EV at no extra cost and drivers a chance to pay a lower service fee, part of an $800 million initiative to get more drivers in EVs

To reach its aims of doubling the number of EV drivers by the end of 2021, Uber is kicking its incentives for drivers into gear by helping them purchase or finance new vehicles. The Arrival Cars might be among those recommended to Uber drivers who want to make the switch to electric, especially drivers in London who are eligible for “EV Assistance” via the company’s Clean Air Plan, which launched in 2018, but an Uber spokesperson declined to confirm how the Arrival Cars will be made available to ride. Last September, Uber partnered with General Motors in a similar deal to provide drivers in the United States and Canada discounted prices for the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt. 

“Uber is committed to helping every driver in London upgrade to an EV by 2025, and thanks to our Clean Air Plan more than £135m has been raised to support this ambition,” Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe said in a statement. “Our focus is now on encouraging drivers to use this money to help them upgrade to an electric vehicle, and our partnership with Arrival will help us achieve this goal.” 

London, where Arrival is based, aims for its entire transport system to be zero emission by 2050, and will create zero emissions zones in central London and town center from 2025, expanding outward to inner London by 2040 and city-wide by 2050. If Uber drivers want to be able to work in the hottest parts of the city, they’ll have no choice but to go electric. 

The partnership with Uber marks Arrival’s first foray into electric car development. Because Arrival focuses on the commercial space rather than commercial sales, its existing vehicle models are vans and buses. The British EV company already has an order for 10,000 purpose-built vehicles from UPS.

Arrival wants to change the way commercial electric vehicles are designed and manufactured. By designing its own batteries and other components in-house and building vehicles through multiple microfactories, which are much smaller than traditional manufacturing facilities, Arrival says it produces vehicles quicker, cheaper and with far fewer environmental costs.

The company began publicly trading in March following a SPAC merger with CIIG, one of many EV companies to hit the markets via the SPAC route as opposed to the traditional, and slower, IPO route.

Ford, BMW lead Solid Power’s $130M Series B round

By Aria Alamalhodaei

A Solid Power manufacturing engineer holds two 20 ampere hour (Ah) all solid-state battery cells for the BMW Group and Ford Motor Company. The 20 ampere hour (Ah) all solid-state battery cells were produced on Solid Power’s Colorado-based pilot production line. Source: Solid Power.

Solid state battery systems have long been considered the next breakthrough in battery technology, with multiple startups vying to be the first to commercialization. Automakers have been some of the top investors in the technology, each of them seeking the edge that will make their electric vehicles safer, faster and with increased range.

Ford Motor Company and BMW Group have put their money on battery technology company Solid Power.

The Louisville, Colorado-based SSB developed said Monday its latest $130 million Series B funding round was led by Ford and BMW, the latest signal that the two OEMs see SSBs powering the future of transportation. Under the investment, Ford and BMW are equal equity owners and company representatives will join Solid Power’s board.

Solid Power received additional investment in the round from Volta Energy Technologies, the venture capital firm spun out of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

Solid state batteries are so named because they lack a liquid electrolyte, as Mark Harris explained in an ExtraCrunch article earlier this year. Liquid electrolyte solutions are usually flammable and at risk of overheating, so SSBs are considered to be generally safer. The real value of SSBs versus their lithium-ion counterparts is the energy density. Solid Power says its batteries can provide as much as a 50% to 100% increase in energy density compared to rechargeable batteries. Theoretically, electric vehicles with more energy dense batteries can travel longer distances on a single charge.

This latest round of investment will help Solid Power boost its manufacturing to produce battery cells with the company’s highest ampere hour (Ah) output yet. Under separate joint development agreements with Ford and BMW, it will deliver to the OEMs 100 Ah cells for testing and vehicle integration from 2022.

Until this point, the company has been manufacturing cells with 2 Ah and 10 Ah output. “Hundreds” of 2 Ah battery cells were validated by Ford and BMW late last year, Solid Power said in a statement. Meanwhile, it is currently producing 20 Ah solid-state batteries on a pilot basis with standard lithium-ion equipment.

As opposed to the 20 Ah pilot-scale cells – which are composed of 22-layers at 9×20 cm – these 100 Ah cells will have a larger footprint and even more layers, Solid Power spokesman Will McKenna told TechCrunch. (‘Layers’ refers to the number of double-sided cathodes, McKenna explained – so the 20 Ah cell has 22 cathodes and 22 anodes, with an all-solid electrolyte separator in-between each, all in a single cell.)

Unlike Solid Power’s manufacturing, traditional lithium-ion batteries must undergo electrolyte filling and cycling in their production processes. Solid Power says these additional steps accounts for 5% and 30% of capital expenditure in a typical GWh-scale lithium-ion facility.

This isn’t the first time Solid Power has landed investments from the automakers. The company’s $20 million Series A in 2018 attracted capital from BMW and Ford, as well as Samsung, Hyundai, Volta and others. It’s part of a new wave of companies that have attracted the attention of OEMs. Other notable examples include Volkswagen-backed QuantumScape and General Motors, which has put its money on SES.

Ford is also independently researching advanced battery technologies and is planning on opening a $185 million R&D battery lab, the company said last week.

Volvo AB and Daimler Trucks team up in hydrogen fuel cell joint venture

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Competitors Volvo AB and Daimler Trucks are teaming up to produce hydrogen fuel cells for long-haul trucks, which the companies say will lower development costs and boost production volumes. The joint venture, which is called cellcentric, aims to bring large-scale “gigafactory” production levels of hydrogen fuel cells to Europe by 2025.

While the two companies are teaming up to produce the fuel cells via the cellcentric venture, all other aspects of truck production will remain separate. The location of the forthcoming gigafactory will be announced next year. The companies also did not specify the production capacity of the forthcoming factory.

Even as Volvo AB and Daimler Trucks used ambition-signaling terms like “gigafactory” — a term popularized by Tesla due to the giga capacity of its factories — executives added a few cautionary caveats on their goal. Europe’s hydrogen economy will depend in part on whether the European Union can produce a policy framework that further drives down costs and invests in refueling stations and other infrastructure, executives noted in a media briefing. In other words, manufacturers like Daimler and Volvo that are looking to invest in hydrogen face a ‘chicken and the egg’ problem: boosting fuel cell production only makes sense if it occurs in tandem with the buildout of a hydrogen network, including refueling stations, pipelines to transport hydrogen, and renewable energy resources to produce it.

“In the long run, I mean, this must be a business-driven activity as everything else,” Volvo CTO Lars Stenqvist told TechCrunch. “But in the in the first wave, there must be support from our politicians.”

Together with other European truck manufacturers, the two companies are calling for a build out of hydrogen refueling stations around Europe of around 300 by 2025 and around 1,000 by 2030.

The Swedish and German automakers suggested policies such as a tax on carbon, incentives for CO2-neutral technologies or an emissions trading system could all help ensure cost-competitiveness against fossil fuels. Heavy-duty trucking will only compose a fraction of hydrogen demand, around 10%, Stenqvist pointed out, with the rest being used by industries such as steel manufacturing and the chemical industry. That means the push for hydrogen-supportive policies will likely be heard from other sectors, as well.

One of the biggest challenges for the new venture will be working to decrease inefficiencies associated with converting hydrogen to electricity. “That’s the core of engineering in trucking, to improve the energy efficiency of the vehicle,” Stenqvist said. “That has always been in the DNA of engineers in our industry … energy efficiency will be even more important in an electrified world.” He estimated that the cost of hydrogen would need to be in the range of $3-4 per kilogram to make it a cost-effective alternative to diesel.

Volvo is also making investments in battery electric technologies and Stenqvist said he sees potential use cases for internal combustion engines (ICE) run on renewable biofuels. He is in agreement with Bosch executives who said earlier this month that they see a place for ICE in the future. “I’m also convinced that there is a place for the combustion engines for a long period of time, I don’t see any end, I don’t see any retirement date for the combustion engines,” he said.

“From a political side, I think it would be completely wrong to ban a technology. Politicians should not ban – should not approve technologies – they should point out the direction, they should talk about what they want to achieve. And then it’s up to us as engineers to come up with the technical solutions.”

Zoomo raises $12 million to expand e-bike subscription offerings

By Rebecca Bellan

Zoomo, the Australian startup with a mission to electrify delivery fleets through e-bike subscriptions, announced a $12 million interim capital raise on Monday.

The company made a name for itself through partnerships with UberEats and DoorDash to help delivery workers access e-bikes through weekly subscriptions at discounted rates. Zoomo then grew to offer monthly subscriptions to corporate partners in Australia, the U.S. and London for last mile delivery, with a fleet that has expanded beyond 10,000 units globally.

Now, the startup hopes to expand its service outward towards continental Europe and other states across the U.S. It currently operates in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Zoomo also wants to build up its consumer model, which mainly serves couriers but is extending to commuters, and will invest in the development of its next generation of vehicle offerings.

“We initially built our products to service the demands of gig workers in the food delivery industry,” Mina Nada, Zoomo CEO and co-founder said in a statement. “Their expectations for quality commercial vehicles, on demand service, flexible financing and tech enabled security features spurred us to innovate. We’re now seeing enterprises and fleet managers benefiting from the platform we have built. Enterprise fleet managers looking for clean and efficient vehicles are choosing us.”

Zoomo’s focus on e-bikes for food delivery makes it unique in the electric bike rental space. Its business model offers a full-stack e-bike, from the hardware and software to same-day servicing and financing options, which especially helps big business partners deploy and manage large fleets of vehicles at scale. It’s a tall order, and Zoomo’s strategy could be leading a new trend in micromobility of being a one-stop-shop that promises quick scalability.

German mobility software provider Wunder Mobility recently announced its efforts to offer a souped up e-moped that’s been co-designed with Chinese consumer manufacturer Yadea for the dockless sharing market. It also launched a new subsidiary to finance the vehicles, along with its software, to shared micromobility providers. Wunder Mobility plans to offer e-scooters and e-bikes for financing in the future, but it doesn’t design its own vehicles or sell them outright. While the business models and target customers don’t perfectly align, the blueprint is the same: Corner a market, provide top quality hardware and software and make it as accessible as possible.

Coronavirus spurred a demand for delivery in all industries, and we can see companies like FluidTruck and Rivian stepping up to the plate to meet the needs of eco-conscious e-commerce giants with their electric delivery vans. The online food delivery industry is no different with a market that’s expected to reach $192.16 billion in 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of 11%. But for delivery within cities, e-bikes offer a smarter solution for meeting climate change goals while dodging traffic congestion.

Zoomo’s custom designed bikes can bear more than 200 kilograms of load via various cargo options, according to a Zoomo spokesperson. For enterprise customers, like health food company Cornucopia, e-cargo delivery vehicles like a Trailer Trike or a Covered Trike are used to deliver goods sustainably. Gorillas, an on-demand grocery delivery company, and Just Eat Takeaway, acquirer of Grubhub and Seamless, are also clients of Zoomo’s.

“At Just Eat Takeaway.com, we want to build a sustainable future for food delivery, and are committed to doing our bit to help keep carbon emissions to a minimum, as well as providing an efficient customer experience from order to delivery,” said a Just Eat Takeaway spokesperson in a statement. “E-Vehicles are an integral part of the Scoober model and we are pleased to work in cooperation with Zoomo.”

Zoomo’s newest funding round, led by Australian VC AirTree, follows an $11 million Series A raised in August 2020, with support in both rounds from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Maniv Mobility and Contrarian Ventures. Withrop Square and Wisdom VC, mobility and clean tech-focused investors, also joined this round.

Lime launches 100 e-mopeds in New York City as Mayor de Blasio reveals plan to fully re-open by July 1

By Rebecca Bellan

Weeks after Lime became one of the first companies to win the bid to operate e-scooters in New York City, the micromobility giant is bringing e-mopeds to the city’s streets. This will be the first company to host multiple modes of micromobility sharing in NYC.

On Friday, Lime will release 100 electric mopeds onto the streets of Brooklyn, with planned expansions in Queens and lower Manhattan in the coming weeks. NYC is often choked and heated by smog from car pollution, but if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, it’ll have to get comfortable with seeing more electric micromobility crop up.

Lime will be directly competing with the only other existing dockless e-moped operator in the city, Revel, which just announced the launch of an all-EV rideshare service. Lime’s initial geographic zones of operation will more or less match Revel’s map, which includes much of north Brooklyn, from Williamsburg, to Greenpoint and Brooklyn Heights, but which will also extend southeast to the Flatlands, according to a Lime spokesperson.

Earlier this month, Lime also launched e-mopeds in Washington D.C. and Paris. With each launch, Lime has stressed its commitment to rider and road user safety with features like AI-enabled helmet detection and license verification and a liveness test, which asks the rider to make various facial expressions into the camera when signing up in order to prove they’re a real person, rather than using a static photo of someone else. A spokesperson said Lime can also use the liveness test to match the rider to their driver’s license to ensure it’s the same person.

Lime also requires a mandatory rider education curriculum designed in consultation with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and its service is covered by motor vehicle liability insurance, which provides financial protection if a rider were to harm someone else or their property while driving, but not for the rider or rider’s property.

Competitor Revel learned the hard way to include such safety features. Last summer, the company took its mopeds off the roads for a few weeks following several deaths and reports that riders weren’t wearing helmets, in order to come up with a safety plan that would assuage the city’s fears. Now Revel requires that users take a helmet selfie and requires all riders to take a 21-question safety training quiz and watch an instructional video before hopping on a moped for the first time. The app also has a community reporting tool that anyone can use to report bad behavior to Revel.

The steps Lime and Revel are taking to ensure rider safety are not dictated by the NYC Department of Transportation. Whereas the DOT engaged in a lengthy process to approve e-scooters to operate in the city, mopeds are not regulated by the city.

“We made an effort to work collaboratively with DOT, keep them informed of our plans, answer their questions and address any concerns,” a Lime spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Lime will also offer its Lime Aid program to give discounted rates to Pell Grant recipients, job seekers and recipients of subsidy programs, as well as free rides to frontline workers, teachers, non-profit employees, artists and hospitality workers — those who have been most affected by the pandemic.

As more New Yorkers get vaccinated and the city starts to open up (with a freshly-revealed plan to fully re-open the city by July 1) , Lime wants to entrench itself as a leading micromobility vessel, and they couldn’t ask for a better time than a post-pandemic summer.

“The pandemic has pushed New Yorkers to look for new ways to get around that are safe, sustainable and car-free,” said Lime CEO Wayne Ting in a statement. “Now, as New York emerges from a difficult year, we are eager to support an economic comeback driven not by cars, but by sustainable options that reduce congestion and allow for open-air, socially-distanced travel.”

RapidDeploy raises $29M for a cloud-based dispatch platform aimed at 911 centers

By Ingrid Lunden

The last year of pandemic living has been real-world, and sometimes harrowing, proof of how important it can be to have efficient and well-equipped emergency response services in place. They can help people remotely if need be, and when they cannot, they make sure that in-person help can be dispatched quickly in medical and other situations. Today, a company that’s building cloud-based tools to help with this process is announcing a round of funding as it continues to grow.

RapidDeploy, which provides computer-aided dispatch technology as a cloud-based service for 911 centers, has closed a round of $29 million, a Series B round of funding that will be used both to grow its business, and to continue expanding the SaaS tools that it provides to its customers. In the startup’s point of view, the cloud is essential to running emergency response in the most efficient manner.

“911 response would have been called out on a walkie talkie in the early days,” said Steve Raucher, the co-founder and CEO of RapidDeploy, in an interview. “Now the cloud has become the nexus of signals.”

Washington, DC-based RapidDeploy provides data and analytics to 911 centers — the critical link between people calling for help and connecting those calls with the nearest medical, police or fire assistance — and today it has about 700 customers using its RadiusPlus, Eclipse Analytics and Nimbus CAD products.

That works out to about 10% of all 911 centers in the US (7,000 in total), and covering 35% of the population (there are more centers in cities and other dense areas). Its footprint includes state coverage in Arizona, California, and Kansas. It also has operations in South Africa, where it was originally founded.

The funding is coming from an interesting mix of financial and strategic investors. Led by Morpheus Ventures, the round also had participation from GreatPoint Ventures, Ericsson Ventures, Samsung Next Ventures, Tao Capital Partners, Tau Ventures, among others. It looks like the company had raised about $30 million before this latest round, according to PitchBook data. Valuation is not being disclosed.

Ericsson and Samsung, as major players in the communication industry, have a big stake in seeing through what will be the next generation of communications technology and how it is used for critical services. (And indeed, one of the big leaders in legacy and current 911 communications is Motorola, a would-be competitor of both.) AT&T is also a strategic go-to-market (distribution and sales) partner of RapidDeploy’s, and it also has integrations with Apple, Google, Microsoft, and OnStar to feed data into its system.

The business of emergency response technology is a fragmented market. Raucher describes them as “mom-and-pop” businesses, with some 80% of them occupying four seats or less (a testament to the fact that a lot of the US is actually significantly less urban than its outsized cities might have you think it is), and in many cases a lot of these are operating on legacy equipment.

However, in the US in the last several years — buffered by innovations like the Jedi project and FirstNet, a next-generation public safety network — things have been shifting. RapidDeploy’s technology sits alongside (and in some areas competes with) companies like Carbyne and RapidSOS, which have been tapping into the innovations of cell phone technology both to help pinpoint people and improve how to help them.

RapidDeploy’s tech is based around its RadiusPlus mapping platform, which uses data from smart phones, vehicles, home security systems and other connected devices and channels it to its data stream, which can help a center determine not just location but potentially other aspects of the condition of the caller. Its Eclipse Analytics services, meanwhile, are meant to act as a kind of assistant to those centers to help triage situations and provide insights into how to respond. The Nimbus CAD then helps figure out who to call out and routing for response. 

Longer term, the plan will be to leverage cloud architecture to bring in new data sources and ways of communicating between callers, centers and emergency care providers.

“It’s about being more of a triage service rather than a message switch,” Raucher said. “As we see it, the platform will evolve with customers’ needs. Tactical mapping ultimately is not big enough to cover this. We’re thinking about unified communications.” Indeed, that is the direction that many of these services seem to be going, which can only be a good thing for us consumers.

“The future of emergency services is in data, which creates a faster, more responsive 9-1-1 center,” said Mark Dyne, Founding Partner at Morpheus Ventures, in a statement. “We believe that the platform RapidDeploy has built provides the necessary breadth of capabilities that make the dream of Next-Gen 9-1-1 service a reality for rural and metropolitan communities across the nation and are excited to be investing in this future with Steve and his team.” Dyne has joined the RapidDeploy board with this round.

The WFH Exodus Creates an Opportunity for Small Cities

By Aarian Marshall
Workers from urban centers will continue to work from home, at least part-time. Officials and developers are planning the shops and services they'll want.

Wunder Mobility’s new lending business helps micromobility startups finance fleets

By Rebecca Bellan

Wunder Mobility built its business selling software to shared scooter, e-bike and even short-term car rental startups. Now, it’s banking on a new — and once secret — lending division to bring in more revenue that’ll giving micromobility operators another option to access capital without having pitch venture capitalists and other investors.

The company announced the official launch of Wunder Capital, a subsidiary that provides micromobility operators with fleet financing solutions. Wunder Capital, which has been operating in stealth mode for two years, has already provided financing to more than 25 businesses, according to the company.

As shared micromobility becomes the norm, the industry has the chance to scale dramatically, Gunnar Froh, Wunder Mobility’s founder and CEO, said in a recent interview. He believes traditional VC-backed funding rounds are too slow to keep up with the level of growth required to keep up with increasing demand.

“Now you can now basically launch in a few weeks on our software platform and also get vehicles through us that are optimized for the sharing case, and then pay for them entirely through revenue share,” Froh told TechCrunch.

Wunder Capital aims to become a one-stop-shop for shared operators looking for operational software, high-quality vehicles and the money to purchase them. Froh estimates that such a package deal would cost an operator about 40% of monthly revenue. 

The founder originally saw the potential to diversify Wunder’s portfolio when he noticed how much influence his sales team had on operators’ vehicle purchasing decisions. After his team would set up new operators with an app and software, operators would inevitably ask for vehicle manufacturer recommendations.

Wunder Mobility said Tuesday it is also partnering with Yadea, a dominant manufacturer of light-duty electric vehicles in China, to co-develop an e-moped that’s been refitted for shared use. The company also intends to co-develop and finance e-bikes and kick scooters this year, but did not specify which manufacturers it would work with. 

“We put reseller agreements in place, so we would always recommend this Yadea moped and then get a margin on it,” said Froh. “Then we’d talk to Yadea and give them modifications to make the mopeds sharing ready, and then we’d have an opportunity to talk to the operators about how they’re going to finance this purchase, what limitations are you facing, and so on.”

Wunder Capital most recently added German electric moped sharing company emmy as a financing customer. Wunder Capital will finance 1,500 refitted Yadea G5L e-mopeds for emmy’s locations in Munich, Hamburg and Berlin. In contrast to Yadea’s consumer models, these mopeds will have a sturdier base, more intuitive controls, doubled range and improved battery management systems.

“Some companies go through venture capital, but it’s very costly in terms of return expectations and the control they want to have, and it’s holding people back from expanding their fleets,” Froh said. “We refinance through banks that would not usually look at a single operator and feel comfortable about the resale of these vehicles. We combine several operators into one portfolio and then we have access to a liquid secondary market.”

In order to ascertain risk and inform loan decisions, Wunder Capital uses APIs to collect anonymized trip data from operators that compares operational efficiency between companies. This data collection also allows the division to flag if an operator isn’t doing well and is at risk of coming up short on payments, in which case Wunder Capital can proactively reach out about restructuring loans. 

“If a default happens, we can take vehicles from one operator and send them to another one somewhere else in the world,” said Froh. “So with this model, we can refinance relatively cheaply.”

Tesla sees bitcoin as important financial tool to access cash quickly

By Rebecca Bellan

Tesla’s relationship with bitcoin is not a dalliance, according to the comments made by the company’s CFO and dubbed “master of coin” Zach Kirkhorn during an earnings call Monday. Instead, the company believes in the longevity of bitcoin, despite its volatility.

Tesla invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin this quarter and then trimmed its position by 10%, Kirkhorn said during the company quarterly earnings call. That sale made a $101 million “positive impact” to the company’s profitability in the first quarter, he added. Tesla also allows customers to make vehicle deposits and final vehicle purchases using bitcoin. 

Tesla turned to bitcoin as a place to store cash and still access it immediately, all while providing a better return on investment than more traditional central bank-backed safe havens. Of course, the higher yields provided by the volatile digital currency comes with higher risk.

Tesla bucks the trend of the more cautionary Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell who noted back in March at virtual summit hosted by the Bank for International Settlements that the Fed considers crypto speculative assets that are highly volatile and therefore not useful stores of value. That matters because the basic function of currency is its ability to store value. He also noted that digital currencies are not backed by anything and compared it to gold and not the dollar.

From Kirkhorn:

Elon and I were looking for a place to store cash that wasn’t being immediately used, try to get some level of return on this, but also preserve liquidity, you know, particularly as we look forward to the launch of Austin and Berlin and uncertainty that’s happening with semiconductors and port capacity, being able to access our cash very quickly is super important to us right now.

And, you know, there aren’t many traditional opportunities to do this or at least that we found and and talking to others that we could get good feedback on, particularly with yields being so low and without taking on additional risk or sacrificing liquidity. Bitcoin seemed at the time, and so far has proven to be a good decision, a good place to place some of our cash that’s not immediately being used for daily operations or maybe not needed till the end of the year, and be able to get some return on that.

Tesla is watching the digital currency closely, Kirkhorn said, noting that there is a lot of reason to be optimistic.

“You know, thinking about it from a corporate treasury perspective, we’ve been quite pleased with how much liquidity there is in the bitcoin market,” he said. “Our ability to build our first position happened very quickly. When we did the sale later in March we also were able to execute on that very quickly. And so as we think about kind of global liquidity for the business in risk management, being able to get cash in and out of the market is something that I think is exceptionally important for us.”

While Tesla did trim its position in March, Kirkhorn added that the company’s intent is to hold what it has long term and to continue to accumulate bitcoin from transactions from its customers as they purchase vehicles. Musk, who also goes by Technoking, announced in March that Tesla would accept bitcoin as a form of payment in the United States.

Lyft sells self-driving unit to Toyota’s Woven Planet for $550M

By Kirsten Korosec

Ride-hailing company Lyft has sold off its autonomous vehicle unit to Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million, the latest in a string of acquisitions spurred by the cost and lengthy timelines to commercialize the technology that have occurred within the autonomous vehicle industry.

Under the acquisition agreement announced Tuesday, Lyft’s so-called Level 5 division will be folded into Woven Planet Holdings. Lyft will receive $550 million in cash with $200 million paid upfront. The remaining $350 million will be made in payments over five years. About 300 people from Lyft Level 5 will be integrated into Woven Planet. The Level 5 team, which in early 2020 numbered more than 400 people in the U.S., Munich and London, will continue to operate out of its office in Palo Alto, California.

The transaction, which is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021, officially ends Lyft’s nearly four-year effort to develop its own self-driving system.

The transaction will remove a costly annual expense from Lyft’s budget. The ride-hailing company said that by offloading Level 5 it expects to be able to remove $100 million of annualized non-GAAP operating expenses on a net basis. Those savings will be critical for Lyft as it pursues profitability — a point co-founder and president John Zimmer made special note of in the announcement.

“Assuming the transaction closes within the expected timeframe and the COVID recovery continues, we are confident that we can achieve Adjusted EBITDA profitability in the third quarter of this year,” Zimmer said in a statement.

Free from this annual expense, Lyft will dedicate its resources to what the company says it was really was aiming for all along: to become the go-to ride-hailing network and fleet management platform used by any and all commercial robotaxi services. Lyft already has partnerships with AV developers, notably the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional as well as  Waymo. The intent is to lock up the rest. As part of the acquisition agreement, Woven Planet signed commercial agreements to use the Lyft platform and fleet data.

Lyft said that the agreement with Woven Planet is not exclusive and it will continue its partnership with Motional and others. Motional and Lyft have been partners for more than three years, a relationship that kicked off with what was supposed to be a weeklong pilot program to offer rides in autonomous vehicles on the Lyft network in Las Vegas during the 2018 CES tech trade show. (The partnership actually predated the joint venture with Hyundai.) That temporary experiment, which has always included a human safety driver, was extended and still exists today. As of February 2020, the program had given more than 100,000 paid self-driving rides in Aptiv’s — now Motional’s — self-driving vehicles, per the Lyft app. Motional announced in December plans to launch fully driverless robotaxi services in major U.S. cities in 2023 using the Lyft ride-hailing network.

Lyft is making some structural — and accompanying name changes — to reflect this renewed focus. Lyft will take its team of engineers, product managers, data scientists and UX designers that have been working on the consumer experience of hailing and then riding in an autonomous vehicle since 2016 will be headed up by Jody Kelman. This team, now known as Lyft Autonomous, will be folded into the company’s fleet division that manages more than 10,000 vehicles via its rental and express drive programs. Lyft Fleet, which was founded in 2019 and is led by Cal Lankton, is also the group  spearheading the company’s transition to 100% electric vehicles on the network by 2030. The idea is to bring all of these efforts — shared, electric and self-driving — under one roof.

Other strategic shuffling is happening over at Toyota’s Woven Planet. The Level 5 workforce, researchers from Toyota Research Institute and Woven Planet will be combined into one team of about 1,200 employees. The company said the acquisition of Level 5 is a carve-out of Lyft’s self-driving division focusing on accelerating safety of the automated driving technology and does not directly affect Toyota’s relationship with other partnerships such as AV startup Aurora.

Woven Planet Holdings is a new entity that has already made a splash. The holding company, which folded in Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development Inc. or TRI-AD, also includes an investment arm known as Woven Capital and Woven City, a testing ground for new technologies set in an interconnected smart city prototype. In February, Toyota broke ground at the Higashi-Fuji site in Susono City, Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji.

Earlier this year, Woven Capital kicked off off its new $800 million strategic fund by announcing an investment into autonomous delivery vehicle company Nuro.

 

Airbus taps Luminar to test how lidar could be used to make flying safer and autonomous

By Kirsten Korosec

Luminar Technologies is expanding its lidar business beyond automotive and into aviation through a partnership with Airbus. The collaboration with the French aerospace giant, which was announced Monday morning, marks the latest in a string of partnership announcements between Luminar and companies like Daimler, Volvo and Mobileye. Until now, these have exclusively focused on applying its light detection and ranging radar to automated vehicles on the ground — not in the skies.

The partnership won’t bring lidar into commercial aircraft. Unlike Luminar’s deal with Daimler, Mobileye and Volvo this is not a production contract. Instead, the partnership is with Airbus’ UpNext subsidiary, which is focused on developing and eventually applying new technological breakthroughs to aviation. The effort will be folded into Airbus Flightlab, an ecosystem that offers access to flight test platforms across Airbus’ business lines, including commercial aircraft, helicopters, defense and space. Luminar and Airbus will develop and test how lidar can be used to enhance sensing, perception and system-level capabilities to ultimately enable safe, autonomous flight, the companies said.

“We’re able to directly re-apply what we’ve accomplished for the automotive industry into aviation, an established nearly $1 trillion industry,” Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell said in a statement Monday. “We believe that automation and safety enhancements will transform how we move across all modes of transport as we take our technology from roads to the skies. We look forward to accelerating our shared vision to define the future of flying.”

Lidar, which measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world, is considered by most in the autonomous vehicle industry critical to commercial deployment. Automakers have also begun to view lidar as an important sensor to be used to expand the capabilities and safety of advanced driver assistance systems in new cars, trucks and SUVs available to consumers.

Airbus is interested in how Luminar’s lidar and perception stack can be used to automatically detect obstacles, a key step toward autonomous operation of aircraft such as urban air mobility vehicles. The companies said the sensor also has the potential to “substantially improve the safety of existing aircraft applications.”

Increasing helicopter safety is one of Airbus’ missions. The company said Monday it will introduce a number of new features to its helicopter Flightlab through a project code-named Vertex. These technologies, which include lidar and other sensors coupled with software for obstacle detection, fly-by-wire for enhanced auto-pilot and a touchscreen and head-worn display for inflight monitoring and control, aim to reduce helicopter pilot workload and increase safety. Airbus said that when combined, the system will be able to manage navigation and route preparation, automatic take-off and landing, as well as following a predefined flight path. The incremental integration of these technologies onto the helicopter Flightlab has begun ahead of a complete demonstration in 2023. Airbus said its Urban Air Mobility project will also benefit from this technology as a step toward autonomous flight.

Luminar, which burst onto the autonomous vehicle scene in April 2017 after operating for years in secrecy, became a publicly traded company in late 2020. The company announced in February that it would work with Volvo Cars to develop and eventually sell to other automakers an automated driving system for highways. The partnership, which is between Luminar and Volvo’s self-driving software subsidiary Zenseact, builds upon an existing relationship with Volvo. The two companies are combining their tech to create what Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell described as a “holistic autonomous vehicle stack” made for production vehicles. Volvo will be the first customer. Russell and Zenseact CEO Ödgärd Andersson said at the time that they plan to also offer this system to other automakers.

Last year, ahead of its public debut, Luminar also locked in a supplier deal to furnish Intel subsidiary Mobileye with lidar for its fleet of autonomous vehicles. Under that contract, Luminar’s lidar will be part of Mobileye’s first-generation fleet of driverless vehicles, which are being piloted in Dubai, Tel Aviv, Paris, China and Daegu City, South Korea.

 

Honda targets 100% EV sales in North America by 2040

By Rebecca Bellan

Honda’s new goal is to achieve 100% EV sales in North America by 2040 as part of its broader target of being carbon neutral by 2050. CEO Toshihiro Mibe announced planned shift away from internal combustion engines at a news conference on Friday, his first since taking over executive leadership of the company in early April.

This is the latest in a stream of pledges from legacy car manufacturers to introduce high percentages of zero-emissions vehicles into their fleets and achieve carbon neutrality. General Motors plans to eliminate gas and diesel light-duty cars and SUVs by 2035 and be carbon neutral by 2040, and Mazda, Mitsubishi and Nissan have all said they plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Honda’s goals are also in alignment with Japan’s electrification strategy, which aims for a 46% cut in emissions by 2030.

Honda will start on this road immediately, expecting EVs to account for 40% of sales by 2030, and 80% by 2035 in all major markets. By the second half of 2020, Japan’s second-largest automaker will launch a series of new electric models in North America based on the company’s in-house e:Architecture platform.

Honda, and its subsidiary Acura, will also introduce two large-sized EV models using GM’s Ultium batteries by 2024. The company will further its collaboration with GM by using fuel cell technology for a range of vehicles and applications, like commercial trucks and power sources.

Extra Crunch roundup: Klaviyo EC-1, micromobility’s second wave, UiPath CFO interview, more

By Walter Thompson

Origin stories are satisfying because we already know the hero will overcome the odds — and in doing so, they’ll reveal their core strengths.

This week, we published a four-part series about how Klaviyo co-founders Andrew Bialecki and Ed Hallen bootstrapped their startup into an e-commerce marketing automation platform now valued at $4.15 billion.

Neither founder was bitten by a radioactive spider or received a serum that enhanced their entrepreneurial skills; instead, they focused on outreach to prospective customers to find out what they were willing to pay for and largely ignored the competition.

“Bootstrapping Klaviyo, it came out of this: ‘Hey, if we are super-disciplined about finding a problem that someone will pay us to solve, we have a real company,'” said Hallen.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


Even though millions of us respond every day to the personalized, automated emails sent through its platform, Klaviyo still isn’t a well-known brand. Our ongoing series of EC-1s offers entrepreneurs real insight into growing and scaling successful companies, but they’re also extremely useful for consumers who want to understand how the internet really works.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

The Klaviyo EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Micromobility’s next big business is software, not vehicles

Set of 3 electric kick scooters with map location pin and different percent of battery charge indicator isolated on white background. Micromobility city transport. Vector illustration eps10.

Image Credits: slowcentury (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Several micromobility companies once operated in my city, but consolidation has reduced that to a small handful.

Now that many consumers are buying their own e-bikes and e-scooters, shared dockless micromobility “just hasn’t proven itself to be a profitable line of business,” Puneeth Meruva, an associate at Trucks Venture Capital, told TechCrunch.

There’s only one dockless electric moped provider in my town, so price is no longer a consideration. Instead, my first priority is to find a vehicle with the best-charged battery. (San Francisco has a lot of hills, and you never know where the day might take you.)

Larger players like Lime and Bird have vertically integrated tech stacks for fleet management features like this, but there are also opportunities for startups — imagine a “phantom scooter” that drives itself to a neighborhood with high demand or a moped that alerts drivers if there’s traffic ahead.

This in-depth industry analysis shows how increased regulation on the local level and changing consumer habits are pushing micromobility providers to adapt and innovate.

“Whether you want to stack regulatory compliance on the vehicles, do safety features like ADAS or add mapping content, you kind of need this platform where you can actively develop and launch new apps on the vehicle without having to bring it back to the factory,” Meruva said.

Enterprise security attackers are one password away from your worst day

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then one might say the cybersecurity industry is insane.

Criminals continue to innovate with highly sophisticated attack methods, but many security organizations still use the same technological approaches they did 10 years ago. The world has changed, but cybersecurity hasn’t kept pace.

Data scientists: Bring the narrative to the forefront

Book on wooden deck with glowing graph illustrations and symbols

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By 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be created each day, according to some estimates. It’s now easier than ever to translate physical and digital actions into data, and businesses of all types have raced to amass as much data as possible in order to gain a competitive edge.

However, in our collective infatuation with data (and obtaining more of it), what’s often overlooked is the role that storytelling plays in extracting real value from data.

The reality is that data by itself is insufficient to really influence human behavior. Whether the goal is to improve a business’ bottom line or convince people to stay home amid a pandemic, it’s the narrative that compels action, not the numbers alone.

As more data is collected and analyzed, communication and storytelling will become even more integral in the data science discipline because of their role in separating the signal from the noise.

Business continuity planning is a necessity for your fund and portfolio

Close-Up Of Dominoes On Table

Image Credits: Raquel Segato/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

We all need to be taking precautionary measures, not just in light of COVID, but to ensure our firms can continue to thrive when faced with unexpected tragedy.

So ask yourself this question: “What would happen if I or my partner(s) checked into the hospital tomorrow and had no phone and/or was too sick to call anyone, and that went on for two or three weeks (or longer)?”

If the answer is “I’m really not sure,” then you don’t have a business continuity plan.

Outdoor startups see supercharged growth during COVID-19 era

Two couples sitting by a campfire

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After years of sustained growth, the pandemic supercharged the outdoor recreation industry. Startups that provide services like camper vans, private campsites and trail-finding apps became relevant to millions of new users when COVID-19 shut down indoor recreation, building on an existing boom in outdoor recreation.

Startups like Outdoorsy, AllTrails, Cabana, Hipcamp, Kibbo and Lowergear Outdoors have seen significant growth, but to keep it going, consumers who discovered a fondness for the great outdoors during the pandemic must turn it into a lifelong interest.

Once VMware is free from Dell, who might fancy buying it?

Barcelona, Spain - October 13, 2014: View of the exhibition center. News & Training at VMworld exhibition of VMWARE in Barcelona, Spain.

Image Credits: MaboHH / Getty Images

Dell last week agreed to spin out VMware in exchange for a huge one-time dividend, a five-year commercial partnership agreement, lots of stock for existing Dell shareholders and Michael Dell retaining his role as chairman of its board.

So, where does the deal leave VMware in terms of independence, and in terms of Dell influence?

Time-strapped IT teams can use low-code software to drive quick growth

Image of a white cube with smaller red cubes being outsourced.

Image Credits: Westend61 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Many emerging and mature organizations survive or die based on their ability to scale. Scale quicker. Scale cheaper. Scale right.

Typically the IT team bears that burden — on top of countless other demands. IT teams move mountains for their organizations while scaling the tech platform as fast as possible, putting out the latest infrastructure fire and responding to countless day-to-day requests.

The most helpful gift any chief information officer or chief technology officer can give their IT teams is more time. Many people think that means adding another team member. But it could be as simple as introducing a low-code integration platform.

European VC soars in Q1

A stunning first quarter in venture capital funding was not restricted to the United States; Europe also had one hell of a start to the year.

The venture capital world kicked off its 2021 European investing cycle with enough activity to set the continent on the path that would crush yearly records.

Inside the data, there’s lots to unpack, including which sectors of European startups stood out in terms of capital raised, rising seed and late-stage deals, and dollar volume. We’ll also need to discuss exits — the Deliveroo IPO and its various woes was not the only transaction from the period worth understanding.

We’ll keep in mind that all venture capital data lags reality somewhat, as many deals from a particular period are not disclosed or discovered until long after they actually occurred.

In this case, it makes the numbers all the more impressive.

UiPath raises IPO range, still targets lower valuation than final private round

Robot paper holding pen, space for text

Image Credits: Zastrozhnov (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Robotic process automation unicorn UiPath went public this week, concentrating our focus on its value.

UiPath raised its last private round when the markets were most interested in public offerings and is now going public in a slightly altered climate.

In numerical terms, UiPath raised its IPO range from $43 to $50 per share to $52 to $54 per share. That’s a 21% jump in the value of the lower end of its range and an 8% gain to the value of the upper end of its per-share IPO price interval.

UiPath is also selling more shares than before, which should make its total valuation slightly larger at the top end than a mere 8% gain. So let’s go through the math one more time.

Insurtech startups are leveraging rapid growth to raise big money

The investment landscape for insurtech startups is off to a hot start in Q2 2021. Since the end of the first quarter, we’ve seen several players in the broad startup category announce new capital.

But, as anyone who’s familiar with startups that offer insurance-related products and services knows, the sector is enough of a mixed bag that one needs to segment down to get clarity on how constituent companies are performing.

Let’s discuss insurtech’s 2020 as a whole, peek at some preliminary 2021 venture data and then dive deep into what we’ve collected regarding growth among insurtech marketplace players.

Covering longitudinal progress of specific startup categories is one of our favorite things to do. So, please, walk with us!

Deep Science: Introspective, detail-oriented and disaster-chasing AIs

Image Credits: Kehan Chen / Getty Images

Research papers come out far too frequently for anyone to read them all. That’s especially true in the field of machine learning, which now affects (and produces papers in) practically every industry and company.

This column aims to collect some of the most relevant recent discoveries and papers — particularly in, but not limited to, artificial intelligence — and explain why they matter.

This week, we dove into “introspective failure prediction,” using ML to identify dangerous moles, and spotting cows from space.

Who’s funding privacy tech?

3d rendering of question mark made up of dollar banknotes on blue background. Banking and finance. Business success. Management and production.

Image Credits: Gearstd (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

With strict privacy laws such as GDPR and CCPA already listing big-ticket penalties — and a growing number of countries following suit — businesses have little option but to comply.

It’s not just bigger, established businesses offering privacy and compliance tech; brand-new startups are filling in the gaps in this emerging and growing space.

Privacy isn’t dead, as many would have you believe. New regulations, stricter cross-border data transfer rules and increasing calls for data sovereignty have helped the privacy startup space grow thanks to an uptick in investor support.

This is how we got here, and where investors are spending.

A cooling trend in public markets makes UiPath’s down-round IPO a win for the company

UiPath is not worth $36 billion, as we might have expected, but at a figure below $30 billion.

At $29.1 billion, UiPath has a roughly 35x run-rate multiple. That just about ties it for eighth-best overall. Among all public cloud companies. That means that UiPath is insanely valuable, just not that insanely valuable.

So what went wrong with the company’s final private round? The Exchange’s hunch is that UiPath’s final private investors expected the market to stay as hot as it once was, but it has cooled since the first two months of the year. So, instead of UiPath coming to the market in the expected climate, the company instead had to price where it did because the weather predicted by its final private price had already chilled.

Those investors gambled, in other words, hoping that a last-minute, pre-IPO round could snag them a rapid return on a company going public in a hot market. That didn’t work out.

And how bad is that? Not very! UiPath’s IPO is more a meeting of private-market exuberance and modestly more conservative public markets. It’s nothing to cry about.

4 ways martech will shift in 2021

Smiling young Asian woman using smartphone on social media network application while having meal in the restaurant, viewing or giving likes, love, comment, friends and pages. Social media addiction concept

Image Credits: d3sign (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The second half of 2021 will bring incredible growth, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.

Here’s how marketing in tech will shift — and what you need to know to reach more customers and accelerate growth this year.

First and foremost, differentiation is going to be imperative. It’s already hard enough to stand out and get noticed, and it’s about to get much more difficult as new companies emerge and investments and budgets balloon in the latter half of the year.

Additionally, tech companies need to be mindful not to ignore the most important part of the ecosystem: people. Technology will only take you so far, and it’s not going to be enough to survive the competition.

Tactically, the most successful tech companies will embrace video and experimentation in their marketing — two components that will catapult them ahead of the competition.

Ignoring these predictions, backed by empirical evidence, will be detrimental and devastating. Fasten your seatbelts: 2021 is going to be a turbocharged year of growth opportunities for marketing in tech.

Dear Sophie: How can I get my startup off the ground and visit the US?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m a female entrepreneur who created my first startup a few months ago.

Once my startup gets off the ground — and as COVID-19 gets under control — I’d like to visit the United States to test the market and meet with investors. Which visas would allow me to do that?

—Noteworthy in Nairobi

As UiPath closes above its final private valuation, CFO Ashim Gupta discusses his company’s path to market

Despite a somewhat circuitous route, UiPath closed its first day as a public company worth more than it was in its Series F round — when it sold 12,043,202 shares at $62.27576 apiece, per SEC filings. More simply, UiPath closed on Wednesday worth more per-share than it was in February.

How you might value the company, whether you prefer a simple or fully diluted share count, is somewhat immaterial at this juncture. UiPath had a good day.

TechCrunch spoke with UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta, curious about the company’s choice of a traditional IPO, its general avoidance of adjusted metrics in its SEC filings and the IPO market’s current temperature.

How are VCs handling diligence in a world where deals open and close in days, not months?

The global venture capital market had a cracking start to the year. Coming off a 2020 high, VC totals in the United States, in Europe, and among competitive verticals like insurtech and AI are on pace to set new records in 2021.

The rapid-fire deal-making and trend of larger venture checks at higher valuations that The Exchange has tracked for some time require private-market investors to make decisions faster than ever. For venture capitalists, the timeline for reaching conviction around a startup’s thesis and executing due diligence has become compressed.

Some venture capitalists are turning to data to move more quickly. Some are spending more time preparing to be vetted themselves. And some investors are simply doing the work beforehand.

We were tipped off to the concept of pre-diligence during the reporting process for a look into recent fundraising trends in the AI/ML space. Sapphire investor Jai Das, when asked about how he was handling a competitive and swiftly moving market for AI startup investments, said that “most firms are completing their due diligence way before the financing actually happens.”

How does that work in practice?

Customer care as a service: Outsourcing can help your startup wow clients 24/7

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Image Credits: MartinvBarraud (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Your clients might not demand 24/7 customer service yet, but they’re certainly hoping for it.

But how can a startup with a lean staff provide round-the-clock customer care? There are several options available, but more than ever, outsourcing is one of them.

When should your startup consider outsourcing its customer care? And what should you look for in a provider?

Here are some insights on what customer care as a service (CCaaS) can do for you, and how fast-growing startups have been leveraging this new class of partners to boost customer satisfaction.

5 emerging use cases for productivity infrastructure in 2021

Image Credits: Erik Isakson / Getty Images

Productivity infrastructure is on the rise and will continue to be front and center as companies evaluate what their future of work entails and how to maintain productivity, rapid software development and innovation with distributed teams.

Understanding the benefits, use cases and steps to consider can propel organizations into the next phase of digital transformation.

To sell or not to sell: Lessons from a bootstrapped CEO

Full length of woman pulling vibrant red rope from tangle pattern against white background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The clock begins ticking on a startup the day the doors open. Regardless of a young company’s struggles or success, sooner or later the question of when, how or whether to sell the enterprise presents itself. It’s possibly the biggest question an entrepreneur will face.

For founders who self-funded (bootstrapped) their startup, a boardroom full of additional factors comes into play. Some are the same as for investor-funded firms, but many are unique.

After 18 years of bootstrapping a BI software firm into a business that now serves 28,000 companies and 3 million users in 75 countries, here’s what I’ve learned about myself, my company, about entrepreneurship and about when to grab for that brass ring.

Put happiness at the center of the decision, and let your intuition — the instincts that made you the person you are today — be your guide.

Score a free 30-day Extra Crunch membership when you buy a pass to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

By Alexandra Ames

Does the science, technology — and yes, art — of creating new ways to transport people and parcels get your EV motor running? Then join us on June 9 at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

We’ll pack the day with interactive presentations and breakout sessions. Explore new tech, find emerging trends, discover what’s catching investor interest — and learn about evolving regulatory issues that affect the way mobility startups engage with cities and towns around the globe.

Buy your pass and take advantage of this extra perk — one free month of access to Extra Crunch, our members-only program featuring exclusive daily articles for founders and startup teams. Can you say value add? Yes, yes you can.

Pro Tip 1: Did you already buy a pass? No worries — we’ll email existing pass holders details on how they can claim their free Extra Crunch membership. All new ticket purchasers will receive information via email immediately after they complete their purchase.

Pro Tip 2: Do you already subscribe to Extra Crunch? Simply email extracrunch@techcrunch.com, tell us you’re an existing Extra Crunch member who bought a ticket to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, and we’ll happily extend your membership.

TechCrunch always delivers the top experts in their field, and this event is no exception. You’ll connect and engage with the mobility movers, shakers, influencers and makers. It’s an opportunity to expand your network, find funding, forge new partnerships and yes, scope out your competition, too.

Here’s a peek at just some of the super speakers who will grace TC Mobility 2021’s virtual stage.

Can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? We tapped three heavy hitters to tackle this hot topic: Tamika L. Butler, a community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer; Remix co-founder and CEO, Tiffany Chu; and Frank Reig, Revel co-founder and CEO.

Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt and Reid Hoffman, a LinkedIn co-founder and an investor who knows a thing or two about SPACs, will share their expertise on building a startup, keeping it secret while raising funds, the future of flight and, of course, SPACs.

What do people say about their Mobility experience? Rachael Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars — and a serial TC Sessions: Mobility attendee — told us why she makes it a point to attend every year.

“I go to TC Sessions: Mobility to find new and interesting companies, make new business connections and look for startups with investment potential. It’s an opportunity to expand my knowledge and inform my work.”

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9. Early-bird savings remain in effect until May 5, at 11:59 pm (PT). Buy your pass now, save money and enjoy one month of free access to Extra Crunch. Yay!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Universal Hydrogen raises $20.5M Series A to help launch hydrogen aviation

By Henry Pickavet

The race to decarbonize aviation got a boost this Earth Day with the announcement of a $20.5 million Series A round by Universal Hydrogen, a San Francisco-based startup aiming to develop hydrogen storage solutions and conversion kits for commercial aircraft.

“Hydrogen is the only viable path for aviation to reach Paris Agreement targets and help limit global warming,” said founder and CEO Paul Eremenko in an interview with TechCrunch. “We are going to build an end-to-end hydrogen value chain for aviation by 2025.”

The round was led by Playground Global, with an investor syndicate including Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Airbus Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Sojitz Corporation and Future Shape.

[gallery ids="2141963,2141959,2141962"]

The company’s first product will be lightweight modular capsules to transport “green hydrogen,” produced using renewable power to aircraft equipped with hydrogen fuel cells. The capsules will ultimately be available in different sizes for aircraft ranging from VTOL air taxis to long-distance, single-aisle planes.

“We want them to be interchangeable within each class of aircraft, a bit like consumer batteries today,” says Eremenko.

To help kickstart the market for its capsules, Universal Hydrogen is developing one such plane itself, a modified 19-seat turboprop capable of regional flights of up to 700 miles. The effort is a collaboration with Plug Power, which will supply the hydrogen and fuel cells, and seed investor magniX, which develops motors for electric aircraft.

Eremenko hopes to have the plane flying paying passengers by 2025, and ultimately to produce kits for regional airlines to retrofit their own aircraft.

“We want to have a couple of years of service to de-risk hydrogen certification and passenger acceptance before Boeing and Airbus decide on the airplanes they are going to build in the early 2030s,” says Eremenko. “It’s imperative that at least one of them build a hydrogen airplane or aviation is not going to hit its climate goals.”

Universal Hydrogen is not alone in betting on hydrogen. ZeroAvia in the U.K. is developing its own regional fuel cell aircraft on an even more ambitious timeline, and Airbus in particular has been working on hydrogen aircraft concepts.

Eremenko hopes that producing a simple and safe hydrogen logistics network will soon attract new entrants.

“It’s like the Nespresso system. We have to make the first coffee maker or nobody cares about our capsule technology, but we don’t want to be in the coffee maker business. We want other people to build coffee with our capsules.”

Universal Hydrogen will use the Series A funds to grow its current 12-person team to around 40 and accelerate its technology development.

30kW sub-scale demonstration of Universal Hydrogen’s aviation powertrain, with Plug Power’s hydrogen fuel cell and a magniX motor.

 

Bosch sees a place for renewable fuels, challenging proposed European Union engine ban

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Bosch executives on Thursday criticized proposed EU regulations that would ban the internal combustion engine by 2025, saying that lawmakers “shy away” from discussing the consequences of such a ban on employment.

Although the company reported it is creating jobs through its new businesses, particularly its fuel cell business, and said it was filling more than 90% of these positions internally, it also said an all- or mostly-electric transportation revolution would likely affect jobs. As a case in point, the company told reporters that ten Bosch employees are needed to build a diesel powertrain system, three for a gasoline system — but only one for an electrical powertrain.

Instead, Bosch sees a place for renewable synthetic fuels and hydrogen fuel cells alongside electrification. Renewable synthetic fuels made from hydrogen are a different technology from hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cells use hydrogen to generate electricity, while hydrogen-derived fuels can be combusted in a modified internal combustion engine (ICE).

“An opportunity is being missed if renewable synthetic fuel derived from hydrogen and CO2 remains off-limits in road transport,” Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner said.

“Climate action is not about the end of the internal-combustion engine,” he continued. “It’s about the end of fossil fuels. And while electromobility and green charging power make road transport carbon neutral, so do renewable fuels.”

Electric solutions have limits, Denner said, particularly in powering heavy-duty vehicles. The company earlier this month established a joint venture with Chinese automaker Qingling Motors to build fuel cell powertrains in a test fleet of 70 trucks.

Bosch’s confidence in hydrogen fuel cells and synthetic fuels isn’t to the exclusion of battery-electric mobility. The company, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive and industrial components, said its electromobility business is growing by almost 40 percent, and the company projects annual sales of electrical powertrain components to increase to around €5 billion ($6 billion) by 2025, a fivefold increase.

However, the German company said it was “keeping its options open” by also investing €600 million ($721.7 million) in fuel cell powertrains in the next three years.

“Ultimately Europe won’t be able to achieve climate neutrality without a hydrogen economy,” Denner said.

Bosch has not been immune from the effects of the global semiconductor shortage, which continues to drag into 2021. Board member Stefan Asenkerschbaumer warned that there is a risk the shortage “will stifle the recovery that was forecast” for this year. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company executives told investors earlier this month that the situation may persist into 2022.

Audi spinoff holoride collects $12m in Series A led by Terranet AB

By Rebecca Bellan

Holoride, the company that’s building an immersive XR in-vehicle media platform, today announced it raised €10 million (approximately $12 million) in its Series A investing round, earning the company a €30 million ($36 million) valuation. 

The Swedish ADAS software development company Terranet led the round with €3.2 million (~$3.9 million), followed by a group of Chinese financial and automotive technology investors, organized by investment professional Jingjing Xu, and educational and entertainment game development company Schell Games, which has partnered with holoride in the past to create content. 

Holoride will use the fresh funds to search for new developers and other talent both as it prepares to expand into global markets like Europe, the United States and Asia, and in advance of its summer 2022 launch for private passenger cars. 

“This goes hand-in-hand with putting more emphasis on the content creator community, and as of summer this year, releasing a lot of tools to help them build content for cars on our platform,” Nils Wollny, holoride’s CEO and founder, told TechCrunch. 

The Munich-based company launched at CES in 2019. TechCrunch got to test out its in-car virtual reality system. Our team was surprised, and delighted, to find that holoride had figured out how to quell the motion sickness caused both by being a passenger in a vehicle, and by using a VR headset. The key? Matching the experience users have within the headset to the movement of the vehicle. Once holoride launches, users will be able to download the holoride app to their phones or other personal devices like VR headsets, which will connect wirelessly to the car itself, and extend their reality.  

“Our technology has two sides,” said Wollny. “One is the localization, or positioning software, that takes data points from the car and performs real time synchronization. The other part is what we call our Elastic Software Development Kit. Content creators can build elastic content, which adapts to your travel time and routes. The collaboration with Terranet means their sensors and software stack that allow for a more precise capture and interpretation of the environment at an even faster speed with higher accuracy will enable us in the future for even more possibilities.”

Terranet’s VoxelFlow™ software, which was originally designed for ADAS applications, will help holoride advance its real time, in-vehicle XR entertainment. Terranet’s CEO Par-olof Johannesson, describes VoxelFlow™ as a new paradigm within computer vision and object identification, wherein a combination of sensors, event cameras and a laser scanner are integrated into a car’s windshield and headlamps in order to calculate the distance, direction and speed of an object.

Terranet’s VoxelFlow™ uses computer vision and object identification via a combination of sensors, event cameras and a laser scanner, which are integrated into a car’s windshield and headlamps, in order to calculate the distance, direction and speed of an object.

Holoride, which is manufacturer-agnostic, will be able to use the data points calculated by VoxelFlow™ in real time if holoride were being used in a vehicle that was built integrated with Terranet’s software. But more important is the ability for holoride to reuse 3D event data for XR applications, giving it to creators so they can create the most interactive experience. Terranet is also looking forward to opening up a new vertical for VoxelFlow™

“We are of course very eager to access holoride’s wide pipeline, as well,” said Johannesson. “This deal is very much about expanding the addressable market and tapping into the heart of the automotive industry, where lead times and turnaround times are usually pretty long.”

Holoride is on a mission to revolutionize the passenger experience by turning dead car time into interactive experiences that can run the gamut of gaming, education, productivity, mindfulness and more. For example, around Halloween 2019, holoride teamed up with Ford and Universal Pictures to immerse riders into the frightening world of the Bride of Frankenstein, replete with monsters jumping out and tasks for riders to perform. 

Wollny said holoride always has an eye towards the next step, even though its first product hasn’t gone to market yet. He understands that the future is in autonomous vehicles, and wants to build an essential element of the future tech stack of future cars, cars in which everyone is a passenger. 

“Car manufacturers always focus on the buyer of the car or the driver, but not so much on the passenger,” said Wollny. “The passenger is who holoride really focuses on. We want to turn every vehicle into a moving theme park.”

Dutch startup Go Sharing raises $60M to expand beyond e-mopeds and into new markets

By Ingrid Lunden

On-demand access to electric mopeds — the small, motorised scooters that you sit on, not kick — has been a small but persistent part of the multi-modal transportation mix on offer to people in cities these days. Today, a startup out of The Netherlands is announcing some funding with ambitions to make e-mopeds more mainstream, and to expand into a wider set of vehicle options.

Go Sharing, which has a fleet of around 5,000 e-mopeds across in 30 cities in three countries — The Netherlands, Belgium and Austria — has picked up €50 million (around $60 million). The startup, based near Utrecht, plans to use the funding to expand its footprint for e-mopeds; add electric cars and e-bikes to its app; and continue building out the technology underpinning it all.

Go Sharing believes tech will be the answer to creating a profitable operation, using AI algorithms to optimize locations for e-mopeds, encouraging people to drop off in those locations with incentives like discounts, and keeping that network charged.

Germany, the UK and Turkey are next on Go Sharing’s list of countries, the company said.

The funding is being led by Opportunity Partners — a firm based out of Amsterdam that also backs online supermarket Crisp, with the startup’s founders — CEO Raymon Pouwels, Doeke Boersma, and Donny van den Oever — also participating. A previous round of about $12 million came from Rabo Corporate Investments, the VC arm of the banking giant.

In a world where we now have many choices for getting around cities — taxis, public transport, push and electric bikes, scooters, walking, carpools, car rentals or our own cars — e-mopeds occupy an interesting niche in the mix.

They can be faster than bikes and scooters — 25 km per hour is a typical speed limit in cities, 40 km per hour in less dense areas — more agile than cars, completely quiet compared to their very noisy fuel-based cousins, and of course much more eco-friendly. For those managing fleets, they less likely to break down and need replacing than some of the other alternatives like e-bikes and e-scooters.

But they also represent a higher barrier to entry for picking up customers: riders need a license to operate them as you would other moving vehicles, and in some (but not all) places they need to wear helmets; and the operators of fleets need to sort out how required insurance will work and need special permits as a vehicle provider in most places, and they can also face the same issue as other vehicles like bikes and kick scooters of being a public nuisance when parked.

That mix of challenges — and the fact that fleets can be expensive to operate and might even if all the boxes are ticked still not attract enough users — has meant that the e-moped market has been a patchy one, with some startups shutting down, some cancelling cities after low demand, or retreating over and then returning with better safety measures.

Yet with on-demand transport companies increasingly looking to provide “any” mode in their multi-modal plays to capture more consumers at more times, they remain a class of vehicle that the bigger players and newer entrants will continue to entertain. Lime earlier this year said it was adding e-mopeds to its fleet in certain cities. Uber teamed up with Cityscoot in Paris to integrate the e-moped’s fleet into its app. Cityscoot itself raised some funding last year and is active in several cities across Europe.

And while it can be work to get permits and other regulatory aspects in place to operate services, Pouwels said that Go Sharing was finding that many municipalities actually liked the idea of bringing in more e-mopeds as an eco-friendly alternative to more vehicles — the idea being to provide a transport option to people who are not interested in kick-scooters or bikes and might have driven their own cars, meaning they already have licenses.

The eco-friendly option is also motivating how the company is planning out other parts of its strategy:

“What we have heard from regulators is that they want to motivate people to walk or move in other ways, for example with bicycles,” Pouwels said in an interview. “What we’ve seen with kick scooters is that they ‘deactivate’ people. This is why we see bikes [not adding e-scooters] as the healthy way of moving forward.” The plan with adding electric cars, he said, is to address the needs of people to travel longer distances than shorter inner-city journeys.

Handling supply for its services is coming by way of GreenMo, a sister operation run by Boersma that has been procuring and running a rental service of e-mopeds that are used by drivers for delivery services, with some 10,000 bikes already used this way. GreenMo recently acquired Dutch startup e-bike and a took a majority stake in Belgian company zZoomer, to expand its fleet.

Micromobility’s next big business is software, not vehicles

By Rebecca Bellan

The days of the shared, dockless micromobility model are numbered. That’s essentially the conclusion reached by Puneeth Meruva, an associate at Trucks Venture Capital who recently authored a detailed research brief on micromobility. Meruva is of the opinion that the standard for permit-capped, dockless scooter-sharing is not sustainable — the overhead is too costly, the returns too low — and that the industry could splinter.

Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology.

“Because shared services have started a cultural transition, people are more open to buying their own e-bike or e-scooter,” Meruva told TechCrunch. “Fundamentally because of how much city regulation is involved in each of these trips, it could reasonably become a transportation utility that is very useful for the end consumer, but it just hasn’t proven itself to be a profitable line of business.”

As dockless e-scooters, e-bikes and e-mopeds expand their footprint while consolidating under a few umbrella corporations, companies might develop or acquire the technology to streamline and reduce operational costs enough to achieve unit economics. One overlooked but massive factor in the micromobility space is the software that powers the vehicles — who owns it, if it’s made in-house and how well it integrates with the rest of the tech stack.

It’s the software that can determine if a company breaks out of the rideshare model into the sales or subscription model, or becomes subsidized by or absorbed into public transit, Meruva predicts.

Vehicle operating systems haven’t been top of mind for most companies in the short history of micromobility. The initial goal was making sure the hardware didn’t break down or burst into flames. When e-scooters came on the scene, they caused a ruckus. Riders without helmets zipped through city streets and many vehicles ended up in ditches or blocking sidewalk accessibility.

City officials were angry, to say the least, and branded dockless modes of transport a public nuisance. However, micromobility companies had to answer to their overeager investors — the ones who missed out on the Uber and Lyft craze and threw millions at electric mobility, hoping for swift returns. What was a Bird or a Lime to do? The only thing to do: Get back on that electric two-wheeler and start schmoozing cities.

How the fight for cities indirectly improved vehicle software

Shared, dockless operators are currently in a war of attrition, fighting to get the last remaining city permits. But as the industry seeks a business to government (B2G) model that morphs into what companies think cities want, some are inadvertently producing vehicles that will evolve beyond functional toys and into more viable transportation alternatives.

The second wave of micromobility was marked by newer companies like Superpedestrian and Voi Technology. They learned from past industry mistakes and developed business strategies that include building onboard operating systems in-house. The goal? More control over rider behavior and better compliance with city regulations.

Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology. Lime, Bird, Superpedestrian, Spin and Voi all design their own vehicles and write their own fleet management software or other operational tools. Lime writes its own firmware, which sits directly on top of the vehicle hardware primitives and helps control things like motor controllers, batteries and connected lights and locks.

A Fatal Crash Renews Concerns Over Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ Claim

By Aarian Marshall
The company offers a feature called “Full Self-Driving Capability.” But it remains far from a self-driving car.
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