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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

Ford’s Bid for Safer Scooters? Sensors Everywhere

By Aarian Marshall
Partnering with the Virginia Tech, Ford-owned Spin is gathering data from its scooters to see where things get dangerous and how to keep riders safe.

Netflix's Hyperdrive Is American Ninja Warrior for Cars

By Alex Davies
The new show pits amateur drivers against a plethora of pitfalls, from a giant seesaw to a "rail slide."
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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.

ULA tapped to launch Astrobotic’s lunar lander to the Moon in 2021

By Darrell Etherington

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has been chosen to launch the lunar lander of one of the companies chosen by NASA for its commercial lunar payload program. ULA will deliver Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander to the Moon in 2021, the companies announced today.

Peregrine will fly aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, taking off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral, and this will act as one of two required certification flights that ULA must do in order to qualify for USAF missions with the Vulcan Centaur.

Vulcan is ULA’s next-generation heavy lift launch vehicle, which is currently in development. The launch vehicle will inherit some technology from the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, but the booster will be powered by Blue Origin BE-4 engines, and it’ll be able to carry larger payloads than either Atlas V or Delta IV Heavy.

Astrobotic has been chosen by NASA as one of its commercial payload providers for its ambitious program to return to the Moon and eventually establish a colony. The company has already signed up 16 customers for delivery on its first Moon mission, it said in a press release, which it will log onto the Peregrine, which can support up to 90kg (nearly 200 lbs) for its first mission.

NASA recently opened up a call for more companies to join Astrobotic and the eight other providers it chose last November for its lunar commercial payload program. These will all need launch providers, which represents more potential business for ULA, SpaceX and others looking to develop and launch vehicles capable of getting payloads to the Moon.

Shell’s first Greenlots electric vehicle fast charger lands in Singapore

By Kirsten Korosec

Royal Dutch Shell, the energy giant known for its fossil fuel production and hundreds of Shell gas stations, is creeping into the electric vehicle-power business.

The company’s first DC fast charger from its newly acquired company Greenlots launched Monday at a Shell gas station in Singapore. Greenlots, an EV charging startup acquired by Shell in January, installed the charger. This is the first of 10 DC fast chargers that Greenlots plans to bring to Shell service stations in Singapore over the next several months.

The decision to target Singapore is part of Greenlots’ broader strategy to provide EV charging solutions across all applications throughout Asia and North America, the company said. Both Shell and Greenlots have a presence in Singapore. Greenlots, which is based in Los Angeles, was founded in Singapore; and Shell is one of Singapore’s largest foreign investors.

Singapore has been promoting the use of electric vehicles, particularly for car-sharing and ride-hailing platforms. The island city-state has been building up its EV infrastructure to meet anticipated demand as ride-hailing drivers and commercial fleets switch to electric vehicles.

Greenlots was backed by Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech investment firm, before it was acquired by Shell. The company, which combines its management software with the EV charging hardware, has landed some significant customers in recent years, notably Volkswagen. Greenlots is the sole software provider to Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Clarification: Shell has other EV chargers. These are the first through its newly acquired company Greenlots.

NASA and SpaceX practice Crew Dragon evacuation procedure with astronaut recovery vessel

By Darrell Etherington

NASA and SpaceX continue their joint preparations for the eventually astronaut crew missions that SpaceX will fly for the agency, with a test of the emergency evacuation procedure for SpaceX’s GO Searcher seaborne ship. The ship is intended to be used to recover spacecraft and astronauts in an actual mission scenario, and the rehearsals this week are a key part of ensuring mission readiness before an actual crewed SpaceX mission.

Photos from the dress rehearsal, which is the first coordinated end-to-end practice run involving the full NASA and SpaceX mission teams working in concert, saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken don SpaceX’s fancy new crew suits and mimic a situation where they needed to be removed from the returned Crew Dragon spacecraft and taken to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the GO Searcher by helicopter.

By all accounts, this was a successful exercise and seems to have left parties on both sides happy with the results. Check out photos released by NASA of the dry run below.

[gallery ids="1870192,1870193,1870194,1870195,1870196,1870197,1870198,1870199,1870200,1870201,1870202,1870203,1870204,1870205,1870206,1870207"]

SpaceX and NASA continue to work towards a goal of launching Crew Dragon’s first actual crewed flight this year, though they’ve encountered setbacks that make that potentially impossible, including the explosion of a Crew Dragon test vehicle during a static test fire in April.

Northrop Grumman to build its OmegA rocket at NASA’s VAB as first commercial tenant

By Darrell Etherington

NASA is celebrating alongside Northrop Grumman at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the latter becomes the first commercial partner to make use of the Vehicle Assembly Building on-site at the base. The VAB, as it’s more commonly known, is a cavernous building that’s used to build and test rockets ahead of rolling them out to nearby launch pads, which was originally constructed by NASA to support the Apollo program.

Northrop Grumman will be using the VAB to build and prep its OmegA launch vehicle, a new rocket the company is building to transport intermediate and heavy payloads to orbit. It’s a fully expendable rocket, which Northrop is positioning as a lower-risk alternative to reusable models flown by competitors (cough SpaceX cough), and it’s also billed as an “affordable” option for those seeking launch services. OmegA is designed to help Northrop Grumman compete for future national security launch contracts, as well as support commercial customer missions.

NASA will also continue to use the VAB for the assembly of its own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will be supporting missions in the Artemis program and transporting the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew craft to space, and eventually to the Moon.

Kennedy Space Center also already plays host to rocket assembly and launch facilities for both SpaceX and Blue Origin, making it a hot spot for public-private space business activity.

Postmates lands permit to test its Serve autonomous delivery robots in SF

By Darrell Etherington

Postmates has officially received the green light from the city of San Francisco to begin testing its Serve wheeled delivery robot on city streets, as first reported by the SF Chronicle and confirmed with Postmates by TechCrunch. The on-demand delivery company told us last week that it expected the issuance of the permit to come through shortly after a conditional approval, and that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday thes week.

The permit doesn’t cover the entire city – just a designated area of a number of blocks in and around Potrero Hill and the Inner Mission, but it will allow Postmates to begin testing up to three autonomous delivery robots at once, at speeds of up to 3 mph. Deliveries can only take place between 8 AM and 6:30 PM on weekdays, and a human has to be on hand within 30 feet of the vehicles while they’re operating at all times. Still, it’s a start, and green light for a city regulatory environment that has had a somewhat rocky start with some less collaborative early pilots from other companies.

Autonomous delivery bot company Marble also has a permit application pending with the city’s Public Works department, and will look to test its own four-wheeled, sensor-equipped rolling delivery bots within the city soon should it be granted similar testing approval.

Postmates first revealed Serve last December, taking a more anthropomorphic approach to the vehicle’s overall design. Like many short-distance delivery robots of its ilk, it includes a lockable cargo container and screen-based user interface for eventual autonomous deliveries to customers. The competitive field for autonomous rolling delivery bots is growing continuously, with companies like Starship Technologies, Amazon and many more throwing their hats in the ring.

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.

Look inside Virgin Galactic’s shiny new Spaceport America

By Devin Coldewey

For a couple years now Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America was more aspirational than functional, but now it’s been built out with the necessaries for commercial spaceflight — mainly coffee. The company just showed off the newly redesigned space from which it plans to launch flights… sometime.

Much of the undulating, aesthetically rusted building, located deep in the desert of New Mexico, is dedicated to housing the carrier craft and rocket planes that the company has been testing for the last few years.

That was almost certainly the hard part, in fact: Relocating the infrastructure necessary to support the spacefaring vehicles, including engineers, equipment, and supply chain people, as Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told me in May.

But the spaceport itself must also become a place for humans to arrive, park at, nervously sip coffee and have a pre-flight meal — if that’s really a good idea for your first trip to space. Maybe stick to coffee.

The “first phase” of the consumer-side build-out includes an elegantly appointed little restaurant and cafe, and upstairs can be found “mission control,” which looks more like a conference room than a spaceplane pilot staging area.

[gallery ids="1869269,1869273,1869279,1869270,1869266,1869277,1869271,1869272"]

There are a number of little lounge areas for passengers and others to congregate in, and if the scale seems a little small, keep in mind that this isn’t an airport food court. These flights are going to be full, but they’re also going to be six passengers at a time

Jeremy Brown, design director for Spaceport America, explains that the choice of materials and terraced surfaces, leading up to the lighter, airier second story is meant to evoke the landscape outside, which nearly all the seating faces, and draw the attention outwards and upwards.

Although Virgin Galactic has had several successful test flights, there’s no indication when its first actual commercial flight will be.

“The last flight we did, we basically demonstrated a full commercial profile, including the interior of the vehicle,” Whitesides said in May. “Not only did we, you know, go up to space and come down, but because Beth was in the back — Beth Moses, our flight instructor — she was sort of our mock passenger. She got up a couple times and moved around, she was able to verify our cabin conditions.”

The paperwork is in order and the spaceport itself is now equipped with a cafe, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the first flight from Virgin Galactic before the end of the year.

Truckers Gain More Freedom, Thanks to Tech’s Watchful Eye

By Alex Davies
Proposed federal rules would give truckers more leeway in taking breaks—because regulators already know when drivers are driving and not driving.

Elon Musk: Spotify is ‘coming’ to Tesla vehicles in North America

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla owners in the U.S. and Canada may finally get that free Spotify Premium integration they’ve been requesting.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted late Wednesday night that Spotify premium integration is “coming.” Musk, who has talked about bringing Spotify to owners in North America before, did not provide a timeline. In other words, the music streaming service could be integrated next week or six months from now.

Coming

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 15, 2019

But still, it’s a moment of celebration for many Tesla owners who have complained about Slacker Radio, the streaming music service integrated into all vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. Owners in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong have had Spotify Premium in their vehicles since late 2015.

Slacker Radio, which launched in 2007, has customizable radio stations based on the listener’s personal music tastes. The free and subscription-based service also tried to differentiate itself from the likes of Spotify and Pandora by using DJs to curate programs and, at one time, even sold a portable music player. Despite its efforts, Slacker has been overshadowed by Spotify, which had 232 million monthly active users and 108 million paying subscribers at the end of June 2019.

Slacker was acquired in 2017 for $50 million in cash and stock by LiveXLive, an entertainment and streaming service that focused on live music performances.

Last year, LiveXLive announced a partnership with Dash Radio, a digital radio broadcasting platform with more than 80 original live stations. Under the deal, Dash channels will be available across Slacker Radio, a move meant to bring more live radio to the streaming service.

UPS takes minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple

By Kirsten Korosec

UPS said Thursday it has taken a minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple just months after the two companies began testing the use of autonomous trucks in Arizona.

The size of minority investment, which was made by the company’s venture arm UPS Ventures, was not disclosed. The investment and the testing comes as UPS looks for new ways to remain competitive, cut costs and boost its bottom line.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, believes it can deliver. The startup says it can cut average purchased transportation costs by 30%.

TuSimple, which is backed by Nvidia, ZP Capital and Sina Corp., is working on a “full-stack solution,” a wonky industry term that means developing and bringing together all of the technological pieces required for autonomous driving. TuSimple is developing a Level 4 system, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.

An important piece of TuSimple’s approach is its camera-centric perception solution. TuSimple’s camera-based system has a vision range of 1,000 meters, the company says.

The days of when highways will be filled with autonomous trucks are years away. But UPS believes it’s worth jumping in at an early stage to take advantage of some of the automated driving such as advanced braking technology that TuSimple can offer today.

“UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently,” Scott Price, chief strategy officer at UPS said in a statement. “While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering. All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition — and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet.”

UPS initially tapped TuSimple to help it better understand how Level 4 autonomous trucking might function within its network. That relationship expanded in May when the companies began using self-driving tractor trailers to carry freight on a freight route between Tucson and Phoenix to test if service and efficiency in the UPS network can be improved. This testing is ongoing. All of TuSimple’s self-driving trucks operating in the U.S. have a safety driver and an engineer in the cab.

TuSimple and UPS monitor all aspects of these trips, including safety data, transport time and the distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, the companies said Thursday.

UPS isn’t the only company that TuSimple is hauling freight for as part of its testing. TuSimple has said its hauling loads for for several customers in Arizona.  The startup has a post-money valuation of $1.095 billion (aka unicorn status).

Kitty Hawk’s Flyer personal VTOL has now flown over 25,000 times

By Darrell Etherington

Flying cars, or at least their functional equivalent, edge closer to reality every day — and startup Kitty Hawk wants you to know it’s putting in the flying time to make it happen. The company, led by former Google self-driving car visionary Sebastian Thrun, has now flown its first aircraft, the one-person Flyer, more than 25,000 times. That includes both its excursions as a prototype that resembled a flying motorcycle or ATV, and its current, more refined, mostly enclosed cockpit design.

Flyer is now one of two aircraft that Kitty Hawk is working on bringing to market, alongside its Cora two-person, autonomous taxi built in collaboration with Boeing. Flyer is a one-person, human-piloted aircraft designed primarily for recreational use, and Kitty Hawk has said it has refined the vehicle to the point where someone with no experience can learn to fly it in 15 minutes. The company is currently looking for applications for potential partners who want to deploy it in their communities, and it does seem like the type of thing that might do well as an organized excursion activity at a travel destination or resort.

From prototype, to vehicle that has traveled more than 25,000+ times, Flyer is working on making the dream a reality. pic.twitter.com/sBb2kZ7vNw

— Kitty Hawk (@kittyhawkcorp) August 14, 2019

There’s no info on pricing or actual availability yet, but there was a limited Founder Series pre-order for individual purchasers with deep pockets. The aircraft features pontoons and is designed for use over water, and it can fly between three and 10 feet above the surface with vertical take-off and landing capabilities.

Personally, I’d probably opt for the flying jet-ski over paragliding if it was on offer at a vacation spot, so here’s hoping this actually finds a path to commercialization somewhat soon.

Audi e-tron becomes the first all-electric vehicle to earn IIHS top safety rating

By Kirsten Korosec

The 2019 Audi e-tron has become the first battery-electric vehicle to earn a top safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an achievement that Tesla and other electric models like the Chevy Bolt have not been able to capture.

Scoring an IIHS top safety award isn’t easy. A vehicle has to earn good ratings in six crashworthiness evaluations, as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.

IIHS said Wednesday that the e-tron fulfills the criteria to earn a top safety rating with standard equipment. The vehicle performed well in crashworthiness testing, earning good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, according to IIHS.

The SUV’s standard front crash prevention system rated superior in IIHS track tests. It avoided a collision in the 25 mph test and reduced its impact speed by an average of 11 mph in the 12 mph test. Its forward collision warning component meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

The award provides a much needed boost to the e-tron. There’s a lot riding on the e-tron, the German automaker’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. And while TechCrunch’s Matt Burns found it quick, comfortable and familiar, the vehicle has had a rocky start that included a voluntary recall in the U.S. due to the risk of battery fire.

Tesla has gotten close to the top safety pick designation. A Tesla Model S was tested in 2017 and performed well, but fell short of earning the top score due to poor headlights and an “acceptable” score in the small overlap crash test. The IIHS has never tested the Tesla Model X.

The electric automaker does have another chance. This time, it’s with the Tesla Model 3, which IIHS is currently testing, according to a recent tweet from the organization.

Tests of the 2019 Tesla Model 3 commence next week with the side crash test. pic.twitter.com/yXtbGDC9h9

— IIHS (@IIHS_autosafety) August 7, 2019

The Model 3 has already achieved an all-around five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite the high marks, NHTSA and Tesla have tussled over how the automaker has characterized the rating in an October 7 blog post when it said the Model 3 had achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested.

Earlier this month, Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell SUV, the Nexo, became the first fuel cell vehicle to be tested and to earn IIHS’s top safety award. 

Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future

By Kirsten Korosec

In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.

Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)

This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land Rover.

Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.

The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.

Voyage wants to unlock both.

Crowded field

No More Screen Time! The Navy Reverts to Physical Throttles

By Aarian Marshall
The Navy will eliminate touchscreen controls in destroyers after reports found that many sailors did not know how to work them, contributing to accidents.

Car2go hikes hourly rental rates by as much as a third

By Devin Coldewey

By-the-minute car rental service Car2go is raising its rates for short trips under the guise of variable pricing, the company announced to its users today. As we’ve seen with other variably priced services like delivery and ride hailing, in practice this means you never really know what it will cost but will have little choice but to pay.

In an email to users of its service, Car2go said that as a result of “constantly evaluating our product, packages, and pricing strategies” it had arrived at the new system, under which price will depend on time, location and day. The new cost structure takes effect next month.

For Car2go users, this will generally mean paying more. The company highlighted a new cheaper possible per-minute rate of 35 cents, significantly lower than the current $0.45 rate. But it’s easy to guess when that lower rate will be available: “times, locations and days” that no one is using the service. Meanwhile, it’s also possible to encounter a new higher per-minute rate of up to 49 cents when cars are in demand or in a high-use location.

Blocks of time from half an hour to four hours are all increasing in price: The current flat rates are now floor rates, with the possibility you’ll be paying as much as a third more than before. For example, a two-hour block currently costs $29; soon it will cost somewhere between $30 and $39. Again, you won’t know until you open the app to check it out, at which point you’re probably already committed.

Day-length packages are actually cheaper under the new system, but no longer include miles, so while a 24-hour pass used to be $79, now it’s $70 — but at 19 cents per mile, you’ll be in the red after less than 50 miles. And the price only goes up from there. Still, it’s conceivable you’ll pay less for a two or three-day rental if you’re not actually going anywhere distant, but just need a car for the weekend.

A newly instituted zone-based charge and refund system punishes drivers for leaving the city center and rewards those at the periphery for driving back toward heavy usage areas. There’s a $5 charge if you leave the central zone, and $5 refund — or the price of the trip, if less — if you bring a car in from the outer one. (Consult your local Car2go to see what the zones are in your city.)

Count the cards here and you can see the house always wins. If you’re going out, the full $5 fee always applies. If you’re coming in, it will be very difficult to nail that $5 ride — go under and Car2go is reimbursing less than the $5 (and thus comes out ahead), go over and you end up paying money anyway. It’s just one of those clever little traps businesses set up.

You can see the full changes in the chart below:

car2go ratesOh, and your first 200 trips this calendar year have an additional $1 fee. You’re welcome!

In case you can’t tell, this is bad news for consumers, though it would be too much to expect that these prices would stay stable for years. But variable pricing is fundamentally anti-consumer because of a lack of transparency under which the companies controlling it can pull all kinds of shenanigans. Sadly, that makes it a great choice for the bottom line.

These unwelcome changes come six months after Car2go joined the BMW-Daimler joint venture Share Now, which has a variety of car-share services around the world it intends to unify under a single brand soon (it already killed ReachNow, rather abruptly). Apparently larger scale and reduced competition don’t actually lead to lower prices — unfortunate for their customers. But overall the floating car-share services are an important one. Just not as cheap as they used to be.

Proterra, the Tesla of electric buses, closes in on $1 billion valuation

By Kirsten Korosec

Proterra has authorized shares to raise $75 million, a new round of funding that would push the electric bus maker’s valuation past $1 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

The company authorized the sale of 10,857,762 shares at a price of $6.91 in a Series 8 round, according to a securities filing that was obtained by the Prime Unicorn Index, a company that tracks the performance of private U.S. companies, and reviewed by TechCrunch. If all of the shares are issued, the company’s total valuation would be $1.04 billion, pushing it into “unicorn” territory, according to Prime Unicorn Index.

Proterra declined to comment.

Efforts to raise capital come as the company explores an IPO, according to a report last month by Reuters that said Proterra had hired underwriters from Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

Prior to this August 2 filing, Proterra had raised a total of $551.77 million in funding from investors that include G2VP, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Constellation Ventures, Mitsui & Co. as well as BMW i Ventures, Edison Energy, the Federal Transportation Administration, General Motors’s venture arm and Tao Capital Partners.

Proterra produces electric buses for municipal, federal and commercial transit agencies; it has a line of electric buses, hundreds of which have been sold, that can travel 350 miles on a single charge. The Burlingame, Calif. company, which has a number of former Tesla employees in leadership positions, including CEO Ryan Popple, has since diversified its business.

Proterra rolled out in April a $200 million credit facility backed by Japanese investment giant Mitsui & Co. to scale up a battery leasing program aimed at lowering the barrier of entry of buying an electric bus.

And just this month, the company announced it has added a new business line called Proterra Powered that will sell its vehicle battery systems, powertrain technology and charging infrastructure to commercial truck and manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles like garbage trucks.

This new business line stems from its previous relationships with companies like Van Hool and Daimler . Proterra announced last year it was working with Daimler to electrify the company’s Thomas Built Buses division, which makes a line of school buses. That relationship comes with some financial backing and an agreement to share technologies.

Daimler co-led a $155 million funding along with Tao Capital Partner. Proterra is lending its battery and drive train expertise; Daimler will show Proterra how to scale its manufacturing business even further.

The partnership has already been fruitful. Thomas Built Buses received certifications from the California Air Resources Board and the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project for an electric bus, known as the Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley, which uses Proterra technology. Electric school bus production for demonstration and innovation vehicles begins in 2019 and commercial production begins in 2020.

Skip scooters are returning to Washington, DC after battery fires

By Megan Rose Dickey

Following battery issues and a single-alarm fire caused by improperly disposed of batteries in Washington, D.C., Skip has been given the green light to resume operations in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas of Alexandria and Arlington. The plan is to redeploy the scooters in the coming weeks.

In June, a battery on one of Skip’s scooters caught fire in D.C., prompting the company to ground its scooters in both D.C. and San Francisco. The scooter in question was found with its external battery on fire, which caused “minor damage” to a wall nearby. In light of that incident, Skip identified other potential at-risk batteries and quarantined them in its warehouse.

“In DC, they weren’t disposed of properly, which helped create the right conditions for a single-alarm fire,” Skip wrote in a blog post. “After the incident, DDOT asked us to suspend operations. Frankly, that was the right call. We didn’t just let our cities and riders down, we let ourselves down.”

Since then, Skip says it has consulted with battery experts and OSHA compliance firms to put in place new procedures and operations around handling and disposing of damaged equipment. Now, Skip has real-time monitoring and alerting for battery and vehicle issues to ensure batteries are disposed of before exhibiting any safety issues. Among other steps, Skip is now reporting its handling of batteries and employee injuries to the District Department of Transportation.

Skip is not the only micromobility company that has experienced issues with battery fires. Last month, a couple of Lyft’s electric bike batteries caught on fire in San Francisco, prompting the company to pull its bikes from the streets. Late last year, Lime recalled some of its Ninebot scooters due to fire concerns.

And battery fires do not only affect electric bikes and scooters. You may remember the year of the exploding hoverboards, as well as exploding smartphones and laptops. What all of those have in common are lithium-ion batteries, which are very commonly used for portable electronics and now, personal electric vehicles. The downside to these types of batteries is potential overheating, which can lead to a failure mode called “thermal runaway” and result in a battery fire.

Other potential issues that can lead to battery failure are bad design and the mere fact that scooters can be banged around by users. In the case of Skip, the issue seemed to fall on the latter.

“The investigation found the main cause to be physical damage, but it was not able to determine whether the damage was intentional or unintentional,” a Skip spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Given the amount of scrutiny all of these companies are under, coupled with their reliance on approval from cities, the likes of Skip, Lyft and Lime need to make sure their respective safety procedures are buttoned up if they want to thrive in this space.

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