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EV fleet management gets another venture-backed contender as Electriphi raises $3.5 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Electriphi, a provider of charging management and fleet monitoring software for electric vehicles, has joined the scrum of startups looking to provide services to the growing number of electric vehicle fleets in the U.S.

The San Francisco-based company has just raised $3.5 million in seed funding from investors including Wireframe Ventures, the Urban Innovation Fund, and Blackhorn Ventures. Lemnos Labs and Acario Innovation also participated in the round.

Electriphi’s pitch has resonated with school districts. It counts the Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento, Calif. as one of its benchmark customers.

“Twin Rivers Unified School District has the largest fleet of electric school buses in North America, and our ambition is to transition to a fully electric fleet in the coming years,” said Tim Shannon, transportation services director, Twin Rivers Unified School District, in a statement. “This is a significant undertaking, and we needed a trusted partner that could provide us state-of-the-art charging management and help us with data collection and monitoring.”

There are several companies pursuing this market — all with either a bit of a head start, significant corporate backers, or more capital. Existing offerings from EVConnect, GreenLots, GreenFlux, AmplyPower all compete with Electriphi.

The company is betting that the experience of co-founder, Muffi Ghadiali, a former senior director at ChargePoint who led hardware and software development for fast charging infrastructure, can sway customers. Joining Ghadiali is Sanjay Dayal, who previously worked at Agralogics, Tibco, Xamplify, Versata and Sybase

There’s also the sheer scale of the opportunity, which is likely to see multiple companies emerge as winners.

“There are millions of public and commercial fleet vehicles in the U.S. alone that we rely on daily for transportation, delivery and services, ” said Paul Straub, managing partner, Wireframe Ventures. “Many of these are beginning to consider electrification and the opportunity is tremendous.”

Here’s our pick of the top six startups from Pause Fest

By Mike Butcher

We’ve been dropping into the Australian startup scene increasingly over the years as the ecosystem has been building at an increasingly faster pace, most notably at our own TechCrunch Battlefield Australia in 2017. Further evidence that the scene is growing has come recently in the shape of the Pause Fest conference in Melbourne. This event has gone from strength to strength in recent years and is fast becoming a must-attend for Aussie startups aiming for both national international attention.

I was able to drop in ‘virtually’ to interview a number of those showcased in the Startup Pitch Competition, so here’s a run-down of some of the stand-out companies.

Medinet Australia
Medinet Australia is a health tech startup aiming to make healthcare more convenient and accessible to Australians by allowing doctors to do consultations with patients via an app. Somewhat similar to apps like Babylon Health, Medinet’s telehealth app allows patients to obtain clinical advice from a GP remotely; access prescriptions and have medications delivered; access pathology results; directly email their medical certificate to their employer; and access specialist referrals along with upfront information about specialists such as their fees, waitlist, and patient experience. They’ve raised $3M in Angel financing and are looking for institutional funding in due course. Given Australia’s vast distances, Medinet is well-placed to capitalize on the shift of the population towards much more convenient telehealth apps. (1st Place Winner)

Everty
Everty allows companies to easily manage, monitor and monetize Electric Vehicle charging stations. But this isn’t about infrastructure. Instead, they link up workplaces and accounting systems to the EV charging network, thus making it more like a “Salesforce for EV charging”. It’s available for both commercial and home charging tracking. It’s also raised an Angel round and is poised to raise further funding. (2nd Place Winner)

AI On Spectrum
It’s a sad fact that people with Autism statistically tend to die younger, and unfortunately, the suicide rate is much higher for Autistic people. “Ai on Spectrum” takes an accessible approach in helping autistic kids and their families find supportive environments and feel empowered. The game encourages Autism sufferers to explore their emotional side and arms them with coping strategies when times get tough, applying AI and machine learning in the process to assist the user. (3rd Place Winner)

HiveKeeper
Professional bee-keepers need a fast, reliable, easy-to-use record keeper for their bees and this startup does just that. But it’s also developing a software+sensor technology to give beekeepers more accurate analytics, allowing them to get an early-warning about issues and problems. Their technology could even, in the future, be used to alert for coming bushfires by sensing the changed behavior of the bees. (Hacker Exchange Additional Winner)

Relectrify
Rechargeable batteries for things like cars can be re-used again, but the key to employing them is being able to extend their lives. Relectrify says its battery control software can unlock the full performance from every cell, increasing battery cycle life. It will also reduce storage costs by providing AC output without needing a battery inverter for both new and 2nd-life batteries. Its advanced battery management system combines power and electric monitoring to rapidly the check which are stronger cells and which are weaker making it possible to get as much as 30% more battery life, as well as deploying “2nd life storage”. So far, they have a project with Nissan and American Electric Power and have raised a Series A of $4.5M. (SingularityU Additional Winner)

Gabriel
Sadly, seniors and patients can contract bedsores if left too long. People can even die from bedsores. Furthermore, hospitals can end up in litigation over the issue. What’s needed is a technology that can prevent this, as well as predicting where on a patient’s body might be worst affected. That’s what Gabriel has come up with: using multi-modal technology to prevent and detect both falls and bedsores. Its passive monitoring technology is for the home or use in hospitals and consists of a resistive sheet with sensors connecting to a system which can understand the pressure on a bed. It has FDA approval, is patent-pending and is already working in some Hawaiin hospitals. It’s so far raised $2m in Angel and is now raising money.

Here’s a taste of Pause Fest:

The debut of electric pickups signals a new EV era

By Matt Burns

Several companies rolled out electric pickups in 2019. Tesla’s Cybertruck got most of the attention, but don’t sleep on General Motors and Ford — bringing electric pickups to market is critical for the viability of electric vehicles.

Automakers build vehicles around shared components. These platforms, the underpinnings of the vehicles, often live for 10 or more years, and are critical to each automaker’s economic stability. The exterior sheet metal might change, but dozens of models often share the frame, powertrain and electrical components.

Electric pickup platforms offer vehicle makers a new revenue source. Instead of building electric vehicles designed to move people, these platforms can move goods. That’s key to building a long-term strategy around electric vehicles.

Look at Ford, whose best-selling F-150 is just a portion of its success. From the F-150, the automaker has dozens of commercial vehicles built off platforms that share components. If Ford can produce an electric pickup — which it says it’s doing alongside startup Rivian — Ford will be able to electrify its commercial offering more quickly.

Specific vehicle platforms are perfect for electrification. Vehicles with a predictable driving route like municipal vehicles, delivery vans and even hearses could benefit from electric powertrains.

Electric powertrains have long offered advantages over internal combustion; electric counterparts feature fewer moving parts and are now often smaller, allowing for more interior space. And then there’s the torque that gives electric vehicles near-superhero strength.

Tesla Model 3 makes Consumer Reports ‘Top Picks’ list for 2020

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla’s Model 3 is among the top 10 choices for car buyers in 2020, according to Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization released its “Top Picks” of the year on Thursday, and it included Tesla’s most affordable vehicle alongside cars from automakers including Toyota, Subaru, Honda, Kia and Lexus.

The Model 3 was chosen as one of three vehicles in the $45K-$55K category, alongside the Lexus RX and the Toyota Supra. CR lauded its “thrilling driving experience,” including “impressive handling and quick precise steering [that] help it feel like a sports car.” They did ding it slightly for having a “stiff ride” overall, but said that that’s more than made up for by its long EV battery range and emission-free eco-friendly qualities.

Consumer Reports also specifically called out a worry about the Model 3 that “Autopilot, an optional system on the vehicle, does not require the driver to stay engaged, creating safety concerns.” Tesla has always positioned Autopilot as a driver-assist feature that still requires a driver to be ready to take over control at a moment’s notice, but critics have suggested its implementation can lead to misuse resulting in inattentiveness.

Clearly, that concern wasn’t enough to prevent CR from counting the Model 3 among its top recommendations for vehicles in 2020. Tesla also ended up ranking 11th overall out of 33 automakers in Consumer Reports’ 2020 automotive brand report card, climbing eight positions from last year. The Model 3, and the rapid improvements that Tesla was able to make in its production as it scaled assembly of the vehicle, clearly helped it in the eyes of the consumer-focused nonprofit.

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Darrell Etherington

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

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

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

[gallery ids="1947767,1947765,1947764,1947763,1947762"]

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

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

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

Karma Automotive to lay off 60 more workers at California headquarters

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

Here’s the complete statement from spokesman Dave Barthmuss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waymo’s self-driving trucks and minivans are headed to New Mexico and Texas

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo said Thursday it will begin mapping and eventually testing its autonomous long-haul trucks in Texas and parts of New Mexico, the latest sign that the Alphabet company is expanding beyond its core focus of launching a robotaxi business.

Waymo said in a tweet posted early Thursday it had picked these areas because they are “interesting and promising commercial routes.” Waymo also said it would “explore how the Waymo Driver” — the company’s branded self-driving system — could be used to “create new transportation solutions.”

Waymo plans to mostly focus on interstates because Texas has a particularly high freight volume, the company said. The program will begin with mapping conducted by Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

The mapping and eventual testing will occur on highways around Dallas, Houston and El Paso. In New Mexico, Waymo will focus on the southern most part of the state.

Interstate 10 will be a critical stretch of highway in both states — and one that is already a testbed for TuSimple, a self-driving trucking startup that has operations in Tucson and San Diego. TuSimple tests and carries freight along the Tucson to Phoenix corridor on I-10. The company also tests on I-10 in New Mexico and Texas.

This week, we’ll start driving our Chrysler Pacificas and long-haul trucks in Texas and New Mexico. These are interesting and promising commercial routes, and we’ll be using our vehicles to explore how the Waymo Driver might be able to create new transportation solutions. pic.twitter.com/uDqKDrGR9b

— Waymo (@Waymo) January 23, 2020

 

Waymo, which is best known for its pursuit of a robotaxi service, integrated its self-driving system into Class 8 trucks and began testing them in Arizona in August 2017. The company stopped testing its trucks on Arizona roads sometime later that year. The company brought back its truck testing to Arizona in May 2019.

Those early Arizona tests were aimed at gathering initial information about driving trucks in the region, while the new round of truck testing in Arizona marks a more advanced stage in the program’s development, Waymo said at the time.

Waymo has been testing its self-driving trucks in a handful of locations in the U.S., including Arizona, the San Francisco area and Atlanta. In 2018, the company announced plans to use its self-driving trucks to deliver freight bound for Google’s  data centers in Atlanta.

Boom Supersonic partners with Flight Research to test its XB-1 supersonic aircraft

By Darrell Etherington

Supersonic aviation startup Boom is making progress on its XB-1 demonstrator aircraft, the airplane that will prove out its tech and pave the way for construction of its future production commercial supersonic passenger jets. The Denver-based startup has partnered with Flight Research, Inc., a company that specializes in flight testing and certification, as well as pilot training.

The XB-1 demonstrator aircraft will be tested with support from Flight Research, Inc., with Boom hoping to fly the aircraft over the Mojave desert in a stretch used for supersonic testing. As part of the deal, Flight Research will be providing Boom with a hanger at the Mojave Air and Space Port to fly from, and a T-38 talon supersonic trainer aircraft which will be used both to train the XB-1’s test pilots, and to trail the Boom aircraft for observation while it’s in flight.

Boom is in the process of building the XB-1, which will be used to test and refine the final design of Overture, the passenger commercial airliner it eventually hopes to build. Already, Boom says development of the subscale XB-1 has lead to improvements of the design elements it’s going to be using to construct Oveture. The flight controls system and engines on XB-1 are already fully complete, and the company is now working on finishing touches on the cockpit construction, with about half of the work still left to go on the fuselage, and a third of the construction of the wings still to be done. Its first flight is currently planned for sometime later this year.

Tesla calls claims of unintended acceleration in NHTSA petition ‘completely false’

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla pushed back Monday against claims that its electric vehicles may suddenly accelerate on their own, calling a petition filed with federal safety regulators “completely false.”

Tesla also questions the validity of the petition, noting that it was submitted by a Tesla short-seller.

Last week, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration said it would review a defect petition that cited 127 consumer complaints of alleged unintended acceleration of Tesla electric vehicles that may have contributed to or caused 110 crashes and 52 injuries.

The petition, which was first reported by CNBC, was filed by Brian Sparks, an independent investor who is currently shorting Tesla’s stock. Sparks has hedged his bets and has been long Tesla in the past, according to the CNBC report.

At the time, Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment. Now, in a blog post, the company said that it routinely reviews customer complaints of unintended acceleration with NHTSA.

“In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly,” Tesla wrote in a blog post on its website.

The automaker argued that its vehicles are designed to avoid unintended acceleration, noting that its system will default to cutting off motor torque if the two independent position sensors on its accelerator pedals register any error.

“We also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional,” the company wrote.

Here is the complete response from Tesla:

This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed. In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.

While accidents caused by a mistaken press of the accelerator pedal have been alleged for nearly every make/model of vehicle on the road, the accelerator pedals in Model S, X and 3 vehicles have two independent position sensors, and if there is any error, the system defaults to cut off motor torque. Likewise, applying the brake pedal simultaneously with the accelerator pedal will override the accelerator pedal input and cut off motor torque, and regardless of the torque, sustained braking will stop the car. Unique to Tesla, we also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional. Each system is independent and records data, so we can examine exactly what happened.

We are transparent with NHTSA, and routinely review customer complaints of unintended acceleration with them. Over the past several years, we discussed with NHTSA the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition. In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly.

Baraja’s unique and ingenious take on lidar shines in a crowded industry

By Devin Coldewey

It seems like every company making lidar has a new and clever approach, but Baraja takes the cake. Its method is not only elegant and powerful, but fundamentally avoids many issues that nag other lidar technologies. But it’ll need more than smart tech to make headway in this complex and evolving industry.

To understand how lidar works in general, consult my handy introduction to the topic. Essentially a laser emitted by a device skims across or otherwise very quickly illuminates the scene, and the time it takes for that laser’s photons to return allows it to quite precisely determine the distance of every spot it points at.

But to picture how Baraja’s lidar works, you need to picture the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

GIFs kind of choke on rainbows, but you get the idea.

Imagine a flashlight shooting through a prism like that, illuminating the scene in front of it — now imagine you could focus that flashlight by selecting which color came out of the prism, sending more light to the top part of the scene (red and orange) or middle (yellow and green). That’s what Baraja’s lidar does, except naturally it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The company has been developing its tech for years with the backing of Sequoia and Australian VC outfit Blackbird, which led a $32 million round late in 2018 — Baraja only revealed its tech the next year and was exhibiting it at CES, where I met with co-founder and CEO Federico Collarte.

“We’ve stayed in stealth for a long, long time,” he told me. “The people who needed to know already knew about us.”

The idea for the tech came out of the telecommunications industry, where Collarte and co-founder Cibby Pulikkaseril thought of a novel use for a fiber optic laser that could reconfigure itself extremely quickly.

We thought if we could set the light free, send it through prism-like optics, then we could steer a laser beam without moving parts. The idea seemed too simple — we thought, ‘if it worked, then everybody would be doing it this way,’ ” he told me, but they quit their jobs and worked on it for a few months with a friends and family round, anyway. “It turns out it does work, and the invention is very novel and hence we’ve been successful in patenting it.”

Rather than send a coherent laser at a single wavelength (1550 nanometers, well into the infrared, is the lidar standard), Baraja uses a set of fixed lenses to refract that beam into a spectrum spread vertically over its field of view. Yet it isn’t one single beam being split but a series of coded pulses, each at a slightly different wavelength that travels ever so slightly differently through the lenses. It returns the same way, the lenses bending it the opposite direction to return to its origin for detection.

It’s a bit difficult to grasp this concept, but once one does it’s hard to see it as anything but astonishingly clever. Not just because of the fascinating optics (something I’m partial to, if it isn’t obvious), but because it obviates a number of serious problems other lidars are facing or about to face.

First, there are next to no moving parts whatsoever in the entire Baraja system. Spinning lidars like the popular early devices from Velodyne are being replaced at large by ones using metamaterials, MEMS, and other methods that don’t have bearings or hinges that can wear out.

Baraja’s “head” unit, connected by fiber optic to the brain.

In Baraja’s system, there are two units, a “dumb” head and an “engine.” The head has no moving parts and no electronics; it’s all glass, just a set of lenses. The engine, which can be located nearby or a foot or two away, produces the laser and sends it to the head via a fiber-optic cable (and some kind of proprietary mechanism that rotates slowly enough that it could theoretically work for years continuously). This means it’s not only very robust physically, but its volume can be spread out wherever is convenient in the car’s body. The head itself also can be resized more or less arbitrarily without significantly altering the optical design, Collarte said.

Second, the method of diffracting the beam gives the system considerable leeway in how it covers the scene. Different wavelengths are sent out at different vertical angles; a shorter wavelength goes out toward the top of the scene and a slightly longer one goes a little lower. But the band of 1550 +/- 20 nanometers allows for millions of fractional wavelengths that the system can choose between, giving it the ability to set its own vertical resolution.

It could for instance (these numbers are imaginary) send out a beam every quarter of a nanometer in wavelength, corresponding to a beam going out every quarter of a degree vertically, and by going from the bottom to the top of its frequency range cover the top to the bottom of the scene with equally spaced beams at reasonable intervals.

But why waste a bunch of beams on the sky, say, when you know most of the action is taking place in the middle part of the scene, where the street and roads are? In that case you can send out a few high frequency beams to check up there, then skip down to the middle frequencies, where you can then send out beams with intervals of a thousandth of a nanometer, emerging correspondingly close together to create a denser picture of that central region.

If this is making your brain hurt a little, don’t worry. Just think of Dark Side of the Moon and imagine if you could skip red, orange and purple, and send out more beams in green and blue — and because you’re only using those colors, you can send out more shades of green-blue and deep blue than before.

Third, the method of creating the spectrum beam provides against interference from other lidar systems. It is an emerging concern that lidar systems of a type could inadvertently send or reflect beams into one another, producing noise and hindering normal operation. Most companies are attempting to mitigate this by some means or another, but Baraja’s method avoids the possibility altogether.

“The interference problem — they’re living with it. We solved it,” said Collarte.

The spectrum system means that for a beam to interfere with the sensor it would have to be both a perfect frequency match and come in at the precise angle at which that frequency emerges from and returns to the lens. That’s already vanishingly unlikely, but to make it astronomically so, each beam from the Baraja device is not a single pulse but a coded set of pulses that can be individually identified. The company’s core technology and secret sauce is the ability to modulate and pulse the laser millions of times per second, and it puts this to good use here.

Collarte acknowledged that competition is fierce in the lidar space, but not necessarily competition for customers. “They have not solved the autonomy problem,” he points out, “so the volumes are too small. Many are running out of money. So if you don’t differentiate, you die.” And some have.

Instead companies are competing for partners and investors, and must show that their solution is not merely a good idea technically, but that it is a sound investment and reasonable to deploy at volume. Collarte praised his investors, Sequoia and Blackbird, but also said that the company will be announcing significant partnerships soon, both in automotive and beyond.

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volkswagen to bring self-driving electric shuttles to Qatar by 2022

By Kirsten Korosec

Volkswagen Group and Qatar have agreed to develop a public transit system of autonomous shuttles and buses by 2022 for the capital city of Doha.

The agreement signed Saturday by VW Group and the Qatar Investment Authority is an expansive project that will involve four brands under VW Group, including Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Scania, its shared ride service MOIA and Audi subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving, or AID.

The aim is to develop the entire transport system, including the electric autonomous shuttles and buses, legal framework, city infrastructure and ride-hailing software required to deploy a commercial service there. The autonomous vehicles will be integrated into existing public transit.

“For our cities to progress we need a new wave of innovation,” QIA CEO Mansoor Al Mahmoud said in a statement. “AI-enabled, emission-free transportation technologies will help advance urban mobility, while diminishing congestion and improving energy efficiency.

The fleet will include 35 autonomous electric ID. Buzz vehicles from the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles unit, which will shuttle up to four passengers on semi-fixed routes in a geo-fenced area of Doha. Another 10 Scania buses will be used for larger groups.

Closed testing of the shuttle vehicles and buses is expected to begin in 2020. Trials could start as early as 2021. VW and QIA said the project will go live by the end of 2022.

Bluespace.ai, a startup focused on AV technology for mass transit, gets $3.5 million in seed funding

By Catherine Shu

Bluespace.ai, a new autonomous driving startup focused on mass transit, announced today that it has raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Fusion Fund.

Other investors include YouTube co-founder Steve Chen; UMC, the Taiwanese semiconductor foundry; Kakao Ventures; GDP Ventures; Atinum; Wasabi Ventures; Blue Ivy Ventures; Plug n Play; and SLV Capital.

The startup develops software systems for autonomous mass transit fleets and is currently in meetings with cities and transit providers. Its founding team includes CEO Joel Pazhayampallil, previously co-founder of Drive.ai, which was acquired by Apple earlier this year, and president and COO Christine Moon, whose experience includes serving as head of partnerships for Google’s Nexus program.

Bluespace.ai’s team also has people who have worked at AV companies like Zoox, Lyft Level 5 and Voyage. Their combined experience includes launching AV fleets in Texas, California and Florida.

In an email, Moon told TechCrunch that Bluespace.ai’s software “enables verifiably safe AV operation without the millions of miles of testing needed by current generation AVs. This enables our mission of making urban mobility more equitable, accessible and sustainable through mass transit automation in the near term.”

Several major automakers, including Volvo and Toyota, and startups like May Mobility and Optimus Ride, are also working on AV solutions for mass transit.

Moon said Bluespace.ai’s specific focus is on “increas[ing] the overall ability and efficiency across trunk transit routes with higher rider capacity.” While other startups have primarily focused on first- and last-mile solutions for slow-speed vehicles that are part of main transit systems, Moon added that Bluespace.ai’s aim is to safely enable full-size vehicles that can travel on public roads at road speed, therefore serving more passengers at a time.

In a press statement, Fusion Fund managing partner Lu Zhang said “After looking at many investment opportunities in the AV space, we found that BlueSpace stood out with their revolutionary technology approach and providing near term market application. The founding team has an incredibly strong technology background and significant deployment experience, having launched AV services in Florida, Texas and California.”

The electric Porsche Taycan Turbo has an EPA range of 201 miles

By Kirsten Korosec

The Porsche Taycan Turbo, one of several variants of the German automaker’s first all-electric vehicles, has an EPA estimated range of 201 miles, according to government ratings posted Wednesday.

This is the first variant of the Taycan — Porsche’s first all-electric vehicle — to receive an estimated range from the EPA. The range, which indicates how far the vehicle can travel on a single charge, is far behind other competitors in the space, notably the Tesla Model S. But it also trails other high-end electric vehicles, including the Jaguar I-Pace and the Audi e-tron.

The biggest gulf is between the Taycan Turbo and the long-range version of the Model S, which has an EPA range of 373 miles. The performance version of the Model S has a range of 348 miles. It was also below the Jaguar I-Pace, an electric vehicle that launched in 2018. The EPA has given the Jaguar I-Pace an official estimated range of 234. However, the company recently said it was able to add another 12 miles of range to the vehicle through what it learned in the I-Pace racing series.

The European standard known as the WLTP placed the range of the Porsche Taycan Turbo at up to 279 miles.

Despite the lower EPA range estimate, Porsche said it’s not disappointed.

“We sought to build a true Porsche, balancing legendary performance our customers expect of our products with range sufficient to meet their everyday needs,” a Porsche spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The Taycan is a phenomenal car built to perform and drive as a Porsche should. We stand by that.”

epa electric range

Porsche introduced in September the Taycan Turbo S and Taycan Turbo — the more powerful and expensive versions of its all-electric four-door sports car with base prices of $185,000 and $150,900, respectively.

In October, the German automaker revealed a cheaper version called the Porsche Taycan 4S that is more than $80,000 cheaper than its leading model. All of the Taycans, including the 4S, are the same chassis and suspension, permanent magnet synchronous motors and other bits. However, this third version, which will offer a performance-battery-plus option, is a little lighter, cheaper and slightly slower than the high-end versions of the Taycan that were introduced earlier this year. Theoretically, the 4S should also have a higher range.

Porsche has always said it would have multiple versions of the Taycan. The 2020 Taycan Turbo will be among the first models to arrive in the United States.

While Porsche said it isn’t disputing the EPA range, the automaker did send an email to dealers Wednesday to share additional data that shows a far rosier picture.

Porsche asked AMCI Testing to conduct independent tests to evaluate the Taycan Turbo range, according to an email the automaker sent to dealers for Taycan customers. The independent automotive research firm came up with a range of 275 miles, a result that was calculated by averaging the vehicle’s performance over five test cycles.

Audi experiments with a ride share service in Southern Germany using an EV and gasoline fleet

By Jonathan Shieber

Audi Business Innovation is testing out a ride sharing service in Southern Germany called BITS that uses both gasoline and electric vehicles in its fleet.

To manage the service, Audi has turned to Fleetonomy, a fleet management service that offers white labeled ride hailing app services and fleet management technology.

The company develops technology to handle fleet utilization and improve efficiency by bringing visibility to maintenance constraints, real-time demand and supply availability.

The service provides long-distance drives across Southern Germany with a mix of electric and internal combustion powered vehicles.

“The need for flexible mobility among customers is growing and is set to become an additional focus area for the automotive industry said Nico Gropper, Audi Business Innovation GmbH, in a statement. “We always aspire to be at the forefront of these developments. Services that include both electric and ICE vehicles have to deal with additional levels of complexity in order to run smoothly and solving these complexities with the right technology partner is crucial to the operational and financial success of the entire service.”

After a successful initial test in October, the company is planning on doing more with the service. The new partnership with Fleetonomy gives Audi both an app-based bespoke ride hailing service and a way to manage a fleet of both electric and combustion vehicles.

The tech can be used to address range anxiety issues by supplying specific vehicles for trips that are scheduled for certain distances so that battery capacity isn’t as much of an issue and so that routes can be managed by optimizing for charging time and locations.

Using Fleetonomy, Audi has dispatch and scheduling management dashboards, and presents a mobile  app for both passengers and drivers (it’s an Uber-like experience that automakers can control themselves).

“Automotive manufacturers worldwide are expanding their role as service providers of on-demand mobility services and are looking for efficient ways to manage their fleets in order to create services that are both profitable as well as provide a great traveling experience,” said Fleetnomy Co-Founder & CEO Israel Duanis, in a statement. “Fleetonomy’s advanced mobility platforms are up for the task in Audi Business Innovation’s new mobility project, BITS, and we are immensely honored to be the technology partner chosen to power this first-of-its-kind service. We are looking forward to continuing to support Audi Business Innovation in their New Mobility journey.”

Daimler and Bosch take a mixed mobility approach to autonomous vehicles

By Kirsten Korosec

A fleet of Mercedes-Benz S Class vehicles are now plying the roads of San Jose, California as part of a robotaxi pilot project that Daimler and Bosch have been developing for two and a half years, but the launch itself could be chalked up as a mere blip on the autonomous vehicle scene.

At last count, 65 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles in California. And a handful of companies, including Waymo and Zoox, have the additional permit from the California Public Utilities Commission to transport passengers in their robotaxis through the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot.

It’s a milestone for German automaker Daimler and Bosch, one of the world’s largest automotive tech and hardware suppliers, but the most noteworthy aspect is how the pilot has been structured. The companies’ approach provides a marker of sorts for exactly where the “race” to develop and deploy commercial autonomous vehicle stands. In short: this is no sprint. Adventure or expedition racing — a contest that requires strategy, partnerships, expertise in multiple areas, endurance and a head for navigating risk— might be a more apt analogy.

Much of the media coverage has focused on the launch of the pilot or that it will use self-driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class vehicles, the Sonderklasse (special class) of the automaker’s portfolio. What might have been missed is that this is really two projects in one.

Electric vehicle startup Nio lays off 141 employees at its North American headquarters

By Catherine Shu

Electric vehicle startup Nio is laying off 141 people at its North American headquarters. According to a filing from Employment Development Department of California, the employees at its San Jose office received notice on December 6.

Nio, whose global headquarters are in Shanghai, announced last month that it is partnering with Intel’s Mobileye to develop autonomous vehicles for consumers. Under the agreement, Nio will engineer and produce a self-driving system designed by Mobileye.

The Intel partnership was a spot of bright news after a difficult year for Nio. Nio’s third quarter saw an uptick in sales, thanks in part to competitive pricing, but its share prices have fallen about 78% since the end of February.

The company reported losses in the first and second quarters of the year and in June, voluntarily recalled 5,000 of its ES8 electric SUVs after battery fires in China, impacting its production and delivery. CEO William Li said during the company’s earnings report in September that it would implement cost-cutting measures, including reducing its workforce from 9,900 people down to 7,800 by the end of the third quarter. Nio has offices in 11 cities, including Beijing, London and Munich.

Walmart partners with self-driving startup Nuro to test autonomous grocery delivery in Houston

By Sarah Perez

Walmart this morning announced a new pilot program that will test autonomous grocery delivery in the Houston market starting next year. The retailer is partnering with autonomous vehicle company Nuro, a robotics company that uses driverless technology to deliver goods to customers. Nuro’s vehicles in this case will delivery Walmart online grocery orders to a select group of customers who opt into the service in Houston.

The autonomous delivery service will involve R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carries products only with no onboard drivers or passengers, as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses that deliver groceries.

The program’s goal is to learn more about how autonomous grocery delivery could work and how such a service can be improved to better serve Walmart’s shoppers.

Nuro’s focus to date has been developing a self-driving stack and combining it with a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. The vehicle has two compartments that can fit up to six grocery bags each.

The company has raised more than $1 billion from partners, including SoftBank, Greylock Partners and Gaorong Capital. In March, the company announced it had raised $940 million in financing from Softbank Vision Fund.

Nuro is known for its pursuit of autonomous delivery. But it also licensed its self-driving vehicle technology to Ike, the autonomous trucking startup. Ike now has a copy of Nuro’s stack, which is worth billions, based on this latest round. Nuro also has a minority stake in Ike.

Nuro’s partnership with Walmart is hardly its first. The company partnered in 2018 with Kroger to pilot a delivery service in Arizona. The pilot, which initially used Toyota Prius vehicles, transitioned in December to the delivery bot. The autonomous vehicle called R1 is operating as a driverless service without a safety driver on board in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.

The Nuro partnership isn’t Walmart’s first autonomous delivery pilot, either. The retailer earlier this year tapped the startup Udelv to test autonomous grocery deliveries in Arizona. This summer, it kicked off a test with Gatik A.I., an autonomous vehicle startup to test grocery delivery from Walmart’s main warehouse in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart also launched a pilot with self-driving company Waymo in 2018 to test rides to Walmart for grocery pickup, as well as a test with Ford and Postmates for autonomous grocery delivery.

“Our unparalleled size and scale has allowed us to steer grocery delivery to the front doors of millions of families – and design a roadmap for the future of the industry,” said Tom Ward, Walmart’s SVP of digital operations, in a statement. “Along the way, we’ve been test driving a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to our customers’ front doors through self-driving technology. We believe this technology is a natural extension of our Grocery Pickup and Delivery service, and our goal of making every day a little easier for customers,” he aded.

Walmart’s Online Grocery business is booming, but today still relies on partnerships with third-party delivery services. Currently, Walmart partners with delivery providers across the U.S. to facilitate deliveries, including Point Pickup, Skipcart, AxleHire, Roadie, Postmates, and DoorDash. It has also tried, then ended, relationships with DelivUber and Lyft in the past. By the end of 2019, Walmart Grocery will offer nearly 3,100 pickup locations and 1,600 stores that support grocery delivery.

The retailer’s investments in its online grocery business helped boost sales and benefitted consumers by offering an affordable competitor to Amazon, Target’s Shipt, Instacart, and others. In Q3, Walmart’s grocery business helped online sales grow 41%, ahead of the 35% gain expected, leading Walmart to another earnings beat and 21 quarters of growth in the U.S.

In the quarter, Walmart earnings rose to $1.16 a share on revenue of $127.99 billion. However, Walmart’s e-commerce business is losing money as it continues to invest in new technologies and acquisitions, which has led to internal tensions.

Walmart says its pilot program will Nuro will kick off in 2020.

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