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Is Rivian the Next Tesla? Investors Bet Big on Electric Truck Maker

Another big trend reshaping the auto industry is autonomous cars. On Tuesday, Cruise, a unit of G.M. that is working in that area, announced it had raised $2 billion from Microsoft, G.M., Honda and other investors. Rivian and Tesla are also working on automated-driving technology.Rivian is different from Tesla in several respects. Tesla so far has grown by selling sporty sedans, a type of vehicle that is falling out of favor with consumers. Tesla intends to begin making an oddly angular, futuristic pickup, the Cybertruck, later this year. But it hasn’t yet put heavy focus on the …

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Biden-Harris team finally get their transition .gov domain

Finally. It only took almost three weeks, but the Biden-Harris transition has officially begun.

On Monday, the General Services Administration gave the green light for the Biden-Harris team to transition from political campaign to government administration, allowing the team to receive government resources like office space, but also classified briefings and secure computers. And, with it, comes a shiny new .gov domain.

Transitioning is an obscure part of the law that’s rarely discussed, in large part because outgoing governments and incoming administrations largely get on and try to maintain continuity of government through a peaceful transition of power. The process is formally triggered by the General Services Administration, the lesser-known federal agency tasked with the basic functioning of government, and allows the incoming administration to receive funds, tools, and resources to prepare for entering government.

But this time around, the agency’s head Emily Murphy had been reluctant to trigger the formal transition period after the Trump campaign filed a number of lawsuits challenging the election.

Murphy finally approved the transition on Monday after Michigan certified its election results.

Up until now, the Biden-Harris team buildbackbetter.com to host its transition website. Now it’s hosted at buildbackbetter.gov, a departure from the ptt.gov domain used by the incoming Obama-Biden administration in 2008.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that until now the Biden-Harris team was using a Google Workspace for email and collaboration, secured with hardware security keys that staff need to log into their accounts. That setup might suffice for an enterprise, but had security experts worried that the lack of government cybersecurity support could make the camp more vulnerable to attacks.

As for the domain, which you might not think much about, the shift to a .gov domain marks a significant step forwards in the camp’s cybersecurity efforts. Government domains, hosted on the .gov domain, are toughened to prevent against domain hijacking or spoofing. In simple terms, they’re far more resilient than your regular web hosting services.

Biden tweeted out the domain marking the change.

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Recycling robotics company AMP Robotics could raise up to $70M

AMP Robotics, the recycling robotics technology developer backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is close to closing on as much as $70 million in new financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.

The new financing speaks to AMP Robotics’ continued success in pilot projects and with new partnerships that are exponentially expanding the company’s deployments.

Earlier this month the company announced a new deal that represented its largest purchase order for its trash sorting and recycling robots.

That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.

That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.

The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.

As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics  worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.

Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.

As TechCrunch reported at the time, recycling businesses used to be able to rely on China to buy up any waste stream (no matter the quality of the material). However, about two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries.

The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively. At the time, unemployment rates put the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where trash was sorted. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on those recycling and waste handling facilities, despite their identification as “essential workers”.

Given the economic reality, recyclers are turning to AMP’s technology — a combination of computer vision, machine learning and robotic automation to improve efficiencies at their facilities.

And, the power of AMP’s technology to identify waste products in a stream has other benefits, according to chief executive Matanya Horowitz.

“We can identify… whether it’s a Coke or Pepsi can or a Starbucks cup,” Horowitz told TechCrunch last year. “So that people can help design their product for circularity… we’re building out our reporting capabilities and that, to them, is something that is of high interest.”

AMP Robotics declined to comment for this article.

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Sequoia-backed recycling robot maker AMP Robotics gets its largest purchase order

AMP Robotics, the manufacturer of robotic recycling systems, has received its largest purchase order from the publicly traded North American waste handling company, Waste Connections.

The order, for 24 machine learning enabled robotic recycling systems, will be used on container, fiber and residue lines across numerous materials recovery facilities, the company said.

The AMP technology can be used to recover plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons and many other containers and packaging types reclaimed for raw material processing.

The tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells, and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

So far, AMP’s robots have been deployed in North America, Asia, and Europe with recent installations in Spain, and across the US in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In January, before the pandemic began, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that would provide residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits.

Working with the building and a waste hauler, Sidewalk Labs  would transport the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash will be sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics. Once the waste is categorized, sorted, and recorded Sidewalk will communicate with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

Sidewalk says that the tips will be communicated through email, an online portal, and signage throughout the building every two weeks over a three-month period.

For residents, it was an opportunity to have a better handle on what they can and can’t recycle and Sidewalk Labs is betting that the information will help residents improve their habits. And for folks who don’t want their trash to be monitored and sorted, they could opt out of the program.

Recyclers like Waste Connections should welcome the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment. About two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.

At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.

AMP Robotics is backed by Sequoia Capital,  BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures  and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Alphabet that invests in technologies and new infrastructure projects.

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How Claims of Dead Michigan Voters Spread Faster Than the Facts

The tweets began to arrive Wednesday night, carrying explosive claims that people in Michigan were voting under the names of dead people.

Austen Fletcher, a former Ivy League football player turned right-wing internet journalist, said in videos posted to Twitter that he had discovered registration documents on a State of Michigan website that showed that four people with reported birth dates from 1900 to 1902 had submitted absentee ballots ahead of Tuesday’s election. “How long has this been going on?” he asked.

By Thursday morning, Mr. Fletcher’s videos were the talk of the Republican internet. “Why is it taking regular Americans to expose this level of obvious corruption?” said Candace Owens, a conservative commentator, sharing one of the videos to her 2.7 million Twitter followers.

Yet a few phone calls by Mr. Fletcher would have revealed evidence that indicates that what appeared to be fraud were run-of-the-mill clerical errors.

In one case, a 74-year-old woman in Hamlin Township, Mich., had asked for an absentee ballot for the first time in years, setting off a notice from the state’s digital voter rolls that her birth date was not on file, according to Catherine Lewis, the town’s clerk. The system had assigned the woman the default birth date: 01/01/01, or Jan. 1, 1901.

Ms. Lewis said she knew the woman. Hamlin Township, a rural community on Lake Michigan, has just 3,400 people. She said she had driven to the woman’s home and collected a copy of her driver’s license so she could vote by mail. But Ms. Lewis had not gotten around to updating her file. “Rest assured,” Ms. Lewis said, “she is a legal voter.”

Then, on Thursday morning, after a marathon week for Ms. Lewis running the town’s vote, her phone began ringing. “I have had 18 calls and at least 20 strange emails asking me if I committed voter fraud,” she said. She was staying home with her family. “I need to be concerned about my family’s welfare,” she said.

In a text message on Friday, Mr. Fletcher, who goes by the pseudonym Fleccas online, said he was about to publish evidence that thousands of ballots in Michigan had been submitted under the names of dead people. He declined to speak on the phone. “Who is requesting, filling out, and returning these ballots,” he said in his message. “How many got thru? That’s my question.”

Since the polls closed on Tuesday, a number of internet sleuths have widely disseminated what they said was evidence that showed Democrats were trying to steal the election. In virtually every case so far, mainstream journalists have found the claims to be false or the product of typical errors in the election process.

Yet many people have not heard the truth behind the claims they are sharing — or, if they have, have dismissed it. Social media has created echo chambers where people hear largely from like-minded voices. And President Trump’s years of attacks on the media have caused many of his supporters to distrust journalists.

The result is a growing belief among some Americans that the 2020 election has been undermined by widespread fraud — a view sharply amplified by the president — despite virtually no evidence.

“What’s that saying? A lie gets halfway around the world by the time the truth gets its pants on,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas Republican consultant who inadvertently spurred false voter-fraud claims on Wednesday.

Mr. Mackowiak posted screenshots of an election map on Twitter that appeared to show that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had received 100 percent of newly counted ballots in an update to the vote count in Michigan early Wednesday.

Like Mr. Fletcher’s dead-voter videos, Mr. Mackowiak’s screenshots swiftly went viral. Conservative websites posted stories with headlines like “Very Odd: Michigan Found Over 100,000 Ballots and Every Single One Has Joe Biden’s Name on It.” About two hours later, Mr. Trump had shared the images on Twitter with the caption, “WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?”

By that time, Mr. Mackowiak had seen people suggesting that the numbers he highlighted were the result of an error that had been fixed. He deleted his original tweet and wrote a new post clarifying that the suspicious numbers were not the result of fraud.

The New York Times found that Mr. Biden did not receive any of the votes in question and that the mix-up was the result of a typo in a small Michigan county that was caught and corrected in about 30 minutes.

Still, Mr. Mackowiak’s images continued to rocket around the internet. They were ultimately shared hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter. His correction? It had been shared 3,600 times as of Friday.

There was a similar story in Detroit, where the other two examples in Mr. Fletcher’s videos matched eligible voters with identical names and ZIP codes there.

The city appeared to have mistakenly recorded the vote of William T. Bradley under his dead father, who had the same name and ZIP code. Mr. Bradley said in an interview that he had voted by mail for the first time because of the pandemic. He said that the ballot did not ask for his birth date and that he simply filled it out, signed it and sent it in mid-September. According to the State of Michigan website, his dead father mailed an absentee ballot on Sept. 19. It said Mr. Bradley never returned his.

In the fourth case, there was another eligible Detroit voter with an identical name and ZIP code as the person named in Mr. Fletcher’s video. That person could not be reached.

The Detroit city clerk did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Fletcher’s dead-voter claims were shared hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter, reaching millions of people. On Thursday morning, the Michigan Department of State tweeted its response.

“Fact check: Ballots of deceased voters are not counted,” it said. “On rare occasions, a ballot received for a living voter may be recorded in a way that makes it appear as if the voter is dead,” such as someone with an incorrect birth date or a son being mistaken for his father with the same name, the statement added. “In such scenarios, no one ineligible has actually voted, and there is no impact on the outcome of the election.”

The message was shared on Twitter fewer than 450 times as of Friday.

Mr. Fletcher doubled down. He shared an image on Twitter of four urns with a “Biden-Harris” and “I voted” stickers. Hours later, he uploaded a new video to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram of him walking through his findings again. In the video, he read the statement from Michigan officials.

“Maybe Michigan caught some. I hope they did. But how many didn’t get filtered through in the process and actually made it through and counted?” he said. “Maybe all these people voted for Joe Biden?”