Gogoro announced today that its Eeyo 1s is now available for sale in France, the smart electric bike’s first European market. Another model, the Eeyo 1, will launch over the next few months in France, Belgium, Monaco, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.
In France, the Eeyo 1s can be purchased through Fnac, Darty or, in Paris, Les Cyclistes Branchés. The Eeyo 1s is priced at €4699 including VAT, while the the Eeyo 1 will be priced at €4599, also including VAT.
The weight of Eeyo bikes is one of their key selling points and Gogoro says they are about half the weight of most other e-bikes. The Eeyo 1s weighs 11.9 kg and the Eeyo 1 clocks in at 12.4 kg. Both have carbon fiber frames and forks, but the Eeyo 1s’ seat post, handlebars and rims are also carbon fiber, while on the Eeyo 1 they are made with an alloy.
Based in Taiwan, Gogoro first introduced its Eeyo lineup in May, making them available for sale in the U.S. first. The e-bikes are the company’s second type of vehicle after its SmartScooters, electric scooters that are powered by swappable batteries. The Eeyo bike’s key technology is the SmartWheel, a self-contained hub that integrates its motor, battery, sensor and smart connectivity technology so it can be paired with a smartphone app.
In an interview for the Eeyo’s launch, Gogoro co-founder and chief executive Horace Luke said the company began planning for Eeyo’s launch in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. While sale of e-bikes were already growing steadily before COVID-19, the pandemic has accelerated sales of e-bikes as people avoid public transportation and stay closer to home. Several cities have also closed some streets to car traffic, making riders more willing to use bikes for short commutes and exercise.
Founded in 2011 and backed by investors including Temasek, Sumitomo Corporation, Panasonic, the National Development Fund of Taiwan and Generation (the sustainable tech fund led by former vice president Al Gore), Gogoro is best known for its electric scooters, but it is also working on a turnkey solution for energy-efficient vehicles to license to other companies, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions in cities around the world.
The company’s chief executive Carsten Breitfeld told Reuters that the company is working on a reverse merger with a SPAC and “will be able to announce something hopefully quite soon.”
Breitfeld, formerly the co-founder of Chinese EV startup Byton, declined to give more information about who Faraday is talking to or when the deal will closed. A Faraday Future spokesperson contacted by TechCrunch also said the company had no further details to share at this time.
SPACs are blank-check companies that are formed to raise money through an initial public offering in order to merge or acquire other companies. As TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos wrote in an explainer, they’ve become more popular among tech companies recently because many had their initial public offering plans delayed by the pandemic. SPACs also present an alternative to the regulatory issues surrounding traditional IPOs.
Shortly after being appointed CEO in September 2019, Breitfeld told Automotive News that Faraday Future wanted to raise about $850 million by the first quarter of 2020. By that time, company had already received $225 million in bridge financing led by Birch Lake Associates. The funding’s purpose is to finally bring Faraday’s flagship vehicle, the FF91 luxury electric SUV, to market.
Though the SPAC deal’s timeline is still undisclosed, Breitfeld told Reuters that Faraday Future plans to start volume production of the FF91, its first electric luxury SUV, 12 months after securing funding. This would represent a major milestone for the company, which was founded in 2015 but hasn’t produced a production vehicle yet. Faraday Future has made several prototypes, including one that went up for auction in August.
If the deal is successful, Breitfeld told Reuters that Faraday Future will first build the FF91 at its Hanford, California plant, but then work with a contract manufacturer in Asia that it has already entered into an agreement with.
Many of those issues were tied to Jia Yueting, founder and former CEO of LeEco and Faraday Future, who filed for personal bankruptcy earlier this year. Filings in the case revealed that Jia’s bankruptcy was funded by one of Faraday Future’s main holding companies, Pacific Technology. The documents also revealed that Faraday Future had just $6.8 million in cash at the end of July 2019.
Breitfeld told Reuters that Jia no longer owns stock in Faraday Future. The approval of Jia’s bankruptcy enabled Faraday Future to once again pursue investments to produce its electric vehicles, though now that may hinge on the success of its SPAC deal. Breitfeld acknowledged that Faraday Future’s past raises questions. “Because of the history and sometimes the bad news of the company, not everyone is really trusting us,” he told Reuters. “They want to see that we’ve become a stable company.”
Neuron Mobility, a Singapore-based e-scooter rental startup, announced today that it has added $12 million to its Series A. Led by Square Peg, an Australian venture capital firm and GSR Ventures, this increases the round’s new total to $30.5 million. The company, which operates in Australia and New Zealand in addition to Southeast Asian markets, first announced its Series A in December 2019.
Neuron Mobility’s chief executive Zachary Wang said the company raised a Series A+ instead of moving onto a Series B because more cities are “opening up to the possibility of micromobility, particularly rental e-scooters as they present an individual transport option that takes pressure off public transport and allows people to continue social distancing.”
“We’ve been experiencing tremendous growth in ANZ and the pandemic has made us fast track our plans,” he added.
Though Neuron Mobility currently does not operate in other Southeast Asian countries besides Singapore, Wang said it is “constantly evaluating opportunities across APAC.”
The new funding will be used to speed up Neuron Mobility’s expansion plans in Australia and New Zealand, where it claims to be the leading electric scooter rental operator. The company is currently present in nine locations, including Auckland, New Zealand, and Australian cities Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Canberra and Townsville. Neuron Mobility plans to expand into five new cities over the next two months and part of that involves hiring 400 more people in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. In addition to the Asia-Pacific, Neuron Mobility will also launch in Slough, it’s first location in the United Kingdom, by the end of this year.
Neuron Mobility’s research found that before the COVID-19 lockdowns in Australia, one in five of its users had never used an e-scooter before. But now Australian and New Zealand users have increased their average e-scooter trip distances by 23% to 2.6 kilometers, with the average duration of rides rising by 10% to more than 14 minutes. Neuron Mobility’s pricing is meant to be affordable depending on different markets. For example, in Brisbane, users pay one Australian dollar (about 68 U.S. cents) to begin a trip and then 38 Australian cents for each minute of the ride. Its e-scooters can go up to speeds of about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) per hour.
Other “micromobility” companies, including Ofo, Reddy Go, Obike and Lime, have also offered rental services in Australia and New Zealand, but ran into trouble. Bike-sharing startups Ofo, Reddy Go and Obike withdrew from Australia in part because city councils were frustrated by bikes were being abandoned on sidewalks and in parks. Lime still operates in Australian cities, but in June, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that the company failed to disclose safety issues with its Generation 2 scooters (in response, Lime said it would implement new compliance procedures and upgrade to its new Generation 3 scooter).
Wang said Neuron Mobility avoids those issues by strategically planning which cities it will launch in, instead of focusing on rapid expansion, partnering with city councils and “continually shifting and adapting to meet their needs.” Several of Neuron Mobility’s features, including geofencing to control where and how fast e-scooters can be ridden, and a “Helmet Lock” to make helmets available for all scooters, were developed after discussions with city councils. Neuron Mobility’s scooters, designed by the company specifically for renting, also use swappable batteries to decrease pollution.
After launching in Singapore, Neuron Mobility decided to focus on Australia and New Zealand because “both countries have cities that are highly suitable for micromobility in terms of infrastructure and regulations,” Wang said. City councils have also “been keen to push the boundaries of what can be done with technology to make programs better and safer and that really suits our way of thinking.”
Mobileye’s computer vision technology will be used in a new premium electric vehicle called Zero Concept from Geely Auto Group, one of China’s largest privately-held automobile manufacturers. Mobileye’s owner Intel made the announcement today at the Beijing Auto Show. Zero Concept is produced by Lynk & Co., the brand formed as a joint venture between Geely Auto and Volvo Car Group, and uses Mobileye’s SuperVision driving-assistance system.
Intel also announced that Mobileye and Geely Auto have signed a long-term, high-volume agreement for advanced driver-assistance systems that means more Geely Auto vehicles will be equipped with Mobileye’s computer vision technology.
In a post, Mobileye chief executive officer and Intel senior vice president Amnon Shashua wrote that the deal is the first time “Mobileye will be responsible for the full solution stack, including hardware and software, driving policy and control.”
He added “it also marks the first time that an OEM has publicly noted Mobileye’s plan to provide over-the-air updates to the system after deployment. While this capacity has always been in our repertoire, Geey and Mobileye want to assure customers that we can easily scale their driving-assistance features and keep everything up to date across the car’s lifetime.”
Based in Israel, Mobileye was acquired by Intel in 2017 for $15.3 billion. Its technology and services are used in vehicles from automakers including BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Nissan, Honda and General Motors, and includes features that warn drivers about issues like blind spots, potential lane departures, collision risks and speed limits.
Geely Auto’s parent company is Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, also the parent company of Volvo Car Group. In 2019, Geely Auto Group says its brands sold a total of more than 1.46 million units. China is one of the fastest-growing electric vehicle markets in the world, and even though sales were hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, government policies, including consumer subsidies and investment in charging infrastructure, are expected to help its EV market recover.
Lyft is sticking to its previous target to hit quarterly adjusted profitability by the fourth period of 2021, a milestone it says it can achieve even with fewer rides.
The company reiterated its quarterly adjusted profit target timeline — a milestone based on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — during its second-quarter earnings call yesterday. Upholding the target in this uncertain era of COVID-19 is newsworthy on its own. But what caught our attention was Lyft’s claim that it would hit this milestone even at a lower ridership than it had previously targeted.
“We now expect we can achieve adjusted EBITDA profitability with 20% to 25% fewer rides than what was assumed when we initially disclosed this last year,” Lyft CEO Logan Green said during the call.
Quarterly rides will need to be about 5% to 10% above the level achieved in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to CFO Brian Roberts. Lyft had 22.9 million rides in Q4 2019. That means Lyft needs to reach about 25 million rides a quarter to hit that target next year.
The COVID-19 pandemic crushed Lyft’s ridership in the second quarter of 2020, with total rides falling from 21.2 million in the first quarter of the year to about 8.6 million in the second quarter. But Lyft’s executive team said rides continued to recover from the doldrums of this spring and early summer. Ridership will need to continue to recover, but the company insists that measures it has taken will allow it to reach profitability.
In May 2020, Intel announced its purchase of Moovit, a mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions company known for an app that stitched together GPS, traffic, weather, crime and other factors to help mass transit riders reduce their travel times, along with time and worry.
According to a release, Intel believes combining Moovit’s data repository with the autonomous vehicle solution stack for its Mobileye subsidiary will strengthen advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and help create a combined $230 billion total addressable market for data, MaaS and ADAS .
Before he was a member of Niantic’s executive team, private investor Omar Téllez was president of Moovit for the six years leading up to its acquisition. In this guest post for Extra Crunch, he offers a look inside Moovit’s early growth strategy, its efforts to achieve product-market fit and explains how rapid growth in Latin America sparked the company’s rapid ascent.
In late 2011, Uri Levine, a good friend from Silicon Valley and founder of Waze, asked me to visit Israel to meet Nir Erez and Roy Bick, two entrepreneurs who had launched an application they had called “the Waze of public transportation.”
By then, Waze was already in conversations to be sold (Google would finally buy it for $1.1 billion) and Uri was thinking about his next step. He was on the board of directors of Moovit (then called Tranzmate) and thought they could use a lot of help to grow and expand internationally, following Waze’s path.
At the time, I was part of Synchronoss Technologies’ management team. After Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank took us public in 2006, AT&T and Apple presented us with an idea that would change the world. It was so innovative and secret that we had to sign NDAs and personal noncompete agreements to work with them. Apple was preparing to launch the first iPhone and needed a system where users could activate devices from the comfort of their homes. As such, Synchronoss’ stock became very attractive to the capital markets and ours became the best public offering of 2006.
After six years with Synchronoss while also making some forays into the field of entrepreneurship, I was ready for another challenge. With that spirit in mind, I got on the plane for Israel.
I will always remember the landing at Ben Gurion airport. After 12 hours traveling from JFK, I was called to the front of the immigration line:
“Hey! The guy in the Moovit T-shirt, please come forward!”
For a second, I thought I was in trouble, but then the immigration officer said, “Welcome to Israel! We are proud of our startups and we want the world to know that we are a high-tech powerhouse,” before he returned my passport and said goodbye.
I was completely amazed by his attitude and wondered if I really knew what I was getting into.
The opportunity in front of Moovit
At first glance, the numbers seemed very attractive. In 2012, there were roughly seven billion people in the world and only a billion vehicles. Thus, many more people used mass public transport than private and users had to face not only the uncertainty of when a transport would arrive, but also what might happen to them while waiting (e.g., personal safety issues, weather, etc.). Adding more uncertainty: Many people did not know the fastest way to get from point A to point B. As designed, mass public transport was a real nightmare for users.
Uri advised us to “fall in love with the problem and not with the solution,” which is what we tried to do at Moovit. Although Waze had spawned a new transportation paradigm and helped reduce traffic in big cities, mass transit was a much bigger monster that consumed an average of two hours of each day for some people, which adds up to 37 days of each year*!
What would you do if someone told you that in addition to your vacation days, an app could help you find 18 extra days off work next year by cutting your transportation time in half?
* Assumes 261 working days a year, 14 productive hours per day.
In May, Tesla cut prices for several of its electric cars, including high-end vehicles like the Model S sedan and the Model X SUV. The new pricing comes as U.S. automakers try to attract buyers despite the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The traditional big three U.S. automakers, Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, are offering 0% financing rates, in addition to deferred or longer-term payment options, while other automakers have also announced incentives and payment plans to appeal to new buyers and keep existing owners from defaulting on loans.
At the beginning of this month, Tesla said it delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, a 4.8% decline due to the pandemic and suspension of production at its main U.S. factory for several weeks, but still better than analysts’ expectations. Most of the deliveries, or 80,050, were Model 3 and Model Y, while the remaining 10,600 were its higher-end Model S and Model X.
Daniel Rodriguez is CEO and co-founder of Picap, which has raised more than $7 million of venture capital for its mobility platform, which operates across eight Latin American countries.
“You know we don’t drive down that road,” my father said.
I had asked him why we never took the shortest path to the beach. Just eight years old, I was fascinated by maps and was questioning my father’s choice. Years later I would learn the route I suggested was mired with armed groups of all stripes whose interests didn’t align with mine or that of other Colombian families.
You may be familiar with the conflicts that plagued Colombia for decades, but you might not be aware of the progress institutions, advocacy groups and its government have made with regard to building a future where citizens have options and mobility that’s not constrained by armed conflict.
In fact, Colombia has at times improved its “ease of doing business” ranking as measured by the World Bank. The country, its institutions and its leaders have a longer way to go when it comes to ensuring that opportunity reaches all corners of the country, particularly at a time that COVID-19 magnifies the inequities that persist. But one thing is for sure, the path to prosperity would look a lot better if Colombia further embraced innovation.
I have dedicated the last decade to Colombia’s path to prosperity. I have done so by studying at Colombia’s most prestigious Universidad de Los Andes, raising more than $10 million in venture capital and building two companies that generate direct and indirect earnings for more than 70,000 Colombians. I have directly retained hundreds of computer engineers by showing young Colombians that it’s possible to earn a good living without emigrating for professional opportunities. Heck, I’ve even convinced a few past emigrants to return to Colombia and work for me at Picap.
My contribution to Colombia’s prosperity and the contribution of thousands of talented engineers that build technology in Colombia is at risk. It’s at risk because the Colombian authorities and the legislative branch have been slow to update transportation and technology regulation designed for an era when regulation could last decades because the pace of societal innovation was measured in, well, decades.
In Colombia, we need to update regulations governing technology and transportation. The ever present threats that Colombian authorities and regulators have imposed on Uber and Picap are not only futile attempts to put the technology genie back into the bottle, but also delay the critical conversations that would build long-term partnership for mutual success.
It’s urgent that Colombia and countries around the globe construct regulatory frameworks that simultaneously advance the public good and technology innovation. We, in fact, have evidence of the kinds of benefits that can expand when new mobility models and technologies are embraced. Take GoJek or Grab which started, like Picap, as two-wheel ride-hailing platforms. Each is now worth billions and facilitates commerce, financial services and more, all for the benefit of societies which then produce more consumer surplus, formalize economic activity and stimulate new forms of innovation. Picap, and others, can do this in Colombia and more places across Latin America with regulatory advancements.
There are congressional leaders in Colombia who have made considerable efforts to advance their understanding of technology platforms, but their efforts, however laudable, have not advanced. Now, more than ever, Colombia’s leaders must, for example, recognize that private transport services need regulation that works for the citizens that power new mobility options. Every country in the globe faces a reckoning based on how easily COVID-19 weakened state-supported and independent systems of health, mobility and economic activity. Technology will be an inevitable component of strengthening health, mobility and economic activity in every country. We’ve already seen that delivery platforms, including Pibox by Picap, increasingly play a role in helping countries preserve social distancing. And yet there’s an opportunity for states to differentiate and think about not just defensive strategies during the pandemic, but also how to remake themselves for the future.
Colombia can learn from the example of South Korea, which for years positioned itself to fulfill the world’s future demands for the types of silicon chips that subsequently made LG and Samsung household names. South Korea did this not by impeding technological advancement, but by facilitating the development of know-how, investing in education and partnering with technology. As technologists, there’s nothing that would make us prouder than helping Colombia develop the kinds of economic activity that will strengthen the country in the long-term. I’ve seen the future, I practice it daily, and I know that Latin America, and Colombia in particular, need to invest in retaining tech talent and advancing regulatory frameworks that attract technology investment, or our economies will struggle even further in the coming years of potential recovery from COVID-19.
Recently, the Alianza IN, a mobility platform trade group, launched in Colombia with the goal of advancing conversations with Colombian lawmakers and regulators on the principles that the Colombian MinTIC (Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications) could incorporate to help attract more investment, retain talent and proactively prepare for a future in which mobility and technology platforms are critical partners of the country’s economic future. Technology platforms are already a part of the present, and the Alianza IN’s actions are a great step on the path toward ensuring that updated regulatory frameworks serve the millions of Colombian citizens who depend on mobility and technology platforms for income, mobility and improved quality of life.
Last year, Colombian technology companies received more than $1.2 billion of investment capital. I am impressed with the new headlines my generation and Colombian colleagues across technology have achieved in only 20 years. But I can assure you that Colombia’s headlines in the 21st century will be stunted if Colombian politicians and authorities do not address the underlying need to improve regulation that embraces technology and new mobility, including Picap. We have room to grow and show the world how our tenacity and resilience will help address not just Colombian or Latin American challenges, but global challenges.
I look forward to soon meeting the young Colombian woman who in 20 or even three years will have developed a renewable energy or disease-prevention innovation that serves billions of people. We have to remove roadblocks. We’ve begun doing so across Colombia on some fronts; we need to continue to do so on the technology front. I, alongside, my generation, will continue to attract the capital, retain the talent and further develop the competitive advantages that will position Colombia to lead in the 21st century.
I hope that the Colombian government, regulators and the Duque administration does this, as well.
Hi and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.
The mobility world got busy this week. Really. busy. This is gonna be a long one, buckle up.
Take a look at the most recent survey we conducted with a bunch of venture capitalists about mobility and what areas interest them most. We talked to Ernestine Fu with Alsop Louie Partners, Stonly Baptiste and Shaun Abrahamson with Urban Us, Shahin Farshchi with Lux Capital, Kate Schox with Trucks VC and Jeff Peters of Autotech Ventures.
Uber tossed more than 20,000 JUMP bikes into a recycling yard following its deal to offload the JUMP brand to Lime. A photo below, courtesy of Cris Moffitt, shows a sliver of the thousands of bikes at the yard in North Carolina.
Since then, Tier Mobility CEO and co-founder Lawrence Leuschner said he wants to take some of those bikes, “repair them, and give them a second life – as we do for all of our vehicles,” he wrote on LinkedIn.
Image Credits: Cris Moffitt
Keaks (Kirsten Korosec) has been working on a big(ish) story about JUMP for the last week. Stay tuned and/or holler at her if you have any tips.
Meanwhile, we noticed Superpedestrian, the startup that makes self-diagnosing electric scooters, has teamed up with Zagster. Superpedestrian quietly launched LINK, its shared electric scooter service in partnership with Zagster in Fort Pierce, Florida in late December.
As of at least February 2020, Zagster had an agreement with Superpedestrian’s LINK to manage the fleet of shared scooters in Kansas, according to city commission documents. In March, the city council in Manhattan, Kansas authorized the city to negotiate a permitting contract with Zagster to run a six-month electric scooter pilot in partnership with Superpedestrian’s LINK.
Over in Europe, long-distance ridesharing startup BlaBlaCar said it’s expanding to scooter sharing. The company doesn’t plan to operate its own fleet of scooters. Instead, BlaBlaCar is partnering with Voi, a European e-scooter service that has raised $136 million over multiple rounds. Voi scooters will feature three different brands — Voi, BlaBlaCar and BlaBla Ride.
— Megan Rose Dickey
Deal of the week
It’s not a deal yet — well, as far as we know, but I’d be remiss not to highlight it here. I’m talking, of course, about the WSJ report that Amazon is in advanced talks to acquire self-driving vehicle startup Zoox.
Zoox is unlike any other autonomous vehicle startup I’ve encountered in the past five or so years. The company has taken on several capitally intensive and ambitious roles — electric vehicle designer and manufacturer, full stack autonomous vehicle developer and robotaxi operator. Zoox co-founder Jesse Levinson will disagree with me here — we’ve had this discussion before — but the company is essentially doing this alone. Yes, it has relationships and support from suppliers; it has investors. But it doesn’t have a meaningful OEM partner and backer like its competitors Argo AI and Cruise . And it has no where near the piggy bank that Waymo holds.
It’s a bold and risky strategy. It’s also expensive.
It’s a poorly kept secret that Zoox has had to do some belt tightening over the past 12 months. The company cut costs last year and tried to renegotiate some supplier contracts, sources told me at the time. In October, it raised $200 million in new convertible note funding, which was supposed to be folded into a Series C round and close by the end of 2019 or early 2020. As far as we know, that never happened. Sources have told me Zoox was in talks with OEMs about sealing a deal with a manufacturing partner that might also include financial backing. Daimler and FCA were name dropped in different conversations at the time, but I was never able to verify that the deals were close.
Then COVID-19 hit. Zoox tightened its belt further and cut nearly all of its contract drivers.
There’s no doubt that Zoox needs money to survive. But an Amazon-Zoox deal, if it happens, is bittersweet.
Zoox is the plucky startup — the stand-at-the-cliff’s edge pioneer that you want to succeed. Going it alone carries existential risk, but it has also given it the freedom to stick to its vision.
If acquired, Zoox will get sucked up into the Amazon ether and one wonders what it will become.
Other deals that got our attention:
Bolt, the Estonia-based company that provides on-demand ridesharing, scooters and other transportation services across some 150 cities in Europe and Africa, raised €100 million ($109 million) in a convertible note. Bolt also confirmed that is now valued at €1.7 billion (or nearly $1.9 billion at today’s rates). The money is coming from a single investor, Naya Capital Management, which was also a major backer of the company in its last round, a $67 million Series C announced in July 2019.
Ola Electric, the EV business that spun out of the ride-hailing giant Ola in 2019, acquired electric scooter startup Etergo. The Dutch startup built a scooter that uses a swappable, high energy battery that delivers a range of up to 240 km (149 miles). Ola Electric is aiming to produce and launch its own line of two wheelers as soon as this year.
Tesla’s board certified a financial milestone that unlocks the first tranche — worth more than $700 million — of an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar pay package for CEO Elon Musk, according a document filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The milestone allows Musk to purchase the first grouping or tranche of nearly 1.69 million shares at a steep discount. As far as we know (based on SEC filings) Musk has not exercised those options yet.
AV spotlight: Aurora
If you haven’t heard, there’s a battle over talent in the autonomous vehicle industry. One AV founder once described it to me as a “knife fight.”
It’s not just about hiring talent though. It’s about building the right culture to get the job done. In this case, it’s the not-so-small goal to develop and deploy autonomous vehicle technology at commercial scale.
Self-driving vehicle startup Aurora recently hit the 500-employee mark, an internal milestone capped by several new key hires, including Sagar Behere, as director of systems and safety engineering and Tara Green, who is leading human resources, recruiting and IT.
It wasn’t the 500-employee figure that I found interesting. It’s a new in-house program the company is calling Aurora Academy and Raul Rojas, a former professor of computer science and mathematics at the Free University of Berlin who was hired to lead it. The idea is to create a program where employees can build specific technical skills in the self-driving technology domain using its own experts. Rojas comes with deep background in robotics and autonomous vehicle technology. He met two of Aurora’s co-founders Chris Urmson and Drew Bagnell while participating in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. Rojas also co-founded in 2011 Autonomous GmbH, an autonomy startup acquired by TomTom in 2017.
Aurora has hired computer scientists, engineers, physicists, and mathematicians to help in the complex task of integrating different hardware and software modules into an AV system. And yet, Rojas noted there is still a need “to build bridges across the various disciplines so that we can propagate expertise across all levels of the company.” He said that’s where Aurora Academy comes in.
The program kicked off in mid-March with a six-week course entitled “Essential Skills for Poses, Transformations and Lie Groups.” (Light stuff, right?) These are the mathematical tools that give roboticists a uniform and powerful framework for localization and motion planning.
Other classes will cover software engineering, sensor development, mathematical foundations, visualization, planning, control and machine learning. The academy will also be open to non-technical employees who want to learn more diverse skills, including how to program in Python.
“The self-driving world is still a small community, so there’s a limited pool of candidates to begin with, and not many universities offer specialized programs on autonomous driving, so it’s unlikely you will find someone right out of school with all the skills needed,” Rojas said.
For instance, Aurora acquired last year Blackmore, one of the few companies developing Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar, which emits a low-power and continuous wave.
“It’s unlikely someone could have studied it in school, so in June we’re starting a course to teach the physics of Doppler lidar, how to process the data at the fastest possible rate, and how to profit from the measurements in perception tasks,” Rojas noted.
Is your AV company doing something interesting — you know, beyond bringing autonomous vehicles into the mainstream? Hit me up and tell me about it.
Dispatches from Africa
On demand mobility powered by electric and solar is coming to Africa.
Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe this week with plans to expand across the continent.
The South Africa-headquartered company is using Nissan Leaf EVs and has developed its own solar-powered charging stations. Vaya is finalizing partnerships to take its electric taxi services on the road to countries that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch.
The initiative comes as Africa’s on-demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital platforms.
Uber and Bolt have been operating in Africa’s major economies since 2015, where there are also a number of local app-based taxi startups. Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around motorcycles.
Beyond environmental benefits, Vaya highlights economic gains for passengers and drivers of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets, where fuel costs compared to personal income is generally high for drivers.
Using solar panels to power the charging station network also helps Vaya’s new EV program overcome some of challenges in Africa’s electricity grid.
Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from min-buses to Tuk Tuk taxis.
— Jake Bright
Layoffs, business disruptions and people
Let’s kick this section off this week by highlighting a new company hoping to disrupt van life.
Cabana is a new startup launched by a former Lime executive that’s bringing tricked-out vans with all the amenities of a Holiday Inn hotel room to cities on the West Coast, starting in Seattle. As TechCrunch reporter Jonathan Shieber noted, companies like Tentrr, HipCamp and even Airbnb have gotten in on the vanlife movement, and Cabana’s founder definitely thinks he can ride the wave.
Cabana has already raised $3.5 million from investors, led by Craft Ventures — the investment firm founded by David Sacks. Other investors include Goldcrest Capital, Travis VanderZanden (the chief executive and founder of Bird), and Sunny Madra, vice president of Ford X at Ford Motor Company.
Rivian appears to be planning to offer its own insurance to customers based on a new job posting for an insurance agency data manager first spotted by RivianForums, which passed along the tip.
The job is to lead Rivian’s property and casualty (P&C) insurance agency, a position that entails recruiting, training, coaching and managing employed licensed sales agents and an insurance customer care team, according to the posting on Rivian’s website. The employee will also sell insurance products and provide feedback to partners on opportunities, the posting said. It’s an unusual move, but not unprecedented. Last August, Tesla launched an insurance product.
Cruise has a new board member who comes with deep experience in tech and hardware. Regina Dugan has a lengthy resume that includes former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the current CEO of Wellcome Leap, a non-profit founded by Wellcome Trust to accelerate innovations that benefit global health. In between DARPA and Wellcome Leap, Dugan was head of Google’s Advanced Technology And Products (ATAP) Group and led Building 8, Facebook’s hardware skunkworks.
“In health care and in transportation, I believe in the power of science and technology to change our world. With this power comes the responsibility to deliver life-saving advances at scale — Cruise has the tech, the team, and the tenacity to get it done. I’m stoked to join,” Dugan said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.
Sweden-headquartered Voi Technology recruited Richard Corbett to head up its U.K., Ireland and Benelux operations. Corbett joins from rival Bird, where he spent two years as the U.S. company’s U.K. and Ireland chief, as well as helping to launch e-scooter rentals in Netherlands.
Layoffs and other departures
AirMap, an airspace services platform for unmanned aircraft, cut its staff. Layoffs.fyi reported that around 30% of the team was let go.
Aston Martin announced CEO Andy Palmer was leaving his post. His replacement is Tobias Moers, the current head of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division, Car and Driver reported.
Welp … Audi fired Daniel Abt from its Formula E racing team after learning he had a professional sim driver race for him during a virtual competition called the “Race at Home Challenge” held last weekend. It appeared Abt was going to merely be suspended. Abt said in a video message published Tuesday on YouTube that Audi had dropped him from the team.
German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen plans to cut up to 15,000 jobs, or around 10% of its work force, by 2025 as a result of a slump in demand, according to a company memo that Automotive News reported. ZF said in an email to employees that half of the 12,000-15,000 job cuts would be in Germany.
Uber is cutting 600 jobs in India, or 25% of its workforce in the country. The job cuts, which affect teams across customer and driver support, business development, legal, policy, marketing, and finance, are part of the company’s global restructuring that eliminated 6,700 jobs this month.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Here are a few other items that caught my eye …
Deloitte Insights tackled a topic that many of us might be mulling as well. They looked at what mobility might look like after COVID-19. The report specifically explores four possible futures over the next three to five years. You can check out the full report here, which provides a high-level description of society, economy and geopolitics and then narrows in on transportation.
In one rosier scenario, dubbed “a passing storm,” the COVID-19 pandemic shakes society but, after a slow start, is met with an increasingly effective health system and political response, according to Deloitte. The pandemic causes long-term economic impact: e-commerce and last-mile delivery networks proliferate and are increasingly supported by autonomous vehicles and digitization of the logistics value chain. Vehicle sanitation becomes a priority, which leads to new self-cleaning materials, certification programs and form factors such as passenger partitions. The in-transit experience benefits from advances in digital entertainment and productivity prompted by the pandemic, including, potentially, AR and VR applications.
AV stuff …
I recommend reserving an hour or two to play around with this Global Autonomous Vehicles Index created by the autonomous vehicles group at law firm Dentons. It’s free and lets users compare the nuances of AV testing and deployment regulations across 18 countries and all 50 U.S. states. For instance, regulations in Canada don’t require a human driver in a vehicle when testing AVs. In China, rules require each organization to buy the compulsory liability insurance for traffic accidents for each vehicle. Yet in Germany, there are no special requirements for AVs which go beyond the motor vehicle liability insurance.
Baidu completed Apollo Park, an autonomous driving and vehicle-infrastructure testing base that houses more than 200 autonomous vehicles and is located in the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area. The facility is used for vehicle storage, cloud control on remotely sensed big data, operational command, maintenance and calibration, as well as research and development.
Baidu has completed Apollo Park, an autonomous vehicle testing and development center. Photo: Baidu
Waymo will bring its autonomous vehicles back to public roads in the Bay Area starting June 8, The Verge reported. The plan, according to an email viewed by The Verge, is to use the self-driving vehicles to deliver packages for two Bay Area non-profits: illustrator Wendy McNaughton’s #DrawTogether, which provides art kits to Bay Area kids; and Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Autonomous robotics startup Nuro will test prescription delivery in Houston through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy. The pilot, which will use a fleet of the startup’s autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles and transition to using its custom-built R2 delivery bots, is slated to begin in June.
It’s electric …
Mercedes-Benz is now selling its EQV 300 all-electric premium van in Europe, the second EV to come out of the automaker’s initiative to produce a line of battery-powered models under its new EQ brand.
Rivian has resumed work at its factory in Normal, Ill. following a temporary shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Investor and customer Amazon provided an update this week stating that Rivian is still on track to supply it with electric delivery vans. Vans will begin delivering to customers in 2021, as previously planned. About 10,000 electric vehicles will be on the road as early as 2022 and all 100,000 vehicles will be on the road by 2030.
Tesla slashed prices across its electric vehicle portfolio as the automaker aims to boost sales in an economy beaten down by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Model S and Model X saw base prices cut by $5,000, while the Model 3 standard range plus saw a $2,000 drop.
Ride-hailing and miscellaneous bits …
Uber is launching a book-by-the-hour feature in the U.S., starting Monday. The feature lets users book rides for $50 an hour and make multiple stops. The hourly booking feature, which is already available in a handful of international cities in Australia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, will initially launch in a dozen U.S. cities.
Core Investments, a Boston-based real estate development company, has proposed a last-mile delivery station for Amazon, Boston Business Journal reported.
Review: Lotus Evora GT
I delayed my first road trippin’ review to make room for Matt Burns’ take on his recent weekend with the $100,000 2020 Lotus Evora GT.
As Burns’ explains:
The Lotus Evora GT is supersized go-kart with nary an advanced technical feature. And I love it. While most cars are coming equipped with supercomputers, the lack of technical wizardry makes the 2020 Evora GT interesting, and that’s why it’s on TechCrunch.
Waymo has added an additional $750 million to the $2.25 billion funding round that it first announced in March, bringing the total size of the financing (its first from investors outside of Alphabet) to $3 billion. The extension comes from new investors including those managed by T. Rowe Price, Perry Creek Capital, Fidelity Management and Research Company and others.
The extension, like the original round itself, will be used by Waymo to invest in its workforce, product development and operating its Waymo One ride-hailing service, as well as its Waymo Via cargo and goods transportation service.
Waymo’s move to bring in external funding is seen as a way for the autonomous driving company to inject fresh capital into its program, as well as bring on new strategic partners, like Magna and AutoNation, which participated in the previously announced tranche. While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a temporary setback when it comes to its testing and service deployment programs, Waymo notes in a new blog post from CEO John Krafcik that the crisis actually underscores the need for its technology.
“COVID-19 has underscored how fully self-driving technology can provide safe and hygienic personal mobility and delivery services,” Kracik notes in the post. “We’re grateful these partners share our mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to get where they’re going.”