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Uber’s spending habits, Tesla Model Y, scooters and AVs in Austin – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. We love the reader feedback. Keep it coming.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up by reading the first edition here or check out last week’s edition, which offered the gamut of mobility news from Lyft and Bird to Waymo’s laser bears and cybersecurity.

As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. An email subscription is coming!

This week we’ll focus on the city of Austin, gain insight into Uber’s spending habits, do a little scooter number crunching, the Tesla Model Y, and the so-called “race” — an overused and inaccurate term — to develop autonomous vehicles.


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

Mark Harris is back with new details on Uber’s autonomous vehicle technology program. The upshot: Uber was spending $20 million a month to develop self-driving technologies.

The new information, gleaned from recently unsealed court documents, provides new insight into the company’s past activities and what that might mean for its upcoming IPO.

Harris writes: “The figures, dating back to 2016, paint a picture of a company desperate to meet over-ambitious autonomy targets and one that is willing to spend freely, even recklessly, to get there. As Uber prepares for its IPO later this year, the new details could prove an embarrassing reminder that the company is still trailing in its efforts to develop technology that founder Travis Kalanick called “existential” to Uber’s future.”

This historical look at Uber and its self-driving tech unit, Uber ATG, should be considered alongside more recent news, including that it’s in negotiations with investors, including the SoftBank Vision Fund, to secure an investment as large as $1 billion for its autonomous vehicles unit.


Dig In

After five days in Austin for SXSW, I headed to Los Angeles, actually Hawthorne, for Tesla’s Model Y unveiling. In many ways, this was like all the other Tesla events I’ve attended: the pumpy music and mood lighting, the designed-to-inspire kick off video, the Tesla superfans (pictured below), and the long lines for a brief test ride.

Tesla Model y unveiling

And yet, something was different. The Model Y unveil reminded me of other more traditional automaker reveals. There were mutterings at the event, and wild cries on Twitter, of disappointment (there were plenty of platitudes as well). Many expected something more exciting than this Model 3 doppelganger.

The Model Y is the kind of next act one might expect from an established and more cautious automaker. And while the market’s reaction was negative, there were folks who noted that the Model Y’s likeness to the 3 meant it was getting serious about selling vehicles.

And that’s not a bad thing — accept for two niggling details. First, the Model Y is so similar to the 3 that it could suffer from buyer malaise or cannibalization of one of the two vehicles. Secondly, even if everyone loved this vehicle and Tesla was poised to take advantage of these perceived efficiencies gained from sharing at least 75 percent of the parts with the Model 3, the Y isn’t coming until fall 2020.

That lengthy timeline raises a lot of questions that we’ll be (and surely others) digging into in the coming weeks and months. Where Tesla chooses to produce the Model Y is perhaps the most important, unanswered question.

Tesla Model Y prototype

 


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

blinky-cat-bird

Welp, we didn’t anticipate this happening. Two tips turned into stories this week: Ford expanding its autonomous vehicle program to Austin and GM Cruise ramping up its hiring machine with plans to hire at least 1,000 more engineers by the end of the year.

What else are we hearing? There’s a new autonomous trucking company coming out of stealth. We’ll share more soon.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.


Deal of the week

It’s not a done deal, yet. But it’s just an intriguing. Uber is in talks with Softbank Vision Fund and Toyota to raise $1 billion for its self-driving unit Uber ATG. This investment would give Uber ATG a valuation of between $5 billion and $10 billion, WSJ reported. The talks are fluid and could still fall apart, these people warned.

There is a lot of behind-the-scenes investment and partnership activity in the autonomous vehicle space these days. In short, these relationships are getting messy and hard to follow.

Let’s not forget that Softbank’s Vision Fund already has a nearly 20 percent stake in GM’s self-driving subsidiary GM Cruise following its $2.2 billion investment in 2018.

Then there’s Volkswagen AG, which is in continued talks with Ford to partner on self-driving car technologies. The framework of the agreement is expected to include VW making an investment into Ford-backed autonomous vehicle startup Argo AI.

VW already has other partnerships. VW Group, Intel’s  computer vision subsidiary Mobileye  and Champion Motors said in November they plan to deploy Israel’s first self-driving ride-hailing service in 2019 through a joint venture called New Mobility in Israel. VW also has a partnership with AV startup Aurora to integrate self-driving systems in custom-designed electric shuttles for VW’s new Moia brand.

Other deals:

  • Flight-hailing startup Blackbird raises $10 million
  • Drivezy, India’s vehicle-sharing startup is raising more than $100 million
  • BMW i Ventures invested in Bright Machines, a San Francisco-based company that has combined software and robotics to help automotive, computer and electronic brands improve product quality, throughput, and factory optimization.
  • Toyota Motor, DENSO Corporation, and Toyota Tsusho Corporation made a $15 million investment into connected vehicle services startup Airbiquity. The four parties will collaborate to accelerate the development and commercialization of an automotive grade over-the-air (OTA) system enabling remote vehicle software updates and management.

  • Freight railroad owner Genesee & Wyoming is considering a sale of all or part of itself, Bloomberg reported

Snapshot

I spent the week in Austin to participate in a number of SXSW-related events, including a couple of panels. As MRD notes in the micromobility section below, scooters were everywhere. And I used them a lot.

Here’s what many might not have considered as they zipped along the streets, and sidewalks of Austin. The new new new thing often kills off something else, or at least forces it to change.

Which brings me to pedicabs. The snapshot below is a long lineup of empty pedicabs in downtown Austin. I saw these pedicabs-sans-riders everywhere in Austin. I remember SXSW just one year ago and the pedicabs were full; I took them several times that week. But now, scooters and bike share are here, and the pedicabs seem to be the ones suffering the most. I hired a pedicab during my stay and the driver confirmed my observations: they’re waiting much longer for customers now.

Sometimes that disruption can hit the new new thing too. Take bike share. The Austin City Council on approved in February 2018 the creation of a “dockless” bike share pilot program. Some companies were already operating these services; this action created a regulatory framework. But then scooters came en masse.

City officials and one dockless mobility executive told me that scooters upended bike share, and prompted companies to take some of their bikes off the streets do to lack of demand.


Tiny but mighty micromobility

It seems like everyone is riding scooters now. Case in point, Austin during SXSW. MRD weighs in on what went down.

I wasn’t in Austin this week for SXSW. And it’s a good thing I wasn’t because there were reports of a tornado! Well, a tornado of scooters. According to The Verge, scooters and bikes were out and about, enabling the hundreds of thousands of conference goers to get from one bar to the next — and from one session to the other.

“Some of the astounding sights I’ve seen in the past few days include multiple vicious-looking wipeouts, a man cranking the accelerator and doing donuts in a crowded parking lot, and scooters littering the gutters of East 6th Street while throngs of people avoid tripping over them,” The Verge’s Nick Statt wrote. “At one point, I read that a man was found riding one down the shoulder of an Austin highway. Riders here are disregarding all manner of street signage and traffic lights; some people flagrantly speed the wrong way down streets.”

In other micromobility news

Micromobility data platform Populus raised some skrillz — $3.1 million, to be exact. That’s in part because, while cities are down for this new era of transportation and operators are down to share their data, cities still have to find out what to do with this data and how to extract learnings from it.

This is where Populus comes in. Populus raised the seed round from Precursor Ventures, Relay Ventures and others to help cities make sense of the influx of transportation data. This brings the startup’s total funding to $3.85 million.

And  … just because scooters are hot right now, doesn’t mean companies aren’t facing headwinds. The Information reported that Bird has laid off between 4 to 5 percent of its workforce.

Megan Rose Dickey


Notable reads

Navigant Research released its annual, and often controversial autonomous vehicle leaderboard report, by principal analyst Sam Abuelsamid. The Navigant Research Leaderboard examines the strategy and execution of 20 leading automated driving system companies and rates them based on 10 criteria, including vision; go-to market strategy; partners; production strategy; technology; sales, marketing, and distribution; product capability; product quality and reliability; product portfolio; and staying power.

The leaders, in Navigant’s view are:

  1. Waymo
  2. GM Cruise
  3. Ford autonomous vehicles
  4. Aptiv
  5. Intel-Mobileye
  6. Volkswagen Group
  7. Daimler-Bosch
  8. Baidu
  9. Toyota
  10. . Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance

Other quotable notables:

With the rise of autonomous delivery bots — or at least news of all the capital they’re raising — it’s worth revisiting a white paper that KPMG put out in November called Autonomy Delivers: An oncoming revolution in the movement of goods. The report notes how e-commerce is pushing this delivery phenomenon forward. Two forecasts worth noting:

  • expecting no acceleration in e-commerce adoption trends, KMPG estimates that by 2040 e-commerce will reduce shopping trips in the U.S. by 30 percent. It could be as high as 50 percent.
  • as a result, delivery vehicle miles traveled will skyrocket from 23 billion annual miles to more than 78 billion by 2040.

Testing and deployments


Ford continues to expand its autonomous vehicle program. This time, the automaker is
setting up shop in Austin. During my week in Austin for SXSW, I had heard rumors that Ford was preparing to open an autonomous vehicle program there. A number of Ford executives were on the ground in Austin during SXSW to participate in panels and other events including one I moderated at the Smart Mobility Summit.

That chatter was confirmed by a new job listing for an autonomous vehicles “market specialist” based in Austin. Austin is the fifth city to join the automaker’s testing program, which already includes Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles is getting ready for a widespread deployment of scooters. About seven companies already have permission to operate on a conditional basis, according to Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s general manager Seleta Reynolds. Now it’s about to get bigger.

The city recently launched a one-year dockless on-demand personal mobility program. As part of that program, the LADOT accepted applications from companies seeking one-year permits. Eleven companies applied for permission to operate about 38,000 dockless devices. The city is prepping for coming deluge by creating designated parking areas and other signage.

That sounds like a lot; and it is. But it could have been a much higher number. If these companies had maxed out the total number allowed under the permit, it could have meant 160,000 scooters in Los Angeles.

Why wouldn’t Bird, Lime, Spin and others max out the allowable 10,500 scooters per permit? Here’s one thought: cost and supply.

The annual permit application fee is a non-refundable $20,000. Companies also most pay $130 fee per vehicle annually if they’re operating in non-disadvantage communities (DAC). LADOT is allowing companies a maximum of 3,000 scooters in non-DAC areas, 5,000 in DACs in San Fernando Valley and up to 2,500 in DACs in outside of San Fernando Valley. Permits for scooters in DACs are $39 per vehicle, a 70 percent reduction in that fee.

That means if a company could max out and hit the 10,500 scooter limit, which includes DACs, it would be looking at more than $700,000 in permitting fees to operate for a year.

Two car things

  • Gridwise, a mobile app designed to increases rideshare drivers’ hourly earnings by helping them find more rides and track their performance, launched in a number of cities, including Austin, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Gridwise app is already available in numberous U.S. cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.
  • And Citymobil, one of the largest Russian taxi aggregators, has teamed up with Gazprom to launch a taxi runs on natural gas. About 500 taxi cars that participate with Citymobil have already been converted to work on methane. By the end of the year, their number is expected to reach 10,000.

On our radar

There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month.

Nvidia GTC

TechCrunch will be at Nvidia’s annual GPU Technology Conference from March 18 to 21 in San Jose.

The 4th annualADAS Sensors 2019 conference and expo held March 20 to 21 in Detroit Michigan. See the full conference agenda at: http://www.adassensors.com/agenda.html

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos la próxima vez.



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Google responds to Apple App Tracking Transparency with new rules for Android

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Google released a notice today about the future of Android and user data transparency. While not a direct response to Apple’s update with iOS 14.5 – at least not explicitly – Google’s “pre-announcement” of an upcoming safety section in Google Play should effectively keep the two operating systems in-step on several privacy-centric fronts. The new section in Google Play for Android apps will “help people understand the data an app collects or shares, if that data is secured, and additional details that impact privacy and security.”

Suzanne Frey, VP, Product, Android Security and Privacy posted a note this week about how developers and users will be affected by the update to Google Play and Android. Android already has a system in place where apps alert users about what permissions they seek – location data, contacts, personal info, audio, storage files, and camera access. With this update, it’ll all be a bit more clear up front, listed in Google Play.

What will apps show?

Developers will be asked to share the following items with users in their app listing in Google Play: What type of data is collected and stored, and how the data is used. That should be simple.

• What type of data is collected and stored: Location, Photos & Videos, Audio files, Storage files, Contacts, and Personal Information.
• How the data is used by the app or the developer/group that makes the app. This could also include disclosure of data sharing with 3rd-party sources.

Google Play will also begin listing information as follows in a new Safety Section for each app. New elements will highlight whether:

1. Security practices are in play (data encryption, for example) for user data
2. Google’s Families policy is followed with user data
3. The app “needs this data to function or if users have choice in sharing it”
4. The app’s safety section “is verified by an independent third-party”
5. Data deletion is an option for the user upon uninstall of said app

When Safety Section will appear on Google Play

Here on May 6, 2021, Google first made their “pre-announcement” of this new policy. In Q3 of 2021, the policy will be “available” for the public and developers to read. In the fourth quarter of 2021, developers will be able to start declaring information in the Google Play Console as outlined above.

In the first quarter of 2022, users in the public will begin to see the new safety section in Google Play. At some point in the second quarter of the year 2022, Google will set a deadline for all new and existing apps to declare the information outlined above.

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This HP EliteOne 800 G8 AiO has video call talents every PC should steal

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HP has revealed its latest all-in-one PC, and we can’t help thinking it’s wasted in businesses. The HP EliteOne 800 G8 All-in-One comes with a choice of 23.8- or 27-inch displays, with a pop-up camera on top that includes video call-friendly face tracking.

In fact, the array that slides out of the top of the AiO PC has dual 5-megapixel cameras inside, plus an IR camera and a time-of-flight sensor that can track distance. With all that, and an extra-wide field of view compared to the average webcam, it means the EliteOne 800 G8 can use digital tracking to center you in the middle of the frame, cropping accordingly.

There’s also auto scene detection, to adjust the lighting automatically depending on ambient conditions in the room. HP has fitted its AI-powered noise reduction system as well, for the first time on a PC, with the ability to spot and filter out over 350 million types of voices and noises. The filters work on both outbound and inbound noise, so even if you’re talking with someone with a lesser microphone system you’ll still hear the benefit.

There’s HP Dynamic Audio for speech, music, and movie audio tuning to cut through background noise, along with Dynamic Voice Leveling to automatically adjust the volume of your voice so that it stays consistent even as you move closer to, or further away from, the microphone. Even the cooling system has been designed to lower the fan noise while you’re on calls.

It’s all wrapped up in a design that could be mistaken for just being a standalone monitor. Inside there’s a choice of Intel 11th Gen Core processors, up to a Core i9; they can be paired with up to 64GB of DDR4 memory and up to 6TB of M.2 PCIe storage. On the graphics side, there’s a choice of Intel UHD Graphics 730 or 750, with the display resolution offering up to 2560 x 1440 depending on panel.

As for connectivity, on the wireless side you can have WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. For ports, you get a lot more than a new iMac 24-inch offers: three USB-A, two USB-C, HDMI, DisplayPort, and ethernet are all included.

Clearly these aren’t the machines if you’re looking for serious graphical grunt (or gaming, for that matter). Still, the video calling systems HP has fitted could make a big difference if your schedule is still filled with back-to-back Zoom appointments. Meanwhile the EliteOne 800 G8’s design manages to step away from the norm in enterprise hardware, and wouldn’t look out of place in a home office instead.

No word on pricing at this stage, but HP says that the new all-in-one will go on sale later this month.

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The Google Assistant is adding new ways to corral your family

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Google is adding new Assistant features and tweaking some existing ones to make them more user-friendly, including expanding its Broadcast system. The new Family Broadcast takes the existing functionality – where you can pipe your voice through multiple Google smart speakers and smart displays in the house, useful for announcing meals are ready or reminding people it’s time to leave – and enhances it for smartphones and replies.

So, you can now create a Google Family Group, consisting not only of smart displays like the Nest Hub and speakers like the Nest Audio, but also iPhone and Android smartphones. Saying “Hey Google, tell my family, it’s time for us to hit the road” will broadcast your message across all of those devices in one fell swoop.

Those who hear the broadcast, meanwhile, will be able to respond by voice too. You’ll be able to say “Hey Google, reply ‘I’ll need a little extra time to catch the cat,’” for example, or tap the reply button to bypass the Assistant wake-word.

Meanwhile, Family Bell reminders are also getting a new convenience feature. Added to the Assistant’s array of talents in November last year, Family Bell is basically a group alarm for reminders. Google pitches it as useful for notifying everyone when it’s time for home-schooling to start, or for group chores.

Soon, though, you’ll be able to say “stop” to end the Family Bell alert by voice. It’s a shortcut that the Assistant already works with for individual alarms and timers, that’s being extended to Family Bell in English to begin with. Google will also add the ability to have Family Bells sound across multiple home devices simultaneously, not just one.

For other languages, Family Bell will be extended to support French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Hindi, and Korean. That’s arriving in the coming weeks, Google says.

The updates come on the heels of new, behind-the-scenes changes Google has been making to its core Assistant technology. There are new pronunciation options, which allow users to correct names that the AI gets wrong, for example, along with better contextual understanding which the company says should improve how the Assistant handles things like timers and conversational queries that include multiple questions and responses.

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