On Friday, Musk and Justin Roiland, one of the creators of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, appeared on YouTuber PewDiePie’s show for a meme review.
During the segment, Musk and Roiland rate various memes, like the one pictured below, The pair provide commentary and funny quips.
It looks like Musk and Roiland’s appearance has helped push PewDiePie above T-Series, an Indian music company on YouTube that has had the most subscribers. PewDiePie now has about a 20,000 subscriber lead.
The final meme, which pictures what appears to be a dead deer at the bottom of a pool, is what pushes Musk over the edge when he asks, “Jeez is that true? What, that actually happened? Oh my god,” as he bursts into fits of uncomfortable laughter.
You can watch the whole episode that PewDiePie uploaded on February 22 or skip to about minute 13 for Musk and Roiland.
Daimler AG and BMW Group officially agreed to merge their urban mobility services into a single holding company back in March 2018 with a 50 percent stake each. And now, they want to unify their services under 5 categories by creating 5 joint ventures — Reach Now, Charge Now, Park Now, Free Now and Share Now.
Both automakers plan to invest $1.1 billion (€1 billion) to foster those urban mobility services over the coming years. There are already 60 million people using one of the 14 services currently available.
Let’s go through the details. Free Now is the name of the ride-hailing company, which includes mytaxi, Kapten, Clever Taxi and Beat. Those services combined operate in 130 cities in 17 countries. Hive, a new e-scooter company, is also part of Free Now.
mytaxi, a popular app that lets you hail a taxi from your phone, already sent an email to its customers saying that the company will rebrand its service to Free Now later this year. It’s unclear what’s going to happen to the other brands. Chauffeur-Privé recently rebranded to Kapten, so it sounds like apps and services won’t merge overnight.
Charge Now already exists and is a network of public charge points for electric cars. It provides a white label service for car manufacturers as well. So nothing is changing there.
Park Now combines an existing service called ParkNow (I know it’s confusing), ParkMobile, RingGo and Park-line. As the names suggest, they all operate parking services.
Share Now is all about free-floating services. Daimler and BMW each had its own service, DriveNow and Car2Go, they’re now under the same roof.
The new Reach Now combines moovel with an existing service called ReachNow. This one is a bit weird as moovel lets you access various transportation methods from a single app. You can find your itinerary, book and pay for various services through the app. The old ReachNow is different as it’s a ride-hailing service in Seattle and Portland.
That wasn’t easy to unpack. It’s clear that things are still moving and plans aren’t set in stone when it comes to integrations and brand simplification. Eventually, BMW CEO Harald Krüger hopes that all of those services will converge and form an end-to-end service.
“We have a clear vision: these five services will merge ever more closely to form a single mobility service portfolio with an all-electric, self-driving fleet of vehicles that charge and park autonomously and interconnect with the other modes of transport,” he said in the release.
While it sounds like a wild dream, it’s interesting to see that Daimler and BMW are both very serious about mobility services. They know that they can’t just be car manufacturers and have to expand beyond their traditional role.
It’s a competitive industry with well-funded giants, such as Uber and Didi. And if Daimler and BMW want to remain relevant, they need to invest and develop those services.
Nissan has turned its old Leaf batteries into an off-grid camping companion.
The automaker’s Nissan Energy subsidiary worked with camper manufacturer Opus to create the ultimate “smart” pop-up trailer that integrates cells recovered from its first-generation electric vehicles to provide off-grid power. Add in one to two recharges of the accompanying 400W solar panel accessory and campers can listen to tunes and use their smartphones and other devices, including a microwave, for about 7 days, the companies said. The battery pack can be recharged by the solar panel in 2 to 4 hours.
The Nissan x OPUS concept camper debuted this week at the The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show in the UK. Inside the smart camper — code for LED lighting and USB sockets for charging — is a veritable glamping wonderland. You can almost smell the pour-over coffee.
Unlike many other concepts that debut at auto shows, components of the Nissan x OPUS are actually coming to market. The Air Opus is already available with a base price of £15,995 (a bit more than $20,000). The Nissan Energy ROAM product will launch in European markets later this year. Pricing for the ROAM wasn’t immediately available.
This isn’t the first time Nissan’s ROAM unit has shown up in a concept product either. It was featured earlier this year in Nissan’s NV300 concept van designed for woodworkers. Nor is this Nissan’s first foray into the secondary battery market. In November, Nissan launched Nissan Energy to create an ecosystem for owners of its electric vehicles. The idea is for owners to be able to connect their cars with energy systems to charge their batteries, power homes and businesses or feed energy back to power grids. The company said at the time, that it will also develop new ways to reuse electric car batteries.
“The Nissan x OPUS concept is a real-world example of how Nissan Energy ROAM can integrate into our lifestyles – in this case the hugely popular leisure activity of camping,” Nissan Energy managing director Francisco Carranza said in a statement.
The concept pairs the Air Opus, a novel off-road pop-up camper that inflates in 90 seconds, with Nissan Energy’s portable power pack called ROAM. The ROAM unit is mounted in a special compartment at the front of the camper, where it can provide a power supply to both the 230-volt circuit and the 12-volt circuit. The battery pack can also be removed and recharged via a standard 230v domestic socket, or by plugging into a solar panel accessory.
The ROAM unit has a storage capacity of 700Wh and a power output for 1kW. That’s enough power to keep smartphones charged and the lights on. The Nissan x Opus camper has a 230v outlet, USB sockets, a 4G mobile WiFi hotspot for up to 10 devices; and even a digital projector with pull-up screen to watch movies. There’s also a 230v portable microwave and a two-burner gas stove and a fridge.
Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. This is the second edition and seriously people, what happened this week? Too much. Too much!
Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here. 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).
Off we go … vroom.
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.
This week, we’ve got some insider info on Didi, China’s largest ride-hailing firm. China-based TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao learned from sources that Didi plans to lay off 15 percent of its employees, or about 2,000 people this year. CEO Cheng Wei made the announcement during an internal meeting Friday morning.
Didi’s troubles with regulators and its backlash from two high-profile passenger murders last year don’t exist in a vacuum. Their struggles are in line with what is happening in the ride-hailing industry, particularly in more mature markets where the novelty has worn off and cities have woken up.
For companies like Didi, Uber, Lyft and other emerging players, this means more resources (capital and people) spent working with cities as well as looking for ways to diversify their businesses. All the while, they must still plug away at the nagging problems of reducing costs and keeping drivers and riders.
Just look at Uber. As Megan Rose Dickey reports, Uber’s stiff losses continued in the fourth quarter. The upshot: Its losses can be attributed to increased competition and significant investment in bigger bets like micro mobility and Elevate. And apparently legal fees. Uber, The Verge reports, sued NYC on Friday to overturn a law that caps drivers.
This week, TechCrunch editor Devin Coldewey digs into the development of a system that can estimate not just where a pedestrian is headed, but their pose and gait too.
The University of Michigan, well known for its efforts in self-driving car tech, has been working on an improved algorithm for predicting the movements of pedestrians.
These algorithms can be as simple as identifying a human and seeing how many pixels move over a few frames, then extrapolating from there. But naturally, human movement is a bit more complex than that. Few companies advertise the exact level of detail with which they resolve human shapes and movement. This level of granularity seems beyond what we’ve seen.
UM’s new system uses LiDar and stereo camera systems to estimate not just the trajectory of a person, but their pose and gait. Pose can indicate whether a person is looking towards or away from the car, or using a cane, or stooped over a phone; gait indicates speed and intention.
Is someone glancing over their shoulder? Maybe they’re going to turn around, or walk into traffic. This additional data helps a system predict motion and makes for a more complete set of navigation plans and contingencies.
Importantly, it performs well with only a handful of frames to work with — perhaps comprising a single step and swing of the arm. That’s enough to make a prediction that beats simpler models handily, a critical measure of performance as one cannot assume that a pedestrian will be visible for any more than a few frames between obstructions.
Not too much can be done with this noisy, little-studied data right now, but perceiving and cataloguing it is the first step to making it an integral part of an AV’s vision system.
— Devin Coldewey
A little bird …
We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.
Every big funding round has an origin story — that magic moment when planets align and a capitally-flush investor gazes across a room at just the right time and spots the perfect company in need of funds and guidance.
One of this week’s biggest deals — see below — was the $940 million that Softbank Vision Fund invested in autonomous delivery robot Nuro. How (and when) Nuro met Softbank is almost as big a story as the funding round itself. OK, well maybe not AS BIG. But interesting, nonetheless.
It turns out that Cruise, the self-driving unit of GM, was in early talks with Nuro, but the parties couldn’t quite meet in the middle, people familiar with the deal told me. Sources wouldn’t elaborate whether Cruise was seeking to acquire Nuro or take a minority stake in the company.
It all worked out in the end, though. The folks at Cruise introduced Nuro to Softbank. That means Cruise and Nuro now share the same investor. Softbank agreed in May 2018 to invest $2.25 billion in GM Cruise Holdings LLC.
Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.
First Nuro. Michael Ronen, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, and the same person who was a big part of its investment in Cruise, told TechCrunch that the winners in this market will need to address a diverse mix of technological questions. In his view, that’s Nuro.
“Nuro has built a team of brilliant problem solvers whose combined backgrounds in robotics, machine learning, autonomous driving and consumer electronics give them a compelling advantage,” Ronen said.
Amazon’s investment in Rivian is important, particularly when you step back and take a more holistic and historic view. Consider this: The logistics giant stealthily acquired an urban delivery robot startup called Dispatch in 2017 (a discovery Mark Harris made and reported for us last week). Amazon showed off the fruit of that acquisition — its own delivery robot Scout — in January 2018.
Last week, self-driving vehicle startup Aurora raised more than $530 million in a Series B funding round led by Sequoia and with “significant” investments from Amazon and T. Rowe Price. Now, Amazon is backing Rivian.
Based on the deals that we know about, Amazon’s hands are now deep into autonomous delivery, self-driving vehicle software and electric vehicles. Let that sink in.
WiTricity acquired some IP assets from Qualcomm that gives the company more than 1,500 patents and patent applications related to wireless charging. Qualcomm Inc. is now a minority WiTricity shareholder.
Sure, TechCrunch focuses on startups. Why auto loans? Because auto loan data can be one of the canaries in the coal mine that is the automotive industry and on a larger scale, the economy. And, delinquency rates ripple through the rest of the transportation world, affecting public transit and ride-hailing too.
The New York Federal Reserve this week released a collection of economic data, including auto loans, which have been climbing since 2011. Auto loans increased by $9 billion this year, a figure boosted by historically strong levels of newly originated loans that will put 2018 in the record books. There were $584 billion in new auto loans and leases appearing on credit reports in 2018, the highest level in the 19-year history of the loan origination data.
The flow into 90+ day delinquency for auto loan balances has been slowly trending upward since 2012
Serious delinquency of auto loans held by borrowers under 30 years old between 2014 and 2016 rose (see chart)
Rising overall delinquency rates remain below 2010 peak levels. However, there were more than 7 million Americans with auto loans that were 90 or more days delinquent at the end of 2018
Tiny but mighty micro mobility
It was a bit quiet on the micro-mobility front this week, but here’s what jumped out. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco denied Lime’s appeal to operate electric scooters in the city. This is the same decision the city landed on pertaining to both Uber’s Jump and Ford’s Spin appeals. On the bright side for these companies, there may be hope for them to deploy scooters during phase two of the city’s pilot program, which starts in April.
Also in the SF Bay Area, Lyft donated $700,000 to TransForm, an organization focused on improving access to transportation in underserved areas throughout California. In partnership with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Lyft and TransForm will invest in a free bike library and community “parklets” in Oakland, Calif.
Meanwhile, over in Tel Aviv, Lime deployed its electric scooters, joining electric scooter startup Bird. Lime also reportedly plans to deploy its scooters throughout the country of Israel. Next up will be cities in the Gush Dan region.
We read corporate updates to terms of service in our spare time. And this week, Skip sent out an update that included an interesting nugget. It reads:
We’ve updated specific provisions on camera footage. We’ve updated and made more clear that our scooters may be equipped with video camera equipment which we may use to help ensure that our scooters are used properly and in accordance with laws, rules, regulations and policies, to protect against crimes such as theft and vandalism, to help us determine if scooters are being used properly at speeds, locations and on surfaces that are proper and allowed as well as to improve our Services.
In December, Skip unveiled two new scooters — one with a rear-facing camera. The company tested 200 of these scooter in Washington, D.C. (and later rolled out to San Francisco) to monitor whether people were riding on the sidewalk and generally riding safely. At the time, Skip said it wasn’t sure what it would do with the data collected from the cameras.
In other words, Skip’s cameras are on. How they intend to use that data — whether via a warning to the rider, a message after the ride is complete, or remotely slowing the scooter down, isn’t clear.
One startup that is poised to capture this new market of scooter accountability is Fantasmo. The augmented reality mapping startup has a new scooter positioning camera that captures video and then matches that against a map to reliably identify how the scooter is being used. Fantasmo’s camera system is not being used by Skip.
If you’re waiting for the big autonomous vehicle disengagement hot take story from me, you’ll be waiting for awhile. Let me explain.
This week, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released the “disengagement reports” of autonomous vehicle companies with permits to test on public roads in the state. These reports are meant to track each time a self-driving vehicle disengages out of autonomous mode. There are 48 companies that issued reports, which when you combine all the data, drove more than 2 million miles on public roads in autonomous mode between December 2017 and November 2018. That’s a four-fold increase from the year before.
Companies that receive AV testing permits in California, which are issued by the DMV, are required to submit these annually. It’s not that these reports are worthless. They are useful to determine if a company is ramping up its testing on public roads, adding more AVs to its fleet, helpful for spotting trends like ‘why did disengagements suddenly end?’ or to determine if a company is even testing anymore.
And I’ve discovered some interesting information that will become bigger stories or end up as footnotes in the world of AVs. (For instance, Faraday Future says it will begin testing on public roads late this year).
But disengagement reports are not a meaningful way to make comparisons on how companies stack up against each other. Why? Because it’s not an “apples-to-apples” comparison for one, companies report the data in different ways and there is no transparency into the specifics of when and where each disengagement occurred.
Another problem is the miles-per-disengagement figure that we (the media) typically focus on. This data isn’t super useful on its own. This shouldn’t be treated like a report card. As one engineer told me once, you learn only from occasions in which the system does, or wants to do, something different from a good human. The smart AV companies will take the disengagement data and combine it with other information taken from simulation and other forms of offline testing.
The “miles per disengagement” data point doesn’t start to mean anything on its own until a company reaches the validation phase, which is when miles driven are the truest representation of naturalistic driving in the domain and application of interest. How many are at this point? I’m hearing one or two.
Testing and deployments
Much of the talk and marketing materials around flying cars, or eVTOLs, focuses on well-dressed business folks standing on top of skyscrapers, preparing to be whisked away — up and over the terrible traffic below. Other startups have focused on last-mile delivery. But what about long-distance cargo delivery to remote and urban areas?
Elroy Air is one company that is working on this problem. The San Francisco-based startup has been developing an autonomous vertical takeoff and landing cargo transport system that can operate outside of airport infrastructure and carry up to 500 pounds of cargo over 300 miles. Elroy Air just closed a $9.2 million round that included investors Catapult Ventures, Levitate Capital, Lemnos, Precursor Ventures, Haystack, Shasta Ventures, Homebrew, 122West, Amplify Partners, Hemisphere Ventures, the E14 Fund and DiamondStream Partners.
The company said this week it will begin testing its unmanned vertical-takeoff-and-landing drone for commercial deliveries — called the Chaparral — this year and launch a commercial shipping service in 2020.
These vehicles will be monitored by trained operators at all times during the testing phase, the company said.
On our radar
Let’s not forget that people are using buses and trains everyday. Not in a year. Not in 10. Right now. These transit systems, many of which need expensive upgrades, carry millions of people every day. One of the more interesting examples of the challenges with transit is the L train shutdown in New York.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs to repair a subway tunnel under the East River and initially had planned to shut down the entire tunnel for 15 months, starting in late April. The L train carries 275,000 people between Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, the effected section, every day.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo intervened and now there’s a new plan, which involves running trains through one tunnel tube while repairs are carried out in the other tube. The NYT has the back story.
There’s an upcoming “L Train Shutdown” event this month in Brooklyn that we’re keeping an eye on. URBAN-X, the startup accelerator backed by automotive brand MINI, is hosting a discussion on the future of the L-train and alternative modes of transport. Some interesting folks will be participating, including Lime’s chief program officer Scott Kubly. The event will be held 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Feb. 19 at A/D/O, 29 Norman Ave, Brooklyn, NY.
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Now, two years later, a production version of the Urban EV is nearly here. And the automaker is finally giving us a glimpse — albeit the tiniest of peeks — of the Urban EV’s interior.
The full reveal of the Urban EV will come next month at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show. And from there, it won’t be long before the electric vehicle hits the marketplace. The automaker has said it plans to bring the EV to the European market by late 2019.
Honda reveals first glimpse at interior of electric vehicle prototype bound for the 2019 Geneva Motor Show
The image shows a dash with a tech-forward and uncluttered feel. There’s an expansive digital screen on the right and a digital instrument cluster in the driver’s line of sight. The steering wheel is equipped with toggles, which will likely be used to access features in the vehicle.
Observers will note two areas, one directly to the right of the steering wheel and the other on the far right, which appear to be designed for the driver and the passenger, respectively. The placement and layout suggest these are touchscreen displays.
Honda says the “interior is designed to create a warm and engaging atmosphere inspired by the Urban EV Concept launched at 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show.”
Honda has big plans for the Urban EV, and more broadly electric vehicles. Way back in 2017, Honda Motor Co. president and CEO Takahiro Hachigo emphasized that the Urban EV wasn’t some “vision of the distant future.”
Honda plans to bring electrification, which can mean hybrid, plug-in or all-electric, to every new car model launched in Europe. The automaker is aiming for two-thirds of European sales to feature electrified technology by 2025.