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January 18, 2019
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Transportation

Flash, the stealthy e-scooter and ‘micro-mobility’ startup from Delivery Hero founder, raises €55M Series A

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Flash, the stealthy mobility startup from Delivery Hero and Team Europe founder Lukasz Gadowski, is de-cloaking today, with news that the Berlin-based company has raised a whopping €55 million in Series A funding.

Despite rumours that multiple VC firms would be involved, the bulk of the new funding comes from Target Global via its mobility fund, which led this round and was already an existing backer of Flash. Others participating in Flash’s Series A include Idinvest Partners, Signals Venture Capital and a number of unnamed angel investors.

Notably, Gadowski is listed as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Target Global, and has been broadly working in the mobility space for the past two years. Rather quietly, he is also an investor in Grin, the Mexico City-based electric scooter company backed by Y Combinator.

In a call with Gadowski, he filled in many of the blanks relating to his new venture, including positioning Flash as a “micro-mobility” company that wants to solve the last-mile transportation problem. The startup is initially entering the e-scooter rental space, but this is just the beginning, he says. More broadly, the way he and his team think about Flash is that it is “unbundling” the car, with new forms of transport.

“In a few years time, micro-mobility will look very different from today,” says Gadowski, revealing that before founding Flash last year, he also took a hard look at new forms of aviation.

Even though it is still very early days for Flash, the startup already boasts a current team of more than 50 full-time employees, recruited from the likes of Uber, Amazon, and Airbnb. Alongside Gadowski, the other Flash co-founders are Carlos Bhola (Corp. Development) and Tim Rucquoi-Berger (Supply & Operations).

“This is not a scooter” – Flash branding in stealth mode

Notably — and definitely quietly — Flash is already operating in Switzerland and Portugal, with plans to launch into France, Italy and Spain in spring 2019, and in the rest of Europe in summer 2019.

The existing launches have been soft-launches, to say the least, with Flash e-scooters not initially carrying the company’s branding, instead sporting the label “This is not a scooter,” part in-house word play, part a statement of intent. Not just another scooter company might be an even more apt label if Gadowski’s longer-term ambitions are realised.

Perhaps more of a product-market-fit trial than anything else, Flash has initially used off-the-shelf e-scooters at launch, whilst simultaneously developing its own hardware and technology. The startup is headquartered in Berlin, but Gadowski tells me the team was first posted in China, establishing a supply chain and other partnerships that he believes can help give Flash the edge.

I put to him a common belief amongst some VCs that the e-scooter space in Europe is heading for a bloodbath that will continue to see a huge amount of venture capital pumped into the space, and subsequently many losers and a lot of money lost.

Recent raises by European e-scooter startups include Wind Mobility ($22 million), VOI ($50 million and Tier (€25 million). Meanwhile, Taxify has also announced its entrance into e-scooter rentals, and Bird and Lime have received substantial investment from three of Europe’s top venture capital firms. Index and Accel have backed Bird, and Atomico has backed Lime.

Gadowski appears for the most part unfazed by the swelling of competition coffers, although he does concede that the current “land grab” is forcing Flash to move slightly faster than it might have done otherwise. In some ways, he would have preferred to continue a more staggered, cautious roll-out, describing the startup as “product-first and multi-vehicle,” and says its customers are not just users of the service but local residents more broadly and the authorities with which it needs to coordinate. “Mistakes can be a lot more serious than at Delivery Hero, safety is involved,” he cautions.

The size of recent funding rounds in the space has also surprised him. However, he doesn’t think this is a “Facebook scenario,” where there will only be a single winner. Several micro-mobility companies can happily co-exist, he says, and the early movers are helping to pave the way for others, including Flash.

I suggest that the e-scooter land grab at its current pace also has a high chance of provoking a backlash amongst consumers and/or authorities, perhaps after a more serious safety accident or other source of reputational damage. Gadowski concedes this is definitely a “short-term” risk, but says there is so much determination by governments and local authorities to solve congestion and the last-mile problem, he doesn’t believe it will be a long-term one.

Finally, I asked Gadowski if he is considering acquiring smaller e-scooter startups in Europe (or perhaps elsewhere), as part of a roll-up strategy that would help the company leapfrog competitors. He declined to rule out acquisitions entirely — Delivery Hero was very effective in this regard — but said it doesn’t make much sense right now as hype in the space has pushed valuations way up. A more likely scenario, he says, is investing in or acquiring startups that can help with other aspects of the business, such as in the supply chain.

News Source = techcrunch.com

How Lyft envisions bringing VR and AR to your ride

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Lyft is exploring ways to integrate virtual reality and augmented reality into your Lyft rides, according to a couple of patent applications TechCrunch came across today.

The first, filed in July 2017, is for “providing a virtual reality transportation experience” that would respond to real-world forces and events that happen during your ride, like sudden stops, turn and bumps in the road. Over time, the VR system would be able to predict those bumps and turns in the road.

“For instance, the virtual reality transportation system accesses the historical information for each maneuver along the route and identifies previous inertial forces that transportation vehicles have experienced in the past for the same turns, merges, stops, etc,” the application states. “In some cases, the virtual reality transportation system determines (e.g., calculates) an average of each of the previous inertial forces for the maneuvers along the travel route to predict the inertial forces that the passenger will experience.”

From there, the VR system would generate a virtual experience with virtual interactions based on the real-world environment. Specifically, the VR system may include, “but are not necessarily limited to, virtual collisions with objects, virtual turns, virtual drops, etc.”  That sounds mildly horrifying, but it would definitely make for an unforgettable ride. Other ideas of virtual experiences feature a game with lasers and flying saucers.

During your ride, Lyft envisions passengers being able to share their VR experience with people in other cars, or those waiting for a pick-up.

This is likely possible in part thanks to Lyft’s acquisition of Blue Vision Labs, an augmented reality startup, last year. Blue Vision, for example, offers collaborative augmented reality to enable people to see the same spot in space.

Lyft’s other patent application, also filed in July, seeks to provide information to passengers using augmented reality. This one seems to be less about entertainment and more about practical information.

In one example, Lyft would generate virtual objects to overlay on a passenger’s real-world surroundings in order to help with the pick-up or drop-off process. Based on historical data, Lyft envisions identifying the ideal pickup location based on the passenger’s current location, traffic conditions and transportation restrictions.

TechCrunch has reached out to Lyft and will update this story if we hear back.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Riding the RV revolution, Outdoorsy fuels up with $50 million in fresh funding

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Outdoorsy is building for the road ahead. The three-year-old company, which connects customers with underused RVs and other trucks big enough to camp in overnight, just raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Greenspring Associates, with participation from earlier backers Aviva Ventures, Altos Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and Tandem Capital.

That puts its total funding, in less than year’s time, at $75 million. (We’d separately reported on its $25 million Series B round last February. It has now raised $81.5 million altogether.)

It’s easy to understand why investors are excited about Outdoorsy, which moved its headquarters from the Bay Area to Austin six months ago, partly to get closer to its base of customers, as well as to take advantage of attractive tax incentives. The company is capitalizing on a global trend of millennials who want to stay overnight at places other than hotels, which are often expensive and located in commercial districts that can’t provide the same authentic experience of staying in a neighborhood.

Yet Outdoorsy is taking things a step further, so to speak. As cofounder and CEO Jeff Cavins notes, even with Airbnbs seemingly everywhere, there remain plenty of places where it makes even more sense to rent an RV and set up a grill, including at a beach, beside a lake, or right outside events like musical festivals and car races. That’s saying nothing of traditional camping spots, like Yosemite and Yellowstone Valley.

It’s easier than ever thanks largely to Outdoorsy, too, says Cavins. Earlier on, the company logged serious time with outfits like Aviva, a British insurance company that is not only an Outdoorsy investor at this point but which was convinced by Outdoorsy to create an insurance product expressly to cover RVs as distinct from more accident-prone vehicles with which they’ve long been lumped, like dune buggies.

The math was easy to grasp, offers Cavins of the argument Outdoorsy made. “Most recreational vehicles really aren’t driven around much. They are used for camping purposes. Some people do cross-country stuff, but most people don’t like driving so much on their vacations, so there isn’t a lot of mobile time with these units.”

Such products have been meaningful for both sides. Outdoorsy says it’s been able to price that insurance for “basically the cost of what you’d pay for a beer each day.” Meanwhile, by offering U.S. and Canadian RV owners up to $1 million in protection, and even more protection for its European users, Outdoorsy says it has managed to sign up 31,000 vehicles to date. These include a mix of traditional RVs, camper vans, towable campers, and trucks that are rented for six days on average and that produce, on average, $1,900 in income for their owners over that same six-day period.

And that’s mostly in North America. Outdoorsy thinks that as it expands more aggressively in Europe and Australia and New Zealand, among other places into which it’s rolling, it will have closer to 65,000 vehicles available to rent on its platform by year end.

Not that expanding geographically is all the company has in mind. On the contrary, says Cavins, Outdoorsy is evolving into a kind of recreational marketplace, one with many more premium services beyond those it introduced last year, including insurance and roadside assistance. For example, it more recently began inviting customers to finance their vacations through Outdoorsy, which has partnered with the lending company Affirm toward that end. It also now offers trip and travel insurance to offset cancellations. And Cavins says the company is introducing a spate of other new premium services in roughly one month

Outdoorsy also ushering in a new wave of entrepreneurship, by Cavin’s telling. As it stands, vehicle owners set their own pricing, with the help of tools provided by Outdoorsy, and they keep between 75 and 80 percent of what they earn. For some, it’s a nice way to make income when they aren’t using their RV. (It’s especially nice compared with the alternative, which is to pay to keep the RV stored.) For others of its customers, he says, those rental fees are beginning to produce meaningful revenue. He points, for example, to one customer who he says is generating more than $1 million a year through Outdoorsy. Pushed on this number, Cavins notes that this customer owns between 50 and 55 RVs. But he insists that while “most users start with two vehicles, we have some that get to four, then 20, then they hire hire their own mechanic and cleaning crew.”

As for those stretches of time when it isn’t a holiday, and it isn’t summer, and fewer people are looking to rent RVs, Cavins admits the market slows down markedly. In fact, it’s largely why Outdoorsy is building up a business in New Zealand and Australia. It wants to take advantage of summer somewhere all year round.

Still, insists Cavins, the market is hotter than you might imagine. Even in Europe, which doesn’t have the same sprawling freeways of North America, car camping, including via camper van, is becoming a huge part of the culture. “By May, it’s now very hard to get your hands on something to rent.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Flaws in Amadeus’ airline booking system made it easy for hackers to change passenger records

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You might not know Amadeus by name, but hundreds of millions of travelers use it each year.

Whether you’re traveling for work or vacation, most consumers book their flights through one of a handful of bespoke reservation systems used across the commercial aviation industry. Amadeus is one of the largest reservation systems, serving customers of Air France, British Airways, Icelandair, and Qantas and more. And each reservation system has to be able to talk to each other through the global distribution system backchannel.

Without these interconnected systems, most governments have no idea who’s coming and going.

Even in this day and age of passwords for everything and facial recognition at the departure gate, all that sits between you and someone rebooking a flight is a passenger’s surname and the booking reference on your ticket, known as the passenger name record — or PNR.

But these outdated and archaic passenger records systems needed to share travelers’ data internationally never considered security on the scale that’s needed today, and are woefully inadequate in keeping passenger records safe.

Israeli security researcher Noam Rotem knows all too well.

He found that any airline using Amadeus made it easy to edit and change someone’s reservation with just their booking reference number. No surname needed. In some cases, he didn’t even need to obtain someone’s booking number.

Rotem explained in a write-up, shared with TechCrunch before his public disclosure, that he could plug in anyone’s booking reference in a buggy web address on Israeli airline El Al’s website — in spite of being required to enter a surname on the website’s check-in page.

That not only lowers the bar for someone wanting to manipulate a person’s booking, such as changing seats and rerouting frequent miler numbers, said Rotem, but it’s also easy to obtain a person’s personal information, such as their phone number, and email and home addresses, from the airline.

How secure is the six-digit booking reference itself? History says that it’s still far too easy to obtain.

If your six-digit booking reference isn’t already on your boarding pass, ticket or luggage tag, you’ll still find it embedded in the barcode. That barcode, decrypted several years ago, can be easily read by most mobile barcode apps, making it easy for criminals to walk around the check-in area or departure’s lounge and scan a photo of your ticket when you’re not looking.

Worse, the average hacker wouldn’t have to leave their house. Dozens of people post their boarding passes — and their barcodes — to Twitter and Instagram every day, under the hashtags #boardingpass and #planetickets.

Some of the many boarding passes posted to Twitter and Instagram in a single day. (Image: TechCrunch)

But Rotem said that inherent weaknesses in how reservation systems generate passenger name record numbers in the first place made it easy to brute-force any Amadeus-linked airline website with a hacker’s own generated booking references.

Because Amadeus’ system didn’t limit how many requests could be processed at any given time, Romet could run a script generating booking references at random, which he says were “simply guessed,” then plugging them into the vulnerable web address and waiting for a positive response to return.In some cases, the script found booking references attached to real customers. Because parts of each Amadeus-generated booking references are sequential, it makes it easy to continue the attack on passengers with similar or the same surname. And, there were no rate limits, allowing the researcher to run as many requests each minute as he wanted, speeding up the process. (TechCrunch saw a short video of the script generating booking reference numbers, but didn’t verify any as logging in with someone else’s booking reference would be unlawful.)

A skilled attacker could, for example, use this technique to book their own flights or siphoning off accumulated air miles. A bored hacker, however, could wreak havoc on any number of passengers’ credit cards.

In all, Amadeus’ website claims it supports more than 200 airlines. We were curious how far the vulnerability went.

Using cookie data collected from El Al, TechCrunch was able to find dozens of other affected airlines using data collected by RiskIQ, a cyber threat intelligence firm, which scours the web for information. “During RiskIQ’s crawls, our crawlers act like the browser they are instructed to emulate, which means they will maintain cookies and other site-specific metadata,” said Yonathan Klijnsma, a threat researcher at RiskIQ.

We reached out to several of the larger airlines believed to be affected by the vulnerability, but nobody from Air France, British Airways, Icelandair, and Qantas commented when reached prior to publication.

When reached, Amadeus confirmed it was alerted to an issue and took “immediate action,” said a spokesperson. “We are working closely with our customers and we regret any disruption this situation may have caused.”

“We work with our customers and partners in the industry to address PNR security overall. The airline industry relies on IATA standards that were introduced to improve efficiency and customer service on a global scale. Because the industry works on common industry standards, including the PNR, further improvements should include reviewing and changing some of the industry standards themselves, which requires industry collaboration,” the statement added. “At Amadeus, we give security the highest priority and are constantly monitoring and updating all of our products and systems.”

Rotem suggested bot protection mechanisms and limits to how many requests can be submitted during a certain period of time could prevent automated attacks in the future, but that the underlying problems remain. That isn’t likely to change without an industry-wide effort to change how reservations are made.

In reality, we’re stuck with PNR for a while — and it’s a problem that’s not going away any time soon.


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News Source = techcrunch.com

Self-driving car startup Zoox gets a new CEO

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Self-driving car startup Zoox has selected its new CEO following the unexpected firing of co-founder and former CEO Tim Kentley-Klay in August. Aicha Evans (pictured above), Intel’s now-former chief strategy officer, is joining Zoox as CEO and member of the Board of Directors on February 26.

“I’m thrilled to join Zoox and challenge the status quo with an autonomous mobility system built from the ground up,” Evans said in a press release. “Mobility is approaching a major inflection point, and Zoox has set itself apart from entrenched players as the only company creating a solution purpose-built to meet the needs of a fully autonomous future. I look forward to helping the company’s exceptionally talented team continue to grow as we unlock more technical and commercial milestones.”

Evans spent twelve years at Intel, where she was responsible for leading the company’s transition from a PC-centric business to a data-centric one. She also served as a general manager in the communication and devices group.

Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission today granted Zoox a permit to participate in the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot. During the testing period, Zoox must have a safety driver behind the wheel and will not be allowed to charge passengers for rides. And, as part of the program, Zoox must provide data and reports to the CPUC regarding any incidents, number of passenger miles traveled and passenger safety protocols.

Zoox’s long-term plan is to publicly deploy autonomous vehicles by 2020 in the form of its own ride-hailing service. The cars themselves will be all-electric and fully autonomous.

To date, Zoox has raised more than $750 million in venture funding. TechCrunch is expecting to chat with Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson a bit later today. We’ll update this story following that interview.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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