April 22, 2019
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Dissecting what Lyft’s IPO means for Uber and the future of mobility

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Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec and Kate Clark led a deep-dive discussion into Lyft’s IPO and the outlook for the business going forward.

After skyrocketing nearly 10% on its first day hitting the public markets, Lyft stock has faded back down towards its IPO price as some investors grow more concerned over the company’s path to profitability (or lack thereof) and the long-term fundamentals of the business. But Lyft’s public listing is bigger than just the latest in increasingly common unicorn IPOs. As the first public “transportation-as-a-service” company, Lyft offers the first inside glimpse into the business model and its economics, and its development may ultimately act as the canary in the coal mine for the future of transportation.

“Lyft, hasn’t just survived, they’ve grown. 18.6 million people took at least one ride in the last quarter of 2018. That’s up from 16.6 million in late-2016. That illustrates the growth that the company has had. They’ve also said that they have 39% share of the ride-sharing market in the US. That’s up from 22% in 2016.

To me, the big question is let’s say they had Uber’s share, which is 66%, would they be able to make a profit? Is that the determination? And I’m not convinced that it is, which is why all these other aspects of the transportation-as-a-service business model [micromobility, AVs, etc.] are going to be really important.”

Image via Getty Images / Mario Tama

Kirsten and Kate dive deeper into what the market response to Lyft means for Uber and the timeline for its impending IPO. The two also elaborate on their skepticism of ride-hailing economics and debate which innovative transportation model will ultimately drive the path to profitability for Lyft, Uber and others.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Danny Crichton: Good afternoon and good morning everyone this is Danny Crichton, executive editor of Extra Crunch. Thanks so much for joining us today with TechCrunch reporters Kate and Kirsten.

I’ll start with a quick introduction for our two writers today. We have Kate Clark, our venture capital reporter. Kate has been with us for a while now covering everything in the startup and venture world. She’s also one of the hosts of TechCrunch’s podcast Equity and also writes our Startups Weekly newsletter.

Our other writer today is Kirsten, our intrepid automotive writer covering all things Elon Musk, Tesla, and everything else in the autonomous vehicle space. Kirsten has also been with us for quite some time and also writes a newsletter that she just introduced in the last couple of weeks, around transportation. So with that, I’m going to hand off the conversation to the two of them now.

Kirsten Korosec: Thanks so much Danny. This is Kirsten Korosec here. The newsletter is in a bit of a soft launch but it is being published Fridays and we hope to have an email subscription coming sometime in the future, so just keep an eye out for that.

I should also mention I too have a podcast centered around autonomous vehicles and future transportation called The Autonocast that comes out weekly. Thanks so much for joining the call and just a reminder, we want participation. So at about the halfway point, we’ll turn and open up the line and answer questions. Let’s get started.

Before we dig into all the hot takes out there, I think it’s worth providing a primer of sorts — a general timeline of events. We all probably know Lyft of course and most of us think of 2012 as the launch date when it came to San Francisco, but really Lyft was build out of the service of Zimride. Which is the ride-sharing company that John Zimmer and Logan Green founded in 2007.

A lot of attention has been placed on Lyft in 2018 with what happened in the past year, in the run-up to the IPO. But I think it is worth noting the intense activity and growth that happened between 2014 and 2016. These are critically important years for Lyft, just a frenzy of activity in a period where the company gained ground, investors, and partners.

To showcase the amount of activity that was happening; Lyft had two separate funding rounds, one for $530 million another for $150 million, just two months apart in 2015. You might also recall in early-2016 its partnership with GM and the automakers’ $500 million dollar investment as part of the Series F $1 billion dollar fundraising effort.

That was really interesting because GM’s president at the time Dan Ammann took a seat on the board, which he has since vacated. As Lyft and GM started realizing that they were competitors. Now, Dan is the CEO of GM Cruise which is the self-driving unit of GM.

2017 and 2018 were also big years, as Lyft launched their first international market in Toronto. They made big moves on the autonomous vehicle front, which we’ll talk about today, and in micromobility. Their scooter business launched in Denver in 2018. They bought Motivate, which is the oldest and largest electric bike share company in North America. Then, we finally get to the end of 2018, and this is when Lyft confidentially files a statement with the FDC and we’re off with the races to the IPO.

The last two months or three months is when Lyft unveiled its prospectus, met with investors, priced its IPO and made its public debut. So Kate what are the nuts and bolts of the IPO and what’s happening right now?

Kate Clark: Hi everybody this is Kate. So I’m just going to mention really quickly the timeline these last couple of months in the run-up to Lyft’s highly historical IPO. So going back to December, that’s when Lyft initially filed confidentially to go public. We later find out that they are going public on the NASDAQ when they eventually unveiled their S1 in early March.

This is after Lyft had raised $5 billion in debt and equity funding at a $15 billion dollar valuation, so there are a lot of people paying attention to what was the first ever rideshare IPO. So then in early-March, we’re able to get a closer look at Lyft’s S1, which tells us that the company has $911 million in losses in 2018 and revenues of $2.2 billion. So after calculating and pulling together some data, a lot of people were quick to find out that that means Lyft has some of the largest losses ever for any IPO. But also has some of the largest revenues ever for any pre-IPO company, just following Google and Facebook in that category.

So this is a really interesting IPO for a lot of people given these sky-high losses but also these huge, huge revenues. The next we see Lyft price their IPO between $62 and $68 dollars a share. Some people were quick to say that that was maybe a little underpriced, given that this was a highly anticipated IPO with a ton of demand. So on the second day of Lyft’s roadshow, the process, they say that their IPO is oversubscribed. So demand is apparently huge, their oversubscribed, so they decide we’re going to increase the price of our shares.

Image via GettyImages / maybefalse

So Lyft then says they gonna charge a max of $72 per share and then on the day of their IPO they charge $72 per share, the next day opening at $87 per share. So we see a huge IPO pop that I don’t think was particularly surprising given that they already spoke of this demand, and we had already known that there was a lot of demand on Wall Street. Not just for Lyft but just for unicorn IPO’s of this stature, given that there are so few of these. So Lyft began trading hitting $87 per share though, if you’ve been following the news that’s not were Lyft is today.

Kirsten: Yeah so I was just about to ask — Kate give me the latest numbers, you know a lot of focus is on that opening day but things haven’t exactly sustained. So what’s happened in the past few days?

Kate: Yeah it’s really tough to manage expectations after an IPO. I mean, I think there has been a lot of criticism towards Lyft now and I think it’s trading below its initial share price. So as I mentioned Lyft opened at $87 per share, it priced at $72, but almost immediately they began trading below that $72 price per share. So they closed Tuesday trading at $68.96 per share. Still boasting a market cap larger than $19 billion. So they’re still significantly valued at more than they were as a private company at $15 billion but it doesn’t look good to be trading below a price per share so quickly.

However, it actually did hit its IPO price for just a minute today, so maybe let’s give it a few more hours and see where it closes. It’s possible that it will sort of jump towards that $72, but it’s still trading quite significantly below that $87.

Kirsten: With IPOs like this, and especially such a high profile one, there’s going to be a ton of attention on share price and on volatility. And so I’m wondering, in your view, what did this first week, or first few days of volatility say to you? What does it say about Lyft’s future and, well certainly, its present?

Kate: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to say. I think a lot of people were questioning if Wall Street was going to be interested in a company like Lyft that’s extremely unprofitable at this time and has years left before it will reach profitability, if indeed it ever reaches profitability.

So at this point you got to wonder, do some of these investors that did buy Lyft right off the bat, were they really long on Lyft? Because it does look like a lot of those investors have already sold their stock and perhaps weren’t as invested in Lyft’s long-term profitability plan, which involves a lot of very iffy things, like the future of autonomous vehicles, which we’ll talk about later in this call. And there’s a lot of uncertainty there.

But with that said, it’s not uncommon for a stock to experience volatility right off the bat, and you can’t assume the future of that stock price just because of some early volatility.

And we gathered some examples of IPOs where there was some early volatility that did not determine the long term future. So Carvana, for example, which is an online used car dealer in the automotive space, and it did experience volatility at first, with the stock sliding in the first few months but ultimately trended upward.

Kate: So Carvana opened at $13.50 a share, falling below its IPO price, so it didn’t even have the IPO pop. And then in 2018, it hit an all-time high of $65 per share. Today, it’s trading around $58 per share, so that’s ultimately a positive story to be told there.

And then another example on the other side of things is Snap, which actually took four months to dip beneath its 2017 IPO price, and we all know Snap has definitely not been a success story and it’s trading well below its offer price. But then finally, Facebook, for example, dropped below its IPO price on its second day of trading and then actually had a rough first year on the stock market before the stock ultimately took off and became a very obvious success.

Kirsten: So, Kate, I’m wondering why you think that there was that initial run up on that first day. Was it excitement? Was there something material that was pushing the price up? What was the cause?

Kate: I think there was a lot of excitement and demand around this IPO because it was very much one-of-a-kind, and there were a lot of investors that it seemed were really long on the possibility of Lyft becoming this hugely profitable company. And I think a lot of that was because in the S1, although you did see these really, really big losses — quite major, just ridiculously huge losses — you did see that they were shrinking over time and that there was definitely a path in which Lyft could take where it would reach profitability, say, in the next five years.

And I think Wall Street was really paying attention to that, and they were not paying attention to some of the other metrics. Now, they’ve taken off their rose-colored glasses and they’re looking at Lyft as a public company, and it’s just a little bit different now that it’s actually completed its debut.

Kirsten: Well, so, I mean, I like to view IPOs often times, and especially in Lyft’s case, as a measure of an investors’ faith in the company’s growth prospects, because this is a company that while it does have quite a bit of revenue, it has significant losses and it’s really planning not just for the present day but for the future. It’s been called a disruptive business for a reason, and it is certainly very forward-looking. So I’m wondering if you think it was a good strategy for Lyft. They wanted to open it up to “the everyman” when they actually went to market. They did a different approach, and do you think this might have had an effect? I mean, it’s very on-brand for them to do this, but I’m wondering if you thought that means that some of the investors aren’t as disciplined.

Kate: Do you mean with the fact they were providing bonuses to their employees and drivers to actually participate in the IPO as well?

Kirsten: Absolutely. That’s actually a really good point that maybe you can elaborate on. Lyft did a little bit of a more open approach for its IPO. Typically IPOs can be closed off to only large, institutional investors. So did this set them up perhaps to have more volatility?

Kate: Yeah, Lyft provided some of their drivers up to, I think, $10,000 to, in theory, actually buy stock in the IPO. Do I think that had a high impact? I don’t know. I think there’s not enough comparison, not enough data to really make a decision or to make a hot take on whether that really was part of the volatility. I think just given the uncertain nature of Lyft’s future and their big losses, I think their volatility was pretty inevitable, and I think people paying attention to this are probably not particularly surprised by how the stock has fared in these first couple days.

And I do want to add there’s this six-month lock-up period for the venture capital funds that own Lyft and as well as their employees, so I think we’re not sure what’s going to happen when that lock-up period ends and those holders can just sell their stock right then or how that will impact the stock price, as well.

Image via TechCrunch/MRD

Kirsten: So something to keep an eye on. It reminds me a lot of a company I write a lot about, which is Tesla, and I’ve been covering them for years. And it’s one of the most volatile stocks, and their investors, they certainly have large, institutional investors, but the number of fanboys that they have with smaller investors, either prop up the share price sometimes or add to that volatility, and I’m kind of really curious to see if that happens with Lyft. If you go to a shareholder meeting at Tesla, for example, it’s filled with people who are passionate about the brand and its CEO, Elon Musk.

And Lyft and possibly Uber, if they end up finally going through with their IPO, you can see that potentially happening because people feel very strongly about the brand and also the service it provides. So I’m curious to see how this all sort of shakes out. And I tend to take the view that I invest personally in mutual funds and things like that. I don’t invest in any of these companies, but the long, patient view tends to be the better one, and trying to catch a falling knife, as investors have told me, is never really a good idea.

So I’m curious to see if investors sort of grow up and learn with Lyft, if they’ll become disciplined and just sort of wait it out and see them play out the growth prospects for the company in the long term. So, we’ve been talking about Lyft and I can’t not talk about Uber as a result. I’m wondering what you think this might mean for Uber. The big story initially was let’s beat Uber to IPO and I’m wondering what this means then. Is this indicative of what Uber is going to experience?

Kate: I think that question is really at the top of everyone’s mind right now, including my own. I will say that I still do think it was highly beneficial for Lyft to get out first. Because imagine if and when Uber does too experience volatility, which it probably will, if it were to have gone first, I think that would have frightened Lyft a lot more than Lyft’s volatility may or may not be frightening Uber. So, with that said, I think I’m of two minds right now with my thoughts on how this impacts Uber’s IPO. I think that if Lyft stock continues to be volatile and perhaps even falls lower than it already has. I do think that there is a chance Uber may ultimately decide to push its IPO back.

I think that for a few reasons, namely being that Uber is not in a huge rush to go public. They do have the ability to wait. They have filed to go public. So it’s likely to happen quite soon, but it may not happen in April as they are reportedly planning to do.

On the other hand, Lyft went public at like a $24 or $25 billion dollar market cap. Whereas Uber is going to debut at maybe a $120 billion dollar initial market cap. So these IPOs, although they are both ride hail IPOs and they are very similar companies in a lot of ways, they’re also very different and Uber is operating on an entirely different scale though it still is unprofitable. And has some of the same issues that, investors are probably noting about Lyft.

I think it’s either going to be that it’s maybe that they do decide to push it back or maybe that Uber is like, well we’re five times larger, six times larger. We have much larger statistics to show to investors. There’s just a chance it could go either way. I wish I had a better, more concrete answer, but I just don’t think we know yet.

Kirsten: Well I’m okay with not taking hot takes just a few days into this IPO. I think this is a good time to open it up to questions. While we wait for a question, I will do one quick follow up with you Kate. What do you think this means for Uber? Will it delay its IPO?

Kate: Right now, no, I don’t think they’re going to. But it’s like I said, it’s tough to say given that it’s only been a few days of Lyfts IPO. But no, I think you’ve got to imagine that they are ready to discuss the possibilities of Lyfts IPO and already planned ahead if there was volatility. They maybe already assumed that would happen, given that that’s not uncommon. So right now I’m going to say no, I don’t think they’re going to delay, but it’s certainly still a possibility.

Kirsten: Okay, great. I think another really interesting piece for Uber was their acquisition of Careem. This is a deal that was made right before their IPO, so it was shifting attention away from Lyft, just for a moment.

Why did Uber do this? Is this not a signal that they’re delaying their IPO? Is this just prepping for it? What are you hearing on it? I’m wondering if this might have just been a strategy to show the world investors, specifically potential shareholders, what the road ahead is going to look like. Or is it some other reason — Is it to justify their really big losses?

Image via Careem / Facebook

Kate: I think it’s the latter two things you said.  Just to give some background Uber is paying about $3.1 billion to acquire Careem, which is a Middle Eastern ride-hailing company. So basically just the Uber of the Middle East. Uber does have a history of acquiring, smaller competitors like this in different markets where it’s not active, just as a way for Uber to quickly grow essentially.

So I do think it’s a big deal to make just before going public. So I guess we don’t know if they necessarily will go public in April, but I think it was a move to present to public market investors as a prep for an IPO, to show “we just acquired this company, here’s more evidence of future growth”. Like you mentioned, it’s definitely a justification of those huge losses that we know Uber has.

Kirsten: Thanks for that. Questions?

Caller Question: Hi there, so when we talk about looking ahead and moving towards profitability — what role, if any, do you think the acquisition of a scooter or other mobility companies will have for companies like Lyft and Uber?

Kirsten: That’s a great question. I think it’s going to be a huge piece of both of their businesses. A lot of people describe this as the first ride-hailing IPO. We need to stop calling this a ride-hailing company. These are transportation-as-a-service companies and they’re making money. But generating revenue as opposed to making profit is a totally different thing. When you start talking about ridesharing, it’s a tough business. With those it’s an asset-light business, right? They don’t own the cars and then they technically don’t employ these drivers.

But at the same time, as of 2016 only something like 1% of people in the US were using rideshare. So you see this opportunity, but they’re not pushing forward. There is a ton of car ownership still that’s happening. Yes, sharing has absolutely increased, but 17 million new cars were sold in the US last year. So scooters, bike share and other businesses are going to be key to their paths to profitability because ride-sharing alone is just difficult to make a profit. It’s not difficult to generate revenue. It’s difficult to make a profit on.

And I’m wondering, talking about that road to profitability, I do think it’s worth noting how much they have grown. Lyft, hasn’t just survived, they’ve grown. 18.6 million people took at least one ride in the last quarter of 2018. That’s up from 16.6 million in late 2016, that illustrates the growth that the company has had.

They’ve also said that they have 39% share of the ride-sharing market in the US. That’s up from 22% in 2016. To me, the big question is let’s say they had Uber’s share, which is 66%, would they be able to make a profit? Is that the determination? And I’m not convinced that it is, which is why all these other aspects of the transportation-as-a-service business model are going to be really important.

Kate: I think what you pointed out is important, about Lyft and Uber both becoming transportation businesses, not ride-hailing companies and I think their long-term visions involve scooters, bikes, autonomous vehicles, all sorts of different models of transportation beyond just car sharing.

Kirsten: I hate to be wishy-washy here and say, I don’t know, but I do really think that it’s going to come down to a variety of items all coming together. It’s just not going to be enough for Lyft to scale up its ride-hailing business. And I should point out that Uber should be treated in some ways the same way, but there are some distinct differences. But it’s important for us to think of Lyft as a transportation-as-a-service business. I mean they say in their prospectus that transportation is a massive market opportunity. The hard part of course is turning that into a profit. There might be opportunity there.

So there’s this asset-light business that they have right now, which is the ride-hailing, but then they are making acquisitions in the micromobility space and that is going to become more capital intensive. And that’s going to force them to change their business. And then there’s the autonomous vehicle piece. And then finally, I actually think that one of the pieces of their S1 that has really not received much attention at all is what they’re pursuing in terms of public transportation. And they have said that they, and Uber, intend on being a piece of the public transit ecosystem.

Now that doesn’t mean that they’re going to necessarily be operating buses, but there are people that I’ve talked to in the industry who actually feel like, in Uber’s case, they want to control every mode of transportation. For Lyft, I see them seeing more of the opportunity financially with the data piece and becoming more of a platform and becoming that one-stop shop where you use an app to figure out if you want to use the scooter or a bike, or ride-hailing or buy that ticket for the L in Chicago or the Bart System.

So I really think that the public transit piece often gets ignored and cities are having so much more control now and weighing in. We see this in New York City with congestion pricing. It’s going to force Lyft and Uber to take advantage of these opportunities and use their platform in a way that perhaps accelerates faster than they had intended.

Kate: I’m very interested in the public transportation element, but I’m also very skeptical of the scooters and bikes in the future for Lyft, I think, given the unit economics, I certainly wouldn’t rely on them to be Lyft’s path to profitability. I think autonomous vehicles are a much more interesting path towards profitability. So a lot of companies, Uber, Lyft, Waymo and more are focusing on autonomous vehicles and their development, whether that be with hardware or software. How does Lyft’s strategy with autonomous vehicles differentiate from some of their competitors or does it does differentiate?

Kirsten: It does differentiate, and the funny thing is, is that so you don’t see micromobility necessarily as the oath to profitability and are interested in AVs and I write about AVs, but I see that AVs as a harder path to profitability in a way because of the nuts and bolts that it takes to develop them.

So just to weigh in really quickly on the micromobility piece and then I’ll move on to AVs; To show the opportunity but also the volatility in a real-world example for micromobility, I was in Austin for South by Southwest, I think you were there too, and you probably saw scooters everywhere, right? 18 months ago there were no scooters or bike share in the city. Then bike share came first.

Image via Flickr / Austin Transportation /

And I was talking to that mayor of Austin and one of the folks from Spin, which is a Ford owned business, and they told me something that was really remarkable that I hadn’t thought about, which was that scooters were disrupting the bike share business. So bikes share came in and then scooters came in and all of a sudden they’re pulling bikes off the streets because no one was using them or were not using them at the same level as scooters.

Lyft is going to go through these same exact growing pains and people are figuring out what works. And as you mentioned, the unit economics are an issue, the wear and tear on the scooters alone is driving up costs and driving down revenues certainly, but pretty much making it very difficult to make a profit on it.

But that’s a near term business, right? So it’s at least generating revenue right now. On the other hand, you have this other piece, which is the AV piece. Lyft is doing some really interesting things on the AV piece — they kind of have a two-prong approach.

So they basically created a ton of partnerships to use their platform. So this started a couple of years ago and companies like Aptiv,, even Waymo and nuTtonomy, which Aptiv just recently bought about a year ago and GM, and Lyft basically allows developers to use their platform and connect to their autonomous vehicle and offer these rides.

And the best example of this, if you’ve been to CES or if you have been to Las Vegas I should say more specifically, is this partnership that Lyft has with Aptiv — and Aptiv as a tier one supplier, they used to be called Delphi, they spun out, they bought nuTonomy, and they’re Aptiv now. And this is taking Aptiv automated BMW, which are on the Lyft network. If you hail a ride, you might be asked if you want a self-driving car, or “are you okay with a self-driving car?” And they have a safety driver, no humans have been pulled away from it yet. But they provided about 35,000 rides since I want to say January 2018.

Then they’re also doing Level 5, a dedicated self-driving vehicle division that launched in 2017. And here they’re basically creating an open self-driving system or open SDS. On top of that, they have partnered with Magna, an auto parts producer, to develop these self-driving systems that can be manufactured at scale.

And so you just see a rush of partnerships and sort of dual approaches and all of that costs a lot of money. And I can’t emphasize the amount of money that it costs or will cost to develop these systems and deploy them commercially. And I hear from other companies figures like $5 billion to get self-driving vehicles. So developing the full stack, doing fleet management, maintenance, all of that — that’s a lot of money. And, I’m not sure where Lyft, will get that capital, will they get it from the open market or will they have to go and ask for more capital.

Kate: So when do you think then that Lyft will be able to commercialize autonomous vehicles?

Kirsten: The timeline? So depending on who you talk to, you can hear from any of these developers between five years and 30 years. I think it’s important to talk about language and how we talk about autonomous vehicles. So to be clear, there is currently not a single commercial autonomous vehicle deployment where a human being or safety driver has been pulled away from the wheel. It just doesn’t exist.

There are plenty of pilots and Waymo is probably considered the leader in that list, though it is a bit of a confusing one for me because they have so many partnerships and they’ve become competitors to some of those partnerships. The analogy I use is “Survivor,” the reality show. Everyone wants to make these alliances so they don’t get voted off the island.

And now we’re at that point where autonomous vehicle development has entered what we call the trough of disillusionment, which is heads down, “let’s get away from the hype, let’s do the hard work.” And I think we’re going to see a lot of those partnerships and headwinds really come up in the next year, 18 months. So to put a target date on Lyft, it’s really going to depend on which one of those partnerships really play out and are real. I think the one with Aptiv seems the most real to me based on what I know the company is doing and I can see them doing a lot more pilots in the next 18 months.

Does that mean commercial deployment without a human safety driver behind the wheel? I’m not sure I can see a lot more these pilots with a human safety driver expanding beyond Las Vegas. I see pilots happening absolutely in the next year to 18 months. The issue is going to be when is that human safety driver going to be pulled out and with which partner.

Kate: So should we open it up to questions again?

Caller Question: Hi, I was just wondering how we should think about the regulatory risks that might exist as these companies expand to new cities, new markets, or even the public transport use case you mentioned. Thanks.

Kirsten: The regulatory piece is an interesting one. Let’s talk about ride-hailing first. We’ve already seen the regulatory environment, in cities, push back against companies like Uber and Lyft. I think the congestion pricing model that just launched in New York City is going to be one to watch and could be something that will put pressure on, on businesses like Lyft.

Kate: I agree and just to speak, quickly on the scooters; I think the narrative around scooters has been pretty dominated by how cities have forced them out or cities push these strict regulatory barriers on them. And I think that’s still playing out very much. There are even some scooter providers that have had to pull out of cities that they worked very hard to get into in the first place. So I think that has slowed down some of the growth there. And given that Lyft has micromobility as such a key part of their road to profitability, I think that’s partially why I am a little bit skeptical of how that’s gonna play out.

Kirsten: One thing we’ve found, and something to consider for Uber as well, in the future, if any of these AV developers end up, filing for IPOs on their own — there’s been chit chat about Waymo someday doing that or GM cruise someday— the implications for all of these companies and their relationship with cities should not be ignored or undervalued.

And I think you see a bit of that playing out with the present day track we have, which is the ride-hailing scooters and bike share cities and transit agencies or the DOT of different counties finding that they are in a more powerful position than they’ve ever been before. And they are exerting that power.

And so you will see instances like Los Angeles where they have put forth a mandatory data sharing component if you want to operate in their city. This raises some privacy concerns by the way, but it also adds another cost to a company or certainly forces them to look at their business a little bit differently.

Then you start talking about AVs and where are they will operate, how they will operate, where are they will park, what type of vehicle will be allowed in the urban center. In places like Europe, there are strict emissions rules, so that’s going to go to an AV or hybrid profile. And it’s important to think about what that regulatory framework might be and acknowledge the fact that it’s really a mishmash.

There are voluntary guidelines on the federal level right now, but there were no mandates. And so it’s really left up to the cities, counties and states to decide how an AV might be deployed. It’s going to mean probably more lobbyists in DC working with federal folks to ensure that their business doesn’t get hamstrung as a result as well as more of a presence in those cities and states and counties.

But Kate, I’m wondering what is your view from a startup perspective? Do you think of Lyft as a startup anymore are they acting like a startup or are they acting like a company that could handle all of these different complicated, various challenges? I mean, we’ve got pricing pressure, regulatory pressure or you’ve got AV development, opportunities with scooters and all this other stuff. So are they acting like a company that is able to handle this?

Image via Getty Images / Jeff Swensen

Kate: That’s an interesting question. I mean, they’re definitely not a startup anymore by, by anybody’s definition. You maybe could have still used that word, if they were still private, but even then, I know many people would yell at you for using that term for a company worth $15 billion. But now it’s a public company. It’s not a startup. I don’t think they’re acting like a startup, no. I think that they are mature in the way that they’re handling all of these different, so-called paths to profitability.

But we need to wait and see. Let’s see how this year goes, let’s see how they handle all the criticism that they’re going to undoubtedly take from Wall Street or from everyone who’s either interested in buying or just taking a seat and watching how the stock favors and then we’ll know what kind of lessons they took from all those years as a private company. Then we can decide if their behavior is really that of a mature public company.

Kirsten: I do want to make one point that I think is an interesting one on Lyft’s strategy versus Uber is in terms of AVs. Let’s all put a big asterisk that says no, AVs are still a ways out. It is important to note the Lyft and Uber’s strategies for AVs are wildly different and Uber does not take this dual approach. Uber is throwing a ton of capital towards developing their own, self-driving stack and also they’ve done, some acquisitions as well.

They’ve also had quite a bit of trouble. Last year Uber had the first self-driving vehicle fatality that happened in Tempe, Arizona, which looked like it was going to derail their self-driving unit, but it did not. They’re back, testing in a very limited way, but Lyft’s is all about what they call the democratization of autonomous vehicles.

And we can look at that as marketing speech, but I do think that it’s important to look at those words because it shows what their business model is. Their business model is partnerships, alliances, opening up the platform and casting the widest net possible. What I’m very interested to find out is which approach will end up being the winner. It’s going to be a very long game. It’s not going to be anything that’s going to be determined in the next year. I think what Lyft’s proven is that when they look like they’re down and out, they come back.

We’ll see what the better approach is. Do you do everything in-house and launch your own robo-taxi service? Or take capital partners on or do the Lyft approach, with multiple partners? Are partnerships actually too complicated? As someone who covers the startup world, do you have a thought on which one might work or not?

Kate: I have no idea which will work better and I’m sort of excited to see where this all goes, especially as Uber and Lyft are now going to be public.

That’s a good spot to end the call on.

Kirsten: Thanks so much for joining. Thanks again for being Extra Crunch subscribers, we really appreciate it. Bye everyone.

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Startups Weekly: Uber’s headline-grabbing week and sextech at SXSW

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I spent the week at SXSW, Austin’s really, really huge technology, music, comedy and film festival. It’s my first year making the trek down here for the event, which I did to interview sextech entrepreneur Lora DiCarlo founder Lora Haddock, whose robotics innovation reward was infamously revoked at this year’s CES.

“I brush my teeth and I masturbate. It’s all normal,” she said, addressing the stigma surrounding female-focused pleasure tech. Haddock, during our chat, also announced the first-ever government grant for a sextech startup, a $99,637 funding for Lora DiCarlo from the state of Oregon. Lora DiCarlo plans to release its first product, the Osé, this fall.

Here’s what happened while I was wandering confused around Austin.

Uber, Uber, Uber

Uber dominated the news cycle this week; here’s the TL;DR. The ride-hailing company is probably, most likely going to unveil its S-1 next month and it’s tying up some loose ends ahead of its big IPO. Uber wants to raise roughly $1 billion at a valuation of between $5 billion and $10 billion for its autonomous vehicles unit — yes, the same one that was burning through $20 million per month. Waymo, similarly, is looking to raise outside capital for the first time for its AV efforts.

Top TPG dealmaker caught in college admissions scandal

Bill McGlashan, who built his career as a top investor at the private equity firm TPG, was fired (or maybe quit?) says the firm after he was caught up in what the Justice Department said is the largest college admissions scandal it has ever prosecuted. Even worse, McGlashan lead TPG’s social impact strategy under the Rise Fund brand, making the charges particularly damning.

Accel gets $2.5B

HotelTonight and Slack stakeholder Accel raised $2.525 billion, sources confirm to TechCrunch; $525 million for its fourteenth early-stage fund, $1.5 billion for its fifth growth fund and $500 million for its second Leaders Fund, or a dedicated pool of capital meant to help the firm strengthen its positions on particularly competitive bets. Plus, 137 Ventures announced its fourth fund with $210 million in committed capital. The firm provides liquidity to founders and early employees of “sustainable, fast-growing, private companies.” In essence, 137 Ventures buys shares directly from employees at unicorn tech companies, like Palantir,  Flexport and Airbnb.

Sam Altman

Last week, we reported Y Combinator president Sam Altman would be stepping down to focus on OpenAI. TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos questions whether he had a positive or negative influence on the accelerator during his presidency. Altman was part of the first YC startup class in 2005 and began working part-time as a YC partner in 2011. He was ultimately made the head of the organization five years ago.

Brian O’Malley’s HotelTonight win

Forerunner Ventures general partner Brian O’Malley went long on HotelTonight and it paid off. For your weekend reading, we thought you might enjoy an oral history from O’Malley about how he stumbled upon HotelTonight and remained connected to the company across its nine-year history.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to or @KateClarkTweets

Startup cash

VC shakeups 

In an announcement that shocked VC Twitter, Tiger Global announced that Lee Fixel, whom Bill Gurley once said is one of the smartest investors on the scene, is leaving the firm at the end of June. Scott Shleifer and Chase Coleman will continue as co-managers of the portfolios Fixel has overseen, with Shleifer taking over as its head. “Lee has been a driving force behind the expansion of Tiger Global’s private equity investing activities in the United States and India, and he has distinguished himself as a world-class investor across multiple sectors and stages,” the firm stated. And on the hiring front, Canvas Ventures is expanding its team of three general partners to four with the hiring of Mike Ghaffary, a former general partner at Social Capital.

Extra Crunch

Subscribers to TechCrunch’s premium content can learn which types of startups are most often profitable.

Y Combinator’s latest batch

YC demo days are coming up quick. The TechCrunch staff has been meeting with YC startups and documenting their journey through the startup accelerator. I spoke to YourChoice Therapeutics, a startup developing unisex, non-hormonal birth control, and Bottomless, which operates a direct-to-consumer coffee delivery service. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney wrote about Jetpack Aviation, a YC startup, and its $380,000 flying motorcycle, and Adventurous, an augmented reality scavenger hunt crafted for families. TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey spoke to Ysplit, which wants to make it so you never have to owe anyone money ever again.

Listen to me talk

This week on Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines, Crunchbase News’ editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos discuss Uber’s IPO and Stash’s big round. Listen here.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

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Transportation Weekly: Waymo unleashes laser bear, Bird spreads its wings, Lyft tightens its belt

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Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fifth edition of our newsletter and we love the reader feedback. Keep it coming.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and 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). 

This week, we explore the world of light detection and ranging sensors known as LiDAR, young drivers, trouble in Barcelona, autonomous trucks in California, and China among other things.


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’re going to put our on analysis hats as we explore the world of LiDAR, a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. LiDAR is considered by most in the self-driving car industry (Tesla CEO Elon Musk being one exception) a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.

There are A LOT of companies working on LiDAR. Some counts track upwards of 70. For years now, Velodyne has been the primary supplier of LiDAR sensors to companies developing autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012.

Dozens of startups have sprung up with Velodyne in its sights. But now Waymo has changed the storyline.

To catch you up: Waymo announced this week that it will start selling its custom LiDAR sensors — the technology that was at the heart of a trade secrets lawsuit last year against Uber.

Waymo’s entry into the market doesn’t necessarily upend other companies’ plans. Waymo is going to sell its short range LiDAR, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, to companies outside of self-driving cars. It will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.

It does put pressure on startups, particularly those with less capital or those targeting the same customer base. Pitchbook ran the numbers for us to determine where the LiDAR industry sits at the moment. There are two stories here: there are a handful of well capitalized startups and we may have reached “peak” LiDAR. Last year, there were 28 VC deals in LiDAR technology valued at $650 million. The number of deals was slightly lower than in 2017, but the values jumped by nearly 34 percent.

The top global VC-backed LiDAR technology companies (by post valuation) are Quanergy, Velodyne (although mostly corporate backed), Aurora (not self-driving company Aurora Innovation), Ouster, and DroneDeploy. The graphic below, also courtesy of Pitchbook, shows the latest figures as of January 31, 2019.

Dig In

Researchers discovered that two popular car alarm systems were vulnerable to a manipulated server-side API that could be abused to take control of an alarm system’s user account and their vehicle.

The companies — Russian alarm maker Pandora and California-based Viper (or Clifford in the U.K.) — have fixed the  security vulnerabilities that allowed researchers to remotely track, hijack and take control of vehicles with the alarms installed. What does this all mean?

Our in-house security expert and reporter Zack Whittaker digs in and gives us a reality check. Follow him @zackwhittaker.

Since the first widely publicized car hack in 2015 proved hijacking and controlling a car was possible, it’s opened the door to understanding the wider threat to modern vehicles.

Most modern cars have internet connectivity, making their baseline surface area of attack far greater than a car that doesn’t. But the effort that goes into remotely controlling a vehicle is difficult and convoluted, and the attack — often done by chaining together a set of different vulnerabilities — can take weeks or even longer to develop.

Keyfob or replay attacks are far more likely than say remote attacks over the internet or cell network. A keyfob sends an “unlock” signal, a device captures that signal and replays it. By replaying it you can unlock the car.

This latest car hack, featuring flawed third-party car alarms, was far easier to exploit, because the alarm systems added a weakness to the vehicles that weren’t there to begin with. Car makers, with vast financial and research resources, do a far greater job at securing their vehicle than the small companies that focus on functionality over security. For now, the bigger risk comes from third parties in the automobile space, but the car makers can’t afford to drop their game either.

A little bird …

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


The California Department Motor Vehicles is the government body that regulates autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. The job of enforcement falls to the California Highway Patrol.

In an effort to gauge the need for more robust testing guidelines, the California Highway Patrol decided to hold an event at its headquarters in Sacramento. Eight companies working on autonomous trucking technology were invited. It was supposed to be a large event with local and state politicians in attendance. And it was supposed to validate autonomous trucking as an emerging industry.

There’s just one problem: only one AV trucking company is willing and able to complete this course. We hear that this AV startup actually already went ahead and completed the test course.

The California Highway Patrol has postponed event, for now, presumably until more companies can join.

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

Deal of the week

Instead of highlighting one giant deal, let’s step back and take a broader view of mobility this week. The upshot: 2018 saw a decline in total investments in the sector and money moved away from ride-hailing and towards two-wheeled transportation.

According to new research from EY, mobility investments in 2018 reached $39.1 billion, down from $55.2 billion in the previous year. (The figures EY provided was through November 2018).

Ride-hailing companies raised $7.1 billion in 2018, a 73 percent decline from the previous year when $26.7 billion poured into this sector.

Investors, it seems, are shifting their focus to other business models, notably first and last-mile connectivity. EY estimates $7 billion was invested in two-wheeler mobility companies such as bike-sharing and electric scooters in 2018. The U.S. and China together have contributed to more than 80 percent of overall two-wheeler mobility investments this year alone, according to EY research shared with TechCrunch.

Other deals:


Let’s talk about Generation Z, that group of young people born 1996 to the present, and one startup that is focused on turning that demographic into car owners.

There’s lots of talk and hand wringing about young people choosing not to get a driver’s license, or not buying a vehicle. In the UK, for instance, about 42 percent of young drivers aged 17 to 24, hold a driver’s license. That’s about 2.7 million people, according to the National Travel Survey 2018 (NTS) of the UK government’s department of transport. An additional 2.2 million have a provisional or learner license. Combined, that amounts to about 13 percent of the car driving population of the UK.

In the UK, evidence suggests that a rise in motoring costs have discouraged young people from learning. And there lies one opportunity that a new startup called Driver1 is targeting.

Driver 1 is a car subscription service designed exclusively for first car drivers aged 17 to 24. The company has been in stealth mode for about a year and is just now launching.

“The young driver market is being underserved by the car industry, Driver1 founder Tim Hammond told TechCrunch. “And primarily it’s the financing that’s not available for that age group. It’s also something that’s not really affordable for any of the car subscription models like and it’s not suitable for the OEM subscription services either financially or from an age perspective for young drivers.”

The company’s own research has found this group wants a newer car for 12 to 15 months.

“The car is the extension of their device,” Hammond said, noting these drivers don’t want the old junkers. “They want their iPhones and they want the car that goes with it.”

The company is working directly with leasing companies — not dealerships — to provide young drivers with 3 to 5-year-old cars that have lost 60 percent or so of their value. Driver1 is targeting under $120 a month for the customer and has a partnership with remarketing company Manheim, which is owned by Cox Automotive.

The startup is focused on the UK for now and has about 600 members who have reserved their cars for purchase. Driver1 is aiming to capture about 10 percent of the 1 million or so young people in the UK who pass their learners permit each year. The company plans it expand to France and other European countries in the fall.

Tiny but mighty micromobility

Bird Rocking Out GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Ca-caw, ca-caw! That’s the sound of Bird gearing up to launch Bird Platform in New Zealand, Canada and Latin America in the coming weeks. The platform is part of Bird’s mission to bring its scooters across the world “and empower local entrepreneurs in regions where we weren’t planning to launch to run their own electric-scooter sharing program with Bird’s tech and vehicles,” Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden told TechCrunch.

MRD’s two cents: Bird Platform seems like a way for Bird to make extra cash without having to do any of the work i.e. charging the vehicles, maintaining them and working with city officials to get permits. Smart!

Meanwhile, the dolla dolla bills keep pouring into micromobility. European electric scooter startup Voi Technology raised an additional $30 million in capital. That was on top of a $50 million Series A round just three months ago.

Oh, and because micromobility isn’t just for startups, Volkswagen decided to launch a kind of weird-looking electric scooter in Geneva. Because, why not?

Megan Rose Dickey

One more thing …

Lyft is trimming staff to prepare for its IPO. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden learned that the company has laid off about 50 staff in its bike and scooter division. It appears most of these folks are people who joined the Lyft through its acquisition of  electric bike sharing startup Motivate a deal that closed about three months ago.

Notable reads

It’s probably not smart to suggest another newsletter, but if you haven’t checked out Michael Dunne’s  The Chinese Are Coming newsletter, you should. Dunne has a unique perspective on what’s happening in China, particularly as it related to automotive and newer forms of mobility such as ride-hailing. One interesting nugget from his latest edition: there are more than 20 other new electric vehicle makers in China.

“Most will fall away within the next 3 to 4 years as cash runs out,” Dunne predicts.

Other quotable notables:

Here’s a fun read for the week. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney wrote about a YC Combinator startup Jetpack Aviation.The startup has launched pre-orders this week for the moonshot of moonshots, the Speeder, a personal vertical take-off and landing vehicle with a svelte concept design that looks straight out of Star Wars or Halo.

Testing and deployments

Spanish ride-hailing firm Cabify is back operating in Barcelona, Spain despite issuing dire warnings that new regulations issued by local government would crush its business and force it to fire thousands of drivers and leave forever. Turns out forever is one month.

The Catalan Generalitat issued a decree last month imposing a wait time of at least 15 minutes between a booking being made and a passenger being picked up. The policy was made to ensure taxis and ride-hailing firms are not competing for the same passengers, following a series of taxi strikes, which included scenes of violence. Our boots on the ground reporter Natasha Lomas has the whole story.

Sure, Barcelona is just one city. But what happened in Barcelona isn’t an isolated incident. The early struggles between conventional taxis and ride-hailing operations might be over, but that doesn’t mean the matter has been settled altogether.

And it’s not likely to go away. Once, robotaxis actually hit the road en masse — and yes, that’ll be awhile — these same struggles will pop up again.

Other deployments, or, er, retreats ….

Bike share pioneer Mobike retreats to China

On the autonomous vehicle front:

China Post, the official postal service of China, and delivery and logistics companies Deppon Express, will begin autonomous package delivery services in April. The delivery trucks will operate on autonomous driving technologies developed by FABU Technology, an AI company focused on intelligent driving systems.

On our radar

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

SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW. And there is a lot of mobility action here. Aurora CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson was on stage Saturday morning with Malcolm Gladwell. Mayors from a number of U.S. cities as well as companies like Ford and Mercedes are on the scene. Here’s where I’ll be. 

  • 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (local time) March 9 at the Empire Garage for the Smart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
  • 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (local time) March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
  • 3:30 p.m (local time) over at the Hilton Austin Downtown, I’ll be moderating a panel Re-inventing the Wheel: Own, Rent, Share, Subscribe. Sherrill Kaplan with Zipcar, Amber Quist, with Silvercar and Russell Lemmer with Dealerware will join me on stage.
  • TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here

Nvidia GTC

TechCrunch (including yours truly) will also be at Nvidia’s annual GPU Technology Conference from March 18 to 21 in San Jose.

Self Racing Cars

The annual Self Racing Car event will be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.

There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at

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

Nos vemos la próxima vez.

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Waymo to start selling standalone LiDAR sensors

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Waymo, the Google self-driving project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet, will start selling its custom LiDAR sensors — the technology that was at the heart of a trade secrets lawsuit last year against Uber .

The company announced Wednesday in a blog post that it will sell its light detection and ranging sensors, or LiDAR, to companies outside of self-driving cars. Waymo will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology. The sales will help the company scale its autonomous technology faster, making each sensor more affordable through economies of scale, Simon Verghese, head of Waymo’s Lidar team, wrote in a Medium post.

LiDAR measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. It’s considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles (although not everyone agrees).

Waymo has dedicated significant resources — time, people and money — toward the development of LiDAR in an effort to improve their capability and lower the cost. It’s a fundamental piece of the business and in 2017 prompted the company to file a lawsuit against Uber alleging theft of trade secrets by a former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski — and the alleged use of those secrets by Uber. The trial began in 2018; Uber and Waymo eventually reached a settlement.

Waymo has developed three LiDAR sensors. The company has been using a medium-range LiDAR, which is located on top of the car, since the early days of its project. Engineers there developed a short-range and a long-range LiDAR.

For now, Waymo is only going to sell its Laser Bear Honeycomb product, a short-range sensor that has a 95-degree vertical field of view and up to 360-degree horizontal FOV, which allows one Honeycomb sensor to “do the job of three other 3D sensors stacked on top of one another,” Waymo says.

The Honeycomb has a minimum range of zero, which means the sensor can see objects immediately in front of it. The short-range LiDAR would be most useful for low-speed applications when near-object detection and avoidance is necessary.

Waymo does have customers already, but the company isn’t naming them just yet. And it’s not disclosing the unit price of these LiDAR sensors. However, looking back at comments from Waymo CEO John Krafcik does help home in on the price.

In January 2017, Krafcik said Waymo engineers were able to bring the cost of LiDAR down 90 percent from the industry norm of $75,000 for a single top-of-the-range LiDAR. In other words, Krafcik was telling the world that Waymo’s top-of-range LiDAR cost about $7,500.

“This is critical as we look to commercialize self-driving technology,” Krafcik said at the time, during a keynote at the Detroit Auto Show.

Insiders say those costs have fallen further thanks to continuous advances by the team. And considering that this short-range LiDAR is cheaper than the top-of-range product, the price is likely under $5,000 a unit.

Lowering the cost and size of LiDAR sensors has been a pursuit taken up by industry mainstay Velodyne, which the Google self-driving project, now Waymo used until 2012, as well as dozens of others, including Luminar, Israeli startups Innoviz and Oryx Vision, and Ouster. A recent count of LiDAR startups hovered around 70, according to sources in the industry.

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Anthony Levandowski will be speaking at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI April 18 at UC Berkeley

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Late last week, we announced the schedule for April 18’s TC Sessions: Robotics + AI event at UC Berkeley, including some heavy hitters like Marc Raibert, Melonee Wise and Ken Goldberg. At the time, we noted we still had some big names left to reveal — and we weren’t joking.

Today we’re excited to announce that we’ll be joined by autonomous vehicle pioneer Anthony Levandowski.

Levandowski is the co-founder and CEO of Pronto, a new startup developing aftermarket kits for semi-trucks. The company is touting the safety potential of autonomous vehicle technologies for cross-country hauls. “We are not building technology that tells vehicles how to drive,” he wrote in a Medium post announcing Pronto’s launch. “Instead, our team of engineers is building tech that can learn how to drive the way people do.”

Before founding Pronto, Levandowski served as the head of Uber’s autonomous vehicle program and helped Google develop its own initiative that ultimately became Waymo. The engineer began his career by building the autonomous motorcycle Ghostrider for DARPA’s Grand Challenge.

Early-bird ticket sales end in less than two weeks. Grab your ticket for just $249 today and save $100. Student tickets are on sale for just $45 and can be purchased here.

Are you an early-stage startup in robotics or AI? Grab a $1,500 demo table at the event and get your company in front of 1,000+ tech enthusiasts and investors.

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