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Transportation

One of Uber’s flying taxi partners just raised a $25 million Series A round

One of Uber’s flying taxi partners just raised a $25 million Series A round

July 16, 2019

Uber Air, the transportation company’s upcoming flying taxi service, needs vehicle partners in order to make it a reality. Karem Aircraft, which Uber partnered with last year, has just raised a $25 million Series A round for its new air taxi spin-off. The round was led by Korean industrial conglomerate Hanwha Systems.

“Karem’s technology for making safe, quiet, and efficient air taxi vehicles excites all of us,” Uber Elevate head Eric Allison said in a statement. “Hanwha’s Series A investment in Karem’s new air taxi entity accelerates efforts to bring the Butterfly to market, and we look forward to flying riders in places like Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne in the near future.”

Uber is aiming to start testing these aircraft next year, and wants to commercially deploy Uber Air in Los Angeles, Calif., Dallas-Fort Worth/Frisco, Texas and Melbourne, Australia in 2023.

Karem’s new venture is designed to focus solely on electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles, specifically its Butterfly air taxi vehicle.

The Butterfly (rendered above) is a quad tiltrotor with four large rotors mounted on the wings and tail. The idea is to combine the vertical lift capability of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. The Butterfly is also designed to be more efficient as a result of its rotors with variable RPM.

“The new company will be able to focus exclusively on bringing Butterfly to market, leveraging Karem’s optimum speed rotor technology, Hanwha’s industrial scale, and Uber’s ridesharing network,” Ben Tigner, CEO of the new venture, said in a statement. “We look forward to the day when riders will be able to commute to work by flying above the traffic in one of our vehicles. Karem Aircraft will continue to serve the needs of its military customers; we are confident that …

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Elon Musk is raising the price of Tesla’s ‘full self-driving’ feature by another $1,000

Elon Musk is raising the price of Tesla’s ‘full self-driving’ feature by another $1,000

July 16, 2019

The price of a Tesla vehicle equipped with “full self-driving” is about to get more expensive, the second time in the past several months the company has increased fees for a feature that isn’t completely functional.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Tuesday that the price of its full self-driving option will increase by $1,000 on August 16. Full self-driving, or FSD — a feature that Musk promises will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities — currently costs $6,000.

Musk has previously said the price of FSD will “increase substantially over time.” The first increase, which raised the price from $5,000 to $6,000, went into effect May 1. In previous tweets, Musk has said the total increase would be “something like” around the $3,000+ figure. This means buyers should prepare for more price hikes even after this latest one.

It’s a strategy that Musk repeated on Tuesday, noting in an additional tweet that the “cost of the Tesla FSD option will increase every few months. Those who buy it earlier will see the benefit.”

Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. Musk has promised that the advanced driver assistance capabilities on Tesla vehicles will continue to improve until eventually reaching full automation.

Today, Tesla vehicles come standard with Autopilot, an advanced driver assistance system that offers a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane steering. Tesla once charged for this feature as well, but made it standard in April 2019.

The more robust and higher-functioning version of Autopilot is called …

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The mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette has been given a name

The mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette has been given a name

July 15, 2019

The first mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette will have a familiar name. The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette will debut as a “Stingray” when it’s revealed July 18.

If that sounds familiar, it is. Numerous Corvette model years have been dubbed Stingray, beginning in 1963 with the second generation of the sports car.

The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette will debut as a Stingray on July 18, 2019.

The Stingray nameplate ran until 1976. GM’s Chevrolet brand brought the name back in 2014 with the seventh-generation Corvette. Chevrolet announced Monday that the “Stingray name will live on.”

For weeks now, Chevrolet has been trickling out news and other teasers about its eighth-generation Corvette. Earlier this month, the brand showed off the steering wheel of the next-generation Corvette.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel has the Corvette crossed flags logo as the centerpiece with two spokes. Controls are integrated into the wheel. The steering wheel has a squared-off shape with a rather large opening, which suggests that designers wanted to provide a proper view to a large digital cluster.

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Waze now shows road toll prices along your driving route

Waze now shows road toll prices along your driving route

July 15, 2019

Navigation app Waze is making getting to where you’re going even easier — or at least more transparent. A new feature rolling out today will show you any tolls along your route, including the actual amount you’re going to pay, across both the U.S. and Canada.

This is above and beyond what you’ll get in most navigation apps, where you might get a visual or text indicator that there is a toll on one of the roads in your path (and you can opt to avoid them if possible) but you won’t know what you’re actually paying. With Waze, you’ll get the amount — sourced from its community of user-drivers, rather than direct from the official toll road operators — but Waze’s crowd-sourced navigation data often has a leg up on the official source in other cases.

Waze will show you the toll prices up front, too, before the navigation actually gets under way, which is great, because that’s when you actually have the opportunity to do something about it, whether it’s scrounging seat-cushion change or just choosing to drive a different way.

This will be rolling out beginning today, so keep an eye out if you’re trying to get somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.

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Yandex-Uber JV MLU acquires regional rival Vezet for shares and $71.5M in cash

Yandex-Uber JV MLU acquires regional rival Vezet for shares and $71.5M in cash

July 15, 2019

On-demand transportation giant Uber made its name in part by aggressively entering new markets on a path of organic growth, but in recent times, it has shown itself more amenable to the concept of expansion through acquisition. Today, MLU, Uber’s ride-sharing and food delivery JV with Yandex (by way of Yandex .taxi) covering cities in Russia and surrounding regions, announced that it has acquired Vezet, a smaller rival that operates in 123 markets in the same region, for a price that’s estimated to be in the region of $204 million.

Alongside that MLU said that it would be investing an further 8 billion rubles ($127 million) in the Russian regions over the next three years, with half towards safety and security — including driver training — and half for “supporting regional drivers and taxi fleet companies.” (The latter could be in the form of special incentives to continue encouraging them to drive with MLU over others, and other loyalty programs.)

Current shareholders of Vezet “will receive new shares in MLU, representing up to 3.6% of the issued share capital of the company at closing, together with up to $71.5 million in cash,” based on Vezet meeting certain performance and integration targets, the companies said. Part of that integration will involve moving all of Vezet onto a single platform with MLU.

To be clear, the companies did not disclose the approximate valuation of the deal based on these percentages, but as a marker, when Uber last valued MLU ahead of its public listing, it put the figure at $3.68 billion. That would put shares of 3.6% at just under $132.5 million, valuing the Vezet transaction in total at around $204 million. (This is assuming that the valuation of MLU, prior to this acquisition, has not changed in the last three …

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Hellobike, survivor of China’s bike-sharing craze, goes electric

Hellobike, survivor of China’s bike-sharing craze, goes electric

July 15, 2019

Just two years ago, investors were heavily pouring money into China’s dockless bike-sharing startups. Now that boom has busted with derelict bikes littering the streets of cities.

Meanwhile, a new race has started for two-wheelers with motors — and one of the main players is a survivor from the bike-sharing craze. Blessed with fundings from the world’s most valuable fintech company Ant Financial through its Series D to F funding rounds, Hellobike provides a range of mobility services such as shared e-bikes and rented electric scooters to its 230 million registered users.

Electric push

Hellobike first launched in 2016 by deploying shared bikes in smaller cities and towns — where Ofo and Mobike were largely absent early on — rather than large urban centers like Beijing and Shanghai. This allowed Hellobike to largely avoid the cash splurging competition against Ofo and Mobike.

Ofo is now battling a major financial crisis as it struggles to repay user deposits. Its archrival Mobike has slowed down expansion since it was sold to Hong Kong-listed local services giant Meituan. And Hellobike, which boasts about its operational efficiency, has begun an electric push.

“When the two major powers were at war, neither of them went after electric bikes. They were fighting over bicycles,” Hellobike’s chief financial officer Fischer Chen (pictured above) recently told TechCrunch at Rise conference in Hong Kong, referring to the feud between Mobike and Ofo. “As such, there was no price war for e-bikes from the outset. The competition is rational.”

Electric two-wheeled vehicles are in high demand in the country where nearly 1.4 billion people live. According to data collected by Hellobike, nearly 300 million rides are completed on analog bikes every day in China. What many don’t realize is that pedal-assist electric bikes and pedal-free scooters together more …

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Bird has ‘positive unit economics’ with its custom scooter model, CEO says

Bird has ‘positive unit economics’ with its custom scooter model, CEO says

July 12, 2019

Bird has positive unit economics, CEO Travis VanderZanden said Friday in a fiery response to a report from The Information that the scooter startup was seeking $300 million in new funding, had lost nearly $100 million and saw its revenue shrink to about $15 million.

VanderZanden did not disclose Bird’s revenue. However, in a series of tweets the CEO argued that the company was making money on every ride.

Bird makes $1.27 on every ride on its Bird Zero scooters, which accounts for more than 75% of its fleet, VanderZanden said.

That figure is notable — and yet it doesn’t provide the whole picture. Based on one of the images VanderZanden tweeted, it seems that figure is based on a period of four weeks in the summer, when scooter ridership is likely higher.

He also tweeted that the company’s run rate is four times higher from this time last year. Though, the chart he tweeted was missing the Y axis.

Bird Zero, its custom scooter model that is designed to be more durable and therefore last longer, first launched in October.

In May, Bird unveiled the Bird One, which features a battery designed to last twice as long, cover a longer range and last more than 4x longer in the shared space.

VanderZanden pushed back on other elements of The Information’s report, noting that the $100 million figure “was a one-time accounting write-off from old retail scooters b/c our original depreciation window was too long.”

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Behold, the mid-engine 2020 C8 Corvette’s steering wheel

Behold, the mid-engine 2020 C8 Corvette’s steering wheel

July 12, 2019

The new 2020 C8 Corvette won’t be revealed for six more days. But to hold us over, Chevrolet is showing off the steering wheel of the eighth-generation vehicle.

The photo, which Chevy teased Friday, is just the steering wheel. But there are hints and insights that even this single photo provides. For one, this new generation is unlike any of its predecessors.

The leathered-wrapped steering wheel has the Corvette crossed flags logo as the centerpiece with two spokes. Controls are integrated into the wheel. The steering wheel has a squared-off shape with a rather large opening, which suggests that designers wanted to provide a proper view to a large digital cluster. (We’ll find out July 18.)

The steering wheel of the eighth generation of the Corvette C8.

Chevy also posted photos of all the previous generations of the Corvette steering wheels. Here’s a photo of the seventh generation, which had a flat-bottom design and was in model years 2014 to 2019.

corvette seventh gen steering wheel

Corvette will make its debut at 7:30 p.m. PT July 18 in Orange County, California. But it will also be live-streamed. The stream will include Corvette video footage, a hosted pre-show and the reveal presentation, the company has said.

This Corvette is hotly anticipated because it’s, well, a Corvette. But it’s also because this one will have a mid-mounted engine — which has been rumored and speculated about for decades.

Following the reveal, this new-generation Corvette will go on a U.S. roadshow, visiting some 125 dealerships. The tour will include vehicle specialists and numerous interactive displays, and customizable parts such as seats, wheels and accessories will be on display.

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Another state is looking at propelling people through tubes at 670 mph

Another state is looking at propelling people through tubes at 670 mph

July 12, 2019

Another state — this time North Carolina — has been enticed by the idea of hyperloop, the futuristic and still theoretical transit platform that will shuttle people and packages at speeds of up to 670 miles per hour between cities.

Virgin Hyperloop One and North Carolina’s Regional Transportation Alliance announced Friday the beginning of “an exploration” into using hyperloop to connect the state’s research triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

There is still a long way to go before hyperloop or this particular route that Virgin Hyperloop One is exploring  becomes a reality. Theoretically, if this one were built, it would take less than 10 minutes to travel between Raleigh and Durham or Chapel Hill, according to a pre-feasibility study carried out by AECOM. That would be a lynchpin for the area, which is home to some of the country’s top companies, universities and healthcare centers.

How this plays out is now in the hands of the North Carolina Department of Transportation. But based on comments at an event Friday, the state agency is not only interested in the research triangle; it also plans to look at expanding on the original idea and investigate a line that would connect to Charlotte and Washington, D.C.

The process from here on out will be a slow one. While state agencies investigate the feasibility of building hyperloop, Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO) is working on certifying the technology to carry humans. That certification process, which currently doesn’t exist, will likely take years. VHO aims to be certified by 2023 and have one of its hyperloop platforms in place by 2029.

The announcement follows a few milestones for VHO, including a recent demonstration in Washington, D.C. and the funding of NETT, or the Non traditional & Emerging Transportation Technologies Council, which will research and …

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This new autonomous startup has designed its delivery robot to conquer winter

This new autonomous startup has designed its delivery robot to conquer winter

July 11, 2019

Refraction, a new autonomous delivery robot company that came out of stealth Wednesday at TC Sessions: Mobility, sees opportunity in areas most AV startups are avoiding: regions with the worst weather.

The company, founded by University of Michigan professors Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan, calls its REV-1 delivery robot the “Goldilocks of autonomous vehicles.”

The pair have a long history with autonomous vehicles. Johnson-Roberson got his start by participating in the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004 and stayed in academia researching and then teaching robotics. Vasudevan’s career had a stint at Ford working on control algorithms for autonomous operations on snow and ice. Both work together at University of Michigan’s Robotics Program.

The REV-1 is lightweight and low cost — there are no expensive lidar sensors on the vehicle — it operates in a bike lane and is designed to travel in rain or snow, Johnson-Roberson, co-founder and CEO of Refraction told TechCrunch.

The robot, which debuted onstage at the California Theater in San Jose during the event, is about the size of an electric bicycle. The REV-1 weighs about 100 pounds and stands about 5 feet tall and is 4.5 feet long. Inside the robot is 16 cubic feet of space, enough room to fit four or five grocery bags.

It’s not particularly fast — top speed is 15 miles per hour. But because it’s designed for a bike lane, it doesn’t need to be. That slower speed and lightweight design allows the vehicle to have a short stopping distance of about five feet.

Refraction has backing from eLab Ventures and Trucks Venture Capital.

Consumers have an appetite and an expectation for on-demand goods that are delivered quickly. But companies are struggling to find consistent, reliable and economical ways to address that need, said Bob Stefanski, managing director …

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