Transportation

Omni storage & rentals fails, shutters, sells engineers to Coinbase

Posted by | Apps, clutter, coinbase, Collaborative Consumption, eCommerce, Exit, Flybridge Capital Partners, founders fund, Fundings & Exits, Highland Capital Partners, Logistics, Mobile, Omni, payments, rentals, Startups, TC, Transportation | No Comments

$35 million-funded Omni is packing up and shutting down after struggling to make the economics of equipment rentals and physical on-demand storage work out. It’s another victim of a venture capital-subsidized business offering a convenient service at an unsustainable price.

The startup fought for a second wind after selling off its physical storage operations to competitor Clutter in May. Then sources tell me it tried to build a whitelabel software platform for letting brick-and-mortar merchants rent stuff like drills or tents as well as sell them so Omni could get out of hands-on logistics. But now the whole company is folding, with Coinbase hiring roughly 10 of Omni’s engineers.

“They realized that the core business was just challenging as architected” a source close to Omni tells TechCrunch. “The service was really great for the consumer but when they looked at what it would take to scale, that would be difficult and expensive.” Another source says Omni’s peak headcount was around 70.

The news follows TechCrunch’s report in October that Omni had laid off operations teams members and was in talks to sell its engineering team to Coinbase. Omni had internally discussed informing its retail rental partners ahead of time that it would be shutting down. Meanwhile, it frantically worked to stop team members from contacting the press about the startup’s internal troubles.

We’ll be winding down operations at Omni and closing the platform by the end of this year. We are proud of what we built and incredibl y thankful for everyone who supported our vision over the past five and a half years” an Omni spokesperson says. Omni CEO Tom McLeod did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Oddly, Omni was still allowing renters to pay for items as of this morning, though it’s already shut down its blog and hasn’t made a public announcement about its shut down.

Coinbase has reached an agreement with Omni to hire members of its engineering team. We’re always looking for top-tier engineering talent and look forward to welcoming these new team members to Coinbase” a Coinbase spokesperson tells us. The team was looking for more highly skilled engineers they could efficiently hire as a group, though it’s too early to say what they’ll be working on.

Omni originaly launched in 2015, offering to send a van to your house to pick up and index any of your possession, drive them to a nearby warehouse, store them, and bring them back to you whenever you needed for just a few dollars per month. It seemed too good to be true and ended up being just that.

Eventually Omni pivoted towards letting you rent out what you were storing so you and it could earn some extra cash in 2017. Sensing a better business model there, it sold its storage business to Softbank-funded Clutter and moved to helping retail stores run rental programs. But that simply required too big of a shift in behavior for merchants and users, while also relying on slim margins.

Omni Rentals

One major question is whether investors will get any cash back. Omni raised $25 million from cryptocurrency company Ripple in early 2018. Major investors include Flybridge, Highland, Allen & Company, and Founders Fund, plus a slew of angels.

The implosion of Omni comes as investors are re-examining business fundamentals of startups in the wake of Uber’s valuation getting cut in half in the public markets and the chaos at WeWork ahead of its planned IPO. VCs and their LPs want growth, but not at the cost of burning endless sums of money to subsidize prices just to lure customers to a platform.

It’s one thing if the value of the service is so high that people will stick with a startup as prices rise to sustainable levels, as many have with ride hailing. But for Omni, ballooning storage prices pissed off users as on-demand became less afforable than a traditional storage unit. Rentals were a hassle, especially considering users had to pick-up and return items themselves when they could just buy the items and get instant delivery from Amazon.

Startups that need a ton of cash for operations and marketing but don’t have a clear path to ultra-high lifetime value they can earn from customers may find their streams of capital running dry.

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Ghost wants to retrofit your car so it can drive itself on highways in 2020

Posted by | Android, Argo AI, Automation, automotive, autonomous car, AV, california, controller, Emerging-Technologies, founders fund, Ghost Locomotion, gps, IBM, Keith Rabois, Khosla Ventures, Lyft, machine learning, Mike Speiser, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Pure Storage, robotics, self-driving cars, sutter hill ventures, TC, technology, Tesla, transport, Transportation, Uber, unmanned ground vehicles, waymo, zoox | No Comments

A new autonomous vehicle company is on the streets — and unbeknownst to most, has been since 2017. Unlike the majority in this burgeoning industry, this new entrant isn’t trying to launch a robotaxi service or sell a self-driving system to suppliers and automakers. It’s not aiming for autonomous delivery, either.

Ghost Locomotion, which emerged Thursday from stealth with $63.7 million in investment from Keith Rabois at Founders Fund, Vinod Khosla at Khosla Ventures and Mike Speiser at Sutter Hill Ventures, is targeting your vehicle.

Ghost is developing a kit that will allow privately owned passenger vehicles to drive autonomously on highways. And the company says it will deliver in 2020. A price has not been set, but the company says it will be less than what Tesla charges for its Autopilot package that includes “full self-driving” or FSD. FSD currently costs $7,000.

This kit isn’t going to give a vehicle a superior advanced driving assistance system. The kit will let human drivers hand control of their vehicle over to a computer, allowing them to do other activities such as look at their phone or even doze off.

The idea might sound similar to what Comma.ai is working on, Tesla hopes to achieve or even the early business model of Cruise. Ghost CEO and co-founder John Hayes says what they’re doing is different.

A different approach

The biggest players in the industry — companies like Waymo, Cruise, Zoox and Argo AI — are trying to solve a really hard problem, which is driving in urban areas, Hayes told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

“It didn’t seem like anyone was actually trying to solve driving on the highways,” said Hayes, who previously founded Pure Storage in 2009. “At the time, we were told that this is so easy that surely the automakers will solve this any day now. And that really hasn’t happened.”

Hayes noted that automakers have continued to make progress in advanced driver assistance systems. The more advanced versions of these systems provide what the SAE describes as Level 2 automation, which means two primary control functions are automated. Tesla’s Autopilot system is a good example of this; when engaged, it automatically steers and has traffic-aware cruise control, which maintains the car’s speed in relation to surrounding traffic. But like all Level 2 systems, the driver is still in the loop.

Ghost wants to take the human out of the loop when they’re driving on highways.

“We’re taking, in some ways, a classic startup attitude to this, which is ‘what is the simplest product that we can perfect, that will put self driving in the hands of ordinary consumers?’ ” Hayes said. “And so we take people’s existing cars and we make them self-driving cars.”

The kit

Ghost is tackling that challenge with software and hardware.

The kit involves hardware like sensors and a computer that is installed in the trunk and connected to the controller area network (CAN) of the vehicle. The CAN bus is essentially the nervous system of the car and allows various parts to communicate with each other.

Vehicles must have a CAN bus and electronic steering to be able to use the kit.

The camera sensors are distributed throughout the vehicle. Cameras are integrated into what looks like a license plate holder at the back of the vehicle, as well as another set that are embedded behind the rearview mirror.

A third device with cameras is attached to the frame around the window of the door (see below).

Initially, this kit will be an aftermarket product; the company is starting with the 20 most popular car brands and will expand from there.

Ghost intends to set up retail spaces where a car owner can see the product and have it installed. But eventually, Hayes said, he believes the kit will become part of the vehicle itself, much like GPS or satellite radio has evolved.

While hardware is the most visible piece of Ghost, the company’s 75 employees have dedicated much of their time on the driving algorithm. It’s here, Hayes says, where Ghost stands apart.

How Ghost is building a driver

Ghost is not testing its self-driving system on public roads, an approach nearly every other AV company has taken. There are 63 companies in California that have received permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicle technology (always with a human safety driver behind the wheel) on public roads.

Ghost’s entire approach is based on an axiom that the human driver is fundamentally correct. It begins by collecting mass amounts of video data from kits that are installed on the cars of high-mileage drivers. Ghost then uses models to figure out what’s going on in the scene and combines that with other data, including how the person is driving by measuring the actions they take.

It doesn’t take long or much data to model ordinary driving, actions like staying in a lane, braking and changing lanes on a highway. But that doesn’t “solve” self-driving on highways because the hard part is how to build a driver that can handle the odd occurrences, such as swerving, or correct for those bad behaviors.

Ghost’s system uses machine learning to find more interesting scenarios in the reams of data it collects and builds training models based on them.

The company’s kits are already installed on the cars of high-mileage drivers like Uber and Lyft drivers and commuters. Ghost has recruited dozens of drivers and plans to have its kits in hundreds of cars by the end of the year. By next year, Hayes says the kits will be in thousands of cars, all for the purpose of collecting data.

The background of the executive team, including co-founder and CTO Volkmar Uhlig, as well as the rest of their employees, provides some hints as to how they’re approaching the software and its integration with hardware.

Employees are data scientists and engineers, not roboticists. A dive into their resumes on LinkedIn and not one comes from another autonomous vehicle company, which is unusual in this era of talent poaching.

For instance, Uhlig, who started his career at IBM Watson Research, co-founded Adello and was the architect behind the company’s programmatic media trading platform. Before that, he built Teza Technologies, a high-frequency trading platform. While earning his PhD in computer science he was part of a team that architected the L4 Pistachio microkernel, which is commercially deployed in more than 3 billion mobile Apple and Android devices.

If Ghost is able to validate its system — which Hayes says is baked into its entire approach — privately owned self-driving cars could be on the highways by next year. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could potentially step in, Ghost’s approach, like Tesla, hits a sweet spot of non-regulation. It’s a space, that Hayes notes, where the government has not yet chosen to regulate.

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A bike lover’s take on the Cowboy e-bike

Posted by | Cowboy, e-bike, eletric bike, Europe, Gadgets, Startups, TC, Transportation | No Comments

Electric-bike maker Cowboy recently let me spend a couple of weeks with one of their e-bikes. It’s a well-designed e-bike that makes biking effortless, even if you’re going uphill.

Cowboy is a Brussels-based startup. The company raised a $3 million seed round a couple of years ago and an $11.1 million (€10 million) Series A round last year.

The company designs e-bikes from scratch. Components feel more integrated than in a normal e-bike. And it also opens up some possibilities when it comes to connectivity and smart features.

Cowboy sells its bikes directly to consumers on its online store. It is currently available in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria for €2,000 ($2,220).

I rode 70 kilometers (43 miles) in the streets of Paris to try it out. For context, riding a bike in Paris is nothing new for me. I primarily use my non-electric bike to go from point A to point B — bikes are commuting devices for me. And given that Cowboy is primarily designed for densely populated cities, I thought I’d give it a try.

Cowboy 5

From the outside, the Cowboy e-bike is a sleek bike. It features a seamless triangle-shaped aluminum frame, integrated lights and a low-key Cowboy logo near the saddle. The handlebar is perfectly straight like on a mountain bike. The only sign that this is an e-bike is that the frame is much larger below the saddle.

The e-bike is relatively light at 16 kg (35 lbs). Most of the weight is at the back of the Cowboy e-bike because of the battery. But an investor in the startup told me that it wasn’t a problem and that he was even able to attach a baby seat at the back.

There are two things you’re going to notice quite quickly: there are no gears and there’s a rubber and fiberglass belt. Cowboy has opted for an automatic transmission — motor assistance kicks in automatically when you need it the most, such as when you start pedaling, accelerate or go uphill.

Cowboy 4

If you usually ride on a normal bike, this feels weird at first. I constantly shift from one gear to another. With the Cowboy e-bike, you have to trust the bike and forget about gears.

The electric motor kicks in a second after you start pedaling. It means that you are much faster than people using regular bikes. And you can reach a speed of 30 to 35 kmph in no time (18 to 22 mph). Yes, this bike is fast.

Fortunately, the brakes work surprisingly well. You have to be careful with them. If you’re braking too hard, you’ll skid, especially if it’s raining.

I was able to ride from one end of Paris to another without breaking a sweat. Sure, the Cowboy e-bike is fast, but I only saved a few minutes compared to my non-electric bike. You still spend a lot of time waiting at big intersections.

In fact, riding the Cowboy e-bike felt more like riding a moped-style scooter. You start your engine at a green light, ride as quickly as possible, brake aggressively at a red light and spend more time waiting at intersections. I believe an e-bike makes more sense in larger cities with huge hills. Paris is much, much smaller than London or Berlin, after all.

Cowboy 6

You may have noticed that the Cowboy e-bike doesn’t have fenders. Cowboy will start selling custom-designed fenders for €89 in a few weeks ($100).

Another thing worth noting is that you have to be relatively tall to use the Cowboy e-bike. I’m 1.75 m tall (5’ 8”) and I lowered the saddle as much as possible. If you’re just a tiny bit smaller than me, chances are it’s going to be too high for you. Similarly, naming your brand “Cowboy” doesn’t make your bike particularly attractive for women.

Cowboy 2

When it comes to connectivity, the Cowboy e-bike isn’t just an electric bike — it’s also a smart bike. It has built-in GPS tracking and an integrated SIM card.

After pairing the bike with your phone using Bluetooth, you can control it from a mobile app. In particular, you can lock and unlock the bike, turn on and off the lights and check the battery. It would have been nice to put a light sensor on the bike itself as you may forget to turn on the lights at night. You also can get a rough idea of the current battery level without the mobile app — there are five LEDs on the frame of the device.

Thanks to GPS capabilities and the integrated SIM card, you can locate your bike using a feature called “Find my Bike.” The company also sells insurance packages for €8 to €10 per month with theft insurance and optionally damage insurance.

Cowboy 10 1

I recharged the battery once during my testing. According to the company, you can get up to 70 km on a single charge (43 miles). I got less than that, but I also tried the off-road mode, which consumes more battery. Unless you’re going on a long bike trip, range isn’t an issue for city rides.

When it’s time to recharge the battery, you can detach the battery with a key and bring it back home. This is a great feature for people living in apartments, as you can leave your bike at its normal parking spot and plug in the battery at home. The battery was full after three to four hours.

Cowboy 11

Cowboy battery charger; tomato for scale

Overall, the Cowboy e-bike is the perfect commuting bike for people living in large cities. It’s a smooth and well-designed experience. If you’re looking for an e-bike, you should definitely consider the Cowboy e-bike as one of your options. I recommend you book a test ride before buying one though.

If you’re happy with a normal bike like me, the Cowboy e-bike is 100% an e-bike. Don’t expect to get the same experience on a Cowboy e-bike. It’s a completely different thing. But I’m glad e-bikes exist, because they are going to convince more people to ditch their cars and moped-style scooters.

Cowboy 1

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Unagi is the iPhone of scooters you actually buy

Posted by | Billie Eilish, Boosted Boards, David Hyman, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, hardware, menlo ventures, micromobility, Ninebot, Recent Funding, Scooters, Startups, TC, Transportation, unagi | No Comments

Can you never find a scooter to rent when you need one? Here’s a radical idea. Buy one. While Bird, Lime, Skip, Scoot, Uber, Lyft and more compete for on-demand micromobility, a new startup invented a vehicle worthy of ownership. The Unagi looks downright futuristic with its classy paint jobs, foldable body, LED screen and built-in lights. The ride feels sturdy, strong and responsive while being light enough at 24 lbs to lug up subway stairs or the flights to your home.

That’s why Unagi has become a hit with musicians like Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Halsey, Steve Aoki and teen pop megastar Billie Eilish, who use the scooter to rip around the empty venues as they soundcheck before concerts. Paparazzi shots of those moments have spurred demand for the $990 dual-motor and $840 single-motor Unagis, with co-founder David Hyman telling me the startup can’t make them fast enough, but it’s ramping up production.

Unagi Scooter

To fuel the fervor for the scooter before it’s inevitably copied by cheap knock-offs, Unagi has raised a $3.15 million seed round led by Menlo Ventures . Building on its $750,000 in Kickstarter, angel and founder-contributed funding, the cash will go to building out a distribution network and developing its next-gen scooter with a smoother ride but no more pounds.

“We felt Unagi’s focus on light weight and substantial powering in a beautifully designed package was the right approach for ownership,” Menlo partner Shawn Carolan tells me. “This is what premium brands do — continue to reinvent the way we think about the world. This category of vehicle — personal, portable and electric — has enormous potential and we are still in the first inning of the game.”

The magic of the Unagi Model One is how it balances speed, battery, weight, price and style so it works for most anything and everyone. That combination won it CNET‘s best all-around scooter award versus the hardcore but extremely heavy Boosted Rev, cheap but weak Swagtron, long-lasting but boring Ninebot and speedy but scary Mercane.

The Unagi’s biggest flaw is the smoothness of the ride due to its harder airless wheels and narrow handlebars that can make gravelly roads precarious. The high-pitched beeeeeep of its horn is also so annoying that people are more likely to cover their ears than get out of your way, but Hyman promises his 12-person team will fix that.

Unagi Handlebars

Where Unagi truly excels is in its looks. The lithe curves of its polished carbon fiber frame are accented with candy paint jobs in matte black, white, grey and blue. It ditches the bike handlebar vibe for something closer to Space Shuttle controls. And while many people scoff at scooter riders, I saw those smirks turn into curious awe as I flew by.

Unagi Scooter Weight 1Hyman got the idea for a premium scooter you own after a rental turned into a melty mess. He’d taken an on-demand scooter to the grocer on a hot day, picked up some ice cream, and emerged to find his ride snatched by another user. He hustled to another nearby but someone else got there first. He walked home dripping sugar everywhere wondering, “Why am I messing around with rentals, I just want to own one?”

He bought a generic scooter off Alibaba, and despite being janky straight out of the box, “it made me feel like I was a super hero with this magic carpet.” But he wanted something better.

Previously the CEO of audio fingerprinting giant Gracenote, and then Beats Music before it sold to Apple, Hyman is known for his obsession with hi-fi speaker systems. So after touring Chinese scooter factories and still being unsatisfied, he partnered with a group of inventors called QMY who’d prototyped a slick vehicle they called the Swan. Hyman funded it to production, brought the team in house, and now they’re selling Unagis as fast as they can.

Now the startup wants to double-down on selling to more petite riders who could never carry the 46-lb Boosted Rev out of a train station. But the clock is ticking before copycats with similar silhouettes but inferior insides spring up. Meanwhile, Unagi must keep safety top-of-mind to avoid any disastrous crashes hurting customers and its brand. There are plenty of better-funded mobility giants that could barge into the space if Unagi can’t build a lead. It also has to prove why the reliability of ownership is worth the price of renting a scooter hundreds of times.

Unagi Scooter Blue 5

Scooters are part of a powerful wave of new technologies that actually sell us back our time. When a 20-minute walk becomes a four-minute scoot, you gain something priceless. Urban landscapes unfold beneath their wheels as you explore new neighborhoods or parts of parks. I was once a diehard electric skateboarder until a crash on a Boosted Board shattered my ankle. Unagi is the first scooter that delivers that same gliding feeling of weightlessness and freedom but in a form-factor safe enough for most people to experience.

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Google Assistant, navigation and apps coming to GM vehicles starting in 2021

Posted by | Android, automotive, automotive industry, Chevrolet, connected car, General-Motors, Google, Google Play Store, onstar, smart home devices, Transportation, voice assistant | No Comments

GM is turning to Google to provide in-vehicle voice, navigation and other apps in its Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles starting in 2021.

GM began shipping vehicles with Google Android Automotive OS in 2017, starting with the Cadillac CTS and expanding to other brands. Android Automotive OS shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android Automotive OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

Now, GM is taking the additional step of embedding the Google services that so many people already use through their phones and smart speakers. GM was convinced by its own customer research to bring Google into its cars, Santiago Chamorro, GM’s vice president for global connected customer experience, told TechCrunch.

Google voice, navigation and apps found in the Google Play Store will be in compatible GM brands starting in 2021. Broad deployment across all GM brands is expected to occur in the years following.

Future GM infotainments, powered by Android, will have a built-in Google Assistant that drivers can use to make calls, text, play a radio station, change the climate in the car or close the garage door, if they have the requisite connected smart home device. The Google Assistant integration will continue to evolve over time, so that drivers in the future will be able to simply use their voice to engage with their vehicle, which could include renewing their OnStar or Connected Services plans, checking their tire pressure or, scheduling service, according to GM and Google.

Google Maps will also be embedded in the vehicle to help drivers navigate with real-time traffic information, automatic re-routing and lane guidance. Google Assistant is tied into maps, allowing drivers to use voice to
navigate home, share their ETA or find the nearest gas station and EV charging stations.

The infotainment system will include in-vehicle apps from the Google Pay store.

GM isn’t ditching all of its own features for Google, Chamorro said, adding that the automaker will continue to offer its own infotainment features such as service recommendations, vehicle health status, in-vehicle commerce and more, with the Google applications and services complementing their offerings.

In May, Google announced that it was opening its Android Automotive operating system to third-party developers to bring music and other entertainment apps into vehicle infotainment systems. Media app developers are now able to create new entertainment experiences for Android Automotive OS.

Google has been pushing its way into the automotive world, first through Android Auto and then with its operating system, for several years now.

In 2017, Volvo announced plans to incorporate into its car infotainment systems a version of its Android operating system. A year later, the company said it would embed voice-controlled Google Assistant, Google  Play Store, Google Maps and other Google services into its next-generation Sensus infotainment system.

Polestar 2, an all-electric vehicle developed by Volvo’s standalone electric performance brand, also has the Android OS. Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also announced plans for Android Automotive OS.

“Cars are quickly transforming and opening up a lot of opportunity,” Patrick Brady, vice president of engineering at Google, said in a recent interview. “It’s the beautiful thing about having a platform like this. There are services that we might not be thinking about today and that may be here tomorrow.”

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Cowboy recruits Sunrise co-founder Jeremy Le Van as VP of Product

Posted by | Bike, Cowboy, e-bike, Europe, Gadgets, Jeremy Le Van, Mobile, Personnel, Startups, Transportation | No Comments

Electric-bike maker Cowboy has recruited a well-known name when it comes to mobile app design. Jeremy Le Van co-founded Sunrise, a well-designed calendar app that was acquired by Microsoft back in 2015. Le Van will become VP of Product and lead the development of Cowboy’s mobile app.

Following Sunrise’s acquisition, Le Van worked for Microsoft. Sunrise has been the foundation for the calendar feature of the Outlook mobile app.

“I am incredibly excited to join the Cowboy team and bring my insights into how we can transform the smart bicycle market to make it more appealing to the mobile-first generation,” he said in a statement.

Of course, Cowboy is a hardware company, as it designs and sells an e-bike. The company wants to make e-bikes more efficient. It features an automatic transmission — motor assistance kicks in automatically when you need it the most, such as when you start pedaling, you accelerate or you go uphill.

Cowboy bikes also feature integrated lights (with a rear light that flashes when you break), a rubber and glass fiber belt and a removable battery. Like VanMoof bikes, it has built-in GPS tracking and an integrated SIM card — you unlock the bike with your phone.

But the mobile app is also an essential part of the experience. You can configure the lights, check the battery and get stats from the app. Let’s see how it evolves with today’s appointment.

Cowboy is currently available in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. The startup has raised a €10 million Series A funding round from Tiger Global, Index Ventures, Hardware Club and others.

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Google Maps adds biking and ridesharing options to transit directions for multi-mode commutes

Posted by | Android, Apps, computing, eta, Google, Google-Maps, operating systems, smartphones, Software, TC, Transportation | No Comments

Google is introducing combo navigation directions that pair ridesharing and biking options with transit guidance. Starting today, when you search from directions using Google Maps and select the “transit” tab, you’ll see ridesharing options included when the nearest station is a bit farther than most people might expect to go on foot. Similarly, you’ll also see routes with bike suggestions for certain legs, all listed alongside routes that stick to just transit alone for a full range of options.

The new hybrid navigation options will include useful info like the cost of rideshare segments, as well as wait times and traffic conditions. You’ll be able to specify your preferred rideshare provider from this, available through Google Maps in your area, and also pick which rideshare method you prefer (i.e. pool or economy).

Bikers will get route directions specific to the best paths and roads for bikes to takes, and in both cases, all of the available info will be fed into providing an overall ETA, so you can make an informed decision about which route and method of transportation to take depending on when you need to be where you’re going.

Google says that the combined transit/ridesharing navigation will start rolling out today on both Android and iOS, and that iOS users will start seeing the biking options today, with Android to follow in the coming weeks.

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Starship Technologies raises $40M, crosses 100K deliveries and plans to expand to 100 new universities

Posted by | autonomous delivery, Gadgets, hardware, Morpheus Ventures, Recent Funding, robotics, starship technologies, Startups, TC, Transportation | No Comments

Starship Technologies invented the category of rolling autonomous sidewalk delivery robots, and to date, the company has made more than 100,000 commercial deliveries on behalf of customers. The milestone comes as Starship adds $40 million in Series A funding, bringing its total funding to $85 million. When it announced an additional $25 million in June 2018, Starship was also piloting its first university deployment — and now the company has a plan to expand to 100 university campuses over the next two years based on the strength of that pilot.

“When I came on board, I was testing a whole bunch of different go-to-market strategies,” explained Starship Technologies CEO Lex Bayer. “We were testing grocery delivery, university campuses, corporate campuses, industrial campuses, and we’ve actually seen tremendous traction on most of these environments. Our grocery business north of London, in Milton Keynes, is going exceptionally well […] But one of the experiments was to try university campuses. And I think, you know, as a company that’s a startup still, we have to always focus and have sequencing in terms of how we grow. And the university campus has just been pulling our business forward — not only our students pulling it, meaning there are more orders than the restaurant or the robots can keep up with and we had to add restaurants and add hours. And so we’ve seen signal from the students, but we’ve also seen signal from universities reaching out to us, and from the food service providers.”

This vertical focus on post-secondary schools will see Starship robots deployed at the University of Pittsburgh today, and Purdue University in Indiana on September 9, with many more to follow. Starship’s ambitious goal is to deploy at 100 schools within the next two years, as mentioned, and it’s going to be using this funding in pursuit of that expansion. The market appetite is strong, as Bayer notes, and it’s a way to show that the robots can operate in all kinds of environments, in and among campuses that blend seamlessly with public city streets and sidewalks. Plus, the student population has proven the ideal initial customer base.

“I think, you know, starting with the younger generation is always great for that,” Bayer said. “Because so much of the way they see the world is the way the world can be; they’re not encumbered by all of the past and the way things were done before. And so when you present them with a better solution, they just use it and they say, ‘Oh, this is how things should be normally. This is the way things should be moving forward.’ ”

Pitt Student with StarshipAnd that perceived normalcy leads to high utilization: One of the robots serving one of the universities where Starship operates manages to drive the equivalent of the distance between San Francisco and New York City, which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that they only travel at a top speed of four miles per hour. Starship’s all-electric delivery robots have, in total, racked up 350,000 miles across its delivery trips, and delivered 9,000 rolls and 15,000 bananas, among various other grocery and food items.

“The first few years were really proving that this could be done, and that this technology is even possible,” Bayer explained. “And so it took us four years to get to the first 10,000 deliveries. And then it took us eight months to go from 10,000 deliveries to 50,000 deliveries, and now it’s taken us less than four months to get to 100,000. So that is a major milestone, and we’re the first autonomous vehicle company to do that. It’s something we’re obviously very proud of. But it really shows the sort of inflection that our company’s going through and how we’re really scaling up.”

Starship’s funding this round was led by Morpheus Ventures, and included existing investors Shasta Ventures, Matrix Partners, MetaPlanet Holdings and more, along with new investors TDK Ventures, Qu Ventures and others.

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Oru’s new foldable kayak weighs under 20 lbs and assembles in just 2 minutes

Posted by | california, Gadgets, hardware, paddle, TC, Transportation, Vehicles, water sports, watercraft | No Comments

California-based kayak maker Oru has built a great brand on the strength of its origami-inspired folding kayaks, and now it’s launching its lightest and most portable model yet with a new Kickstarter project. The Oru Inlet miraculously packs up to the size of a suitcase, weights less than 20 pounds and can unfold and be on the water in as little as two minutes.

Even if you’re trying it for the first time, or just aren’t particularly handy, the kayak still sets up in five minutes, at most, according to Oru — which, speaking from personal experience, is a lot faster than its other models. Which isn’t to say that those aren’t also impressive, as they still allow you to carry around what amounts to luggage and have a durable, fun watercraft in around 10 minutes. But the Inlet takes this concept to a whole new level, and looks like the ideal casual kayak for dipping out for a quick paddle in and around the city.

243ee7c707b6a6115a6fb8dd838ce3ba originalThe kayak itself is 10 feet long, which is definitely on the shorter side, but a very common size for recreational boats. It features a wide, open cockpit design with an integrated floorboard, an adjustable footrest and backrest and bulkheads to keep the ship sturdier on the water. Like all the Oru boats, it’s built of a corrugated plastic that’s incredibly durable (my own Oru kayak has easily withstood the rigors of multiple years of use) and is super lightweight.

6fa465f2f9aed2949d5e0baac5cd907c originalWhen packed up, the Inlet is still only 19-inches tall, 42-inches long and 10-inches wide. That makes it around the size of a rather long duffle, but it’s still plenty small enough to tuck into the trunk of a car, or hide away in a condo closet or storage locker. Assembly is a three-step process, and there are no tools required, so it really is optimized for the minimalist city adventurer. Oru’s four-piece portable paddle can also pack inside the folded Inlet for super easy transportation.

f6dd22b65f1fdc80e17c83d5026d203b originalOverall, the Inlet looks like it has all the ingredients that have made Oru successful as a startup and indie boat maker thus far, with plenty of added convenience features that make it even better suited to weekend warriors and people who just want to be able to explore the waterways that surround them without a lot of fuss and preparation.

The crowdfunding campaign has already passed its goal, and Oru has proven itself able to deliver consistently, so you can be confident that it will ship these boats. It’s currently listing a May 2020 time frame for delivery, and $749 is the entry-level price for backers to pick up an Inlet, with varying levels for adding accessories or more kayaks.

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Tesla explodes after crash on Russian highway

Posted by | automotive, Gadgets, hardware, TC, Tesla, Transportation | No Comments

A Tesla vehicle involved in a collision burst into flames and exploded on a highway near Moscow last night, local media reported. The occupants were slightly injured, but the car is toast.

The model of the car is not clear from reporting, but seems to be either a Model S or Model 3. It was being driven by a 41-year-old Russian man, who had his children with him. He had reportedly engaged a drive assist feature (though not necessarily Autopilot) and had his hands on the wheel when he crashed into a tow truck in the left lane.

The driver broke his legs and the kids got away with just bruises, Reuters reported, but the car wasn’t so lucky. Some time after the crash the car caught fire, and shortly after that a pair of explosions occurred within its body, as seemingly captured (I was unable to directly confirm this) in the following video posted by someone in traffic going the other direction:

Firefighters soon arrived and put the flames out. The circumstances of this crash are still unclear, and there will no doubt be an investigation, as there are for any serious issues like this. I’ve asked Tesla for more details and will update this post if I hear back.

While cars crash and catch fire on a fairly regular basis, Teslas have a rare but recurring problem of bursting into flame after a crash, or even spontaneously. The unique dangers of battery-based vehicles are of course interesting, but the sensational nature of reports around them can also give a false idea of those dangers. Tesla cars are in crashes about as often as other vehicles, but fires are rare.

Whether Autopilot was involved is also not clear. The drive-assist mode the driver was using may simply have been cruise control or the like, and the driver told papers that he didn’t notice the tow truck. Until more facts are known speculation is fruitless.

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