Transportation

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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Car2go hikes hourly rental rates by as much as a third

Posted by | Apps, automotive, BMW, car sharing service, car2go, Daimler, Mobile, Share Now, Transportation | No Comments

By-the-minute car rental service Car2go is raising its rates for short trips under the guise of variable pricing, the company announced to its users today. As we’ve seen with other variably priced services like delivery and ride hailing, in practice this means you never really know what it will cost but will have little choice but to pay.

In an email to users of its service, Car2go said that as a result of “constantly evaluating our product, packages, and pricing strategies” it had arrived at the new system, under which price will depend on time, location and day. The new cost structure takes effect next month.

For Car2go users, this will generally mean paying more. The company highlighted a new cheaper possible per-minute rate of 35 cents, significantly lower than the current $0.45 rate. But it’s easy to guess when that lower rate will be available: “times, locations and days” that no one is using the service. Meanwhile, it’s also possible to encounter a new higher per-minute rate of up to 49 cents when cars are in demand or in a high-use location.

Blocks of time from half an hour to four hours are all increasing in price: The current flat rates are now floor rates, with the possibility you’ll be paying as much as a third more than before. For example, a two-hour block currently costs $29; soon it will cost somewhere between $30 and $39. Again, you won’t know until you open the app to check it out, at which point you’re probably already committed.

Day-length packages are actually cheaper under the new system, but no longer include miles, so while a 24-hour pass used to be $79, now it’s $70 — but at 19 cents per mile, you’ll be in the red after less than 50 miles. And the price only goes up from there. Still, it’s conceivable you’ll pay less for a two or three-day rental if you’re not actually going anywhere distant, but just need a car for the weekend.

A newly instituted zone-based charge and refund system punishes drivers for leaving the city center and rewards those at the periphery for driving back toward heavy usage areas. There’s a $5 charge if you leave the central zone, and $5 refund — or the price of the trip, if less — if you bring a car in from the outer one. (Consult your local Car2go to see what the zones are in your city.)

Count the cards here and you can see the house always wins. If you’re going out, the full $5 fee always applies. If you’re coming in, it will be very difficult to nail that $5 ride — go under and Car2go is reimbursing less than the $5 (and thus comes out ahead), go over and you end up paying money anyway. It’s just one of those clever little traps businesses set up.

You can see the full changes in the chart below:

car2go ratesOh, and your first 200 trips this calendar year have an additional $1 fee. You’re welcome!

In case you can’t tell, this is bad news for consumers, though it would be too much to expect that these prices would stay stable for years. But variable pricing is fundamentally anti-consumer because of a lack of transparency under which the companies controlling it can pull all kinds of shenanigans. Sadly, that makes it a great choice for the bottom line.

These unwelcome changes come six months after Car2go joined the BMW-Daimler joint venture Share Now, which has a variety of car-share services around the world it intends to unify under a single brand soon (it already killed ReachNow, rather abruptly). Apparently larger scale and reduced competition don’t actually lead to lower prices — unfortunate for their customers. But overall the floating car-share services are an important one. Just not as cheap as they used to be.

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Google Travel adds flight price notifications and a limited-time flight price guarantee

Posted by | Android, computing, Google, google search, google travel, Google-Maps, machine learning, Pricing, TC, Transportation, United States, world wide web | No Comments

tp animation full no zoom alpha 1Google is building out its travel product with more features to convince you to use it to book flights and plan trips directly, instead of having to go anywhere else. The company is adding more sophisticated pricing features, including historical price comparison for specific itineraries — and notifications about when a price is likely to spike or when it’s at the absolute lowest. It’s also offering a pricing guarantee for bookings made in the next couple of weeks, so you’ll get be refunded the difference if Google says a flight price won’t drop and it subsequently does.

For any flights booked through Google that originate in the U.S. (regardless of destination) between August 13 and September 2, for which Google sends you an alert notifying you that the price is predicted to be at its lowest, the company will alert you if it does drop and then send you a refund on the price difference between what it predicted (i.e. what you paid) and the lowest actual fare.

It’s an attractive deal, and the limited-time offer is probably only even available because this is new and Google wants to make sure people feel absolutely comfortable trusting their predictions. The company likely has the most readily available cross-airline information about flight availability, route popularity and price in the world, however, backed by some of the most sophisticated machine learning on the planet, so it sounds like it’s probably a pretty safe bet for them to make.

Google Travel is also adding a number of features once you actually book you trip — it’ll suggest next steps for planning your trip, and then help you find the best neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants and stuff to do. Plus, reservations and other trip details will automatically carry over to the Google Maps app on your iOS or Android.

Overall, it’s clear that Google is making an aggressive play to own your overall travel and trip planning — and it has the advantage of having more data, better engineering and a whole lot more in the way of design skills when compared to just about every dedicated travel booking company out there.

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Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps

Posted by | Android, Apps, arkansas, augmented reality, computing, Google, Google-Maps, Mobile, operating systems, smartphones, Software, TC, Transportation | No Comments

Google is launching a beta of its augmented reality walking directions feature for Google Maps, with a broader launch that will be available to all iOS and Android devices that have system-level support for AR. On iOS, that means ARKit-compatible devices, and on Android, that means any smartphones that support Google’s ARcore, so long as “Street View” is also available where you are.

Originally revealed earlier this year, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature has been available in an early alpha mode to both Google Pixel users and to Google Maps Local Guides, but starting today it’ll be rolling out to everyone (this might take a couple of weeks depending on when you actually get pushed the update). We took a look at some of the features available with the early version in March, and it sounds like the version today should be pretty similar, including the ability to just tap on any location nearby in Maps, tap the “Directions” button and then navigating to “Walking,” then tapping “Live View” which should appear near the bottom of the screen.Live ViewThe Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk — instead, in provides quick, easy and super-useful orientation by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you. That makes it much, much easier to orient yourself in unfamiliar settings, which is hugely beneficial when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Google Maps is also getting a number of other upgrades, including a one-stop “Reservations” tab in Maps for all your stored flights, hotel stays and more — plus it’s backed up offline. This, and a new redesigned Timeline, which is airing on Android devices only for now, should also be rolling out to everyone over the next few weeks.

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