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Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.
TechCrunch Disrupt is finally here! We’re back in person and I couldn’t be more excited about the guests we’ll have on our multiple stages and all the folks I will meet there. I hope you’re one of them.
Earlier this week, I took a quick jaunt over to Phoenix to check out what Waymo is up to on the trucking and robotaxi fronts. It’s been a minute since I took a driverless ride in a Waymo. And the last time it was a Chrysler Pacifica. This time, I took a spin in downtown Phoenix in a driverless Jaguar I-Pace (sans human safety driver).
The driverless rides in downtown Phoenix are not open to the public just yet. For now, only vetted people who have signed non-disclosure agreements and are part of Waymo’s “trusted tester” program can hail these rides. That meant I had a Waymo employee use their phone to hail the ride for me. We spent about 30 minutes driving around, reaching a destination, departing the vehicle and then hailing it again.
A few months ago, Waymo rolled out an important improvement to its self-driving system. The specific change was the planning piece (as in planning and perception) of the software, according to senior product manager Pablo Abad. This newer version leans more heavily on machine learning and neural nets than it has in the past.
“Coding for all these different scenarios more manually can take time, as you can imagine,” Adad said. “As you build up more and more and more of these heuristics, it becomes harder for other developers to come in and tweak certain parameters without affecting other parts of the system. So instead, you give the system all of this training data, allow it to learn the best behavior in certain situations on its own, rather than having to manually get in there and insert heuristics.”
The result is a system that can handle more dynamic situations and improves more quickly. During my ride, the vehicle was able to smoothly execute trickier situations (like double parked vehicles) than I remember. It also allows Waymo to more easily fold new features in.
For instance, as I was exiting, the robotaxi gave me a visual and audio alert that another vehicle was approaching from behind to ensure I didn’t whip my door open to wide on the busy street. It will also alert riders to upcoming cyclists.
My experience in downtown Phoenix has me curious (more than ever) about how Waymo’s robotaxis operate in San Francisco. And Cruise, for that matter.
You can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions, or tips. You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec
Amazon plans to double the number of micromobility hubs it has in Europe as it explores ways to clean up its logistics network.
What if Apple decided to screw the secretive electric car project and actually just make an e-bike? Bloomberg explores that question.
Bird published an independently verified Life Cycle Analysis for its Bird Three 2-scooter, which shows the scooter has a lifespan of up to five years after refurbishment and is one of the lowest GHG emitters in Europe compared to public transport, cars and other shared micromobility vehicles.
Radio Flyer, the toy company famous for its little red wagon, has launched a folding cargo e-bike. The bike has a 5-level pedal assist and a throttle, and comes with the option to add on accessories like storage bins, cargo container and child seats.
Waymo joins Argo AI in endorsing the six technical guidelines for safe autonomous vehicle-cyclist interactions from the League of American Bicyclists.
You’re reading an abbreviated version of micromobbin’. Subscribe for free to the newsletter and you’ll get a lot more.
Deal of the week
No big deal of the week this time around. Instead, here’s a list of the ones that got my attention.
Ascendant Mobility Acquisition I, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) focused on mobility, withdrew its plans for an initial public offering. The SPAC was co-led by former Tesla execs Peter Bardenfleth-Hansen and Jochen Rudat.
Bird amended its $150 million vehicle financing credit facility so that it doesn’t have to pay money back during the slow, dead winter months and can ramp up payments during the spring and summer months, which the company says will help reduce interest and amortization payments. Interesting news as we get closer to Q3 earnings.
Delta Air Lines invested $60 million into Joby Aviation and announced plans to launch an eVTOL service that will transport Delta passengers from local vertiports directly to airports, starting in Los Angeles and New York.
Kodiak Robotics secured a $30 million growth capital credit facility from Horizon Technology Finance Corporation.
Zoomcar, the Indian car rental startup, plans to go public in the United States through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Innovative International Acquisition Corp. The combined company is valued at $456 million including debt.
Want more deals? A whole list of them, including info on Aptiv, TerraWatt and TruckSmarter, were in the subscription version this week. Subscribe for free here.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Akshay Jaising, Motional’s vp of commercialization, chatted with TechCrunch about the company’s go-to-market strategy after its most recent deal with Uber.
Starship Technologies is partnering with Grubhub to deliver food via sidewalk delivery robots in college campuses across the U.S.
Waymo cafeteria workers at the Mountain View-based company site are forming a union, citing the high cost of living in the Bay Area and the lack of strong benefits working for such a valuable company.
Electric vehicles, charging & batteries
Automakers shouldn’t get to count recalled EVs toward fleetwide fuel economy, Tim De Chant writes.
General Motors launched a new business unit to sell a line of energy products to homeowners, businesses and utilities. This is not a small endeavor. GM Energy is trying to cover the gamut of EV ownership, including stationary energy storage, solar through a partnership with SunPower, bi-directional charging technology to deliver power from the vehicle to their home or to the grid and a cloud product that houses data and management software.
Honda is spending $700 million to retool three of its Ohio plants to build electric vehicles as it aims to phase out gas engines by 2040.
Polestar unveiled the Polestar 3, a $83,900 all-electric SUV that the company hopes will propel its transition to a mass market automaker.
Sono Motors debuted its Sion solar-powered EV in NYC this week, and our own Rebecca Bellan went to have a ride. More importantly, she met Whoopi Goldberg there!
Sony and Honda launched a joint mobility venture, Sony Honda Mobility, that aims to deliver premium electric vehicles with automated driving capabilities in the U.S. and Japan by 2026.
Stellantis launched a plan for its circular economy business unit to bring in more than €2 billion in revenue by 2030 and drive the company’s carbon net-zero target by 2038. Psssttt: the circular economy is heating up.
Cabify launched a B2B2C unit called Cabify Logistics that will both provide storage and/or last mile delivery. The company expects to invest $20 million in the new unit.
The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed changes to how gig workers should be classified in an effort to “combat employee misclassification,” the federal agency said in a statement. The announcement pushed down shares of Lyft, Uber and other companies reliant on gig workers.
ECARX Holdings, a global mobility tech company, appointed Ramesh Narasimhan as CFO, Peter Cirino as chief operating officer and Andrew Winterton as general counsel.
Piech Automotive, a Swiss EV startup that wants to launch a GT sports car in 2024, appointed the former Aston Martin CEO Tobias Moers and the ex-global head of Hyundai’s Genesis brand, Manfred Fitzgerald, as co-CEOs.
Trevor Milton, who founded Nikola and later took it public via a SPAC, was convicted by a federal jury of securities fraud. The conviction caps a wild and dramatic run for Milton whose constant efforts to pump the stock, including lying to investors, helped push the company’s valuation past established automakers even though it hadn’t made a single truck. His sentencing is scheduled for January 27 and he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Want to read more of the notable reads plus other bits of news from the week? The Station’s weekly emailed newsletter has a lot more on EVs and AVs, future of flight, insider info and more. Click here and then check “The Station” to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox.