SpaceX files paperwork to launch up to 30,000 more Starlink global internet satellites

SpaceX has filed documents with the International Telecommunication Union, which governs international use of global bandwidth, to launch up to 30,000 more satellites for its Starlink global broadband constellation, SpaceNews reports. That’s on top of the 12,000 it already has permission to launch. Why so many? SpaceX says that it’s about ensuring its network can meet anticipated demand “responsibly.”

“As demand escalates for fast, reliable internet around the world, especially for those where connectivity is non-existent, too expensive or unreliable, SpaceX is taking steps to responsibly scale Starlink’s total network capacity and data density to meet the growth in users’ anticipated needs,” wrote a SpaceX spokesperson in an emailed statement to TechCrunch.

The ITU filing doesn’t mean SpaceX is launching 30,000 satellites tomorrow: In fact, the company is looking to launch likely only a few hundred in the coming year. But SpaceX is anticipating big increases in the demand for low-latency and high-capacity broadband globally, and its initial deployment plans only cover a fraction of that demand. Plus, given the increased interest in providing communications from orbit, there’s bound to be a growing rush on spectrum over the next few years.

Starlink will originally set out to provide service in the northern U.S., as well as parts of Canada, beginning as early as next year when the network goes live. The plan is to then scale the network to global coverage over the course of around 24 launches of Starlink satellites. It’s betting that it’ll need to scale by adding on nodes opportunistically to address demand, especially because most current coverage demand models don’t take into account regions that are getting broadband access for the first time.

SpaceX is also priming Starlink for high-traffic operation (though the total constellation won’t all be operating in the same orbital region, it’ll still be a considerable addition to the orbital population relative to the roughly 8,000 objects that have been launched to space to date — in total). The measures SpaceX is taking to deal with traffic include building in automated collision avoidance systems, structure de-orbiting plans, information sharing about orbital routes for their satellites and more, and the company says it’s meeting or exceeding the industry standards that have been established thus far around this.

To address the concerns of astronomers, SpaceX is also turning the base or Earth-facing portion of all future Starlink satellites back, which should help address concerns of space watchers who are concerned about the impact that large constellations will have on stellar observation and research. The company will also take steps to adjust satellite orbits where it’s shown that its constellation is impeding serious scientific pursuit.

Starlink launched its first 60 satellites back in May, and the plan is that each roughly 500-lb satellite will work in tandem with the others to communicate with ground stations that end users will then be able to connect to in order to get a broadband network signal.

WeWork pulls thousands of phone booths out of service over formaldehyde scare

WeWork, the co-working empire once valued at $47BN before reality struck plunging the business and its investors into crisis, has another problem to add to its growing pile — one which doesn’t exactly reflect well on its core business of kitting out and maintaining modern working environments.

The problem is a safety concern affecting users of WeWork co-working spaces in the US and Canada. Today the company emailed members in the regions to warn that around 1,600 phone booths installed at WeWork locations have been found to have elevated levels of formaldehyde — which it warns could cause health issues for people exposed to the gas.

WeWork blames the issue on a manufacturer of the booths.

The booths are provided in its co-working spaces for WeWork members to be able to take calls in private — given other common areas are shared by all users. 

“After a member informed us of odor and eye irritation, WeWork performed an analysis, including having an outside consultant conduct a series of tests on a sampling of phone booths. Upon receiving results late last week, we began to take all potentially impacted phone booths out of service,” it writes in an email to members.

Affected phone booths “are being taken out of service immediately, and will be removed from your location as soon as possible”, it adds. 

In addition to ~1,600 booths it has confirmed are affected, a further 700 booths are being taken out of service in what WeWork describes as “an abundance of caution” — i.e. while it carries out more checks — with the promise of a further update once it’s concluded its tests. 

Members wanting to know which booths are safe to use in the meanwhile are told to contact the community team at their WeWork location.

WeWork also says alternative quiet spaces will be provided, such as in conference rooms and unused offices. 

Discussing the health risks of formaldehyde gas — a chemical which is used in various building materials –WeWork’s email warns: “Short-term exposure to formaldehyde at elevated levels may cause acute temporary irritation of the nose, throat, and respiratory system, including coughing or wheezing. These effects are typically transient and usually subside after removal of the formaldehyde source.

“Long-term exposure to formaldehyde, such as that experienced by workers in jobs who experience high concentrations over many years, has been associated with certain types of cancers. You can find additional information in this FAQ from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

The email encourages any WeWork members with health concerns to contact a doctor.

A tipster who sent us the email reported experiencing a sensation of “burning eyes” after using the booths.

They also said several people in their team had experienced the same issue.

“Some complained that they felt nauseous after spending time inside the booths,” the tipster wrote. “I never felt that, but the burning eyes was 100% there for me several times. Scary stuff.”

Reached for comment, a WeWork spokesperson confirmed the formaldehyde issue, saying it’s taking “a number” of booths out of service at “some” locations in the US and Canada — due to “potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde caused by the manufacturer”.

“The safety and well-being of our members is our top priority, and we are working to remedy this situation as quickly as possible,” it adds in a statement.

It is not clear exactly how many WeWork locations contain affected booths at this point.

Nor has WeWork provided more detailed information about how long members might have been exposed to elevated levels of formaldehyde — with its email merely suggesting some of the booths have been in place for “months”. 

“The potentially impacted phone booths have been installed over the past few months, exact timing varies based on location,” it writes.

Although clearly the level of exposure will vary from person to person depending on their use of the booths.

The company did not respond to a question asking whether any of its international WeWork locations are affected by the issue.

Auto workers’ strike pushes GM losses past $1 billion

The workers strike against General Motors — now in its third week — has cost the automaker more than $1 billion during the third quarter, according to a research note from J.P. Morgan analyst Ryan Brickman.

And those losses are accelerating with each passing week. GM lost about $480 million during the first week of the strike and another $575 million in the second, according to Brickman. GM is losing about $82 million of potential profit in North America every day.

TechCrunch will update the article if GM responds to a request for comment.

The effects of the production stoppage, which began Sept. 16 when 49,000 United Auto Workers went on strike, is causing a ripple effect through the Detroit automaker’s global operations. AP reported Tuesday that GM has shut down its pickup truck and transmission factories in Silao, Mexico, affecting 6,000 workers there. GM has also had to close an engine factory in Mexico and an assembly plant in Canada because of the strike.

“GM’s US production stopped immediately when the UAW [United Auto Workers] walked off the job on September 16 and we estimate its Canadian and Mexican facilities became progressively impacted throughout the first week,” Brinkman wrote in his research note this week.

Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois also weighed in this week noting that the strike could restrict GM’s ability to make investments.

While pay, benefits and the status of temporary workers are the primary drivers of the strike, so are concerns about changes within the automaker towards electrification. GM and the rest of the automotive industry are pouring money into developing electric vehicles. But this shift is also affecting workers because electric vehicles, which require fewer parts, are easier to build. The UAW has said the shift from gas to electric engines could lead to a loss of 35,000 jobs over the next few years, according to a research study conduct by the union and recently noted by CNBC.

Last November GM CEO and Chairman Mary Barra announced plans to cut more than 14,000 jobs in North America, shutter factories and eliminate several car models in an effort to transform into a nimble company focused on high-margin SUVs, crossovers and trucks and investments in future products like electric and autonomous vehicles.

The actions were meant to safeguard the automaker from an expected downturn in the U.S. market and increase GM’s annual free cash flow by about $6 billion. But it has also caused discontent and concern among workers.

‘We are seeing volume and interest in Peloton explode,’ says company president on listing day

This morning, Peloton (NASDAQ: PTON), the tech-enabled stationary bicycle and fitness content streaming company, raised $1.2 billion in its NASDAQ initial public offering. Despite dropping more than 10% in its first day of trading — ultimately closing down 11% at $25.84 per share — the IPO was a bona fide success. Peloton, once denied (over and over again) by VC skeptics, now has hundreds of millions of dollars to take its business into a new era. One in which, the media, hardware, software, logistics and social company attempts to become a generation-defining company akin to Apple.

Founded in 2012 — six years after Soul Cycle opened its first cycling studio in New York’s Upper East Side and two years before a Soul Cycle founder, Ruth Zukerman, jumped ship to launch her own indoor cycling business, Flywheel Sports — a man by the name of John Foley made the ambitious, some might say foolish, decision to start a company that would sell these exercise bikes direct-to-consumer. That way, you could take a Soul Cycle class, in essence, in the comfort of your own home. Even better, technology would improve the experience.

As my colleague Josh Constine recently described it, these bikes come outfitted with a 22-inch Android screen, transforming an outdated exercising experience and bringing it into 2019: “It makes lazy people like me work out. That’s the genius of the Peloton bicycle. All you have to do is Velcro on the shoes and you’re trapped. You’ve eliminated choice and you will exercise,” Constine writes.

Peloton’s ability to get people exercise — a feature driven by its talented instructors (some of whom were poached from competitor Flywheel Sports) — ultimately had venture capital investors funneling $1 billion, roughly, into the business. Today, Peloton operates dozens of showrooms across the U.S., counts 1.4 million total community members — defined as any individual who has a Peloton account — and over 500,000 paying subscribers. Why? Because the company, as stated in its IPO prospectus, “sells happiness.”

“Peloton is so much more than a Bike — we believe we have the opportunity to create one of the most innovative global technology platforms of our time,” writes Foley. “It is an opportunity to create one of the most important and influential interactive media companies in the world; a media company that changes lives, inspires greatness, and unites people.”

Peloton Bike Lifestyle 04

Peloton’s flagship product, a tech-enabled stationary bike.

Peloton’s community coupled with the high margins on sales of its $2,245 bikes had the company reporting $915 million in total revenue for the year ending June 30, 2019, an increase of 110% from $435 million in fiscal 2018 and $218.6 million in 2017. Its losses, meanwhile, hit $245.7 million in 2019, up significantly from a reported net loss of $47.9 million last year.

What’s next for Peloton? The opportunities are endless, given the company’s firm seat at the intersection of hardware, software, media content and more. A third product may be in the works, expansion to international markets or new instructors. Peloton is going after a massive market ripe for disruption. What’s certain is that we’ll see a whole lot of cash flowing into fitness tech copycats in the next couple of years.

Peloton, following a number of lukewarm consumer IPOs (Uber), nearly doubled its valuation to $8.1 billion this morning after pricing its IPO at the top of its range, $29 per share. To answer some of our most burning questions, we chatted with Peloton’s president William Lynch, the former CEO of Barnes & Noble, about the float.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

William Lynch

Peloton president and former Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch.


Kate Clark: What’s next for Peloton?
William Lynch: We now have over a billion in capital to fuel more growth, especially in the area of product innovation.

U.S. security experts admit China’s 5G dominance, push for public investment

U.S. security experts are conceding that China has won the race to develop and deploy the 5G telecommunications infrastructure seen as underpinning the next generation of technological advancement and warn that the country and its allies must develop a response — and quickly.

The challenge we have in the development of the 5G network, at least in the early stage, is the dominance of the Huawei firm,” said Tom Ridge, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security and governor of Pennsylvania on a conference call organized recently by Global Cyber Policy Watch. “To embed that technology into a critical piece of infrastructure which is telecom is a huge national security risk.” 

Already some $500 million is being allocated to the development of end-to-end encryption software and other technologies through the latest budget for the U.S. Department of Defense, but these officials warn that the money is too little and potentially too late, unless more drastic moves are made.

(You can also hear more about this at TechCrunch Disrupt in SF next week, where we’ll be interviewing startup founders and investors who build businesses by working with governments.)

The problems posed by China’s dominance in this critical component of new telecommunications technologies cut across public and private sector security concerns. They range from intellectual property theft to theft of state secrets and could curtail the ways the U.S. government shares critical intelligence information with its allies, along with opening up the U.S. to direct foreign espionage by the Chinese government, Ridge and other security experts warned.

North now offers Focals smart glasses fittings and purchases via app

North’s Focals smart glasses are the first in the category to even approach mainstream appeal, but to date, the only way to get a pair has been to go into a physical North showroom and get a custom fitting, and then return once they’re ready for a pick-up and final adjustment. Now, North has released its Showroom app, which makes Focals available across the U.S. and Canada without an in-person appointment.

This approach reduces considerable friction, and it’s able to do so thanks to technology available on board the iPhone X or later – essentially the same tech that makes Face ID possible. People can go through the sizing and fitting process using these later model iPhones (and you can borrow a friend’s if you’re on Android or an older iOS device) and then North takes those measurements and can produce either prescription or non-prescription Focals, shipped directly to your door after a few weeks.

The Showroom app also includes an AR-powered virtual try-on feature for making sure you like the look of the frames, and for picking out your favorite color. Once the Focals show up at your door, the final fitting process is also something you can do at home, guided by the app’s directions for getting the fit just right.

Should you still want to hit an actual physical showroom, North’s still going to be operating its Brooklyn and Toronto storefronts, and will be operating pop-ups across North America as well.

Focals began shipping earlier this year, bringing practical smart notification, guidance and other software experiences to your field of view via a tiny projector and in-lens transparent display. North, which previously existed as Thalmic Labs and created the Myo gesture control armband, recognized that they were building control devices optimized for exactly this kind of application, but also found that no one was yet getting wearable tech like smart glasses right. Last year, Thalmic Labs pivoted to become North and focus on Focals as a result.

Since launching its smart glasses to consumers, it’s been iterating the software to consistently add new features, and making them more accessible to customers. An early price drop significantly lessened sticker shock, and now removing the requirement to actually visit a location in person to both order and collect the glasses should help expand their customer base further still.

With the 2020 Cadillac CT4, GM begins to expand its hands-free Super Cruise driving system

GM’s high-end brand unveiled Thursday the 2020 Cadillac CT4, a sporty and small sedan that is designed and priced to attract younger buyers looking to enter into the luxury car market.

The vehicle’s debut also marks an important expansion for GM’s hands-free driver assistance system, Super Cruise. The hands-free driving system has been lauded for its capabilities; it’s also been criticized because of its severe limitations. Today, Super Cruise is available in just one Cadillac model, the full-size CT6 sedan. And even in the CT6, the system is restricted to certain highways.

Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

GM is finally starting to expand where the system can be used and bringing it to more models. Earlier this year, the company said it will add another 70,000 miles of compatible divided highways in the United States and Canada to the existing system via a software update. By the end of the year, Super Cruise will be available on more than 200,000 miles of highways.

The automaker plans to bring SuperCruise to other GM brands such as Chevrolet, GMC and Buick after 2020.

The expansion follows other improvements rolled out in 2018, including adding a dynamic lane offset so that a CT6 with Super Cruise activated can adjust slightly over in its lane for driver comfort when passing large vehicles. Gauge cluster messages were also added, to inform drivers why Super Cruise may not be available in certain instances.

Super Cruise isn’t the only feature of note in the 2020 Cadillac CT4 model. Cadillac is offering the CT4 in a few trim levels, all of which will have turbo engines. The standard version will have a an eight-speed transmission and a 2.0 turbo-4 engine that generates 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The CT4-V, and the premium luxury version the CT4, have a 2.7-liter turbo-4 engine with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The CT4 will come with unique grilles and bright exterior accents to distinguish the CT4 luxury and premium luxury models. The Sport and V-Series models are differentiated by darker accents and “performance-inspired” details, including unique grilles, fascias, rocker extensions, rear spoiler and exclusive performance design wheels, Cadillac said.

Every version of the CT4 will have LED exterior lighting including headlamps, tail lamps and signature vertical lights at all four corners.

Cadillac 2020 CT4 Sport 023

The interior of the 2020 Cadillac CT4.

Inside the car, drivers will find an 8-inch touchscreen that is mounted prominently in the center of the instrument panel. GM’s new digital platform, which can handle over-the-air software updates, is integrated into the CT4 as well.

“We developed CT4 to appeal to youthful buyers in the luxury market who may be new to the Cadillac brand,” said Andrew Smith, executive director of global Cadillac design. “The vehicle was intended to draw attention, using a combination of great proportions, taught surfacing and Cadillac family details that hint at the athletic driving experience this vehicle offers.”

Workout app Fitplan adds Alex Rodriguez as a trainer… and an investor

Former New York Yankees all star Alex Rodriguez is racking up quite an impressive batting average in his new career as an investor and has added Fitplan to his roster of portfolio companies.

The Los Angeles-based workout app launched by Landon Hamilton and Cam Speck has closed on $4.5 million led by A-Rod and Corazon Capital, and has added new celebrity athlete trainers — including Rodriguez — to cover the needs of would-be sports stars and interested amateurs alike.

“One of the things we’re doing as a company is moving into sports-specific training,” says Speck. It’s an initiative that Rodriguez helped to lead as the company recruited a number of marquee players including Carolina Panthers running back, Christian McCaffrey; the controversial swimming superstarRyan Lochte; fitness model, Hattie Boydl; celebrity trainer, Corey Calliet; legal scholar and trainer Danni Bell; and fitness model, Sommer Ray. 

“The thing that differentiates us [from other fitness apps] is the talent,” says Speck. “We have diverse training plans that fulfill and serve people who are just getting to the gym to people who are college students playing football helping them get to the next level.”

Much of the cash coming from Rodriguez will help recruit new trainers.

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Fitplan co-founders Cam Speck and Landon Hamilton (Image courtesy of Fitplan

The Fitplan workout app costs $15.99 per month or $83.99 per-year and includes step-by-step exercise demonstrations and training programs tailored to different sports. “Within those training programs we have everything laid out for a member. We’re defining what a workout plan is from the data we have on over 5 million workouts completed.”

An average Fitplan member is doing 2.7 workouts per-week and the average workout time is 58 minutes per-workout. Currently most of the company’s users are in the 18- to 35-year-old range and skews about 70% women, but Hamilton says they’re hoping the focused training regimes will help balance some of the gender disparity among the user base.

For the founders of Fitplan, bringing Rodriguez on board will allow them to move deeper into the tailored fitness vertical. The two men actually reached out to Rodriguez about the investment because they noticed him following fitness influencers specifically.

A bit of research into the portfolio of investments Rodriguez had amassed revealed that he hadn’t made a specific bet on a fitness app yet, so Hamilton reached out to a mutual friend and asked for a meeting.

The founders then spent the next two months in intermittent meetings with Rodriguez while the former Yankee dug into their app.

“He came into the platform and became a user himself,” says Speck.

Since its launch in 2016, Fitplan didn’t take any outside investment, relying on the money that Hamilton and Speck had accrued as nightlife entrepreneurs in Canada.

“You’re looking at an explosive media company, when you collectively have over a billion followers on social media,” between all of the trainers on the app, Rodriguez says.

“We are invested heavily in health and wellness brick and mortar companies,” he says. “It just drills in perfectly to our portfolio.”

Here’s every angle of the Porsche Taycan Turbo S in pictures

Four years ago, Porsche showed off a concept that would mark a turning point — in investment, R&D and product trajectory — for the German automaker. The reaction to the Mission E, as it was called then, prompted Porsche AG to push forward with a plan to not only develop one electric car, but commit billions of dollars towards electrification.

On Wednesday, in a debut held in three countries simultaneously, the world finally got to see the first fruits of its strategy.

TechCrunch was in Niagara Falls for the splashy reveal. We have all the details of the two Taycan models introduced Wednesday including the pricing, power and performance stats. And of course, we have a side-by-side comparison of the Taycan versus a Tesla Model S. We even provided a timeline (along with photos) of Porsche’s development  of the Taycan.

Now here are more photos of the Taycan Turbo S on stage in Canada.

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Instacart CFO Ravi Gupta to exit for Sequoia Capital

Instacart‘s chief financial officer and chief operating officer, Ravi Gupta, will exit the on-demand grocery delivery company at the end of the year to “return to his investing roots,” the company told TechCrunch this morning. The executive will join Sequoia Capital as a partner on the growth team beginning in January.

The company’s vice president of finance and strategy, Sagar Sanghvi, has been promoted to CFO, a critical role as the company gears up for an initial public offering as soon as next year. Instacart is actively searching for a COO replacement.

Valued at nearly $8 billion, Instacart has raised a total of $1.9 billion in venture capital funding since it was founded in 2012. Co-founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta has remained mum on any details surrounding the company’s IPO plans, telling TechCrunch last fall that a float “will be on the horizon.”

Sagar Sanghvi CFO Instacart

Instacart’s vice president of finance and strategy, Sagar Sanghvi, has been promoted to CFO.

After a decade at the investment firm KKR, Gupta joined Instacart in 2015 to manage both the company’s finances and operations as its first CFO and COO. He’s worked closely with Sequoia for some time; the firm first invested in Instacart prior to Gupta’s hiring, leading an $8.5 million Series A financing in 2013. Sequoia’s outspoken partner Michael Moritz sits on the company’s board of directors.

Roelof Botha, another Sequoia partner, says the venture capital firm helped San Francisco-based Instacart recruit Gupta to the C-suite years ago: “With Ravi now returning to his passion of investing, he can help other visionaries – like Apoorva – turn their dreams into reality,” Botha said in an emailed statement. “Ravi’s operational and investing experience, along with his strong work ethic and humility, will make him an invaluable partner to founders and our team.”

When Gupta joined Instacart to oversee finance, corporate development and strategic business initiatives in what was a newly created role, the business, a newly minted “unicorn,” had only 300 employees. Today, Instacart has roughly 1,000 full-time employees and another 100,000 “shoppers,” or contract workers who fulfill the online grocery orders.

“In 2015, I met Apoorva and he shared his vision for Instacart with me,” Gupta said in an emailed statement. “I was truly inspired and knew this was a team I wanted to join and a company I wanted to help build.”

Following his departure, Gupta will continue to advise Instacart on a variety of matters, the company said.

Instacart is announcing another two high-level hires this morning. Jakii Chu has joined the company as its chief marketing officer after nearly five years at sports merchandising business Fanatics, where she was senior vice president of e-commerce.

Chris Rogers, the former managing director of Apple Canada, has been hired as its vice president of retail. Rogers will be based in Instacart’s Toronto office, which Instacart opened earlier this year, reporting to chief business officer Nilam Ganenthiran.

Instacart delivers groceries to 5,500 cities across the U.S. and Canada, making deliveries from some 20,000 stores. Earlier this year, Instacart began its expansion into alcohol delivery. The service is now available in 20 states.

A graduate of Y Combinator, Instacart is also backed by D1 Capital Partners, Coatue Management, Thrive Capital, Canaan Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and several others.