Looking to become the central hub for logistics management, Shipwell raises $35 million

Shipwell, the software platform for managing trucking logistics, has raised $35 million and is expanding its suite of services to become a full-service hub for logistics management. 

The new round led by Georgian Partners comes as the company has just expanded its suite of tracking and management tools to integrate with FedEx’s parcel shipping services. The company also is planning an expansion into ocean shipping in the coming months, according to chief executive Gregory Price.

The Austin-based company works with multiple service providers — including the logistics services unicorn Flexport — but operates as a marketplace for shippers to connect with freight companies and online tools to manage those shipments. In effect, the company is pitching to any retailer or outlet a version of the proprietary logistics management toolkit that has made Amazon so successful.

Since its last round of funding a year ago, Shipwell has grown to service more than 4,000 customers per month with supply chains spanning multiple geographies. The company now operates in Canada, Mexico and even across Europe.

With the new funding the company intends to open new offices in Chicago and expand to a second location in its home base of Austin.

The company has also launched a new application program interface that allows it to help manage logistics through other modes than just trucking. Price says the company has about 20 companies beta-testing the tool, which is set to launch publicly in November.

Alphabet’s Wing begins making first commercial drone deliveries in the U.S.

Alphabet -owned drone delivery spin-out Wing is starting to service U.S. customers, after becoming the first drone delivery company to get the federal go-ahead to do so earlier this year. Wing is working with FedEx Express and Walgreens on this pilot, and their first customers are Michael and Kelly Collver, who will get a “cough and cold pack,” which includes Tylenol, cough drops, facial tissues, Emergen-C and bottled water (do people who have colds need bottled water?).

The Collvers are receiving their package in Christianburg, Virginia, which is where Wing and Walgreens will run this inaugural pilot fo the drone delivery service. Walgreens gets a noteworthy credit in the bargain, becoming the first U.S. retailer to do a store-to-customer doorstep delivery via drone, while FedEx will be the first logistics provider to delivery a e-commerce drone delivery with a separate shipment.

Wing is also working with Virginia’s Sugar Magnolia, a retailer local to the state, and that part of the equation is focused on proving out how Wing and drone delivery can service last-mile e-commerce customers at their homes. Sugar Magnolia customers can get small items, including chocolates and paper goods, delivered directly to them via drone through the new pilot.

Wing drone delivery 3

Wing was able to do this with a new Air Carrier Certificate from the FAA that clears it for expanded service, specifically allowing Wing’s pilots to manage multiple aircraft flying without any human pilot on board at the same time, while providing service to the public.

It’s a big milestone when it comes to U.S.-based drone delivery, and another sign that people should get ready for these services to start to be a more regular fixture. Earlier this month, UPS also secured FAA approval to operate a commercial drone delivery service, so the trials will probably come fast and furious at this point – though widespread service is probably still quite a ways off as both regulators and operators look to learn from their first limited deployments.

Wing will test drone delivery in the US with Walgreens and FedEx

Wing, the drone delivery company that started its life within the Google X lab before spinning out into its own thing under the Alphabet umbrella, is prepping for takeoff.

The company announced this morning that it’s launching a test program in Virginia with Walgreens, FedEx and local retailer Sugar Magnolia.

As part of the program, Wing will be able to deliver kids’ snacks (goldfish, water, gummy bears and yogurt were mentioned as examples) and over-the-counter meds (like Tylenol or cough drops) from Walgreens, select packages from FedEx Express and sweets and stationary from Sugar Magnolia.

Alas, unless you’re one of the roughly 22,000 people in Christiansburg, Va. and happen to be in a neighborhood they’ve deemed eligible, you’re not going to be able to check it out just yet. Wing says the pilot program is limited to the small Montgomery County town for now as they work with locals to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The company declined to give any sort of timeline for when the program might expand to other parts of the U.S.

So how does it work?

When the customer places an order, one of Wing’s delivery drones heads for a pickup location. As Wing’s drones are only allowed to takeoff or land in specific locations, pickups and deliveries are handled via a tether, with the drone itself hovering about 20 feet in the air. Once at the pickup location, a tether is lowered and a human operator hooks the package onto the line. The drone winches the package into the air, secures it, and heads for its destination.

Once in flight, Wing says its drone cruises at about 60-70mph, with a range of about six miles each way. Once the drone arrives at the delivery location, the same tether line lowers the package. When the drone detects that the package has reached the ground, the package is released and the drone heads back home. All in all, Wing estimates they can make a delivery within about 10 minutes of a customer finalizing their order.

And if the tether gets stuck on something, or someone tries to grab it and tug it down? The drone is designed to detect the resistance and release the tether, dropping the line to the ground.

wing fedex

Wing says its drone can currently handle a payload of about 3 lbs, with the drone itself weighing roughly 10 lbs.

Wing won’t charge pilot program customers for delivery; customers will pay the store’s sticker price, and delivery during this test phase will be free.

Wing says the first deliveries should start next month.

Week in Review: Netflix’s big problem and Apple’s thinnest product yet

Hey. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about the Capital One breach and how Equifax taught us that irresponsible actions only affect companies in the PR department.


Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

The big story

Disney is going to eat Netflix’s lunch.

The content giant announced this week that when Disney+ launches, it will be shipping a $12.99 bundle that brings its Disney+ streaming service, ESPN+ and ad-supported Hulu together into a single-pay package. That price brings those three services together for the same cost as Netflix and is $5 cheaper that what you would spend on each of the services individually.

This announcement from Disney comes after Netflix stuttered in its most recent earnings, missing big on its subscriber add while actually losing subscribers in the U.S.

Netflix isn’t the aggregator it once was; its library is consistently shifting, with original series taking the dominant position. As much as Netflix is spending on content, there’s simply no way that it can operate on the same plane as Disney, which has been making massive content buys and is circling around to snap up the market by acquiring its way into consumers’ homes.

Disney has slowly amassed control of Hulu through buying out various stakeholders, but now that it shifts the platform’s weight, it’s pretty clear that it will use it as a selling point for its time-honed in-house content, which it is still expanding.

The streaming wars have been raging for years, but as the services seem to become more like what they’ve replaced, Disney seems poised to take control.

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On to the rest of the week’s news.

Screen Shot 2019 03 25 at 1.37.32 PM 1

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Apple Card rolls out
    Months after its public debut, Apple has begun rolling out its Apple Card credit card. We got our hands on the new Apple Card app, so check out more about what it’s like here.
  • Amid a struggling smartphone market, Samsung introduces new flagships
    The smartphone market is in a low-key free fall, but there’s not much for hardware makers to do than keep innovating. Samsung announced the release of two new phones for its Note series, with new features including a time-of-flight 3D scanning camera, a larger size and… no headphone jack. Read more here.
  • FedEx ties up ground contract with Amazon
    As Amazon rapidly attempts to build out its own air fleet to compete with FedEx’s planes, FedEx confirmed this week that it’s ending its ground-delivery contract with Amazon. Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook could get fined billions more:
    [Facebook could face billions in potential damages as court rules facial recognition lawsuit can proceed]
  2. Instagram gets its own Cambridge Analytica:
    [Instagram ad partner secretly sucked up and tracked millions of users’ locations and stories]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. My colleague Sarah Buhr had a few great conversations with VCs in the healthtech space and distilled some of their investment theses into a report.

What leading HealthTech VCs are investing in 

Why is tech still aiming for the healthcare industry? It seems full of endless regulatory hurdles or stories of misguided founders with no knowledge of the space, running headlong into it, only to fall on their faces…

It’s easy to shake our fists at fool-hardy founders hoping to cash in on an industry that cannot rely on the old motto “move fast and break things.” But it doesn’t have to be the code tech lives or dies by.

So which startups have the mojo to keep at it and rise to the top? Venture capitalists often get to see a lot before deciding to invest. So we asked a few of our favorite health VC’s to share their insights.

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked about how to raise funding in August, a month not typically known for ease of access to VCs, and my colleague Ron dove into the MapR fire sale that took place this week:

We’re excited to ramp up The Station, a new TechCrunch newsletter all about mobility. Each week, in addition to curating the biggest transportation news, Kirsten Korosec will provide analysis, original reporting and insider tips. Sign up here to get The Station in your inbox beginning this month.

FedEx ends ground-delivery contract with Amazon

FedEx is ending a partnership with Amazon to supply the ecommerce company with ground delivery shipping after its current contract ends this month, the company confirmed to Bloomberg. This is the second contract FedEx has allowed to end without renewal with Amazon, following a similar decision in June that covered only Express air shipments.

The new contract termination is more significant than the earlier one, in that it means FedEx will not be providing any last-mile delivery service for Amazon, the largest online retailer, in addition to its less sizeable Express air freight. FedEx previously said that Amazon actually makes up less than 1.3 percent of the shipper’s total revenue, as measured over the year that ended on December 31, 2018.

Amazon is expanding its own shipping capabilities considerably, adding more aircraft to its fleet, and deploying ground-based wheeled delivery robots for last-mile package transportation. The ecommerce giant also recently began its own Delivery Service Partner program to fund and support delivery startup businesses that can help address its need for logistics. It has increasingly relied on its own contracted last-mile delivery services in recent years, and also allocates more of this business to both UPS and USPS than to FedEx even outside its other offerings.

FedEx did explicitly point out that its Express contract ending had no impact on other aspects of its relationship with Amazon at the time, noting that its international and “other” business units (including ground) weren’t affected. The company also says it’s looking to capitalize on the demand for ecommerce outside of Amazon, and building its network intentionally to “serve thousands of retailers in the e-commerce space.”

FedEx sues the Department of Commerce after incident involving misrouted Huawei packages

FedEx is suing the United States Department of Commerce, claiming that it has been “essentially deputize[d]” to enforce its trade blacklist. The lawsuit comes a month after Huawei said it is reassessing its relationship with the delivery giant after several packages meant for shipment within Asia were instead diverted, or erroneously marked for delivery, to the U.S. FedEx claimed the packages (which Huawei said did not contain any technology covered by the trade ban imposed against it by the Trump administration) had been misrouted by accident.

In a statement today about the lawsuit, FedEx said that the current export ban “places an unreasonable burden on FedEx to police the millions of shipments that transit our network every day.” Filed on Monday, the lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia to stop the Department of Commerce from enforcing prohibitions in the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) against FedEx.

FedEx said in its court filing that it has “developed a sophisticated proprietary risk-based compliance system” to adhere to U.S. export laws by screening for senders or recipients on the list of entities believed to pose a national security risk. Huawei, which was not mentioned by name in either FedEx’s announcement or its complaint against the U.S. government, was added to that list last month. But FedEx says the U.S. government expects it to perform a “virtually impossible task, logistically, economically, and in many cases, legally” since it handles million of packages each day and most of them are sealed by customers before being given to the company. Therefore, the company argues that EAR violates its rights to due process under the Fifth Amendment.

China is an important growth market for FedEx, but earlier this month its future there was put in jeopardy when the Chinese government said it was under investigation for violating laws and regulations after the incident involving Huawei’s packages. Last year the company was forced to cut its 2019 earnings guidance. FedEx’s chairman and CEO Frederick Smith blamed “bad political choices” around the world, including Brexit, state-owned enterprises and China and U.S. tariffs, for hurting its business.

FedEx ends express delivery contract with Amazon

FedEx will not renew a contract with Amazon to provide express delivery for the e-commerce giant’s packages in the United States.

FedEx, which made the announcement Friday, said in a statement the change would not affect other existing contracts with Amazon or international services.

Amazon has not responded to a request for comment. TechCrunch will update the article if the company provides new information.

FedEx tempered the news by stating that Amazon is not its largest customer. The percentage of total FedEx revenue attributable to Amazon.com represented less than 1.3 percent of total FedEx revenue for the 12-month period ended December 31, 2018, according to FedEx.

The decision follows an explosion in e-commerce, a trend that is expected to continue. FedEx estimates that e-commerce  is expected to grow from 50 million to 100 million packages a day in the U.S. by 2026.

That growth, along with the logistical gymnastics required to make, not lose, money pursuing the opportunity, has led FedEx and Amazon and others to look for efficiencies in their businesses as well as develop and deploy new technology.

For instance, FedEx unveiled in February an autonomous delivery device called SameDay Bot. The bot, which will be tested this summer in select markets, including FedEx’s hometown Memphis, is being developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp. and its founder Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway  and iBot wheelchair.

The initial test will involve deliveries between selected FedEx Office locations, the company said. Ultimately, the FedEx bot will complement the FedEx SameDay City service, which operates in 32 markets and 1,900 cities.

Amazon has made its own moves from investing in electric vehicle company Rivian and developing a fully electric delivery drone to acquiring urban delivery robot startup Dispatch and warehouse robotics startup Canvas Technology.

Self-driving delivery van startup Gatik AI comes out of stealth with Walmart partnership

Gatik AI, an autonomous vehicle startup that came out of stealth Thursday with $4.5 million in funding and Walmart as a customer, is aiming for the sweet middle spot in the world of logistics.

The company, which operates out of Palo Alto and Toronto, isn’t deploying autonomous delivery bots built for sidewalks, nor is it aiming for self-driving trucks, or even robotaxis to shuttle around people. Instead, the founders of Gatik AI are developing a business that will do short hauls of goods between businesses using autonomous light-commercial trucks and vans.

The Ford transit vehicles outfitted with Gatik’s self-driving system will drive up to 200 miles a day and stay within a city environment, co-founder and CEO Gautam Narang told TechCrunch. He believes the company can close the gap in the market through a variety of use cases, including partnering with third-party logistics giants like Amazon, FedEx or even the U.S. Postal Service, auto part distributors, consumer goods, food and beverage distributors as well as medical and pharmaceutical companies.

The strategy has attracted a number of investors and at least one major partner: Walmart. Gatik AI has raised $4.5 million in a seed round led by former CEO and executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors. Other investors include AngelPad, Dynamo Fund, Fontinalis Partners, Trucks Venture Capital and angel Lior Ron, who heads Uber Freight.

Dror Berman, a founding partner at Innovation Endeavors, is now a Gatik board member.

“There is a huge gap between autonomous Class 8 big rig trucks, which can only operate on highways, and smaller automated vehicles such as sidewalk robots and Nuro vehicles, which are restricted by operation speed, capacity, distance, and the curb. Gatik fills the critical ‘middle mile’ part of logistics, which is only becoming more valuable as a layer in the $800 billion logistics ecosystem,” said Reilly Brennan, founding general partner at Trucks Venture Capital.

The capital will allow Gatik — the name means progressive or speed in Sanskrit —  to expand its team and launch additional commercial services this year.

Narang co-founded the company with his brother Arjun Narang, who is CTO, and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat. The company has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology on public roads in California for about 18 months.

The trio, which previously founded rehabilitation robotics tech startup Maverick Robotics, contends that their autonomous vehicle technology and approach, if scaled, can reduce the cost of last-mile delivery for businesses by 50% and improve safety.

Walmart could be one such customer. Gatik didn’t provide many details about the deal with Walmart, only to say that it’s launching a service with Walmart in the coming weeks.

The U.S. retail giant has already shown it has a keen interest in autonomous vehicle technology. Last year, Walmart and self-driving vehicle company Waymo announced a partnership in Arizona. Under the test program, members of Waymo’s early rider program were offered grocery savings when they shop from Walmart.com. The riders will be able to take a Waymo car to their nearby Walmart store for grocery pickup when the order is ready.

Walmart also signed a deal in January with startup Udelv to test the use of autonomous vans to deliver online grocery orders to customers. Under the agreement, Udelv will provide its second-generation autonomous delivery van, called the Newton, to Walmart to deliver groceries in Surprise, Ariz.

Gautam Narang says third-party logistics companies are also a particularly good opportunity.

“There’s a huge push, where these companies are trying to build micro-fulfillment centers close to the customer,” Narang said. “So moving goods from a warehouse to these micro centers is one of the use cases that we’re targeting. This is perfect for scaling and commercialization of autonomous technology.”

China lays out official stance on trade talks with U.S.

On Sunday, China released a comprehensive white paper to formalize its positions on trade negotiations with the U.S. The set of statements come as the trade war escalates and Beijing threatens to hit back with a retaliatory blacklist of U.S. firms. Here are some key takeaways from the press conference announcing the white paper:

U.S. ‘responsible’ for stalled trade talks

The “U.S. government bears responsibility” for setbacks in trade talks, chided the paper, adding that the U.S. has imposed additional tariffs on Chinese goods that impede economic cooperation between the two countries and globally.

While it’s “common” for both sides to propose “adjustments to the text and language” in ongoing negotiations, the U.S. administration “kept changing its demands” in the “previous more than ten rounds of negotiations,” the paper alleged.

On the other hand, reports of China backtracking on previous trade deals are mere “mudslinging,” Wang Shouwen, the Chinese vice minister of commerce and deputy China international trade representative, said as he led the Sunday presser.

China ready to fight if forced to

China does not want a trade war with the U.S, but it’s not afraid of one and will fight one if necessary, said the white paper.

Beijing’s position on trade talks has never changed — that cooperation serves the interests of both countries and conflict can only hurt both — according to the paper. CNBC’s Eunice Yoon pointed out that Beijing’s latest stance repeats previous statements made back in September.

Deals must be equal

Difference and frictions remain on the economic and trade fronts between the two countries, but China is willing to work with the U.S. to reach a “mutually beneficial and win-win agreement,” stated the paper. However, cooperation has to be based on principles and must not compromise China’s core interests.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Wang said.

He said one needs not “overinterpret” China’s soon-to-come entity list, adding that it mainly targets foreign companies that run against market rules and violate the spirit of contracts, cut off supplies to Chinese firms for uncommercial reasons, damage the legitimate rights of Chinese companies, or threaten China’s national security and public interests.

China respects IP rights

The paper also touched on issues that are at the center of the prolonged U.S.-China trade dispute, including China’s dealings with intellectual property rights. U.S. allegations of China over IP theft are “an unfounded fabrication,” said the white paper, adding that China has made great efforts in recent years to protect and enforce IP rights.

Wang claimed that China pays the U.S. a significant sum to license IP rights every year. Of the $35.6 billion it shelled out for IP fees in 2018, nearly a quarter went to the U.S.

Investments are mutually beneficial

The white paper claimed that bilateral investments between the two countries are mutually beneficial rather than undermining for U.S. interests when taken account of “trade in goods and services as well as two-way investment.”

The Chinese government also pushed back at claims that it exerts influence on businesses’ overseas investments.

“The government is not involved in companies’ business activities and does not ask them to make specific investments or acquisitions,” said Wang. “Even if we make such requests, companies won’t obey.”

In response to China’s probe into FedEx over Huawei packages that went stray, Wang assured that “foreign businesses are welcome to operate legally in China, but when they break rules, they have to cooperate with regulatory investigations. That’s indisputable.”

The Shenzhen-based smartphone and telecom giant has been hit hard by during the trade negotiations as the Trump administration orders U.S. businesses to sever ties with the Chinese firm.

Science publisher IEEE bans Huawei but says trade rules will have ‘minimal impact’ on members

The IEEE’s ban on Huawei following new trade restrictions in the United States has sent shock waves through the global academic circles. The organization responded saying the impact of the trade policy will have limited effects on its members, but it’s hard at this point to appease those who have long hailed it as an open platform for scientists and professors worldwide to collaborate.

Earlier this week, the New York-headquartered Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers blocked Huawei employees from being reviewers or editors for its peer-review process, according to screenshots of an email sent to its editors that first circulated in the Chinese media.

The IEEE later confirmed the ban in a statement issued on Wednesday, saying it “complies with U.S. government regulations which restrict the ability of the listed Huawei companies and their employees to participate in certain activities that are not generally open to the public. This includes certain aspects of the publication peer review and editorial process.”

In mid-May, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security added Huawei and its affiliates to its “Entity List,” effectively barring U.S. firms from selling technology to Huawei without government approval.

It’s unclear what makes peer review at the IEEE a technology export, but the science association wrote in its email to editors that violation “may have severe legal implications.”

Whilst it’s registered in New York, the IEEE bills itself as a “non-political” and “global” community aiming to “foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.”

Despite its removal of Huawei scientists from paper vetting, the IEEE assured that its compliance with U.S. trade restrictions should have “minimal impact” on its members around the world. It further added that Huawei and its employees can continue to participate in other activities as a member, including accessing the IEEE digital library; submitting technical papers for publication; presenting at IEEE-sponsored conferences; and accepting IEEE awards.

As members of its standard-setting body, Huawei employees can also continue to exercise their voting rights, attend standards development meetings, submit proposals and comment in public discussions on new standards.

A number of Chinese professors have reprimanded the IEEE’s decision, flagging the danger of letting politics meddle with academic collaboration. Zhang Haixia, a professor at the School of Electronic and Computer Engineering of China’s prestigious Peking University, said in a statement that she’s quitting the IEEE boards in protest.

This is Haixia Zhang from Peking University, as an old friend and senior IEEE member, I am really shocked to hear that IEEE is involved in “US-Huawei Ban” for replacing all reviewers from Huawei, which is far beyond the basic line of Science and Technology which I was trainedand am following in my professional career till now.

…today, this message from IEEE for “replacing all reviewers from Huawei in IEEE journals” is challenging my professional integrity. I have to say that, As a professor, I AM NOT accept this. Therefore, I decided to quit from IEEE NANO and IEEE JMEMS editorial board untill one day it come back to our common professional integrity.

The IEEE freeze on Huawei adds to a growing list of international companies and organizations that are severing ties or clashing with the Chinese smartphone and telecom giant in response to the trade blacklist. That includes Google, which has blocked select Android services from Huawei; FedEx, which allegedly “diverted” a number of Huawei packages; ARM, which reportedly told employees to suspend business with Huawei; as well as Intel and Qualcomm, which also reportedly cut ties with Huawei.