Transportation weekly: Nuro dreams of autonomous lattes, what is a metamaterial, Volvo takes the wheel

Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. We love the reader feedback. Keep it coming.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Read the first edition hereAs I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. An email subscription is coming!

This week, we’re shoving as much transportation news, tidbits and insights in here as possible in hopes that it will satiate you through the end of the month. That’s right, TechCrunch’s mobility team is on vacation next week.

You can expect to learn about metamaterials, how traffic is creating genetic peril, the rise of scooter docks in a dockless world, new details on autonomous delivery startup Nuro and a look back at the first self-driving car fatality.


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

nuro-scout-coffee

Mark Harris is here again with an insider look into autonomous vehicle delivery bot startup Nuro. The 3-year-old company recently announced that it raised $940 million in financing from the SoftBank Vision Fund.

Harris, during his typical gumshoeing, uncovers what Nuro might do with all that capital. It’s more than just “scaling up” and “hiring talent” — the go-to declarations from startups flush with venture funding. No, Nuro’s founders have some grand ideas from automated kitchens and autonomous latte delivery to smaller robots that can cross lawns or climb stairs to drop off packages. Nuro recently told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it wants introduce up to 5,000 upgraded vehicles called the R2X, over the next two years.

The company’s origin story and how it’s tied to autonomous trucking startup Ike is just as notable as its “big ideas.”

Come for the autonomous lattes; stay for the story … How Nuro plans to spend Softbank’s money


Dig In

What do metamaterials and Volvo have in common? Absolutely nothing. Except they’re both worth higlighting this week.

First up, is an article by TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey on a company called Lumotive that has backing from Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures. The names Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures aren’t the most interesting components of the story. Nope, it’s metamaterials.

Let us explain. Most autonomous vehicles, robots and drones use lidar (or light detection and ranging radar) to sense their surroundings. Lidar basically works by bouncing light off the environment and measuring how and when it returns; in short, lidar helps create a 3D map of the world. (Here’s a complete primer on WTF is Lidar).

However, there are limitations to lidar sensors, which rely on mechanical platforms to move the laser emitter or mirror. That’s where metamaterials come in. In simple terms, metamaterials are specially engineered surfaces that have embedded microscopic structures and work as a single device. Metamaterials remove the mechanical piece of the problem, and allow lidar to scan when and where it wants within its field of view.

Metamaterials delivers the whole package: they’re durable and compact, solve problems with existing lidar systems, and are not prohibitively expensive.

If they’re so great why isn’t everyone using them? For one, it’s a new and emerging technology. Lumotive’s product is just a prototype. And Intellectual Ventures (IV) holds the patents for known techniques, Coldewey recently explained to me. IV is granting Lumotive an exclusive license to the tech — something it has done with other metamaterial-based startups it has spun out.

Shifting gears to Volvo

Automakers are rolling out increasingly robust advanced driver assistance systems in production cars. These new levels of automation are creating a conflict of sorts. One on hand, features like adaptive cruise control and lane steering can make commutes less stressful and arguably safer. And yet, they can also cause overconfidence in the system and complacency among drivers. (Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has noted that complacency is a problem among owners using its advanced ADAS feature called Autopilot). (And yes, I wrote advanced ADAS; it sounds repetitive, but it’s meant to express higher levels of automation and a term I recently encountered from two respected sources)

Some argue that automakers shouldn’t deploy these kinds of automated features unless vehicles are equipped with driver-monitoring systems (DMS are essentially an in-car camera and accompanying software) that can ensure drivers are paying attention. Volvo is taking that a step further.

Driver Monitoring Camera in a Volvo research vehicle

The company announced this week that it will integrate DMS into its next-gen, SPA2-based vehicles beginning in the early 2020s and more importantly, enable its system to take action if the driver is distracted or intoxicated. The camera and other sensors will monitor the driver and will intervene if a clearly intoxicated or distracted driver does not respond to warning signals and is risking an accident involving serious injury or death. Under this scenario, Volvo could limit the car’s speed, call the Volvo on Call service on behalf of the driver or cause the vehicle to slow down and park itself on the roadside.

Volvo’s plans raise all kinds of questions, including privacy concerns and liability. The intent is to add a layer of safety. But it also adds complexity, which could compromise Volvo’s mission. The Autonocast, a podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, talk about Volvo’s plans in our latest episode. Check it out.


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

blinky-cat-bird

Remember two weeks ago when we dug into Waymo’s laser bears and wondered whether we had reached “peak” LiDAR? (Last year, there were 28 VC deals in LiDAR technology valued at $650 million. The number of deals was slightly lower than in 2017, but the values jumped by nearly 34 percent.)

It doesn’t look like we have. We’re hearing about several funding deals in the works or recently closed, a revelation that shows investors still see opportunity in startups trying to bring the next generation of light ranging and detection sensors to market.

Spotted …. Former Zoox CEO and co-founder Tim Kentley Klay was spotted at the Self-Racing Car event at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, Calif., this weekend.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.


Deal of the week

Lyft set the terms for its highly-anticipated initial public offering and announced it will kick off the roadshow for its IPO. That means the initial public offering will likely occur in the next two weeks. Here’s the S-1 that Lyft filed in early March. This latest announcement also revealed new details, including that its ticker symbol will be  “LYFT” — as one might expect — and that the IPO range is set for between $62 and $68 per share to sell 30,770,000 shares of Class A common stock. Lyft could raise up to $2.1 billion at the higher end of that range, or $1.9 billion at the lower end.

The Lyft news was big — and it’s a story we’ll be following for awhile. However, we wanted to highlight another one of Ingrid Lunden’s articles because it underscores a point I’ve been pushing for awhile: not every important move in the world of autonomous vehicles occurs in the big three of Detroit, Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley.

This week, Yandex, the Russian search giant that has been working on self-driving car technology, inked a partnership with Hyundai to develop software and hardware for autonomous car systems. This is Yandex’s first partnership with an OEM. But it’s not Hyundai’s first collaboration with an autonomous vehicle startup. (Hyundai has a partnership with Aurora too)

Yandex will work with Hyundai Mobis, the car giant’s OEM parts and service division, “to create a self-driving platform that can be used by any car manufacturer or taxi fleet” that will cover both a prototype as well as parts for other car-makers.

Other deals:


Snapshot

uber-bike-crash

One year ago, I parked on a small rise overlooking Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. The mostly dirt knoll, dotted with some trees and a handful of structures known out here as ramadas, was hardly remarkable. Just one other car sat in the disintegrating asphalt parking lot, the result of so many sun-baked days. A group of homeless people had set up at the picnic tables under a few of the structures, their dogs lolling nearby.

And yet, it was here, or specifically on the gleaming road below, that something extraordinary had indeed happened. Just days before, Elaine Herzberg was crossing Mill Avenue south of Curry Road when an Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed her. The vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision, with a human test driver behind the wheel.

I had been in the Phoenix area, a hub for testing autonomous vehicle technology, to moderate a panel on that very subject. But the panel had been hastily canceled by organizers worried about the optics of such a discussion. And so I picked up Starsky Robotics CEO Stefan Seltz Axmacher who was also in town for this now-canceled panel, and we drove to site where Herzberg had died.

I wrote at the time, that “March 18 changed everything—and nothing—in the frenzied and nascent world of autonomous vehicles.” One year later, those words are still correct. The incident dumped a bucket of ice water over the figurative heads of autonomous vehicle developers. Everyone it seemed, had sobered up. Testing was paused, dozens of companies assessed their own safety protocols. Earnest blogs were written. Lawsuits were filed.

And yet, the cogs on the AV machine haven’t stopped turning. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Innovation can sometimes “make the world a better place.” But it’s rarely delivered in a neat little package, no strings attached.

I’m hardly the first to reflect or write about this one-year anniversary. There are many takes, some of them hot, others not so much. And there are a few insightful ones; Autonocast co-host Niedermeyer has one entitled 10 Lessons from Uber’s Fatal Self-Driving Car Crash that’s worth reading.

Right now, I’m more interested in those lessons that haven’t been learned yet. It’s partly what prompted us to launch this newsletter, a weekly post that aims to be more than a historical record or a medium to evangelize AV technology.


Tiny but mighty micromobility

It’s been said before, but we’ll say it again. Data is queen. This past week, mobility management startup Passport partnered with Charlotte, N.C., Detroit, Mich. and Omaha, Neb. and Lime to create a framework to apply parking principles, data analysis and more to the plethora of shared micromobility services.

And, in case you missed it, Bird had to let some people go late last week. We’ve learned a few more details since the news broke. That came out to about 40 people out of the ~900-person company. The layoffs were part of Bird’s annual performance review process and only affected U.S.-based employees, TechCrunch learned. Those laid off are eligible for severance, including health and medical benefits. Despite the layoffs, Bird is actively looking to hire for more than 100 positions throughout the company.

Meanwhile, Ford-owned Spin partnered with mobility startup Zagster to deploy scooters in 100+ new cities and campuses by the end of this year.

Megan Rose Dickey


Notable reads

Traffic affects more than people. Take a look at the map pictured above. See the red line? That’s Interstate 15 in southern California. To the east, are inland communities and eventually the San Bernardino National Forest and San Jacinto Mountains.

To the west, are the Santa Ana Mountains and an increasingly isolated family of 20 cougars, the Los Angeles Times reports this week. The 15 and the heavy traffic on it is putting pressure on the gene pool. In the past 15 years, at least seven cougars have crossed the 15. Just one sired 11 kittens. This lack of genetic diversity — the lower documented for the species outside of the endangered Florida panther — could have devastating effects on mountain lions here. A study published in the journal Ecological Applications predicts extinction probabilities of 16 percent to 28 percent over the next 50 years for these lions.

In this specific case, the last natural wildlife corridor in the area — and perhaps the difference between survival and extinction —  is little Temecula Creek.

This phenomenon is happening in other areas as well, causing communities to toy with possible solutions. One option: shuttling the lions over the other side, a move that could cause all sorts of problems. In other places, such as an area near the Santa Monica Mountains, a wildlife overpass has been proposed.

Transit pain points

Meanwhile, digital and mobile ticketing and payment company CellPoint Mobile released a report this week that examines the rising cost of acquiring new riders, mobile technology limitations and outdated procurement processes. The titillatingly named report — Challenges Facing Municipal, Regional and National Transit Agencies in the United States — surveyed 103 ground and mass transit operators in the United States.

Some takeaways and key findings:

  • 30 percent of mass transit providers collect fares through a mobile app; only 39 percent have an app at all
  • 26 percent of transit operators say costs are their biggest challenges. Among metro mass transit agencies, that concern jumps to 40 percent
  • Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of national operators and 24 percent of large transit agencies (1,000  to 10,000 employees) say that implementing mobile technology is their single biggest challenge.
  • Customer acquisition is the second-most common challenge in US transportation, cited by 23 percent national, 33 percent regional, and 17 percent of private operators.

Other items of note:


Testing and deployments

Lyft Scooters docks

Dockless scooters have been all the rage; now it seems that cities and scooters startups are considering whether free-floating micromobility might need to be reined in a skosh.

Lyft, which has scooters in 13 cities, recently experimented with parking racks. These parking racks or docks are designed specifically for scooters. The company set up these docking stations in Austin during SXSW and released a handy Guide to Good Scootiquette to encourage better and safer rider behavior.

Meanwhile, an industry around scooter management is emerging. Swiftmile, a startup that developed light electric vehicle charging systems for bike share, has new solar-powered charging platforms for scooters. TechCrunch met Swiftmile CEO Colin Roche in Austin earlier this month and learned that a number of cities are interested in deploying these systems. Swiftmile’s system not only charges the scooters, it also can provide scooter companies with diagnostics and keep the device locked in the dock if it’s malfunctioning. The docks can be programmed to lock the scooters up during certain hours — bar closing time would seem like an optimal time — to keep them from being misused. Systems like these could help scooter companies like Bird and Lime extend the life of their scooters and keep local officials happy.

Autonomous street sweepers

ENWAY and Nanyang Technological University are deploying autonomous street sweepers in the inner city of Singapore as part of a project with National Environmental Agency Singapore. The project began this month and will run into September 2020.

Under the pilot, ENWAY’s autonomous sweeper will clean an area of more than 12 kilometers of roads every day. The sweeper is equipped with numerous sensors, including 2D and 3D lidars, 3D cameras, GNSS. The base vehicle is a retrofitted all-electric compact road sweeper from Swiss manufacturer Bucher Municipal.

The company aims to commercialize autonomous cleaning on public ground in Singapore and abroad.

A demo of the sweeper is in the video below.

Silvercar scales up

On the other end of the transportation spectrum, Silvercar by Audi has rolled out a delivery and pick up service in downtown locations in New York and San Francisco. Silvercar customers can request their rental be dropped off and picked up at home or a location of their choosing for an additional fee. Silvercar also announced plans to bring its premium rental experience to Boston at Logan International Airport on April 15.

If you’ve never heard of Silvercar, you’re forgiven. It’s not exactly widespread. The company aims to remove the headache of traditional car rental. I recently tried it out in Austin during SXSW and found that it is convenient, and works pretty well, but doesn’t remove some of the annoying pinch points of car rentals. Yes, there are no lines. When I got off the plane in Austin, I received a message that my car was ready and to hail my driver who picked me up curbside, drove me to the Silvercar operation, and brought me to my Audi. I used the app to unlock the vehicle.

That’s cool. What would be even better is skipping all those steps and being able to access the vehicle right there in the airport without interacting with anyone. (Granted, not everyone wants that) This new delivery and pickup service in New York and San Francisco gets closer to that sweet spot.

Other stuff:


On our radar

New York Auto Show is coming up and I’ll be in the city right before the show. But then it’s back to the west coast for TC Sessions: Robotics + AI, a one-day event held April 18 at UC Berkeley. I’ll be interviewing Anthony Levandowski on stage and moderating a panel with Aurora co-founder Sterling Anderson and Uber ATG Toronto chief Raquel Urtasun to talk about building the self-driving stack and how AI is used to help vehicles understand and predict what’s happening in the world around them and make the right decisions.

Also, the PAVE Coalition is hosting its first public demonstration event April 5-7 at the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. The public will have an opportunity to ride in a self-driving car, and interactive displays will help visitors understand the technology behind self-driving cars and their potential benefits.

Finally, one electric vehicle thing we’ve been following. Columbus, Ohio won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s first-ever Smart City Challenge and we’ve been tracking the city’s progress and its efforts to increase electric vehicle adoption.

One of the organizers told TechCrunch that since the beginning of 2017, the cumulative new EV registrations in the Columbus metropolitan area have increased by 121 percent. New EV registrations over this period outpaced the 82 percent expansion in the Midwest region and the 94 percent growth seen across the U.S. over the same time period.

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos en dos semanas.

Flying taxi startup Blade is helping Silicon Valley CEOs bypass traffic

One year after a $38 million Series B valued on-demand aviation startup Blade at $140 million, the company has begun taxiing the Bay Area’s elite.

As part of a new pilot program, Blade has given 200 people in San Francisco and Silicon Valley exclusive access to its mobile app, allowing them to book helicopters, private jets and even seaplanes at a moments notice for $200 per seat, at least.

Blade, backed by Lerer Hippeau, Airbus, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and others, currently flies passengers around the New York City area, where it’s headquartered, offering the region’s wealthy $800 flights to the Hamptons, among other flights at various price points. According to Business Insider, it has worked with Uber in the past to help deep-pocketed Coachella attendees fly to and from the Van Nuys Airport to Palm Springs, renting out six-seat helicopters for more than $4,000 a pop.

Its latest pilot seems to target business travelers, connecting riders to the San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport to Palo Alto, San Jose, Monterey and Napa Valley. The goal is to shorten trips made excruciatingly long due to bad traffic in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Recently, the startup partnered with American Airlines to better establish its network of helicopters, a big step for the company as it works to integrate with existing transportation infrastructure.

Blade, led by founder and chief executive officer Rob Wiesenthal, a former Warner Music Group executive, has raised about $50 million in venture capital funding to date. To launch at scale and, ultimately, to compete with the likes of soon-to-be-public transportation behemoth Uber, it will have to land a lot more investment support.

Uber too has lofty plans to develop a consumer aerial ridesharing business, as do several other privately-funded startups. Called UberAIR, Uber will offer short-term shareable flights to commuters as soon as 2023. The company has raised billions of dollars to turn this sci-fi concept into reality.

Then there’s Kitty Hawk, a company launched by former Google vice president and Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun, which is developing an aircraft that can take off like a helicopter but fly like a plane for short-term urban transportation purposes. Others in the air taxi or vertical take-off and landing aircraft space, including Volocopter, Lilium and Joby Aviation, have raised tens of millions to eliminate traffic congestion or, rather, to chauffer the rich.

Blade’s next stop is India, the Financial Times reports, where it will conduct a pilot connecting travelers in downtown Mumbai and Pune. The company tells TechCrunch they are currently exploring one additional domestic pilot and one additional international pilot.

This YC-backed startup preps Chinese students for US data jobs

In recent years, data analysts have gone from optional to a career that holds great promise, but demand for quantitative skills applied in business decisions has raced ahead of supply as college curriculum often lags behind the fast-changing workplace.

CareerTu, a New York-based startup launched by a former marketing manager at Amazon, aims to close that talent gap. Think of it as Codecademy for digital marketing, data analytics, product design and a whole lot of other jobs that ask one to spot patterns from a sea of data that can potentially boost business efficiency. The six-year-old profitable business runs a flourishing community of 160,000 users and 500 recruiting patners including Amazon, Google and Alibaba, an achievement that has secured the startup a spot at Y Combinator’s latest batch plus a $150,000 check from the Mountain View-based accelerator.

In a way, CareerTu is helping fledgling tech startups on a tight budget train ready-to-use data experts. “American companies have a huge demand for digital marketing and data talents these days … but not all of them want to or can spend money on training, and that’s where we can come in,” said Xu, who made her way into Amazon after burying herself in online tutorials about digital marketing.

The gig was well paid, and Xu felt the urge to share her experience with people like her — Chinese workers and students seeking data jobs in the U.S. She took up blogging, and eventually grew it into an online school. CareerTu offers many of its classes for free while sets aside a handful of premium content for a fee. 6,000 of its users are actively paying, which translates to some $500,000 in revenue last year. The virtual academy continues to blossom as many students return to become mentors, helping their Chinese peers to chase the American dream.

CareerTu

Y Combinator founder Paul Graham (second left) with CareerTu founder Zhang Ruiwan (second right) and her team members / Photo: CareerTu

Securing a job in the U.S. could be a daunting task for international students, who must convince employers to invest the time and money in getting them a work visa. But when it comes to courting scare data talents, the visa trap becomes less relevant.

“Companies could have hired locals to do data work, but it’s very difficult to find the right candidate,” suggested Xu. LinkedIn estimated that in 2018 the U.S. had a shortage of more than 150,000 people with “data science skills,” which find application not just in tech but also traditional sectors like finance and logistics.

“Nationalities don’t matter in this case,” Xu continued. “Employers will happily apply a work visa or even a green card for the right candidate who can help them save money on marketing campaigns. And many Chinese people happen to have a really strong background in data and mathematics.”

A Chinese business in the US

Though most of CareerTu’s users live in the U.S., the business is largely built upon WeChat, Tencent’s messaging app ubiquitous among Chinese users. That CareerTu sticks to WeChat for content marketing, user acquisition and tutoring is telling of the super app’s user stickiness and how overseas Chinese are helping to extend its global footprint.

And it makes increasing sense to keep CareerTu within the WeChat ecosystem after Xu noticed a surge in inquiries coming from her homeland. In 2018, only 5 percent of CareerTu’s users were living in China, many of whom were export sellers on Amazon. By early 2019, the ratio has shot up to 12 percent.

Xu believes there are two forces at work. For one, Chinese exporters are leaving Amazon to set up independent ecommerce sites, efforts that are in part enabled by Shopify’s entry into China in 2018. The alternative path provides merchants more control over branding, margins and access to customer insights. Breaking up with the ecommerce titan, on the other hand, requires Chinese sellers to get savvier at reaching foreign shoppers, expertise that CareerTu prides itself on.

careertu

CareerTu offers online courses via WeChat / Photo: CareerTu

Next door, large Chinese tech firms are increasingly turning abroad to fuel growth. Bytedance is possibly the most aggressive adventurer among its peers in recent years, buying up media startups around the world including Musical.ly, which would later merge with TikTok. Indeed, some of CareerTu’s recent grads have gone on to work at the popular video app. Rising interest from China eventually paved Zhang’s way home as she recently set up her first Chinese office in her hometown Chengdu, the laid-back city known for its panda parks and witnessing a tech boom.

Just as foreign companies need crash courses on WeChat before entering China, Chinese firms going global must familiarize themselves with the marketing mechanisms of Facebook and Google despite China’s ban on the social network and search engine.

When American companies growth hack, they make long-term plans that involve “model building, A/B testing, and making discoveries from big data,” observed Xu. By comparison, Chinese companies fighting in a more competitive landscape are more agile and opportunist as they don’t have the time to ponder or test out the different variants in a campaign.

“Going abroad is a great thing for Chinese companies because it sets them against their American counterparts,” said Xu. “We are teaching Chinese the western way, but we are also learning the Chinese way of marketing from players like Bytedance. I’m excited to see in a few years whether any of these Chinese companies abroad will become a local favorite.”

Taxing your privacy

Data collection through mobile tracking is big business and the potential for companies helping governments monetize this data is huge. For consumers, protecting yourself against the who, what and where of data flow is just the beginning. The question now is: How do you ensure your data isn’t costing you money in the form of new taxes, fees and bills?  Particularly when the entity that stands to benefit from this data — the government — is also tasked with protecting it?

The advances in personal data collection are a source of growing concern for privacy advocates, but whereas most fears tend to focus on what type of data is being collected, who’s watching and to whom is your data being sold, the potential for this same data to be monetized via auditing and compliance fees is even more problematic.

The fact is, you don’t need massive infrastructure to now track/tax businesses and consumers. State governments and municipalities have taken notice.

The result is a potential multi-billion dollar per-year business that, with mobile tracking technology, will only grow exponentially year over year.

Yet, while the revenue upside for companies helping smart cities (and states) with taxing and tolling is significant, it is also rife with contradictions and complications that could, ultimately, pose serious problems to those companies’ underlying business models and for the investors that bet heavily on them.

Internet of Things connecting in cloud over city scape.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/chombosan

The most common argument when privacy advocates bring up concerns around mobile data collection is that consumers almost always have the control to opt out. When governments utilize this data, however, that option is not always available. And the direct result is the monetization of a consumer’s privacy in the form of taxes and tolls. In an era where states like California and others are stepping up as self-proclaimed defenders of citizen privacy and consent, this puts everyone involved in an awkward position — to say the least.

The marriage of smart cities and next-gen location tracking apps is becoming more commonplace.  AI, always-on data flows, sensor networks and connected devices are all being employed by governments in the name of sustainable and equitable cities as well as new revenue.

New York, LA and Seattle are all implementing (or considering implementing) congestion pricing that would ultimately rely on harvesting personal data in some form or another. Oregon, which passed the first gas tax in 1919, began it’s OreGo Program two years ago utilizing data that measured miles driven to levy fees on drivers so as to address infrastructure issues with its roads and highways.

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

As more state and local governments look to emulate these kinds of policies the revenue opportunity for companies and investors harvesting this data is obvious.  Populus, (and a portfolio company) a data platform that helps cities manage mobility, captures data from fleets like Uber and Lyft to help cities set policy and collect fees.

Similarly, ClearRoad  is a “road pricing transaction processor” that leverages data from vehicles to help governments determine road usage for new revenue streams.  Safegraph, on the other hand, is a company that daily collects millions of trackers from smartphones via apps, APIs and other delivery methods often leaving the business of disclosure up to third parties. Data like this has begun to make its way into smart city applications which could impact industries as varied as the real estate market to the Gig Economy.

“There are lots of companies that are using location technology, 3D scanning, sensor tracking and more.  So, there are lots of opportunities to improve the effectiveness of services and for governments to find new revenue streams,” says Paul Salama, COO of ClearRoad . “If you trust the computer to regulate, as opposed to the written code, then you can allow for a lot more dynamic types of regulation and that extends beyond vehicles to noise pollution, particulate emissions, temporary signage, etc.”

While most of these platforms and technologies endeavor to do some public good by creating the baseline for good policy and sustainable cities they also raise concerns about individual privacy and the potential for discrimination.  And there is an inherent contradiction for states ostensibly tasked with curbing the excesses of data collection then turning around and utilizing that same data to line the state’s coffers, sometimes without consent or consumer choice.

Image courtesy Bryce Durbin

“People care about their privacy and there are aspects that need to be hashed out”, says Salama. “But we’re talking about a lot of unknowns on that data governance side.  There’s definitely going to be some sort of reckoning at some point but it’s still so early on.”

As policy makers and people become more aware of mobile phone tracking and the largely unregulated data collection associated with it, the question facing companies in this space is how to extract all this societally beneficial data while balancing that against some pretty significant privacy concerns.

“There will be options,” says Salama.  “An example is Utah which, starting next year, will offer electric cars the option to pay a flat fee (for avoiding gas taxes) or pay-by-the-mile.  The pay-by-the-mile option is GPS enabled but it also has additional services, so you pay by your actual usage.”

Ultimately, for governments, regulation plus transparency seems the likeliest way forward.

Image courtesy Getty Images

In most instances, the path to the consumer or tax payer is either through their shared economy vehicle (car, scooter, bike, etc.) or though their mobile device.  While taxing fleets is indirect and provides some measure of political cover for the governments generating revenue off of them, there is no such cover for directly taxing citizens via data gathered through mobile apps.

The best case scenario to short circuit these inherent contradictions for governments is to actually offer choice in the form of their own opt-in for some value exchange or preferred billing method, such as Utah’s opt-in as an alternative way to pay for road use vs. gas tax.   It may not satisfy all privacy concerns, particularly when it is the government sifting through your data, but it at least offers a measure of choice and a tangible value.

If data collection and sharing were still mainly the purview of B2B businesses and global enterprises, perhaps the rising outcry over the methods and usage of data collection would remain relatively muted. But as data usage seeps into more aspects of everyday life and is adopted by smart cities and governments across the nation questions around privacy will invariably get more heated, particularly when citizen consumers start feeling the pinch in their wallet.

As awareness rises and inherent contradictions are laid bare, regulation will surely follow and those businesses not prepared may face fundamental threats to their business models that ultimately threaten their bottom line.

Glossier launches its first spin-off brand, a line of Instagram-friendly ‘dialed-up’ beauty extras

Glossier, known for its line of understated makeup products and a cult-following of millennial Instagrammers, is getting colorful with the launch of its first spin-off brand, Glossier Play.

The company — led by founder and chief executive officer Emily Weiss, who built the nearly $400 million business from a makeup blog called Into The Gloss — has raised a total of $92 million in venture capital funding from top-tier consumer investors Forerunner Ventures, Index Ventures and IVP. Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake and Forerunner founder and general partner Kirsten Green, are among the company’s board members.

Weiss introduced Glossier in 2014 as a clean-skincare and natural beauty advocate. Today, the direct-to-consumer business boasts a growing line of barely there makeup, designed to mimic Weiss’s own subtle, au naturale vibe. The launch of Glossier Play, inspired by 1970s’ nostalgia, is its first foray into bright colors, glitter and, in the brand’s own words, “dialed-up extras.”

“We wanted to explore color the Glossier way,” a spokesperson for the company said. “This meant developing high-quality products without the moody, expert-centric rhetoric of most luxury brands. Glossier Play is all about fun and creative expression. These products were two years in the making, and just like Glossier’s modern essentials, they are designed to stand the test of time (not trend-driven or fast fashion).”

Glossier Play’s initial line-up of “extras” includes colored eyeliners ($15), highlighters ($20), multi-purpose glitter gel ($14) and the “Vinylic Lip” ($16). Customers can purchase “The Playground,” a set that includes each of the new products, for $60.

The advertising campaign for the Instagram -friendly line will be led by none other than Instagram star Donté Colley, as well as pop musician Troye Sivan. The new line and future spin-offs will help Glossier compete with beauty incumbents, Estée Lauder and L’Oréal, for example, in a market estimated to be worth $750 billion by 2024.

Glossier, headquartered in New York, counts 200 employees, meager in comparison to its nearly 2 million — and growing — social media following. The company surpassed $100 million in annual revenue in 2018, it tells TechCrunch, and acquired 1 million new customers. In total, Glossier retails 29 products across skincare, makeup, body, and fragrance.

The company won’t be introducing additional brands this year and clarified it is not a brand incubator.

Jupiter raises $23 million to tell businesses and governments how climate change will destroy them

Whether it’s by flood, fire, or the fury of a storm, climate-related catastrophes are now impacting most cities and towns across the country. As these natural disasters increase in frequency and severity, cities and the businesses that reside in them are mobilizing to understand how best to prepare for the climatological challenges they’re going to face — and increasingly they’re turning to companies like Jupiter Intelligence for information.

From offices in San Mateo, Calif., Boulder, Colo., and New York Jupiter Intelligence has made a business selling data from satellite imagery and advanced computer models to cities like New York and Miami, along with the Federal government and big insurance and real estate customers.

With its new financing, Jupiter plans to take its show on the global road, and is bringing its services to clients in Rotterdam, London, and Singapore.

It’s a story that has its roots in over two decades of work from founders Rich Sorkin, Eric Wun, Josh Hacker, and Alan Blumberg.

Wun and Sorkin met in 1996 in the early days of the development of mapping and weather prediction technologies. And got their start in the business co-founding Zeus, a weather prediction technology developer that was pitching its services to commodities traders.

“Zeus was way too early from a technology platform perspective,” says Sorkin. “We put Zeus on the shelf eight years ago. Then when we came up with the idea for Jupiter most of the early ideas were already there.”

In the interim, Sorkin served as the president of Kaggle, a company Google acquired back in 2017. By that point, Sorkin had already left to launch Jupiter, which he started in 2016.

While Zeus predicted the thirty day weather for commodities traders, Jupiter is a more powerful toolkit that predicts the possibility of damage from severe weather and climate change for a much broader set of customers, Sorkin says.

Wun and Sorkin were on board immediately, and the next person to join the fledgling team, was Hacker — who had run satellite operations for Skybox — another Google acquisition. Following the merger of Skybox with Planet Labs, Hacker took a job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce (one of the pre-eminent organizations focused on climate change).

The final recruit was Blumberg who was approached because of his role in developing the Princeton Ocean Model, which is used by over 5700 research and operational groups in 70 countries and his leadership position in developing 2-hour and 4-day flood predictions for Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Storm surge from Hurricane Sandy in New York City

After its launch the company was able to land three big insurance companies, QBE, Mitsui, and Nephila, which all agreed to throw cash into the company’s new $23 million round.

Jupiter’s predictive and analytics technologies have applications far beyond insurance. Airports, ports, power plants, water facilities, hospitals, municipal and even the federal government are turning to the company for information, according to Sorkin.

Jupiter raised $1 million in its seed round from DCVC (Data Collective) and then closed on $10 million more from Ignition Partners . The latest $23 million was led by Energize Ventures, a fund focused on infrastructure and climate-related investments.

SYSTEMIQ, which was co-founded by McKinsey veteran Jeremy Oppenheim, also invested in Jupiter’s Series B. The architect of McKinsey’s Sustainability and Resource Practice said in a statement, “For a decade the planet has needed the kind of repeatable, globally consistent, insurance grade analytics Jupiter now delivers.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The toolkit that the company pitches does purport to offer new levels of granularity and insight into the kinds of threats climate and weather-related disasters post to government and private assets.

“We predict probabilistically at the asset level… at the loading dock of a warehouse or a transmission box or a hotel on the beach, we determine the actual expected risk in a form that the insurance industry or the risk manager at an organization can use and integrate into their plans,” says Sorkin. 

The company’s process begins with global climate models and then drills down into a specific region which is used as the basis of predicting peril-like events, according to Sorkin.

That goes into a statistical model which translate the predictions into a form that quantifies the uncertainty and in a way that’s tailored to decision makers, he said.

Using APIs from Mapbox, the company can also provide a mapping interface that gives customers visualizations along with a product that lets users see what damage can look like inside of a building through virtual reality and a collaboration with Oculus.

“The strategy was to start with one peril in one place in one market so we started with flooding in Carolinas for the real estate,” says Sorkin. “We have expanded into much broader perils and geographies and market segments.”

For all of the time that Sorkin spends modeling out how cities will meet their doom in one form of cataclysm or another, Jupiter’s chief executive is fairly positive about the prospects for society to withstand the climate threat it currently faces.

“Even with all the bad things that could happen, we don’t think the apocalypse is inevitable,” Sorkin says. “The extent of damage is a function of how much people invest in avoiding it over the next decade.”

Transportation Weekly: Polestar CEO speaks, Tesla terminology, and a tribute

Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fourth edition of our newsletter, a weekly jaunt into the wonderful world of transportation and how we (and our packages) move.

This week we chat with Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath, dig into Lyft’s S-1, take note of an emerging trend in AV development, and check out an experiment with paving. Oh, and how could we forget Tesla.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming). 


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

This week, we’re featuring excerpts taken from a one-on-one interview with Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath.

On February 27, Volvo’s standalone electric performance brand Polestar introduced its first all-electric vehicle, a five-door fastback called the Polestar 2. The EV, which has a 78 kWh battery pack and can travel 275 miles (estimated EPA guidance) on a single charge, will be manufactured at a new factory in Chengdu, China. Other notable specs: The infotainment system will be powered by Android OS, Polestar is offering subscriptions to the vehicle, and production starts in 2020.

yellow-jacket-polestar

Here is what Ingenlath had to say to me about …

EV charging infrastructure

To be very unpolitical, I think it would be totally stupid if we were to aim to develop electric charging infrastructure on our own or for our brand specifically. If you join the electric market today, of course, you would see partnerships; that’s sensible thing to do. Car companies together are making a big effort in getting out a network of necessary charging stations along the highway. 

That’s what we’re doing; we’re teaming up and have the contracts being designed and soon signed.

On the company’s approach to automation 

The terminology is important for us. We very clearly put that into a different picture, we’re not talking about, and we clearly do not ever want to label it, anautopilot.” The focus of this system is a very safe distance control, which brakes for you and accelerates for you, and of course, the lane keeping. This is not about developing an autopilot system, it is about giving your safety. And that’s where we don’t want to provoke people thinking that they have full rollout autopilot system there. But it is a system that helps you being safe and protected on the road.

I also reached out to Transportation Weekly readers and asked what they wanted to know and then sent some of those questions to Ingenlath.

TW Reader: How did it feel taking one of your personal styling elements – the C shaped rear lamps – from your previous brand over to Polestar?
Ingenlath: It’s an evolutionary process. Polestar naturally builds on its “mothers” DNA and as a new branch develops its own personality. Thor’s hammer, the rear light signature -—with each new model launch (Volvo and Polestar) those elements diverge into a brand specific species.
TW Reader: How much do you still get to do what you love, which is design?
Ingenlath: Being creative is still my main job, now applied on a broader scope — trying to lead a company with a creative and  brand building mindset. Still, I love the Fridays when I meet up with Robin and Max to review the models, sketches and new data. We really enjoy driving the design of both brands to new adventures.

Dig In

Tesla is finally going to offer customers a $35,000 Model 3. How the automaker is able to sell this electric vehicle at the long-awaited $35,000 price point is a big piece of that story — and one that some overlooked. In short, the company is blowing up its sales model and moving to an online only strategy. Tesla stores will close or be converted to “information centers” and retail employees will be laid off.

But this is not what we’re going to talk about today. Tesla has also brought back its so-called “full self-driving” feature, which was removed as an option on its website last year. Now it’s back. Owners can opt for Autopilot, which has automatic steering on highways and traffic-aware cruise control, or FSD.

FSD capability includes several features such as Navigate on Autopilot that is supposed to guide a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including navigating interchanges and making lane changes. FSD also includes Advanced Summon, Auto Lane Change, and Autopark. Later this year, the system will recognize and respond to traffic lights in more complex urban environments, Tesla says.

All of these features require the driver to be engaged (or ready to take over), yet it’s called “full self-driving.” Now Tesla has two controversially named automation features. (The other is Autopilot). As Andrew Hawkins at The Verge noted in his coverage, “experts are beginning to realize that the way we discuss, and how companies market, autonomy is significant.”

Which begs the obvious question, and one that I asked Musk during a conference call on Thursday. “Isn’t it a problem that you’re calling this full self-driving capability when you’re still going to require the driver to take control or be paying attention?” (I also wanted to ask a followup on his response, but the moderator moved onto the next reporter).

His response:

“We are very clear when you buy the car what is meant by full self driving. It means it’s feature complete, but feature complete requiring supervision.

As we get more — we really need billions of miles, if not maybe 10 billion sort of miles or kilometers on that order collectively from the fleet — then in our opinion probably at that point supervision is not required, but that will still be up to regulators to agree.

So we’re just very clear.  There’s really three steps: there’s being feature complete of full self driving that requires supervision, feature complete but not requiring supervision, and feature complete not requiring supervision and regulators agree.

In other Tesla news, the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating a crash, that at first glance seems to be similar to the fatal crash that killed Tesla owner Joshua Brown.


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

blinky-cat-bird

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh is one of the hubs of autonomous vehicle development in the world. But what’s not so widely known — except for a group of government and company insiders — is that Mayor William Peduto is on the verge of issuing an executive order that will give more visibility into testing there. 

The city’s department of mobility and infrastructure is the central coordinator of this new executive order that aims to help guide testing and policy development there. The department is going to develop guidelines for AV testing, we’re told. And it appears that information on testing will be released to the public at least once a year.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.


Deal of the week

Daimler and BMW are supposed to be competitors. And they are, except with mapping (both part of the HERE consortium), mobility services (car sharing, ride-sharing), and now the development of highly automated driving systems. The deal is notable because it illustrates a larger trend that has emerged as the AV industry hunkers down into the “trough of disillusionment.” And that’s consolidation. If 2016, was the year of splashy acquisitions, then 2019 is shaping up to be chockfull of alliances and failures (of some startups).

Also interesting to note, and one that will make some AV safety experts cringe, both companies are working on Level 3 driving automation, a designation by the SAE that means conditional driving automation in which multiple high levels of automation are available in certain conditions, but a human driver must be ready to take over. This level of automation is the most controversial because of the so-called “hand off” problem in which a human driver is expected to take control of the wheel in time.

Speaking of partnerships, another deal that got our attention this week involved New York-based mapping and data analytics startup Carmera and Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development. TRI-AD is an autonomous drive unit started by Toyota with Denso and Aisin. TRI-AD’s mission is to take the research being done over at the Toyota Research Institute and turn its into a product.

The two companies are going to test a concept that will use cameras in Toyota test vehicles to collect data from downtown Tokyo and use it to create high definition maps for urban and surface roads.

TRI-AD considers this the first step towards its open software platform concept known as Automated Mapping Platform that will be used to support the scalability of highly automated driving, by combining data gathered from vehicles of participating companies to generate HD maps. AMP is new and has possible widespread implications at Toyota. And TRI-AD is full of A-listers, including CEO James Kuffner, who came from the Google self-driving project and Nikos Michalakis, who built Netflix’s cloud platform, and Mandali Khalesi, who was at HERE.

Read more on Khalesi and the Toyota’s open source ambitions here.

Other deals:


Snapshot

Snapshot this week is a bit untraditional. It’s literally a snapshot of myself and my grandmother, months before her 100th birthday. Her memorial service was held Saturday. She died at 101. She loved cars and fast ones, but not so much driving them. And every time I got a new press car, we’d hit the road and she’d encourage me to take the turns a bit faster.

She also loved road trips and in the 1920s, her father would drive the family on the mostly dirt roads from New Jersey to Vermont and even Canada. In her teens, she loved riding in the rumble seat, a feature found in a few vehicles at the time including the Ford Model A.

She was young at heart, until the very end. Next week, we’ll focus on the youngest drivers and one automotive startup that is targeting that demographic.


Tiny but mighty micromobility

Lyft’s S-1 lays out the risks associated with its micromobility business and its intent to continue relying on third parties to manufacture its bikes and scooters. Here’s a key nugget about adoption:

“While some major cities have widely adopted bike and scooter sharing, there can be no assurance that new markets we enter will accept, or existing markets will continue to accept, bike and scooter sharing, and even if they do, that we will be able to execute on our business strategy or that our related offerings will be successful in such markets. Even if we are able to successfully develop and implement our network of shared bikes and scooters, there may be heightened public skepticism of this nascent service offering.”

And another about seasonality:

“Our limited operating history makes it difficult for us to assess the exact nature or extent of the effects of seasonality on our network of shared bikes and scooters, however, we expect the demand for our bike and scooter rentals to decline over the winter season and increase during more temperate and dry seasons.”

Lyft, which bought bike-share company Motivate back in July, also released some data about its electric pedal-assist bikes this week, showing that the pedal assist bikes are, unsurprisingly, more popular than the traditional bikes. They also traveled longer distances and improved winter ridership numbers. Now, Lyft is gearing up to deploy 4,000 additional electric bikes to the Citi Bike system in New York City.

One more thing …

Google Maps has added a feature that lets users see Lime scooters, pedal bikes and e-bikes right from the transit tab in over 80 new cities around the world. Users can click the tab to find out if Lime vehicle is available, how long it’ll take to walk to the vehicle, an estimate of how much their ride could cost, along with total journey time and ETA.


Notable reads

If take the time to read anything this week (besides this newsletter), spend some time with Lyft’s S-1. The ride-hailing company’s prospectus mentions autonomous 109 times. In short, yeah, it’s something the company’s executives are thinking about and investing in.

Lyft says it has a two-pronged strategy to bring autonomous vehicles to market. The company encouraging developers of autonomous vehicle technology to use its open platform to get access to its network and enable their vehicles to fulfill rides on the Lyft platform. And Lyft is trying to build its own autonomous vehicle system at its confusingly named “Level 5 Engineering Center.”

  • The company’s primary investors are Rakuten with a 13 percent stake, GM with 7.8 percent, Fidelity with 7.7 percent, Andreessen Horowitz with 6.3 percent and Alphabet with 5.3 percent. GM and Alphabet have business units, GM Cruise and Waymo respectively, that are also developing AV technology.
  • Through Lyft’s partnership with AV systems developer and supplier Aptiv, people in Las Vegas have taken more than 35,000 rides in Aptiv autonomous vehicles with a safety driver since January 2018.
  • One of the “risks” the company lists is “a failure to detect a defect in our autonomous vehicles or our bikes or scooters”

Other quotable notables:

Check out the Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State report, a newly released report from Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll called  The State of Electric Vehicles in America.


Testing and deployments

Again, deployments doesn’t always mean the latest autonomous vehicle pilot.

On Saturday, Sidewalk Labs hosted its Open Sidewalk event in Toronto. This is part of Sidewalk Toronto, a joint effort by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to create a “mixed-use, complete community” on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront

The idea of this event was to share ideas and prototypes for making outdoor public space the “social default year-round.” One such prototype “hexagonal paving” got our attention because of its use case for traffic control and pedestrian and bicyclist safety. (Pictured below)

These individual precast concrete slabs are movable and permeable, can light up and give off heat. The idea is that these hexagonal-shaped slabs and be used to clear snow and ice in trouble spots and light up to warn drivers and pedestrians of changes to the street use or to illuminate an area for public uses or even designate bike lanes and hazard zones. And because they’re permeable they can be used to absorb stormwater or melted snow and guide it to underground stormwater management systems.

Sidewalk Labs tell me that the pavers have “plug and play” holes, which allow things like bike racks, bollards, and sign posts to be inserted. Sidewalk Labs initially built these with wood, and the new prototype is the next iteration, featuring modules built from concrete.


On our radar

There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month.

The Geneva Motor Show: Press days are March 5 and March 6. Expect concept, prototype and production electric vehicles from Audi, Honda, Kia, Peugeot, Pininfarina, Polestar, Spanish car company Hispano Suiza, and Volkswagen.

SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW this coming week. Here’s where I’ll be.

  • 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. March 9 at the Empire Garage for the Smart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
  • 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
  • 3:30 p.m over at the Hilton Austin Downtown, I’ll be moderating a panel Re-inventing the Wheel: Own, Rent, Share, Subscribe. Sherrill Kaplan with Zipcar, Amber Quist, with Silvercar and Russell Lemmer with Dealerware will join me.
  • TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here

Self Racing Cars

Finally, I’ve been in contact with Joshua Schachter who puts on the annual Self Racing Car event, which will be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.

There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at [email protected].

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos la próxima vez.

WeWork confirms it has laid off 300 employees

Co-working juggernaut WeWork (now known as the We Company) has laid off 3 percent of its global workforce, or roughly 300 employees, the company told TechCrunch. The heavily funded business, most recently valued at a whopping $47 billion, employs 10,000 people around the world.

Headquartered in New York, the layoffs were performance-related, part of the company’s perfunctory process of shedding dead weight. Among the departments impacted by the cuts were WeWork’s engineering team, product and user experience design.

“Over the past nine years, WeWork has grown into one of the largest global physical networks thanks to the hard work and dedication of our team,” the company said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “WeWork recently conducted a standard annual performance review process. Our global workforce is now more than 10,000 strong, and we remain committed to continuing to grow and scale in 2019, including hiring an additional 6,000 employees.”

WeWork has raised more than $8 billion in venture capital funding since it emerged to disrupt office sharing. The business is backed significantly by the SoftBank Vision Fund, which invested $2 billion in WeWork as recently as January.

Zero Motorcycles leads in electric motorcycles as BRP scoops up Alta’s remains

As the mobility world awaits Harley Davidson’s EV debut, there’s plenty of motion in the e-moto startup space.

Zero Motorcycles unveiled its new 110 horsepower SR/F model in New York this week, offering a 200 mile range, one hour charge capability, and top speed of 124 mph.

The California based startup—whose investors include New York VC firm Invus—wired the SR/F with Zero’s new Cypher III operating system and Bosch’s Motorcycle Stability Control.

Both combine to offer remotely synced mobile connectivity to the motorcycle’s charge status and performance controls. The 485 pound SR/F is upgraded from Zero’s existing line-up to include cornering ABS, traction control, and a new app and dash interface.

Zero’s two-wheeler comes in at an entry price of $18,995. On the business side, the EV startup could produce as many as 10,000 SR/Fs and add members to its 200 dealer network, CEO Sam Paschel told TechCrunch in New York.

Zero’s SR/F enters the e-moto market in a year where EV startups will face more competition on specs and pricing, and big motorcycle manufacturers will feel more pressure to go electric.

From a business perspective, as TechCrunch has reported, the U.S. motorcycle industry has been in pretty bad shape since the recession. New sales dropped by roughly 50 percent since 2008, with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40. The exception is women, who have become the only growing motorcycle ownership segment.

E-moto upstarts have worked to attract new riders and close gaps with gas motorcycles in performance and cost—but most offerings have come with some compromise.

Italian company Energica’s models hit high marks in tech controls and performance—with 150 horsepower, 30 minute fast-charge times, and 125 mile range—but not without a hefty price of $20K and up.

Lightning Motorcycles, another California based e-moto startup, offers ultra-high end of performance, claiming the world’s fastest production motorcycle in the world with its LS-218. But the $38K, 218 mph, track bred e-moto isn’t exactly average rider accessible.

Zero Motorcycles has found the widest market and model breadth, with prices starting at $8K on its FX model. Still, Zero’s e-motos (including the $16K SR) haven’t matched the performance control options, specs, or charge-times of the higher priced Energica Ego or Eva.

In 2019, Zero’s new machine—and a model being teased by Lightning—could bridge gaps in performance, range, charge-times, and price that have held many back from going e-motorcycle.

With its Bosch MSC system and upgraded operating system, the fully redesigned SR/F matches Energica in digital performance controls and comes close on power and speed at a more competitive price.

As TechCrunch reported, Lightning began taking reservations for a $12,998 Strike e-moto with some almost unbelievable stats at that price: 150 mph top speed, 35 minute charge-time, and 150 mile range. Lighting calls it their “first premium mass-market motorcycle,” with plans to unveil sometime in March.

Both Zero and Lightning’s 2019 models are positioned to compete with Harley Davidson’s EV entry, the $29K LiveWire expected to debut sometime this summer. HD revealed more product specs recently, such as 3 second 0-60 mph acceleration and 110 mile range. Harley Davidson has also indicated it plans a full pivot to electric, with additional e-motorcycles in the pipeline, as well as e-bicycles and scooters.

Harley’s electric moves, as well as Zero and Lightning’s more competitive offerings, could hasten major motorcycle manufacturers’ plans to sell e-motos. None of the big names producers—Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW—have offered a production electric street motorcycle in the U.S. HD will be the first.

With momentum in the motorcycle world shifting electric, there are more than a few caveats as to whether there’s a viable U.S. market. In addition to the contracting sales environment, the e-moto startup space has racked up a series of failures. These include Brammo, Mission Motorcycles, and more recently,  Alta Motors—a California based EV venture backed by $45 million in VC that ceased operations in October. Alta had a partnership with Harley Davidson (now defunct) and there’s been little light shed on what forced them to shut off the lights.

Alta Motors resurfaced last week, when Canadian company BRP—the owner of such brands as snowmobile maker Ski-Doo and watercraft producer Sea-Doo—acquired select Assets of Alta. There had been hopes someone would purchase and revive the California e-moto startup, but that looks unlikely. “We don’t have any current plans for resuscitating Alta Motors in it’s old form,” BRP’s Vice President for Communications Leslie Quinton told TechCrunch. “We have no plans yet to announce how we’re going to use the technologies,” she said.

So as Harley Davidson, Zero, and Lightning move to mainstream electric motorcycles in 2019, it appears another e-moto startup has officially faded into history.

Justin Caldbeck sues Binary Capital co-founder Jonathan Teo, claiming he ‘made no effort to save the firm’

Embattled venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck (pictured) is suing his former co-Binary Capital founder Jonathan Teo, alleging breach of contract, fraud and more.

Caldbeck, accused of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances in 2017, took an indefinite leave of absence from Binary Capital, leaving to Teo all the responsibilities of the $175 million fund. Shortly after, Teo offered to step down in a last-ditch effort to keep the firm afloat. Ultimately, Binary Capital shut down and New York venture capital firm Lerer Hippeau assumed responsibility for its $125 million debut investment vehicle, 70 percent of which has been deployed, per details shared in the lawsuit.

In the legal filing submitted to the Superior Court of The State of California, Caldbeck accuses Teo of mismanagement following his June 2017 departure. We’ve reached out to lawyers for both parties for comment.

“Mr. Teo completely abandoned the leadership responsibilities that were entrusted to him, neglecting to take the most basic steps required to run a venture capital firm,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Teo was laughably bad at this job. As another Silicon Valley entrepreneur remarked publicly, ‘this guy has done everything possible wrong.’ ”

The filing cites 500 Startups and Sherpa Capital as examples of funds that were able to survive following similar scandals wherein a partner was accused of sexual harassment and misconduct. Caldbeck, in essence, is upset Teo wasn’t able to successfully run Binary Capital following his own alleged wrongdoings.

Binary Capital co-founders Jonathan Teo and Justin Caldbeck

Caldbeck, who’s taken to angel investing in the months following the high-profile scandal, was previously a managing director at Lightspeed Venture Partners before launching Binary Capital alongside Teo in 2014. Teo, for his part, was formerly a managing director at General Catalyst. Binary Capital, an early-stage fund, has backed companies including plus-sized clothing business Dia&Co and airfare search engine Skiplagged.

According to several reports, Teo had hoped to keep Binary Capital alive after The Information published a report highlighting six women’s allegations of being groped and propositioned during their professional relationship with Caldbeck.

Caldbeck, however, is less than satisfied with Teo’s handling of those allegations and the wave of “negative press articles” that followed. Caldbeck also claims he resigned from the firm only in exchange for a promise for future financial stability from Teo.

In the months following his departure, Caldbeck asserts Teo took personal vacations to Mongolia, Ibiza and the Burning Man festival. He “went AWOL,” “was completely unresponsive,” “seemed not to care,” and “made no effort to save the firm,” per the filing.

Teo, additionally, allegedly took on an operating role at Binary Capital portfolio company Trillex, where he increased corporate spending limits to purchase gifts for himself, including taking out a more than $2 million unauthorized loan to pay his personal taxes and to assist a family member with a real estate project.

According to a Forbes report on the lawsuit, Teo’s legal team says “The justice system will soon remind Mr. Caldbeck that he alone is responsible for his many misdeeds.” We will update this report when he hear back from Caldbeck and Teo’s legal teams.

Here’s the full lawsuit: