Daily Crunch: Waymo opens up driverless ride-hailing

Alphabet’s self-driving technology company hits a major milestone, Apple TV+ extends its free subscription period and Affirm files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for October 8, 2020.

The big story: Waymo opens up driverless ride-hailing

Waymo hit a major milestone today: It’s offering fully driverless rides to (some) members of the public.

While the Alphabet-owned company has offered plenty of self-driving rides before, they usually came with a human in the driver’s seat for safety. Members of the early rider program who’d signed nondisclosure agreements were able to try out fully driverless rides — but again, they had to sign NDAs first.

Today, the company said members of its more open Waymo One program in Phoenix will be able to go fully driverless, and to take friends and family with them. And over the next few weeks, the program will open up to even more passengers.

The tech giants

Apple is extending some Apple TV+ subs through February 2021 for free — Apple gave away a free year of Apple TV+ to new device purchasers last year; now it’s bumping those subs out to February.

Amazon debuts its first fully electric delivery vehicle, created in partnership with Rivian — The van’s unique features include sensor-based highway driving and traffic assist features.

IBM plans to spin off infrastructure services as a separate $19B business — The company said this will allow it to focus on newer opportunities in hybrid cloud applications and artificial intelligence.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Instacart raises $200M more at a $17.7B valuation — It’s not hard to trace a connection between COVID-19 and Instacart’s business results.

Affirm files confidentially to go public — The news comes after the impending debut was reported in July.

Delivery startup goPuff raises $380M at a $3.9B valuation — GoPuff delivers products like over-the-counter medicine, baby food and alcohol (basically, the stuff you’d buy at a convenience store) in 30 minutes or less.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Investors, founders report hot market for API startups — Startups that deliver their service via an API are having a moment.

Tech’s role in the COVID-19 response: Assist, don’t reinvent — Speakers at Disrupt explained how technology companies have taken a backseat to frontline workers, rather than attempting to “solve” the issues on their own.

These 3 factors are holding back podcast monetization — Fundamental fixes could unleash the channel’s revenue potential.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

General Motors finally gets serious about in-car tech, taps Unreal Engine for next-gen interface — Matt Burns writes that GM’s current crop of in-car user interfaces is among the worst on the market.

Consumers spent a record $28B in apps in Q3, aided by pandemic — According to a new report from App Annie, consumers in the third quarter downloaded 33 billion new apps globally.

US Space Force is getting an immersive space sim training tool built in part by the VFX studio behind ‘The Mandalorian’ — The U.S. Space Force obviously won’t be able to train most of their service people in actual space, so the new arm of America’s defense forces has tasked Slingshot Aerospace to create a VR space sim.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Waymo starts to open driverless ride-hailing service to the public

Waymo, the Google self-driving-project-turned-Alphabet unit, is beginning to open up its driverless ride-hailing service to the public.

The company said that starting today, members of its Waymo One service will be able to take family and friends along on their fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. Existing Waymo One members will have the first access to the driverless rides — terminology that means no human behind the wheel. However, the company said that in the next several weeks more people will be welcomed directly into the service through its app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.

Waymo said that 100% of its rides will be fully driverless — which it has deemed its “rider only” mode. That 100% claim requires a bit of unpacking. The public shouldn’t expect hundreds of Waymo-branded Chrysler Pacifica minivans — no human behind the wheel — to suddenly inundate the entire 600-plus square miles of the greater Phoenix area.

Waymo has abut 600 vehicles in its fleet. About 300 to 400 of those are in the Phoenix area. Waymo wouldn’t share exact numbers of how many of these vehicles would be dedicated to driverless rides. However, Waymo CEO John Krafcik explained to TechCrunch in a recent interview that there will be various modes operating in the Phoenix area. Some of these will be “rider only,” while other vehicles will still have trained safety operators behind the wheel. Some of the fleet will also be used for testing.

“We’re just ready from every standpoint,” Krafcik told TechCrunch. “And how do we know we’re ready? We’ve had our wonderful group of early riders, who’ve helped us hone the service, obviously not from a safety standpoint because we’ve had the confidence on the safety side for some time, but rather more for the fit of the product itself.” He added that these early riders helped the company determine if the product was “delivering satisfaction and delight for them.”

Later this year, Waymo will relaunch rides with a trained vehicle operator to add capacity and allow us to serve a larger geographical area. Krafcik said the company is in the process of adding in-vehicle barriers between the front row and rear passenger cabin for in-vehicle hygiene and safety.

Waymo operates in about a 100-square-mile area. The driverless or “rider only” service area that will be offered to Waymo One members is about 50 square miles, Krafcik said.

Despite the various caveats, this is still a milestone — one of many the company has achieved in the past decade. The past five years has been particularly packed, starting with Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, taking the “first: driverless ride in the company’s Firefly prototype on Austin’s city streets in 2015. More than a dozen journalists experienced driverless rides in 2017 on a closed course at Waymo’s testing facility in Castle. Then last November, TechCrunch took one of the first driverless rides in a Waymo Pacifica minivan along the public streets of a Phoenix suburb.

waymo-driverless app

The company scaled its commercial product even as these demos and testing continued. In 2017, Waymo launched its early rider program, which let vetted members of the public, who had signed non-disclosure agreements, hail its self-driving cars in the Phoenix area. Those autonomous vehicles all had human safety operators behind the wheel.

Waymo then launched Waymo One, a self-driving ride-hailing service aimed for public use, no NDA strings attached. But again, those rides all had human safety operators in the driver’s seat, ready to take over if needed. Waymo slowly moved its early rider program members into the more open Waymo One service. It also started experimenting with charging for rides and expanded its footprint — or geofenced service area. Today, the company charges for rides across all of its programs (early rider and Waymo One) in the Phoenix area. The Waymo One service (with human safety operators) is about 100 square miles in Phoenix suburbs like Chandler.

The first meaningful signs that Waymo was ready to put people in vehicles without human safety operators popped up last fall when members of its early rider program received an email indicating that driverless rides would soon become available.

And they did. These driverless rides were limited and free. And importantly, still fell under the early rider program, which had that extra NDA protection. Waymo slowly scaled until about 5 to 10% of its total rides in 2020 were fully driverless for its exclusive group of early riders under NDA. Then COVID-19 hit and the service was halted. The company has continued testing with its safety drivers in Arizona and California. That has raised some concerns among those workers about the dual issue of catching COVID and dealing with air quality issues caused by wildfires in California.

Waymo said it has added new safety protocols due to COVID-19, including requiring users to wear masks, having hand sanitizer in all vehicles and conducting what Krafcik described as a cabin flush — essentially a four to five-time increase in air volume sent through the vehicle — after every ride.

Krafcik also said Waymo will soon add the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace to the mix, first testing them on public roads and then adding the vehicles to the early rider program.

Updated: The company charges for all rides now in Phoenix. 

Yandex spins out self-driving car unit from its Uber JV, invests $150M into newco

Self-driving cars are still many years away from becoming a ubiquitous reality, but today one of the bigger efforts to build and develop them is taking a significant step out as part of its strategy to be at the forefront for when they do. Yandex — the publicly-traded Russian tech giant that started as a search engine but has expanded into a number of other, related areas (similar to US counterpart Google) — today announced that it is spinning out its self-driving car unit from MLU BV — a ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture it operates in partnership with Uber.

The move comes amid reports that Yandex and Uber were eyeing up an IPO for MLU. The JV was estimated to be valued at around $7.7 billion last October. It’s now clear how those plans will have been impacted in recent months, with COVID-19 putting huge pressure on ride-hailing and food-delivery businesses globally, and IPOs generally down compared to a year ago.

As part of the spin-out, Yandex is investing $150 million into the business. That will include $100 million in equity, plus $50 million in the form of a convertible loan, the company said. It added that it had invested some $65 million in the business up to now. Yandex is buying out some of Uber’s shares in this process and will now have a 73% stake in the spun-out business, with Uber owning 19%, and the remaining 8% owned by Yandex self-driving group (SDG) management and employees

It’s not clear if spinning out the unit is intended to improve the unit economics and cost base of the MLU unit, or if it’s being done to double down on more focused investment in self-driving, or perhaps a combination of both.

“We are excited to increase our stake in this strategically important part of our business,” said Arkady Volozh, CEO and co-founder of Yandex, in a statement. “In just a short period of time, we have achieved breakthrough results in autonomous driving. We firmly believe in the future of autonomous mobility as a safe and cost-effective form of transportation with a vast addressable market. The additional capital that we are investing in SDG will allow it to continue to pursue the R&D and productization of autonomous mobility.”

Dmitry Polishchuk, who has been running the unit, will be the CEO of new self-driving group.

We have asked what the valuation will be of the new unit — we will update if and when we learn more — but when the spin-out first occurred in 2017 as a part of a bigger strategy at Uber to divest of some of its less profitable, ultra-competitive international operations ahead of its IPO, the larger MLU operation was valued at $3.72 billion.

In the interim, MLU has made some acquisitions to expand in specific regions, and it’s taken on a few other businesses from its biggest shareholding parent, such as its car-sharing business (not clear how and why this was not part of the MLU JV already to be honest). And separately, its self-driving car unit has made some significant headway.

That has included building up a fleet of some 130 vehicles across Russia, Israel and the US for testing, with that fleet collectively clocking up 4 million autonomous miles across cities and different weather conditions — with driving being critical part of how self-driving car companies “teach” their AI algorithms to work. It also licenses tech to car makers, such as in this deal with Hyundai.

Yandex also claims that its robotaxi service, launched in 2018, was the first to come to Europe. It has also built its own autonomous delivery robot, Yandex.Rover, which is also coming over to the self-driving unit with the deal.

As with Google-parent Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving division, the logic behind Yandex’s self-driving car unit has been that it can keep costs down by tapping into IP built and developed by Yandex’s substantial engineering team.

That deal, Yandex said, will remain in place after the spin-off with access to company infrastructure, resources and more; and it will continue to have a commercial outlet: selling its technologies as and when they are developed to Yandex.Taxi, which forms the heart of the ride-hailing and food-delivery operations of MLU, as well as to other e-commerce and logistics efforts.

Yandex — which is publicly traded and currently has a market cap of nearly $23 billion — said that it will continue to consolidate the results of Yandex SDG and will report it as part of its “Other Bets and Experiments” category in its earnings.

Hear E-Prix Champion di Grassi on the future of electric motor sports (including scooters)

Lucas di Grassi is returning to TechCrunch’s stage, and we’re going to talk racing electric vehicles. Again. Because electric is the future of motoring including motorsports.

There’s a lot to talk about with di Grassi. He’s an outspoken proponent of electric vehicles, previously helping to develop Formula E, push forward the AI racing circuit Roborace, and is now developing an international electric race scooter series. He’s seemingly focused on justifying the benefits of electric vehicles in the name of the environment and acts as a Clear Air Advocate for the UN and is organizing a technology and business event for a zero-carbon future in Latin America called Zero Summit.

Di Grassi is a racer in Formula E and a former champion, taking the podium in 2016. Before racing for the series, he helped develop the vehicles used in Formula E. Now, even with his plate full of other projects, he continues to compete in the electric F1 series.

The last time he spoke at a TechCrunch event, he talked extensively on Roborace’s development and arrival. At the time he was the CEO of Roborace, and now, nearly two years later, Roborace still seems like a far-fetched idea.

Di Grassi teamed up with former F1 driver Alex Wurz for a different racing series involving electric scooters. Called eSkootr Championship, the series is said to feature purpose-built scooters that are capable of speeds up to 100 km/h. The pair, along with motorsport entrepreneur CEO Hrak Sarikissian, and COO Khalil Beschir, an F1 broadcaster and former A1 GP racing driver, hope the series’s lower cost of entry will draw racers from different backgrounds and disciplines.

We hope you can join us at our TC: Sessions Mobility event on October 6 and 7 to hear from di Grassi and other icons trying to change the face of mobility. Tickets are currently on sale and available at an Early Bird rate until September 4th, 11:59 p.m. (PDT).

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock announce an automated valet parking garage in Detroit

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock today announced an automated valet parking demonstration in downtown Detroit. This system is designed to allow drivers to exit a vehicle and the vehicle would park itself in the parking structure.

Systems in a Ford Escape test vehicle communicate with Bosch sensors to locate an empty parking location and move the vehicle into the spot. This system includes safeguards that allows the vehicle to react and respond to objects and pedestrians in the drive path. The vehicle-to-infrastructure communication platform can be deployed via original construction or retrofitted solutions.

Bosch has been building similar systems for several years. The technology company partnered with Daimler in 2017 to build an automated valet system for the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2019 the two companies received approval from German regulators to run the automated driverless parking function without a human safety driver behind the wheel. This made the system the world’s first fully automated driverless SAE Level 4 parking function to be officially approved for everyday use.

The demonstration announced today is located in Assembly Garage, a parking structure in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood near the Ford-owned Michigan Central Station. The highly controlled demonstration will be on display through the end of September and available for viewing through scheduled tours.

According to the partnership, an automated valet system can accommodate up to 20% more vehicles, along with eventually offering additional services such as charging, refueling, or going through a car wash.

This partnership is located in a 40-mile corridor between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan that will is dedicated to developing systems for autonomous vehicles. To be built by Cavnue and a list of automotive partners, the company envisions numerous corridors designed for autonomous shuttles and buses, as well as trucks and personal vehicles.

Cavnue is joined by partners Ford, GM, Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple and Waymo on standards to develop the physical and digital infrastructure needed to move connected and autonomous cars out of pilot projects and onto America’s highways, freeways, interstates and city streets.

Today’s automated valet announcement was praised by the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan with Detroit’s Mayor and the state’s Lt. Governor joining representatives from Ford, Bosch and Bedrock in announcing the development.

After building a similar system with Daimler, Bosch’s partnership with Ford speaks to the lowering cost of entry to the technology. Ford’s demonstration today used a compact SUV with an average price of around $25,000. Daimler’s early systems relied on Mercedes-Benz vehicles costing over $100,000.

Ford CTO Ken Washington says the company is not ready to announce when the valet technology will hit production vehicles. He said today automated valet parking is on the company’s roadmap and the company has heard “loud and clear” that parking is a real pain point.

Waymo’s Boris Sofman and TuSimple’s Xiaodi Hou to join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

One of the areas of autonomous driving technology with the most potential to have a near-term and dramatic impact remains trucking: There’s a growing lack of drivers for long-haul routes, and highway trucking remains a relatively uncomplicated (though still very challenging) type of driving for AV systems to tackle.

Many companies are pursuing the challenge of autonomous trucking, but TuSimple and Waymo are leading the pack. TuSimple CTO Dr. Xiaodi You, who co-founded the company in 2015, and Waymo’s Boris Sofman, who leads the company’s autonomous trucking engineering efforts, will both join us at TC Sessions: Mobility on our virtual stage. The event takes place October 6-7, and we’re excited to hear from these two technology leaders working at the forefront of the industry.

TuSimple has accomplished a lot since its debut five years ago, including recently laying the groundwork for a U.S.-wide network of shipping routes in partnership with UPS, Xpress, food service supply company McLane and Penske Truck Leasing. The company is also seeking a sizable new funding round to help it scale, while actively testing with regular routes between Arizona and Texas.

Waymo, which originated at Google as that company’s self-driving car project before spinning out under parent entity Alphabet, adding self-driving trucks to the list of technologies it’s developing in 2017. Sofman joined in 2019, when Waymo hired on much of the engineering talent from his prior company, smart toy robotics maker Anki. Sofman’s resume also includes developing off-road autonomous vehicles, which likely comes in handy as Waymo seeks to roll out testing of its autonomous long-haul trucks across Texas and New Mexico.

In case you’re wondering, this won’t just be one long webinar. We have some technical tricks up our sleeves that will bring all of what you’d expect from our in-person events, from the informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews to the networking and even a pitch-off session. While virtual isn’t the same as our events in the past, it has provided one massive benefit: democratizing access.

If you’re a startup or investor based in Europe, Africa, Australia, South America or another region in the U.S., you can listen in, network and connect with other participants here in Silicon Valley.

Get your tickets for TC Sessions: Mobility to hear from Bryan Salesky, along with several other fantastic speakers from Porsche, Waymo, Lyft and more. Tickets are just $145 for a limited time, with discounts for groups, students and exhibiting startups. We hope to see you there!

Scale AI releases free lidar dataset to power self-driving car development

High quality data is the fuel that powers AI algorithms. Without a continual flow of labeled data, bottlenecks can occur and the algorithm will slowly get worse and add risk to the system.

It’s why labeled data is so critical for companies like Zoox, Cruise and Waymo, which use it to train machine learning models to develop and deploy autonomous vehicles. That need is what led to the creation of Scale AI, a startup that uses software and people to process and label image, lidar and map data for companies building machine learning algorithms. Companies working on autonomous vehicle technology make up a large swath of Scale’s customer base, although its platform is also used by Airbnb, Pinterest and OpenAI, among others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed, or even halted, that flow of data as AV companies suspended testing on public roads — the means of collecting billions of images. Scale is hoping to turn the tap back on, and for free.

The company, in collaboration with lidar manufacturer Hesai, launched this week an open source dataset called PandaSet that can be used for training machine learning models for autonomous driving. The dataset, which is free and licensed for academic and commercial use, includes data collected using Hesai’s forward-facing PandarGT lidar with image-like resolution as well as its mechanical spinning lidar known as Pandar64. The data was collected while driving urban areas in San Francisco and Silicon Valley before officials issued stay-at-home orders in the area, according to the company.

“AI and machine learning are incredible technologies with an incredible potential for impact, but also a huge pain in the ass,” Scale CEO and co-founder Alexandr Wang told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “Machine learning is definitely a garbage in, garbage out kind of framework — you really need high quality data to be able to power these algorithms. It’s why we built Scale and it’s also why we’re using this dataset today to help drive forward the industry with an open source perspective.”

The goal with this lidar dataset was to give free access to a dense and content-rich dataset, which Wang said was achieved by using two kinds of lidars in complex urban environments filled with cars, bikes, traffic lights and pedestrians.

“The Zoox and the Cruises of the world will often talk about how battle-tested their systems are in these dense urban environments,” Wang said. “We wanted to really expose that to the whole community.”

Lidar - Scale AI PandaSet flyover GIF

Image Credits: Scale AI

The dataset includes more than 48,000 camera images and 16,000 LiDAR sweeps — more than 100 scenes of 8s each, according to the company. It also includes 28 annotation classes for each scene and 37 semantic segmentation labels for most scenes. Traditional cuboid labeling, those little boxes placed around a bike or car, for instance, can’t adequately identify all of the lidar data. So, Scale uses a point cloud segmentation tool to precisely annotate complex objects like rain.

Open sourcing AV data isn’t entirely new. Last year,  Aptiv and Scale released nuScenes, a large-scale data set from an autonomous vehicle sensor suite. Argo AI, Cruise and Waymo were among a number of AV companies that have also released data to researchers. Argo AI released curated data along with high-definition maps, while Cruise shared a data visualization tool it created called Webviz that takes raw data collected from all the sensors on a robot and turns that binary code into visuals.

Scale’s efforts are a bit different; For instance, Wang said the license to use this dataset doesn’t have any restrictions.

“There’s a big need right now and a continual need for high quality labeled data,” Wang said. “That’s one of the biggest hurdles overcome when building self driving systems. We want to democratize access to this data, especially at a time when a lot of the self driving companies can’t collect it.”

That doesn’t mean Scale is going to suddenly give away all of its data. It is, after all a for-profit enterprise. But it’s already considering collecting and open sourcing fresher data later this year.

Fiat Chrysler and AV startup Voyage partner on self-driving minivans

Self-driving vehicle startup Voyage said Monday that it has inked a deal with Fiat Chrysler to supply purpose-built vehicles, a partnership that will help accelerate its plan to launch a fully driverless ride-hailing service.

Voyage, a three-year-old startup that tests and operates a self-driving vehicle service (with human safety operators) in retirement communities in California and Florida, started by modifying Ford Fusion vehicles. The company then began modifying FCA’s Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans with its autonomous vehicle technology.

This new deal, which was nearly two years in the making, marks a critical step in Voyage’s plan to deploy fully driverless vehicles as a ride-hailing service. It also illustrates FCA’s increasingly large role as a supplier to AV developers. The automaker already has a deal with autonomous vehicle company Waymo to provide thousands of purpose-built Chrysler Pacifica minivans. FCA also has a partnership with Aurora to develop self-driving commercial vehicles.

FCA’s approach to rapid advancement of autonomous vehicle technology is to focus on vehicle-side needs while establishing smart and strategic collaborations that promote a culture of innovation, safety and know-how, a company spokesperson said in an email to TechCrunch .

Under this deal with Voyage, Fiat Chrysler is supplying Voyage with purpose-built Pacific Hybrids that have been developed for integration of automated technology. These vehicles come with customizations such as redundant braking and steering that are necessary to safely deploy driverless vehicles, Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron told TechCrunch.

FCA characterized the deal as more than just a supply contract, noting that it will provide support to Voyage to understand the features, operation and technology of the vehicle.

“This opportunity gives engineering and product development teams at Voyage and FCA a greater understanding of the impact of AV technology use on the underlying vehicle, reducing the learning curve for all and guiding future vehicle development,” an FCA spokesperson said in an email to TechCrunch.

Last year, TechCrunch first reported that Voyage had partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle designed specifically for autonomous driving. FCA ended up being that unknown partner. FCA and Voyage signed the deal in August 2019.

“As part of this collaboration, Voyage and FCA will jointly adapt and validate the connections between the self-driving software, sensors, and embedded systems,” according to the announcement posted on Medium.

Cameron wouldn’t say how many vehicles FCA will supply. It’s likely dozens not thousands of vehicles. Voyage, which has raised a total of $52 million, is still a small operation compared to AV giants like Waymo and Cruise.

Voyage is still ways off from reaching its driverless ride-hailing service goal. Although, its deal with FCA along with clearing an important regulatory hurdle with California officials are two moments of progress on its long road to a profitable, commercial-scale robotaxi service.

Cameron has previously described the company’s progress as “inching” towards driverless. The company’s self-driving software has reached maturation in the communities it is testing in, and Voyage is now focusing on validation, Cameron told TechCrunch last year.

Voyage gets the green light to bring robotaxi service to California’s public roads

Voyage has cleared a regulatory hurdle that will allow the company to expand its self-driving service from the private roads of a retirement community in San Jose, Calif. to public roads throughout the rest of the state.

The California Public Utilities Commission issued a permit Monday that gives Voyage permission to transport passengers in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads. The permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, puts Voyage in a new and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing. Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Pony.ai, Zoox and Waymo have all received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program.

The permit also puts Voyage on a path toward broader commercialization.

The company was operating six autonomous vehicles — always with a human safety driver behind the wheel — in The Villages, a community of more than 4,000 residents in San Jose, Calif. (Those activities have been suspended temporarily under a statewide stay-at-home order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.) Voyage also operates in a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in central Florida.

Voyage didn’t need a CPUC permit because the community is made up of private roads, although CEO Oliver Cameron said the company wanted to adhere to state rules regardless of any technicalities. Voyage was also motivated by a grander ambition to transport residents of The Villages to destinations outside of the community.

“We want to bring people to all the things that live outside The Villages, facilities like hospitals and grocery stores,” Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron told TechCrunch in an interview Monday.

Voyage’s strategy was to start with retirement communities — places with specific customer demand and a simpler surrounding environment. The demographic that Voyage serves has an average age of 70. The aim isn’t to change its customer base. Instead, Cameron wants to expand the company’s current operational design domain to give Voyage a bigger reach.

The end goal is for Voyage’s core customers — people Cameron dubs power users — to be able to use the service for everything from heading to a neighbor’s house for dinner to shopping, doctor’s visits and even the airport.

The CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles. The first one, called the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel and certain data must be reported quarterly.

The second CPUC pilot would allow driverless passenger service — although no company has yet to obtain that permit.

Under the permit, Voyage can’t charge for rides. However, there might be some legal wiggle room. Voyage can technically charge for rides within The Villages; in fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdown, the company had started charging for a ride-hailing service.

Rides outside of The Villages would have to be free, although it’s unclear if the company could charge for mileage or time until the vehicle left the community.

Voyage has aspirations to take this further. The company is also applying for a traditional Transportation Charter Permit, which is required for limousine, bus and other third-party charter services. Cameron said the company had to go through the stringent application process for the CPUC’s Drivered AV permit first.

The CPUC programs shouldn’t be confused with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads — always with a safety driver. There are 65 companies that hold autonomous vehicle testing permits issued by the DMV. Companies that want to participate in the CPUC program must have a testing permit with the DMV.

Uber argues ‘fraud’ absolves it from paying star engineer’s $179M fine to Google

Uber argued in a recent court filing that former employee Anthony Levandowski committed fraud, an action that frees the company from any obligation to pay his legal bills, including a judgment ordering the star engineer to pay Google $179 million.

The court filing was first reported by Bloomberg.

Uber’s fraud claim was part of its response to Levandowski’s motion to compel the ride-hailing company into arbitration in the hopes that his former employee will have to shoulder the cost of the $179 million judgment against him. The motion to compel arbitration, and now Uber’s response, is part of Levandowski’s bankruptcy proceedings. It’s the latest chapter in a legal saga that has entangled Uber and Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that is now a business under Alphabet.

In this latest court filing, Uber has agreed to arbitration. However, Uber also pushed back against Levandowski’s primary aim to force the company to stand by an indemnity agreement. Uber signed an indemnity agreement in 2016 when it acquired Levandowski’s self-driving truck startup Otto. Under the agreement, Uber said it would indemnify — or compensate — Levandowski against claims brought by his former employer, Google.

Uber said it rescinded the indemnification agreement several months prior to the inception of Levandowski’s bankruptcy case “because it was procured by his fraud,” according to the court filing. Uber revoked the indemnification agreement after Levandowski was indicted by a federal grand jury with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets, while working at Google, where he was an engineer and one of the founding members of the group that worked on Google’s self-driving car project.

Uber notified Levandowski’s counsel on August 30, three days after the indictment, explaining that the indemnification agreement was rescinded “because it had been procured by Levandowski’s fraud, including his fraudulent concealment of the facts alleged in the indictment.”

Levandowski reached a plea deal in March 2020 with the U.S. District Attorney to one count of stealing trade secrets while working at Google.

Uber said it never received any benefits from Levandowski under the indemnification agreement, and had nothing to return to him as a result of the rescission, the company said in the court filing.

Levandowski’s attorney pushed back at Uber’s argument.

“Uber’s assertion that Anthony did not disclose material information to Uber is false,” Levandowski’s attorney Neel Chatterjee said in an emailed statement sent to TechCrunch . “The accusations Uber makes is premised on information they obtained as part of the due diligence process. This is the latest in a string of meritless theories Uber has set forth to try to get out of the deal it struck because it did not like the outcome.”