Bird, the $2.5 billion electric scooter business, is losing its chief legal and policy officer. David Estrada, who was hired last year from Kitty Hawk, is joining another mobility company, SoftBank-backed Nuro.
A spokesperson for Bird tells TechCrunch Estrada is leaving the Santa Monica-based company to be closer to his family. Nuro, for its part, is based in Mountain View, CA.
Bird’s former chief legal officer, David Estrada.
Estrada, who previously oversaw public policy at the electric aircraft company Kitty Hawk as its chief legal officer, has been responsible for Bird’s compliance and government relations efforts as the company scaled to over 100 global cities. Prior to joining Kitty Hawk, Estrada spent nearly two years as Lyft’s vice president of government relations and worked as the legal director for Google X, partnering with states on legislation around autonomous vehicles, Google Glass and drone delivery.
Nuro, founded in June 2016, has emerged as a key player in the rapidly-expanding autonomous delivery sector. The company has attracted a whopping $1.03 billion in venture capital funding to date, according to Pitchbook. SoftBank funneled an astounding $940 million into the business earlier this year at an undisclosed valuation. In addition to SoftBank, Nuro is backed by Greylock and the Chinese venture capital firm Gaorong Capital.
The company has been developing a self-driving stack and combining it with a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. It began piloting grocery delivery in 2018 in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.
Bird has overcome a number of unique hurdles with many more afoot, including pushback from local governments who were aggravated by the sudden appearance of hundreds of scooters. At Nuro, Estrada will have the opportunity to focus on the future of unmanned delivery, another sector faced with regulatory challenges and political barriers.
Heightened scrutiny of 5G implementation on European shores actually began back in March as member states wrestled with how to address American pressure to block Huawei from building out new telecommunications infrastructure on the continent.
The report from earlier in the week identified three security concerns that relate to the reliance on vendors linked to technology coming from individual suppliers — especially if that supplier represents a high degree of risk given its relationship to the government in its native country.
The new, private assessment reviewed by the WSJ is raising particular concerns about Huawei, according to the latest report.
“These vulnerabilities are not ones which can be remedied by making small technical changes, but are strategic and lasting in nature,” a source familiar with the discussions told the WSJ.
According to the WSJ report, concerns raised by the new EU analysis include: the insertion of concealed hardware, software or flaws into the 5G network; or the risk of uncontrolled software updates, backdoors or undocumented testing features left in the production version of the networking products.
As trade talks resume between the U.S. and China in an effort to end the ongoing trade war between the two countries, the hard-line stance that the U.S. government has taken on China’s telecommunications and networking technology powerhouse may be changing.
Now, with a preliminary trade deal apparently in place, the fate of Huawei’s 5G ambitions remain up in the air. Both the U.S. and the European Union have significant concerns, but China is likely to bring up Huawei’s ability to sell into foreign markets as part of any agreement.
Waymo, the autonomous vehicle business under Alphabet, sent an email to customers of its ride-hailing app that their next trip might not have a human safety driver behind the wheel, according to a copy of the email that was posted on Reddit.
The email entitled “Completely driverless Waymo cars are on the way” was sent to customers that use its ride-hailing app in the suburbs of Phoenix. It isn’t clear if the email was sent to members of its early rider program or its broader Waymo One service.
Both the early rider program and Waymo One service use self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to shuttle Phoenix residents in a geofenced area that covers several suburbs including Chandler and Tempe. All of these “self-driving rides” have a human safety driver behind the wheel.
A driverless ride is what it sounds like. No safety driver behind the wheel, although a Waymo employee would likely be present in the vehicle initially.
Waymo could not be reached for comment. TechCrunch will update the article if the company responds. The email is posted below.
Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving project, first began testing its technology in 2009 in and around its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. It’s been a slow and steady roll ever since. The company has expanded its test area to other cities, spun out into its own business and iterated the vehicle design and the sensors around it,
Waymo opened a testing and operations center in Chandler, Arizona in 2016. Since then, the company has ramped up its testing in Chandler and other Phoenix suburbs, launched an early rider program and slowly crept toward commercial deployment. The early rider program, which required vetted applicants to sign non-disclosure agreements to participate, launched in April 2017.
In December, the company launched Waymo One, a commercial self-driving car service and accompanying app. Waymo One signaled that the company was starting to open up its service. Members of the early rider program were transferred to the Waymo One, which allowed them to bring guests and even talk publicly about their rides. More recently, Waymo opened another technical service center in the Phoenix area in preparation to double its capacity and grow its commercial fleet.
While driverless Waymo vehicles have been spotted periodically, they have never been used to shuttle the general public. The introduction of driverless vehicles would be milestone for the company.
And yet, there remains a number of questions. It’s unclear how many of these driverless rides there will be or the what constraints Waymo will place on them. It’s likely that these will operate in more simple, controlled environments for months before it expands to more complex situations.
STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that went live in July with some 25 companies going public.
Transsion plans to spend 1.6 billion yuan (or $227 million) of its STAR Market raise on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai, a company spokesperson said.
To support its African sales network, Transsion maintains a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia. The company recently announced plans to build an industrial park and R&D facility in India for manufacture of phones to Africa.
Transsion’s IPO comes when the company is actually in the black. The firm generated 22.6 billion yuan ($3.29 billion) in revenue in 2018, up from 20 billion yuan a year earlier. Net profit for the year slid to 654 million yuan, down from 677 million yuan in 2017, according to the firm’s prospectus.
Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market — through its brands Tecno, Infinix and Itel — and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and before Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats.
Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also attracted attention for being one of the first known device makers to optimize its camera phones for African complexions.
On a 2019 research trip to Addis Ababa, TechCrunch learned the top entry-level Tecno smartphone was the W3, which lists for 3,600 Ethiopian Birr, or roughly $125.
In Africa, Transsion’s ability to build market share and find a sweet spot with consumers on price and features gives it prominence in the continent’s booming tech scene.
Africa already has strong mobile-phone penetration, but continues to undergo a conversion from basic USSD phones, to feature phones, to smartphones.
Smartphone adoption on the continent is low, at 34%, but expected to grow to 67% by 2025, according to GSMA.
This, added to an improving internet profile, is key to Africa’s tech scene. In top markets for VC and startup origination — such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa — thousands of ventures are building business models around mobile-based products and digital applications.
If Transsion’s IPO enables higher smartphone conversion on the continent, that could enable more startups and startup opportunities — from fintech to VOD apps.
Another interesting facet to Transsion’s IPO is its potential to create greater influence from China in African tech, in particular as the Shenzhen company moves more definitely toward venture investing.
In August, Transsion funded Future Hub teamed up with Kenya’s Wapi Capital to source and fund early-stage African fintech startups.
In a move to correct the imbalance of power between technologically sophisticated corporations and the lawmakers who regulate them, presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing that Congress reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment.
It’s a move that gets deep into the weeds of how policy making in Washington works, but it’s something that Warren sees as essential to leveling the playing field between well-paid corporate lobbyists who are experts in their fields and over-worked under-staffed congressional members who lack independent analysts to explain highly technical issues.
“Lobbyists are filling in the gaps in congressional resources and expertise by providing Congress information from the perspective of their paying corporate clients. So let’s fix it,” writes Warren.
It’s one of the key planks in Warren’s latest policy proposal and an attempt to tip the scales against corporations and their lobbyists. With the move Warren clearly has her eye on technology companies and their representatives, who often are the very people Congressional lawmakers rely on to explain how rule-making would impact their industries.
“[Members] of Congress aren’t just dependent on corporate lobbyist propaganda because they’re bought and paid for. It’s also because of a successful, decades-long campaign to starve Congress of the resources and expertise needed to independently evaluate complex public policy questions,” Warren writes.
“For every bad faith actor in Congress bought off by the big banks, there are others who are genuinely trying to grapple with the technical aspects of financial reform. But as the issues facing Congress have grown more complex, resources to objectively and independently analyze them have been slashed. Republicans eliminated an independent office of experts dedicated to advising Congress on technical and scientific information,” the Senator says.
The lack of independent analysis stymies Congressional oversight in areas from banking and finance reform, to the oversight of technology companies, to the potential to effectively pass laws that will respond to the threat of climate change. Committees that oversee science and technology have seen their staff levels fall by over 40 percent in the past decade, according to Warren and staff salaries have failed to keep up with inflation, meaning that policymakers in Washington can’t compete for the same level of talent that private companies and lobbyists can afford several times over.
“Financial reform was complicated, and the bank lobbyists used a clever technique: They bombarded the members of Congress with complex arguments filled with obscure terms. Whenever a congressman pushed back on an idea, the lobbyists would explain that although the congressman seemed to be making a good point, he didn’t really understand the complex financial system,” she writes. “And keep in mind, the lobbyists would tell the congressman, that if you get this wrong, you will bring down the global economy.”
The inability of lawmakers to understand basic facts about the technologies they’re tasked with regulating was on full display during the Senate hearings into the role technology companies played in the Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Issues from net neutrality to end-to-end encryption, or online advertising to the reduction of carbon emissions all rely on Congress having a sound understanding of those issues and how regulation may change an industry.
Right now, it’s case of which multi-billion dollar company can buy the best lobbyists — as is the case with Alphabet and Yelp or Facebook and Snap.
Under the auspices of Warren’s anti-corruption plan, the Senator is calling for the reinstatement and modernization of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, a significant increase to salaries for congressional staffers and stronger funding for agencies that support congressional lawmaking.
The OTA was created in the seventies to help members of Congress understand science and technology issues that they’d be regulating. Over the tenure of the agency, it created over 750 reports — including two landmark studies on the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming in the 90s, which brought it to the attention of conservative lawmakers that defunded it in 1995.
At the time, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said the agency was “used by liberals to cover up political ideology.”
Under Warren’s plan the OTA would be lead by an independent director to avoid partisan manipulation. The newly re-formed agency would have the power to commission its own reports and respond to requests from lawmakers to weigh in on rule-making, help congressional legislators prepare for hearings, and write regulatory letters.
Warren also calls for funding to be increased for the other congressional support agencies — the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office. Combined these agencies have lost half of their staff.
Money for the increased activities of the agencies would come from a tax on “excessive lobbying”. The . goal would be “to reverse these cuts and further strengthen support agencies that members of Congress rely on for independent information,” according to the Warren plan.
“These reforms are vital parts of my plan to free our government from the grip of lobbyists – and restore the public’s trust in its government in the process,” Warren writes.
Several months after discreetly acquiring the online prescription service HeyDoctor, GoodRx is launching a new service based on the acquisition, GoodRx Care and offering a direct challenge to online prescription services like Hims, Hers, Nurx, Ro and others.
Already a billion-dollar giant in the world of prescription fulfillment through its cost-comparison and discount medication fulfillment business, more than 10 million consumers use the company’s services already.
With GoodRx Care, customers can use the online medical service to get a consultation, treatment, prescriptions and lab tests from doctors. The array of services on offer, which covers conditions and ailments from urinary tract infection treatments and birth control pills to erectile dysfunction medication and hair replacement supplements, mirror those pitched by white-glove online prescription services like Ro, Hims, Hers, and Nurx .
GoodRx Care services
“Over the years, we’ve helped millions of Americans find affordable solutions for their prescription medications, but have also learned that many people struggle to get to the doctor,” said Doug Hirsch, co-CEO and co-founder of GoodRx. “By introducing GoodRx Care, we aim to help fill in the gaps in care to improve access, adherence, and affordability of medical care for all Americans.”
For Hirsch and GoodRx, the expansion into these kinds of online consultations was a natural extension of the company’s services. “One third of people who come to GoodRx . are coming to GoodRx and they may not have the prescription that they don’t think they need,” he says. “For a long time now we’ve been telling people you may need a prescription for the service and telemedicine options are available.”
Now the company can keep those customers in-house by offering their own telemedicine consults.
Other technology companies are also pushing deeper into the healthcare industry with Amazon making a big splash with the launch of its employee-only healthcare service offering telemedicine and on-site consultations with staff doctors. Apple, too, has its own healthcare service for employees.
Even BestBuy is seeing big dollars in the healthcare industry. It expects healthcare services to become an increasingly important component to its bottom line as more technology hardware and software is developed to cater to both the aging population, remote health solutions, and infant and childcare.
Demand for more healthcare alternatives is only increasing even as the cost of care rises and the value of healthcare services declines.
As GoodRx notes, access to primary care physicians is hard for most Americans. Some patients can wait up to three weeks to see a doctor and there’s the potential that the country could see a shortfall of up to 120,000 doctors coming within the next 15 years. Add that to the fact that over 27.5 million Americans don’t even have health insurance and the demand for low cost access to care seems obvious.
What’s less obvious is that the care Americans need is access to physicians which will prescribe hair-loss or erectile dysfunction treatments, acne treatments, eyelash growth, or metabolic assessments.
Hirsch says more services will be coming in later months. “We’re at the very early stages of telemedicine,” he says. “We want to continue to expand into more primary services as is safe and affordable and as we can.”
For now, the focus was on bringing the price point down and having more control over where to refer customers. “A lot of these services are tied to mail-order clinics and that could be hundreds of dollars [for a consultation or prescription],” Hirsch says. “We’re going to say it’s $20 for a visit. You can do it today… and you can have a pricing options… we’re saying you’ve had your doctor visit… here’s a list of prices and coupons if you want them.”
Since its launch in 2017, HeyDoctor has had over 100,000 consultations and had already been working with GoodRx, according to Hirsch. The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
The acquisition of HeyDoctor is the first big strategic gambit from the company in the year since it raised money from the private equity firm, Silverlake, in a transaction which valued the discount pharmaceutical provider at roughly $2.8 billion, according to a CNBC report.
“In an increasingly fragmented and confusing healthcare system, our goal is to provide a one-stop shop for services that address most basic healthcare needs,” said Hirsch.
At its annual hardware event in Seattle, Amazon today announced Sidewalk, a new low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol the company is developing to connect all of the IoT devices in and around your house.
Amazon argues that Bluetooth and WiFi don’t have enough range, while 5F takes too much power and is too complex.
“We came up with something that we call Amazon Sidewalk,” Amazon’s device chief Dave Limp said at the event today. “Amazon Sidewalk is a brand new low bandwidth network that uses the already existing free over the air 900 megahertz spectrum. We think it will be great for keeping track of things, keeping things up to date — but first and foremost, it will extend in the distance at which you can control these kinds of simple, low-cost, easy-to-use devices.
The details here remain a bit vague, but Amazon says that you may be able to use Sidewalk to connect to devices that can be up to a mile away, depending on how the base station and devices are positioned.
Amazon already sent out 700 test devices to households in L.A. to test the access points — and once you have a lot of access points, you create a network with some pretty broad coverage.
Amazon says it’ll publish the protocol so that other device makers can also integrate it into their devices.
The first product that uses Sidewalk? A dog tag, so that you’ll hopefully see fewer lost dogs on your local Nextdoor in the near future because if your dog now leaves the perimeter, you’ll get an alert. This new tag, the Ring Fetch, will launch next year.
At its hardware event in Seattle, Amazon today announced that it is launching a new Neural Text to Speech model for its Alexa personal assistant. This new model, which isn’t unlike what some of Amazon’s competitors like Google and Microsoft have launched in the past, uses the latest machine learning techniques to allow the company to build this new model which is meant to be more “emotive and expressive.”
In addition, the company today announced that your Echo can soon sound like Samuel L. Jackson, too. Using the same technology (instead of pre-recorded phrases), Alexa can now mimic celebrity voices, with Jackson’s being the first of them. That Samuel L. Jackson mode also comes in an explicit version.
Additional voices will roll out next year, but they won’t be available for free. Instead, they’ll cost $0.99 each (at least at first). It’s a fun gimmick, I guess, but it’s really not much more than that and harkens back to the days of stand-alone GPS units that often had a similar feature.
“Thepaceofinnovationisincredibleandwhatwecandowithmachinelearningreallyneverceasestoamazeme,” Amazon’s Dave Limp said in today’s keynote. “Thissameneuralnetworktechnologythoughgivesusalotmoreflexibilitynowinandaroundwhatwecandowiththe Alexa voice.”
U.S. security experts are conceding that China has won the race to develop and deploy the 5G telecommunications infrastructure seen as underpinning the next generation of technological advancement and warn that the country and its allies must develop a response — and quickly.
“The challenge we have in the development of the 5G network, at least in the early stage, is the dominance of the Huawei firm,” said TomRidge, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security and governor of Pennsylvania on a conference call organized recently by Global Cyber Policy Watch. “To embed that technology into a critical piece of infrastructure which is telecom is a huge national security risk.”
Already some $500 million is being allocated to the development of end-to-end encryption software and other technologies through the latest budget for the U.S. Department of Defense, but these officials warn that the money is too little and potentially too late, unless more drastic moves are made.
(You can also hear more about this at TechCrunch Disrupt in SF next week, where we’ll be interviewing startup founders and investors who build businesses by working with governments.)
The problems posed by China’s dominance in this critical component of new telecommunications technologies cut across public and private sector security concerns. They range from intellectual property theft to theft of state secrets and could curtail the ways the U.S. government shares critical intelligence information with its allies, along with opening up the U.S. to direct foreign espionage by the Chinese government, Ridge and other security experts warned.
Automaker Hyundai is forming a new joint venture with autonomous driving technology company Aptiv, with both parties taking a 50 percent ownership stake in the new company. The goal of the new venture will be to develop Level 4 and Level 5 production-ready self-driving systems intended for commercialization, with the goal of making those available to robotaxi and fleet operators, as well as other auto makers, by 2022.
The combined investment in the joint venture from both companies will total $4 billion in aggregate value (including the value of combined engineering services, R&D and IP) initially, according to Aptiv and Hyundai, and testing for their fully autonomous systems will begin in 2020 in pursuit of that 2022 commercialization target.
In terms of what each is bringing to the table, Aptiv will be delivering its autonomous driving tech, which it has been developing for many years – originally as part of global automative industry supplier Delphi – as well as 700 employees working on AV tech. Hyundai Motor Group will provide a combined $1.6 billion in cash from across its subrands, vehicle engineering, R&D and access to its IP.
Heading up the new joint venture will be Karl Iagnemma, the President of Aptiv’s Autonomous Mobility group, and it’ll be headquartered in Boston and supported by additional technology centres in multiple locations in the U.S. and Asia.
Both companies have been demonstrating autonomous vehicle technologies for multiple years now, and Aptiv has been working with Lyft in Las Vegas on a public trial of autonomous robotaxi services since debuting the capabilities at CES in 2018. Aptiv’s Vegas pilot uses BMW 5-Series cars for its autonomous pick-up fleet.
This joint venture should help them with brining the technology to market with the scale of a global automaker, while Hyundai gains by being able to shore up its own work in self-driving with a partner who has invested in developing these solutions as a primary concern over many years.