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Main article: Automotive

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California’s self-driving car reports are public. Here’s what they don’t mean.

18:11 | 27 February

The California Department of Motor Vehicles released its annual cache of autonomous vehicle testing and disengagements data that, depending how one chooses to interpret the data, shows stunning progress or stagnation.

The data, which every company testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in California must submit, tells a winding and sometimes contradictory tale of growth, consolidation and priorities. The total number of autonomous miles driven in 2019 rose 40% to more than 2.87 million, thanks largely to a notable uptick in public on-road testing by Baidu, Cruise, Pony.ai, Waymo and Zoox as well as newcomers Lyft.

And yet, the rise in total autonomous miles and permitted companies don’t tell the whole story. While the number of companies with testing permits grew to 60 in 2019, the percentage of companies actually testing on public roads fell to about 58%. In 2018, about 62% of the 48 companies that held permits tested on public roads.

Some companies scaled back public testing in California, either to move operations out of state or prioritize simulation. Aurora, for instance, saw its total on-road autonomous testing drop 59% to 13,429. Meanwhile, Aurora ramped up its simulation efforts, conducting more than 735,000 tests per day, an increase of over 100 times from 2018.

“While on-road testing is useful for collecting targeted data and performing late stage validation of self driving systems, we find that large-scale, on-road autonomous testing is a slow, and inefficient approach to development relative to more sophisticated, virtual techniques,” Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson wrote to the DMV.

Others, like Drive.ai, no longer exist. Two companies, Roadstar.ai and Ximotors.ai, failed to submit a disengagement report and have had their testing permits revoked.

The upshot: It’s not the who-is-winning-the-race narrative many might expect or try to tell. Those kinds of rankings and comparisons are nearly impossible for a number of reasons, including that testing on public roads is conducted in areas with varying degrees of complexity. Companies also aren’t required to report testing on private roads or tracks, out of state or in simulation, all of which provides a better assessment of an AV developer’s technology.

But the biggest issue is how companies interpret “disengagements,” a term that describes each time a self-driving vehicle disengages out of autonomous mode because the technology failed or when a human safety driver takes manual control due to safety reasons. Companies not only have different views of what qualifies as a disengagement, but that interpretation can change over time.

The DMV contends these reports are not intended to compare one company with another or reach broad conclusions on technological capabilities. Instead, the DMV told TechCrunch that it uses the reports for public awareness.

“From the reports we can see that as a whole, autonomous miles driven continue to increase annually, as do the number of permit holders, test vehicles and safety drivers,” a DMV spokesman wrote in an email.

Now industry grumbling over these disengagement reports is moving from behind-closed-doors lobbying to public commentary on social media and other forums.

This year, a growing number of companies, including Aurora, Cruise and Waymo issued public statements that DMV disengagement reports don’t provide relevant insights into performance and are a poor way of measuring progress or competency.

Moments after the DMV released the disengagement reports, Waymo took to Twitter to log its concerns, noting that the report doesn’t “provide relevant insights into the capabilities of the Waymo Driver or distinguish its performance from others in the self-driving space.” Waymo also noted that most of its public road testing is outside of California in markets like Detroit and Phoenix. The “real-world driving” that Waymo does conduct in California is “predominately engineering development, and not production releases.”

Waymo’s public criticism marks a shift within the company. In previous years, Waymo has celebrated its progress in glossy reports. This year, the company has become a vocal critic even as this latest report shows a year-over-year improvement in its disengagement rate as it increased its total number of miles. Waymo drove 1.45 million miles in autonomous mode in 2019, a 200,000 mile increase from the previous year, while its disengagement rate dropped to from 0.09 to 0.076 per 1,000 self-driven miles.

Other companies as well as analysts and industry watchers echoed Waymo’s sentiments. Several weeks ago, Cruise co-founder and CTO Kyle Vogt published a blog post that argued these disengagement reports should not be a proxy for the commercial readiness or safety of self-driving cars.

This airing of grievances did not produce an alternative metric that would accurately measure competency, readiness and progress. Waymo did say in its series of tweets that it is preparing to share more on a safety framework it has developed. Vogt’s post also suggested that Cruise is also working on a more comprehensive metric.

The reports have their shortfalls. However, they’re often the only window into a company’s autonomous vehicle program. Comparisons between companies might be ineffective, but examining multiple years of data from one AV developer can be helpful in connecting the dots on a business strategy or an imminent demise.

Take Cruise as an example. The company has amassed a $7.25 billion war chest and a chunk of that capital is being poured into putting more vehicles on the road for longer periods of time. Cruise reported 228 registered autonomous vehicles in 2019, a 40% increase since the previous year. Over that same time period, Cruise’s total mileage has increased by more than 85%.

Or take a look at Pony.ai. The company, which announced earlier this week that it has raised $400 million from Toyota Motor Corporation, reported 22 registered autonomous vehicles in 2019, three times more than the previous year. The startup reported 16,356 total AV miles in 2018. That figure skyrocketed to nearly 175,000 miles in 2019.

Despite all of the data —flaws and all — that these reports provide, they get no closer to revealing what metric companies use internally to determine progress, competency and answer the critical question of how safe is safe enough?


0

Panasonic is ending its solar cell partnership with Tesla

20:18 | 26 February

Panasonic said it will stop producing solar cells and modules at Tesla’s factory in Buffalo, New York, ending a four-year joint venture with the electric automaker. 

Nikkei Asian Review was the first to report that Panasonic planned to end its production agreement with Tesla. Panasonic has since issued an announcement to explain its decision. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Panasonic said it will cease solar manufacturing operations at the Tesla factory by the end of May. The company will exit the factory by September.

Panasonic employs about 380 people at the factory. Those employees will be given severance packages. Panasonic said it will work with Tesla to identify and hire qualified applicants from its impacted workforce. Panasonic said in its announcement that Tesla plans to hire qualified applicants to new positions needed to support its solar and energy manufacturing operations in Buffalo.

Panasonic struck a deal in 2016 to jointly produce solar cells at Tesla’s “Gigafactory 2” plant in Buffalo, New York. Panasonic committed to share the cost of equipment needed for the plant. The joint venture deepened the relationship between the two companies, which already had established a partnership to produce battery cells at Tesla’s factory near Reno, Nevada.

Panasonic’s decision to exit the factory comes as Tesla tries to scale up its energy business as well as meet employment requirements at state-funded factory. The Buffalo factory was built with $750 million in taxpayer funds and then leased to Tesla. Under a deal reached with the state, Tesla must employ 1,460 people there by April or face a $41.2 million penalty.

As reports of Panasonic’s exit circulated, Tesla told Empire State Development, the New York economic development authority that oversees the factory, that it has exceeded its hiring commitment.

“Tesla informed us that they have not only met, but exceeded their next hiring commitment in Buffalo. As of today, Tesla said they have more than 1,500 jobs in Buffalo and more than 300 others across New York State,” Howard Zemsky, chairman of Empire State Development said in a statement.

Panasonic’s decision to move away from global solar products has no bearing on Tesla’s current operations nor its commitment to Buffalo and New York State, according to Tesla, Zemsky said.

The development authority will verify the company’s data, Zemsky said, who added that the count does not include the Panasonic positions.

Panasonic never received incentives from the state, according to Zemsky.

As Panasonic exits New York, it still works with Tesla under a separate joint venture to produce battery cells at a massive factory near Reno, Nevada. Panasonic said in a statement that the decision “will have no impact on Panasonic and Tesla’s strong partnership in Nevada.” The two companies will continue their electric vehicle battery work taking place at Tesla’s Gigafactory, according to Panasonic.

In recent years, reports have suggested the relationship between Panasonic and Tesla has become strained. Tesla’s acquisition in February 2019 of Maxwell Technologies fueled speculation that the automaker wanted to develop its own battery cells.

 


0

Your next tire change could be performed by a robot

17:11 | 24 February

Waiting in a service station waiting room purgatory one day, Victor Darolfi had a simple thought. “I sat at America’s Tires for three hours and thought, hey, we use robots to put tires on at the factory,” the founder explains. “Why don’t we bring robots into the service industry?”

The notion was the first seed behind RoboTire, the Bay Area-based robotics company, which the former Spark Robotics CEO founded in October 2018. Now ready to come out of stealth as part of the latest batch of Y Combinator startups, RoboTire has already generated interest in the industry for its ability to change car tires in a fraction of the time of most mechanics.

“We can do a set of four tires, put in to pull out, in 10 minutes,” Darolfi explains. “It normally takes about 60 minutes for a human operator to do a set of four. Some can go faster, but they really can’t do that eight hours a day.”

Partnering with Mitsubishi robotics, RoboTire has designed a system that currently runs around $250,000, which it’s looking to license to service centers, dealers and other outlets. For those who get in early as part of the company’s pilot, the company will charge around $5 to $7 per tire. When a more final product rolls out, that number should jump to around $10 to $15.

RoboTire anticipates that the robot should generate around $10,000 a month, essentially earning back the cost of a unit in around two years. While the startup has been in discussions with a number of high-profile companies, including Bridgestone, the first partner to pilot its product is San Carlos, Calif.-based auto repair shop, Toole’s Garage.

After raising $170,000 in February of last year, RoboTire closed a million-dollar seed round via Type One Ventures and Backend Capital, prior to getting into YC. Next, Darolfi says the company is targeting a “very substantial round” to build out eight systems for piloting.

The executive plans to manufacture and assemble systems in his native Detroit, an area with an abundance of automotive and manufacturing talent, but a dearth of job opportunities.

 


0

Hot Wheels made two remote-controlled Tesla Cybertruck toys

21:24 | 21 February

Hot Wheels will ship you a Cybertruck long before Tesla is likely to make any deliveries on their electric retro-future wheels trapezoid: The toy maker just unveiled two different RC Cybertruck models, including a 1:64 scale model at just $20 – and a much larger 1:10 scale version for $400.

These are available to pre-order now, but like most of Tesla’s cars, just because they’re introduced doesn’t mean you can go out and buy one immediately. They’re set to ship in time for the holidays, however, with a December 15, 2020 estimated availability date according to the Hot Wheels website.

These look like very faithful representation of the Cybertruck that Tesla unveiled at a special event back in November, and the large version includes a “reusable cracked window vinyl sticker” that you can use to recreate the on-stage flub that happened at the actual reveal. You’ll have to supply your own large metal medicine ball.

[gallery ids="1949609,1949608,1949607,1949606,1949605,1949604,1949602"]

Other features of the 1:10 scale Cybertruck including functioning headlights and taillights, all-wheel drive, true to form ‘Chill’ and ‘Sport’ modes, a removable tonneau cover, a working telescopic tailgate and more.

The smaller and much more affordable version is just 3-inches long, which is basically what you’d expect from a traditional Hot Wheels mini model, and it can achieve a “up to 500mph scale speed” which someone who is better than me at math can figure out what that translates to.

These are available now, to people in the U.S. and Canada, but I expect them to be pretty hot sellers based on the general fervor and interest around all things Cybertruck to date.

 


0

The debut of electric pickups signals a new EV era

02:53 | 21 February

Several companies rolled out electric pickups in 2019. Tesla’s Cybertruck got most of the attention, but don’t sleep on General Motors and Ford — bringing electric pickups to market is critical for the viability of electric vehicles.

Automakers build vehicles around shared components. These platforms, the underpinnings of the vehicles, often live for 10 or more years, and are critical to each automaker’s economic stability. The exterior sheet metal might change, but dozens of models often share the frame, powertrain and electrical components.

Electric pickup platforms offer vehicle makers a new revenue source. Instead of building electric vehicles designed to move people, these platforms can move goods. That’s key to building a long-term strategy around electric vehicles.

Look at Ford, whose best-selling F-150 is just a portion of its success. From the F-150, the automaker has dozens of commercial vehicles built off platforms that share components. If Ford can produce an electric pickup — which it says it’s doing alongside startup Rivian — Ford will be able to electrify its commercial offering more quickly.

Specific vehicle platforms are perfect for electrification. Vehicles with a predictable driving route like municipal vehicles, delivery vans and even hearses could benefit from electric powertrains.

Electric powertrains have long offered advantages over internal combustion; electric counterparts feature fewer moving parts and are now often smaller, allowing for more interior space. And then there’s the torque that gives electric vehicles near-superhero strength.

 


0

Tesla Model 3 makes Consumer Reports ‘Top Picks’ list for 2020

21:25 | 20 February

Tesla’s Model 3 is among the top 10 choices for car buyers in 2020, according to Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization released its “Top Picks” of the year on Thursday, and it included Tesla’s most affordable vehicle alongside cars from automakers including Toyota, Subaru, Honda, Kia and Lexus.

The Model 3 was chosen as one of three vehicles in the $45K -$55K category, alongside the Lexus RX and the Toyota Supra. CR lauded its “thrilling driving experience,” including “impressive handling and quick precise steering [that] help it feel like a sports car.” They did ding it slightly for having a “stiff ride” overall, but said that that’s more than made up for by its long EV battery range emission free eco-friendly qualities.

Consumer Reports also specifically called out a worry about the Model 3 that “Autopilot, an optional system on the vehicle, does not require the driver to stay engaged, creating safety concerns.” Tesla has always positioned Autopilot as a driver assist feature, that still requires a driver to be ready to take over control at a moment’s notice, but critics have suggested its implementation can lead to misuse resulting in inattentiveness.

Clearly. that concern wasn’t enough to prevent CR from counting the Model 3 among its top recommendations for vehicles in 2020. Tesla also ended up ranking 11th overall out of 33 automakers in Consumer Reports’ 2020 automative brand report card, climbing eight positions from last year. The Model 3, and the rapid improvements that Tesla was able to make in its production as it scaled assembly of the vehicle, clearly helped it in the eyes the consumer-focused non-profit.

 


0

Equity shot: What’s going on with Tesla’s stock price?

23:22 | 19 February

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is the first Equity Shot in what feels like a long time, so, let me explain. Most of the time Equity comes out on Friday. It’s a mix of news and chat and venture happenings. It’s fun! But, sometimes, a topic comes up that demands more immediate attention. That’s what happened today as we stared at Tesla’s share price wondering what in the hell was going on.

Sure, Tesla isn’t a private company (yet, at least), but as the company made it into the first-ever episode of Equity how can we resist a dive into what is going on today?

Shares of the electric car company are surging — again — today, pushing ever-closer to the $1,000 per-share mark. So, Danny, myself, and

on the turntables, got together to riff and chat about what is going on.

For those of you who want some links, here you go:

Today was all about fun. The main, more serious (kinda) show is back Friday. Stay cool!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

 


0

Autonomous yard trucking startup Outrider comes out of stealth with $53 million in funding

19:42 | 19 February

The 400,000 distribution yards located in the U.S. are critical hubs for the supply chain. Now one startup is aiming to make the yard truck — the centerpiece of the distribution yard — more efficient, safer and cleaner with an autonomous system.

Outrider, a Golden, Colorado startup previously known as Azevtec, came out of stealth Wednesday to announce that it has raised $53 million in seed and Series A funding rounds led by NEA and 8VC. Outrider is also backed by Koch Disruptive Technologies, Fraser McCombs Capital, warehousing giant Prologis, Schematic Ventures, Loup Ventures and Goose Society of Texas.

Outrider CEO Andrew Smith said distribution yards are ideal environments to deploy autonomous technology because they’re well-defined areas that are also complex, often chaotic and with many manual tasks.

“This is why a systems approach is necessary to automate every major task in the yard,” Smith said.

Outrider has developed a system that includes an electric yard truck equipped with a full stack self-driving system with overlapping suite of sensor technology such as radar, lidar and cameras. The system automates the manual aspect of yard operations, including moving trailers around the yard as well as to and from loading docks. The system can also hitch and unhitch trailers, connect and disconnect trailer brake lines, and monitor trailer locations.

The company has two pilot programs with Georgia-Pacific and four Fortune 200 companies in designated sections of their distribution yards. Over time, Outrider will move from operating in specific areas of these yards to taking over the entire yards for these enterprise customers, according to Smith.

“Because we’re getting people out of these yard environments, where there’s 80,000 pound vehicles, we’re delivering increased efficiency,” Smith told TechCrunch in a recent interview. That efficiency is not just in moving the trailers around the yard, Smith added. It also helps move the Class 8 semi trailers used for hauling freight long distances through the system and back on the road quickly.

“We can actually reduce the amount of time the over-the-road guys are stuck sitting at a yard trying to do a pickup or drop off,” Smith said.

Smith sees a big opportunity to demonstrate the responsible deployment of autonomy as well as clean up yard filled with diesel-powered yard trucks.

“If there was ever a location for near term automation and electrification of the supply chain, it’s here,” he said. “Our customers and suppliers understand there’s a big opportunity for these autonomy systems to accelerate the deployment of 50,000 plus electric trucks in the market because they are a superior platform for automation.”

 


0

Jaguar Land Rover debuts electric urban mobility concept vehicle with plans for 2021 pilot

20:35 | 18 February

Jaguar Land Rover has introduced a new concept vehicle that cuts a very different figure relative to its usual fare: It’s a four-wheeled electric urban mobility concept called ‘Project Vector’ that looks more like a low-floored airport shuttle train car than a traditional car.

This is a look that’s increasingly become popular among automakers designing for a future in which shared electric autonomous mobility plays a big role: Cruise, for instance, debuted a very similar looking long rectangle of a vehicle in January, with the crucial difference that its vehicle is a production model instead of just a concept.

Externally, JLR’s Vector concept looks very similar, with a front and end that could easily pass for one another, as well as sliding doors that open from the middle to allow the maximum amount of space for entry and exit. The floor is low to the ground to similarly accommodate easy onboarding and disembarkation, and that same floor houses the battery and drivetrain that make the vehicle go.

[gallery ids="1947767,1947765,1947764,1947763,1947762"]

Unlike Cruise’s strictly driverless design, however, the Jaguar vehicle features front-facing seats and a steering wheel for human control, though the interior is also “configurable” to eventually allow autonomous use, and to also offer flexibility for accommodating goods delivery as well as passenger transportation.

Jaguar Land Rover’s concept isn’t just the kind to get your noodle churning, either: The company says that it aims to work together with the Coventry City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority to actually deploy a pilot mobility service using the Vector starting as early as “late 2021,” which it says will act as a “living laboratory for future mobility on the streets of Coventry.”

Most people probably don’t love the idea of hearing their streets will be made into a laboratory, but on the other hand pioneering shared electric transportation that more closely resembles public transit than traditional ride-hailing is likely a good thing.

 


0

The Station: Lucid Motors spy shot and the birth of an AV startup

01:27 | 18 February

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hello again — or perhaps for the first time. This is Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch and your host here at The Station. This weekly newsletter will also be posted as an article after the weekend — that’s what you’re reading now. To get it first, subscribe for free. Please note that there will be not be a newsletter Feb. 22.

It was a drama-filled week with a hearing on the hill in D.C. about autonomous vehicle legislation that got a bit tense at times. Meanwhile, Uber tipped its hat to the past, EV startup Lucid started to lift the veil on its Air vehicle (scroll down for a spy shot!) and micromobility prepared for headwinds in Germany.

Before I ride off into the sunset for my vacation, one reminder for y’all. Don’t forget to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Welcome back to micromobbin’, a regular feature in The Station by reporter Megan Rose Dickey . Before we get into her micromobility insights, a quick note that shared scooters are facing a fight in Germany that has prompted companies to unite over their “shared” cause. (Get it?)

Micromobility vehicles, first legalized in Germany last June, have flooded the marketplace and caused a backlash in cities like Berlin, where at least six apps, including Bird, Circ (now owned by Bird), Lime, Tier, Uber Jump and Voi operate. As the Financial Times first reported, amendments to the country’s Road Traffic Act would give individual cities the power to heavily restrict the areas in which e-scooters can be parked or ban them altogether.

Now back to Dickey’s micromobbin’.

Swiftmile, the startup that wants to become the gas station for electric micromobility vehicles, announced its move into advertising this week. Swiftmile already supplies cities and private operators with docks equipped to park and charge both scooters and e-bikes. Now, the company is starting to integrate digital displays that attach to its charging stations to provide public transit info, traffic alerts and, of course, ads.

“It adds tremendous value because it’s a massive market,” Swiftmile CEO Colin Roche told TechCrunch. “Tons of these corporations want to market to that group but you cannot do that on a scooter, nor should you. So there’s a massive audience that wants to market to that group but also cities like us because we’re bringing order to the chaos.”

Meanwhile, Bird unveiled more details about its loyalty program, called Frequent Flyer. It’s currently in the pilot phase, which means it’s only available in select markets. But the benefits for riding five times in 28 days, include no start fees for rides between 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday and the ability to reserve your Bird in advance for up to 30 minutes at no cost.

— Megan Rose Dickey

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We don’t just hear things. We see things too. This week in a little bird — the place where we shared insider news not gossip — I’m going to share two spy shots of a production version of Lucid Motors’ upcoming Air electric vehicle. See below.

The photos of the production version of the Lucid Air was taken during an event hosted for some of the vehicle’s first reservation holders. (I wasn’t there, but luckily some readers of The Station were.) By the way, we also hear that reservations are in the “low four figures.”

Lucid Air production reveal

You’ll notice that the production version of the Air is nearly identical to the beta version. Unfortunately, we don’t see the interior. But reports suggest it falls in the understated luxury category and without giant screens.

Lucid is preparing for the one more important moments in its history as a company. The production version of Air will be unveiled in April at the New York Auto Show. In the run up to the auto show, Lucid is revealing more information about the vehicle, including a recent video that suggested the vehicle had a real-world range of more than 400 miles. Lucid has hit that 400-mile range in simulated testing, but how it operates on the roads is what really matters.

What’s impressive, if those numbers bear out, is that it was accomplished with a 110-kWh battery pack. That’s an improvement from back in 2016 when Lucid said it would need a 130-kWh battery pack to achieve that range. In my past conversations with CEO Peter Rawlinson — and one wild ride with him behind the wheel of an early Air prototype in Vegas — it’s clear he is obsessed with battery efficiency. That apparently hasn’t waned.

Car and Driver, which was at this special event, noted in its report that Rawlinson has a goal to get to five miles per kilowatt-hour. Right now, Tesla can lay claim to the most efficient electric vehicle with the upcoming Model Y at a claimed 4.1 miles per kilowatt-hour.

And late Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the Tesla Model S now has an estimated EPA range is now above 390 miles or ~630 km.

Inside the beltway

It got a little prickly on Capitol Hill during a House panel hearing this week that aimed to tackle how best to regulate autonomous vehicles. Watch the hearing to see it all unfold. Here’s a handy link to it.

A quick history lesson: The SELF DRIVE ACT was unanimously passed in 2017 by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. AV START, a complementary bill introduced in the Senate, failed to pass because Democrats said it didn’t go far enough to address safety and liability issues.

A bipartisan group revived efforts to come up with legislation that would address Democrat concerns and give auto manufacturers and AV developers greater freedom to deploy vehicles that lack controls like a steering wheel or pedals, which are currently required by federal law.

There was some level of public agreement between the traditional auto manufacturers and AAJ over the issue of accountability. But there is still a huge divide between organizations like the Consumer Technology Association and safety advocates and trial lawyers over the issue of forced arbitration.

Groups like the American Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers, want to ban forced arbitration in any autonomous vehicle bill.

Meanwhile, CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro submitted testimony that was clearly opposed to limiting the use of arbitration. The CTA argues that arbitration reduces the cost of litigation and provides more timely remedies.

People who were in the room told me they were surprised by how unwavering Shapiro’s comments were, and suggested that it wasn’t in step with how some auto manufacturers view the issue.

Following the hearing, the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committees circulated seven sections to industry groups covering issues such as crash-data sharing and cybersecurity, according to reporting by Bloomberg Government. There was one missing provision. Any guesses? Yup, the provision dealing with forced arbitration. That has caused some Democrats to abandon the bill.

There are two ways for this bill to survive in this congressional session — by unanimous consent, meaning everyone agrees to it, or by being attached to another bill. The first option is highly unlikely. And the second is just as slim since there are limited opportunities in the Senate to attach self-driving legislation to another bill.

Adventures in ride hailing

Two items to mention that illustrate how the world of ride-hailing continues to evolve.

First up is Uber. The company is piloting a new feature aimed at older adults that will let customers dial a 1-800 number and speak to an actual human being to hail a ride. The pilot is launching in Arizona, followed by other yet unnamed states. Sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it?

It’s not quite like calling a taxi dispatcher though. You’ll still need a phone that can receive SMS or test messages to get information on the driver and their ETA.

Now let’s jump over to Nigeria where new regulations in the country’s commercial center of Lagos is creating some chaos.

Lagos has started to restrict where shared motorcycles, called okadas, can operate. That is affecting motorcycle-taxi businesses like ORide, Max .ng and Gokada.

In a statement via email, ORide’s Senior Director of Operations, Olalere Ridwan, said the rules entail “a ban on commercial motorcycles…in the city’s core commercial and residential areas, including Victoria Island and Lagos Island.”

The motorcycle taxi limitations have also thrown off Lagos’s disorderly transit grid — overloading other mobility modes (such as mini-buses) and forcing more people to pound pavement and red-dirt to get to work, according to reporter Jake Bright.

Google’s axe sparks a spinoff

Google bookbot-cartken

I wanted to highlight one of our ONMs, otherwise known as original news manufacturers. Ba dum bump.

Freelancer Mark Harris is back with a scoop on Google’s short-lived Bookbot program and how its death sparked a new and still-in-stealth startup called Cartken.

Bookbot was a robot created within the Google’s Area 120 incubator for experimental products. The plan was to pilot an autonomous robot in Mountain View that would pickup library books from users and bring them back to the library. Apparently, it was well received. But it was killed off far before its nine-month pilot was slated to end. Bookbot’s demise followed Google’s decision to scale back efforts to compete with Amazon in shopping.

But Bookbot appears to be back, albeit in a slicker form and with a broader use case than a library book shuttle. Engineers working on Bookbot as well as a logistics expert who was once in charge of operations at Google Express left the company to form Cartken in fall 2019.

Check out Harris’ deep dive into Bookbot, Google’s shift away from shopping and Cartken.

TC Sessions: Mobility savings

You might have heard or read here in this newsletter that TC Sessions: Mobility is returning for a second year on May 14 in San Jose — a day-long event brimming with the best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.

Now here’s my discount deal for you. To get 10% off tickets, including early bird, use code AUTO. Early Bird sale ends April 9. Early-bird tickets are available now for $250 — that’s $100 savings before prices go up. Students can book a ticket for just $50. Book your tickets today.

So far, we’ve announced:

  • Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber
  • Boris Sofman, who is leading Waymo’s autonomous trucking efforts
  • Nancy Sun, Ike Robotics chief engineer and co-founder
  • Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan
  • Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer
  • Olaf Sakkers, general partner at Maniv Mobility

Expect more announcements each week leading up to the May 14th event.

 


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