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Techstars Detroit accelerator is shutting down

19:16 | 30 January

Techstars Detroit, the accelerator that has funded 54 startups in the past five years, is shutting down, TechCrunch has learned.

In an email to supporters, Techstars Detroit managing director Ted Serbinski said the accelerator was not able to secure enough funding for 2020.

“It’s clear the entire automotive mobility industry is tightening as sales slump and we hit the trough of disillusionment with autonomy,” Serbinski wrote in the email. The sales and business development piece of the accelerator is working to build a new program in Detroit if “great corporates can be found,” he added.

Techstars isn’t disappearing from Detroit altogether. The company has a presence through events like Startup Week and Startup Weekends. Serbinski will continue to support the 54 startups that have come out of the program. A number of these startups are working on Series A rounds.

Serbinski will continue to work at Techstars, this time running an accelerator program focused on “quality of life” startups.

An excerpt from Serbinksi’s email:

An experiment for Techstars, Detroit showed you could build a world-class program in an emerging market, in a hyper-competitive industry, that was going through a transformational change.

More importantly, the program proved that wonderful and talented mentors from around the region and globe would graciously support the founders. Truly, an incredible community formed around this program and region. It’s wonderful to see all the new activity as Detroit continues to grow in startup and VC activity.

Techstars Detroit began in 2015 as Techstars Mobility, a mentorship-driven accelerator program that was supported by numerous corporate and auto-focused backers including Ford, Honda, Lear and Nationwide as well as global partners such as Amazon’s AWS, Silicon Valley Bank and Microsoft for Startups. The intent was to bring attention and business into Detroit, a strategy that Serbinksi told TechCrunch was successful.

“The Detroit program was an experiment from the start,” Serbinski said in an interview Wednesday. “The experiment was could TechStars run an accelerator with multiple corporate partners in an emerging market that had a lot of potential, but a significant amount of unknowns? Over the last five years, it became clear that you can work with multiple corporates, you can be in a hyper competitive auto industry, Detroit has momentum and Silicon Valley isn’t waiting anymore. A lot of that proved out.”

Serbinksi’s portfolio is diverse and global. For instance, the startups in the portfolio are from 11 different countries and 40% have female founders. Of the 54 startups Techstars Detroit invested in, just one is from Detroit and two are from Michigan. Serbinksi added that he was not tied to a single thesis that “autonomy is going to take over today” and instead focused on what would work “today and tomorrow.” In other words, he didn’t heavily weight the portfolio with startups focused autonomous vehicle technology, which could take 10 to 15 years to turn into a product.

The portfolio has had success with less than 10% of startups shutting down. Some of the successful accelerator graduates include Cargo, Acerta and Wise.

In 2019, Serbinski announced the name was changing to Techstars Detroit to diversify even more. The new broader aim was to look for startups “transforming the intersection of the physical and digital worlds that can leverage the strengths of Detroit to succeed.” It could be more than just mobility.

“The word mobility was becoming too limiting,” Serbinksi wrote in a blog post at the time. “We knew we needed to reach a broader audience of entrepreneurs who may not label themselves as mobility but are great candidates for the program.”

Even as the accelerator diversified, Serbinski said, it was becoming more difficult to attract investments from the automotive industry.

“We were talking to a healthy amount of new partners for this year and all of those conversations went to zero,” he said. “I’m seeing a tightening of innovation budgets around automotive and mobility  because we’re entering that trough of disillusionment for autonomy. And so, with less accessible money, it made it a lot harder for us to fill in that gap.”



Rivian is building Lincoln an all-electric vehicle

20:31 | 29 January

Lincoln Motor’s first all-electric vehicle is coming from Rivian .

Lincoln, the luxury brand under Ford, said Wednesday the two companies will work together to develop an “all-new” electric vehicle. This electric vehicle, or at least the intent to build it, was announced in April as part of Ford’s $500 million investment in Rivian . But until now, it wasn’t clear what that vehicle would be and under what brand.

Rivian confirmed the announcement and didn’t provide further details.

Lincoln has produced two plug-in hybrid vehicles, the Aviator and Corsair Grand Touring, which it unveiled in November at the LA Auto Show. But it has never produced an all-electric vehicle.

The Lincoln battery electric vehicle will be built off of Rivian’s flexible skateboard platform.

“Working with Rivian marks a pivotal point for Lincoln as we move toward a future that includes fully electric vehicles,” said Joy Falotico, president of the Lincoln Motor Company said in a statement. “This vehicle will take Quiet Flight to a new place — zero emissions, effortless performance and connected and intuitive technology. It’s going to be stunning.”

Lincoln has been focused on whetting consumers’ appetite for SUVs over the past three years a strategy that has helped global SUV sales grow 7% year over year, according to the company.

Lincoln didn’t say what kind of vehicle Rivian will build, but based on its trajectory the past several years it will likely be an SUV.

The addition of the luxury EV will mean the death of the MKZ sedan. Production of the MKZ sedan will end this year in order for the Hermosillo Assembly Plant in Mexico to prepare for production of new Ford vehicles, the company said.



Uber’s self-driving unit starts mapping Washington D.C. ahead of testing

23:53 | 23 January

Uber Advanced Technologies Group will start mapping Washington D.C., ahead of plans to begin testing its self-driving vehicles in the city this year.

Initially, there will be three Uber vehicles mapping the area, a company spokesperson said. These vehicles, which will be manually driven and have two trained employees inside, will collect sensor data using a top-mounted sensor wing equipped with cameras and a spinning lidar. The data will be used to build high-definition maps. The data will also be used for Uber’s virtual simulation and test track testing scenarios.

Uber intends to launch autonomous vehicles in Washington D.C. before the end of 2020.

At least one other company is already testing self-driving cars in Washington D.C. Ford announced in October 2018 plans to test its autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C. Argo AI is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles.

Argo, which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen, started mapping the city in 2018. Testing was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2019.

Uber ATG has kept a low profile ever since one of its human-supervised test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018. The company halted its entire autonomous vehicle operation immediately following the incident.

Nine months later, Uber ATG resumed on-road testing of its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, following a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation decision to authorize the company to put its autonomous vehicles on public roads. The company hasn’t resumed testing in other markets such as San Francisco.

Uber is collecting data and mapping in three other cities in Dallas, San Francisco and Toronto. In those cities, just like in Washington D.C., Uber manually drives its test vehicles.

Uber spun out the self-driving car business in April 2019 after closing $1 billion in funding from Toyota, auto-parts maker Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. The deal valued Uber ATG at $7.25 billion, at the time of the announcement. Under the deal, Toyota and Denso are providing $667 million, with the Vision Fund throwing in the remaining $333 million.



Inside Skip’s plan to appeal San Francisco’s scooter permit decision

19:00 | 22 January

Electric scooter operator Skip is gearing up to appeal San Francisco’s decision to not grant it a permit to operate in the city. When the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced the permit grantees in September, it came as a surprise to Skip, which had previously received a permit to operate as part of the city’s pilot program.

Ahead of the appeal hearing last Thursday, TechCrunch caught up with Skip CEO Sanjay Dastoor to learn about the company’s game plan and why he thinks it can prevail in a battle that other electric scooter providers have lost.

Prior to the city’s decision last year to grant permits to Lime, Uber’s JUMP, Bird’s Scoot and Ford’s Spin, Skip was one of only two companies operating shared electric scooter services in San Francisco. Leading up to the new permitting application process, Skip said it had been working to ensure its electronic locks would be fully integrated by the beginning of the new permit period, Dastoor told TechCrunch. The company did this with guidance from the SFMTA, so when Skip was denied a permit, the team was caught off guard.

“It was a huge surprise,” Dastoor said. “We found out basically the same time as the press did that we didn’t get that permit, so it was pretty surprising to all of us.”



Qualcomm launches the XR2 platform for 5G-connected AR and VR devices

22:00 | 5 December

At its Snapdragon Boondoggle Summit in sunny Maui, Hawaii, Qualcomm today announced the launch of its XR2 platform, which it describes as the “world’s first 5G-supported extended reality (XR) platform.” The company’s older XR1 platform, which already powers a number of VR and AR devices, will remain in the market and is now branded as Qualcomm’s XR platform for mainstream users, while XR2 is meant to show off “next-level features for never before experiences.”

XR2 brings together the company’s 5G modem and AI advances to, for example, support up to seven cameras for pass-through HoloLens-style mixed reality and smoother standalone VR experiences. Using this setup, the XR2 features 26-point skeletal hand tracking and, of course, accurate environmental mapping.

The XR2 supports display panels with a 3K by 3K resolution at 90 frames per second and supports up to 8K 360-degree videos at 60 frames per second, all using custom silicon to keep the latency of these panels very low.

While I think the value of AR/VR still remains somewhat debatable, Qualcomm believes that AR and VR had a good 2019 and started breaking out of the consumer gaming space. “I think when the hype started back in 2014/15, it was a lot about these consumer gaming experiences, but we see more and more enterprise applications coming to market. […] I think 2019 was a key year where we saw this transformation take place, with many, many proof points in both consumer and in enterprise,” said Hugo Swart, the company’s VP and Head of XR.

For the longest time now, we’ve heard how important 5G will be for this market, because it will allow you to stream high-quality video at the kind of low latencies that make AR/VR immersive. “5G is going to be crucial for XR. We’ve spoken about this in the past, that XRS video is the killer use case for 5G,” said Hiren Bhinde, director of product Management at Qualcomm. “Next year […], given that this is the world’s first 5G access platform, we are excited to see how different content developers, as well as different video streaming services with high-resolution videos, may be able to provide their high-bandwidth content on devices built on XR2.”



Ford to shut down GoRide Health service and pivot to AV research

21:47 | 3 December

Six months ago, Ford laid out an ambitious plan to expand its GoRide Health transportation service with an aim at delivering thousands of rides every day to hospitals, doctor offices and other health care facilities by the end of the year. In a few weeks, the service, which provided transportation for non-emergency care, will no longer exist — at least in its current form.

GoRide Health is pivoting. The automaker will shut down GoRide Health services in five cities in which it currently operates, including Detroit as well as Toledo, Dayton, Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio. The company will now concentrate its efforts on Miami, where it has yet to launch, with a focus on autonomous vehicles.

Ford wouldn’t provide details on what the service in Miami might look like, except that it’s a pilot project that will research how transporting people for non-emergency care like doctor’s appointments matches up with its go-to-market strategy for autonomous vehicles.

Ford has advised its customers and suppliers that the mobility services delivered by GoRide Health over the past two years will move to the next phase by aligning operations with its AV launch cities, a Ford spokesperson said in a email.

The Ford spokesperson said the planned Miami pilot will help the automaker better understand the role AVs can play in this “important transport sector.”

“Our learnings from GoRide Health have led to a shift in strategy,” Ford said in an emailed response to TechCrunch. “We are moving to test the potential for AV technology to help improve access to transportation for those with limited mobility.”

Ford is pursuing two parallel tracks in its development of autonomous vehicles, which will eventually combine ahead of a commercial launch. The automaker is testing and homing in on what its AV business model might look like, while separately developing autonomous vehicle technology.

Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based company into which Ford invested $1 billion in 2017, is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles. Meanwhile, Ford is testing its go-to-market strategy through pilot programs with partners like Walmart, Domino’s and Postmates, and even some local businesses.

The decision to close GoRide Health lies in stark contrast to Ford’s plans just a few months ago.

In May, Ford announced a multi-year expansion plan that would see the business expand in 2019 from Detroit and Toledo to several other Ohio cities, as well as Miami, Fla. Ford said that the expansion would continue in 2020 with GoRide offering services in North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and California.

Ford touted its approach at the time, noting that the service had “spent more than a year perfecting its operations and customer experience in Southeast Michigan” before deciding to expand. The company also pointed to GoRide Health’s reputation for its 95% on-time rate through the first quarter of the year, a statistic that attracted the attention of large managed-care organizations.

The planned expansion wasn’t just geographic. GoRide Health was going to assist city transit agencies, beginning with the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in Ohio. The aim was to give residents access to transportation via the RTA’s Connect Paratransit and on-demand programs.

The decision to end the services and change its strategy was made recently and timed with supplier contract extensions. It’s being shuttered despite Ford’s contention that the service was well-received and achieved high on-time rates thanks to its dynamic routing technology that automatically dispatches and pools rides.



Here’s the math behind Telsa’s dumb Cybertruck vs F-150 tow test

17:55 | 2 December

A couple weeks back Tesla unveiled the its first pickup truck, called the Cybertruck. During its unveiling the company showed a butt-to-butt pull-off. Besides being a silly test, this particular demo was flawed in multiple ways, giving the Tesla a major advantage. Here’s the math to prove it.

It’s likely Tesla will redo this test if it hasn’t already. After the original test went viral, a VP at Ford suggested Musk send Ford a Cybertruck so the company behind the F-150 can produce a better comparison. Ford quickly released a statement saying the comment was tongue-in-cheek and Ford has nothing to prove. However, Musk had already responded, telling the Ford VP to “bring it on”, later noting that Tesla would conduct another test “next week.”

It looks great on video to connect two trucks and have a pull-off but it produces little real-world conclusions. A better test would involve weighted trailers and conclusions based off range, handling and capacity — you know, things that matter to truck buyers.



Ford’s all-electric SUV is officially the ‘Mustang Mach-E,’ and you can reserve one starting Nov. 17

17:08 | 14 November

Ford has revealed the official name of its forthcoming EV SUV, which has a Mustang lineage and which will be officially revealed on November 17 in LA. The new vehicle is called the Mustang Mach-E, and following its official unveiling (hosted by Idris Elba, by the way), you’ll be able to actually sign up online and reserve one by putting down a $500 deposit.

The reservation system will include access to a limited ‘First Edition’ set of cars, which Ford says it will provide details around during the launch event. The deposit is also fully refundable, in case you get cold feet, and people who put down deposits will later get the opportunity to actually configure their vehicle prior to delivery. During the reservation process, you also select your preferred Ford dealer, presumably for eventually picking up the car.

Ford’s teases of the vehicle so far suggest a crossover-style electric SUV, and Ford has put up some collateral on the web with a few additional clues about hat it will offer, including a targeted EPA range rating of “at least” 300 miles, and a charging rate of around 47 miles in just 10 minutes with a 150kW DC fast charger, with two years of free charging across Ford’s EV chaser network included.

Below, you can see all the hints and glimpses of the car we’ve gotten from Ford so far, and you can probably fill in the gaps via imagination and reference to the existing Ford Mustang, but November 17 will finally reveal all, and we’ll definitely have coverage here on TC to satisfy your curiosity.

[gallery ids="1911891,1911892,1911893,1911894"]



Ford’s electric Mustang-inspired SUV will finally get its debut

03:21 | 25 October

Ford provided its first peek of a Mustang-inspired electric crossover nearly 14 months months. Now, it’s ready to show the world what “Mustang-inspired” means.

The automaker said Thursday it will debut the electric SUV on November 17 ahead of the LA Auto Show.

Not much is known about the electric SUV that is coming to market in 2020, despite dropping the occasional teaser image or hint. A new webpage launched recently, which provides few details, namely that Ford is targeting an EPA-estimated range of at least 300 miles. The look, specs and price will have to wait until at least the November 17 debut date.

What we do know is that Ford’s future (and certainly its CEO’s) is tied to the success of this shift to electrification. The Mustang-inspired SUV might not be the cornerstone to this strategy (an electric F150 probably deserves that designation), but it will be a critical piece.

Ford has historically backed hybrid technology. Back in 2016, Ford Chairman Bill Ford said at a Fortune event that he viewed plug-in hybrids as a transitional technology.

A lot has changed. Hybrids are still part of the mix. But in the past 18 months, Ford has put more emphasis on the development and production of all-electric vehicles.

In 2018, the company said it will invest $11 billion to add 16 all-electric vehicles within its global portfolio of 40 electrified vehicles through 2022.

Ford unveiled in September at the Frankfurt Motor Show a range of hybrid vehicles  as part of its plan to reach sales of 1 million electrified vehicles in Europe by the end of 2022.

It also invested in electric vehicle startup Rivian and locked in a deal with Volkswagen that covers a number of areas, including autonomy (via an investment by VW in Argo AI) and collaboration on development of electric vehicles. Ford will use Volkswagen’s MEB platform to develop “at least one” fully electric car for the European market that’s designed to be produced and sold at scale.




Who will own the future of transportation?

21:18 | 18 October

Autonomous vehicles are often painted as a utopian-like technology that will transform parking lots into parks and eliminate traffic fatalities — a number that reached 1.35 million globally in 2018.

Even if, as many predict, autonomous vehicles are deployed en masse, the road to that future promises to be long, chaotic and complex. The emergence of ride-hailing, car-sharing and micromobility hints at some of the speed bumps between today’s modes of transportation and more futuristic means, like AVs and flying cars. Entire industries face disruption in this new mobility world, perhaps none so thoroughly as automotive.

Autonomous-vehicle ubiquity may be decades away, but automakers, startups and tech companies are already clambering to be king of the ‘future of transportation’ hill.

How does a company, city or country “own” this future of transportation? While there’s no clear winner today, companies as well as local and federal governments can take actions and make investments today to make sure they’re not left behind, according to Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who spoke about the future of cities on stage this month at Disrupt SF. 

Local = opportunity

Evolution in mobility is occurring at a global scale, but transportation is also very local, Evans said. Because every local transit system is tailored to the geography and the needs of its residents, these unique requirements create opportunities at a local level and encourages partnerships between different companies.

This is no longer just a Silicon Valley versus Detroit story; Europe, China, Singapore have all piled in as well. Instead of one mobility company that will rule them all, Evans and Granholm predict more partnerships between companies, governments and even economic and tech strongholds like Silicon Valley.

We’re already seeing examples of this in the world of autonomous vehicles. For instance, Ford invested $1 billion into AV startup Argo AI in 2017. Two years later, VW Group announced a partnership with Ford that covers a number of areas, including autonomy (via a new investment by VW in Argo AI) and collaboration on development of electric vehicles.

BMW and Daimler, which agreed in 2018 to merge their urban mobility services into a single holding company, announced in February plans to unify these services and sink $1.1 billion into the effort. The two companies are also part of a consortium that includes Audi, Intel, Continental and Bosch, that owns mapping and location data service company HERE.

There are numerous other examples of companies collaborating after concluding that going it alone wasn’t as feasible as they once thought.


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