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Main article: Italy

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 46

Facebook’s dodgy defaults face more scrutiny in Europe

18:34 | 24 January

Italy’s Competition and Markets Authority has launched proceedings against Facebook for failing to fully inform users about the commercial uses it makes of their data.

At the same time a German court has today upheld a consumer group’s right to challenge the tech giant over data and privacy issues in the national courts.

Lack of transparency

The Italian authority’s action, which could result in a fine of €5 million for Facebook, follows an earlier decision by the regulator, in November 2018 — when it found the company had not been dealing plainly with users about the underlying value exchange involved in signing up to the ‘free’ service, and fined Facebook €5M for failing to properly inform users how their information would be used commercially.

In a press notice about its latest action, the watchdog notes Facebook has removed a claim from its homepage — which had stated that the service ‘is free and always will be’ — but finds users are still not being informed, “with clarity and immediacy”, about how the tech giant monetizes their data.

The Authority had prohibited Facebook from continuing what it dubs “deceptive practice” and ordered it to publish an amending declaration on its homepage in Italy, as well as on the Facebook app and on the personal page of each registered Italian user.

In a statement responding to the watchdog’s latest action, a Facebook spokesperson told us:

We are reviewing the Authority decision. We made changes last year — including to our Terms of Service — to further clarify how Facebook makes money. These changes were part of our ongoing commitment to give people more transparency and control over their information.

Last year Italy’s data protection agency also fined Facebook $1.1M — in that case for privacy violations attached to the Cambridge Analytics data misuse scandal.

Dodgy defaults

In separate but related news, a ruling by a German court today found that Facebook can continue to use the advertising slogan that its service is ‘free and always will be’ — on the grounds that it does not require users to hand over monetary payments in exchange for using the service.

A local consumer rights group, vzbv, had sought to challenge Facebook’s use of the slogan — arguing it’s misleading, given the platform’s harvesting of user data for targeted ads. But the court disagreed.

However that was only one of a number of data protection complaints filed by the group — 26 in all. And the Berlin court found in its favor on a number of other fronts.

Significantly vzbv has won the right to bring data protection related legal challenges within Germany even with the pan-EU General Data Protection Regulation in force — opening the door to strategic litigation by consumer advocacy bodies and privacy rights groups in what is a very pro-privacy market. 

This looks interesting because one of Facebook’s favored legal arguments in a bid to derail privacy challenges at an EU Member State level has been to argue those courts lack jurisdiction — given that its European HQ is sited in Ireland (and GDPR includes provision for a one-stop shop mechanism that pushes cross-border complaints to a lead regulator).

But this ruling looks like it will make it tougher for Facebook to funnel all data and privacy complaints via the heavily backlogged Irish regulator — which has, for example, been sitting on a GDPR complaint over forced consent by adtech giants (including Facebook) since May 2018.

The Berlin court also agreed with vzbv’s argument that Facebook’s privacy settings and T&Cs violate laws around consent — such as a location service being already activated in the Facebook mobile app; and a pre-ticked setting that made users’ profiles indexable by search engines by default

The court also agreed that certain pre-formulated conditions in Facebook’s T&C do not meet the required legal standard — such as a requirement that users agree to their name and profile picture being used “for commercial, sponsored or related content”, and another stipulation that users agree in advance to all future changes to the policy.

Commenting in a statement, Heiko Dünkel from the law enforcement team at vzbv, said: “It is not the first time that Facebook has been convicted of careless handling of its users’ data. The Chamber of Justice has made it clear that consumer advice centers can take action against violations of the GDPR.”

We’ve reached out to Facebook for a response.

 


0

Glovo exits the Middle East and drops two LatAm markets in latest food delivery crunch

18:00 | 21 January

The new year isn’t even a month old and the food delivery crunch is already taking big bites. Spain’s Glovo has today announced it’s exiting four markets — which it says is part of a goal of pushing for profitability by 2021.

Also today, Uber confirmed rumors late last year by announcing it’s offloading its Indian Eats business to local rival Zomato — which will see it take a 9.99% stake in the Indian startup.

In other recent news Latin America focused on-demand delivery app Rappi announced 6% staff layoffs.

On-demand food delivery apps may be great at filling the bellies of hungry consumers fast but startups in this space have yet to figure out how to deliver push-button convenience without haemorrhaging money at scale.

So the question even some investors are asking is how they can make their model profitable?

Middle East exit

The four markets Glovo is leaving are Turkey, Egypt, Uruguay and Puerto Rico.

The exits mean its app footprint is shrinking to 22 markets, still with a focus on South America, South West Europe, and Eastern Europe and Africa.

Interestingly, Glovo is here essentially saying goodbye to the Middle East — despite its recent late stage financing round being led by Abu Dhabi state investment company, Mubadala. (It told us last month that regional expansion was not part of Mubadala’s investment thesis.)

Commenting on the exits in a statement, Glovo co-founder and CEO, Oscar Pierre, said: “This has been a very tough decision to take but our strategy has always been to focus on markets where we can grow and establish ourselves among the top two delivery players while providing a first-class user experience and value for our Glovers, customers and partners.”

Last month Pierre told us the Middle East looks too competitive for Glovo to expand further.

In the event it’s opted for a full exit — given both Egypt and Turkey are being dropped (despite the latter being touted as one of Glovo’s fastest growing markets just over a year ago, at the time of its Series D).

“Leaving these four markets will help us to further strengthen our leadership position in South West and Eastern Europe, LatAm and other African markets, and reach our profitability targets by early 2021,” Pierre added.

Glovo said its app will continue to function in the four markets “for a few weeks” after today — adding that it’s offering “support and advice to couriers, customers and partners throughout this transition”.

“I want to place on record our thanks to all of our Glovers, customers and partners in the markets from which we’re withdrawing for their hard work, dedication, commitment and ongoing support,” Pierre added.

The exits sum to Glovo withdrawing from eight out of a total 306 cities.

It also said the eight cities collectively generated 1.7% of its gross sales in 2019 — so it’s signalling the move doesn’t amount to a major revenue hit.

The startup disclosed a $166M Series E raise last month — which pushed the business past a unicorn valuation. Pierre told us then that the new financing would be used to achieve profitability “as early as 2021”, foreshadowing today’s announcement of a clutch of market exits.

Glovo has said its goal is to become the leading or second delivery platform in all the markets where it operates — underlining the challenges of turning a profit in such a hyper competitive, thin margin space which also involves major logistical complexities with so many moving parts (and people) involved in each transaction.

As food delivery players reconfigure their regional footprints — via market exits and consolidation — better financed platforms will be hoping they’ll be left standing with a profitable business to shout about (and the chance to grow again by gobbling up less profitable rivals or else be consumed themselves). So something of a new race is on.

Back in November in an on-stage interview at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Uber Eats and Glovo discussed the challenges of turning a profit — with Glovo co-founder Sacha Michaud telling us he expects further consolidation in the on-demand delivery space. (Though the pair claimed there had been no acquisition talks between Uber and Glovo.)

Michaud said then that Glovo is profitable on a per unit economics basis in “some countries” — but admitted it “varies a lot country by country”.

Spain and Southern Europe are the best markets for Glovo, he also told us, confirming it generates operating profit there. “Latin America will become operation profitable next year,” he predicted.

Glovo’s exit from Egypt actually marks the end of a second act in the market.

The startup first announced it was pulling the plug on Egypt in April 2019 — but returned last summer, at the behest of its investor Delivery Hero (a rival food delivery startup which has a stake in Glovo), according to Michaud’s explanation on stage.

However there was also an intervention by Egypt’s competition watchdog. And local press reported the watchdog had ordered Glovo to resume operations — accusing it and its investor of colluding to restrict competition in the market (Delivery Hero having previously acquired Egyptian food delivery rival, Otlob).

What the watchdog makes of today’s announcement of a final bow out could thus be an interesting wrinkle.

Asked about Egypt, a Glovo spokesperson told us: “Egypt has been a very complex market for us, we were sad to leave the first time and excited to return when we did so last summer. However, our strategy has always been to be among the top two delivery players in every market we enter and have a clear path to profitability. Unfortunately, in Egypt there is not a clear path to profitability.”

Whither profitability?

So what does a clear path to profitability in the on-demand delivery space look like?

Market maturity/density appears to be key, with Glovo only operating in one city apiece in the other two markets it’s leaving, Uruguay and Puerto Rico, for example — compared to hundreds across its best markets, Spain and Italy, where it’s operating out of the red.

This suggests that other markets in South America — where Glovo similarly has just a toe-hold, of a single or handful of cities, and less time on the ground, such as Honduras or Panama — could be vulnerable to further future exits as the company reconfigures to try to hit full profitability in just around a year’s time.

But there are likely lots of factors involved in making the unit economics stack up so it’s tricky to predict.

Food delivered on-demand makes up the majority of Glovo’s orders per market but its app also touts being able to deliver ‘anything’ — from groceries to pharmaceuticals to the house keys you left at home — which it claims as a differentiating factor vs rival food-delivery-only apps.

A degree of variety also looks to be a key ingredient in becoming a sustainable on-demand delivery business — as scale and cross selling appear to where the unit economics can work.

Groceries are certainly a growing focus for Glovo which has been investing in setting up networks of dark supermarkets to support fast delivery of convenience style groceries as well as ready-to-eat food — thereby expanding opportunities for cross-selling to its convenience-loving food junkies at the point of appetite-driven (but likely loss-making) lunch and dinner orders.

Last year Michaud told us that market “maturity” supports profitability. “At the end of the day the more orders we have the better the whole ecosystem works,” he said.

While Uber Eats’ general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Charity Safford, also pointed to “scale” as the secret sauce for still elusive profits.

“Where we start to see more and more trips happening this is definitely where we see the unit economics improving — so our job is really to figure out all of the use cases we can put into people’s hands to get that application used as much as possible,” she said.

It’s instructive that Uber is shifting towards a ‘superapp’ model — revealing its intent last year to fold previously separate lines of business, such as rides and Eats, into a single one-stop-shop app which it began rolling out last year. So it’s also able to deliver or serve an increasing number of things (and/or services).

The tech giant has also been testing subscription passes which combine access to a range of its offerings under one regular payment. While Glovo launched a ‘Prime’ monthly subscription offering unlimited deliveries of anything its couriers can bike around for a fixed monthly cost back in 2018.

When it comes to the quest for on-demand profitability all roads so seem to lead to trying to become the bit of Amazon’s business that Amazon hasn’t already built out and swiped.

 


0

Mobility startup Damon Motors enters e-moto arena with EV debut

13:59 | 3 December

Vancouver based mobility startup Damon Motorcycles has entered the EV arena with a preview of its first e-moto, the Hypersport Pro.

The seed-stage company had previously focused on creating digital safety technology — like its 360 degree radar detection system — to augment two-wheelers made by other manufacturers.

Damon has determined to create its own EV model designed to overcome common flaws it sees in existing motorcycle offerings.

“We are for the first time being black and white about the fact that we are a full on producer and we have a motorcycle we’re going to unveil at CES,” Damon Motorcycle founder and CEO Jay Giraud told TechCrunch.

That machine is the fully electric Damon Hypersport Pro. The news is a pre-announcement ahead of the full January debut, so Giraud would not offer much in the way of core specs — such as price, range, charge-time, and performance.

He was clear the motorcycle is meant to be a direct competitor to the latest e-motos released by Harley Davidson and California based venture Zero Motorcycles — and to the gas-motorcycle market overall.

“We’ve come at this and the motorcycle problem in a way that no other company has,” Giraud explained.

“We’re trying to change the industry by addressing the issues of safety and handling and comfort and the problems that have persisted with everyone in the industry, including all the e-moto companies today.”

Damon’s Hypersport Pro is designed around the company’s CoPilot system, which uses sensors radar and cameras to detect and track moving objects around the motorcycle, including blindspots, and alert riders to danger.

Damon has also taken on the problem of one-size fits all in motorcycle design, integrating a system on its Hypersport Pro that allows for adjustable ergonomics. The startup’s debut model will allow riders to electronically shift the motorcycle’s windscreen, seat, footpegs, and handlebars to accommodate for different positions and conditions — from more upright city riding to more aggressive high-speed runs.

Damon Motorcycles is taking pre-orders for its Hypersport Pro and will skip dealers, opting to use a direct-sales and service model similar to Tesla . The startup’s Vancouver facility is equipped to build 500 motorcycles a year, according to Giraud.

The company recently brought on Derek Dorresteyn, the former CTO of e-moto startup Alta, as its COO. Full specs of the Hypersport Pro will come next month at CES, but Giraud did offer a glimpse, saying it would be more competitive and more powerful than existing e-moto offerings.

Harley Davidson released its first e-motorcycle — the $29K LiveWire — in 2019 and California EV startup Zero Motorcycles launched its $19K SR/F, both in bids to go take e-motos mass-market. Aside from the price-gap, both have comparable charge-times (about an hour), performance, and range (around 100 miles for combined city and highway riding).

The U.S. motorcycle industry has been in pretty bad shape since the recession. New sales dropped by roughly 50% since 2008 — with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40 — and have never recovered.

Harley Davidon’s EV pivot is likely to bring e-moto offerings from the other large gas manufacturers, such as Honda and Yamaha, who are also attempting to revive sales to younger riders.

LiveWire Charging Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson’s LiveWire

With Damon’s pivot to e-moto production, the startup is not alone. Italy’s Energica is expanding distribution of its high-performance EVs in the U.S. Other competitors include e-moto startup Fuell, with plans to release its $10K, 150-mile range Flow in the near future.

Of course, there’s already been some speed-bumps and market attrition, with three e-moto startups — Alta Motors, Mission Motors and Brammo — forced to power down over the last several years.

So how does Damon Motors plan to succeed as a new entrant in a motorcycle market with stagnant  new bikes sales and increased EV competition from established OEMs and startups?

“We have so many advantages the others don’t have and we’re leveraging everyone of their weaknesses,” founder Jay Giraud said. The company’s direct-sale model will lend to more competitive pricing and higher margins for R&D, he said.

Then there are what Damon Motorcycles sees as its Hypersport Pro’s purposely designed comparative advantages over existing manufacturers.

“You’re gonna love the horsepower and range and all that good stuff, but that’s not what makes Damon different from every one else,” explained Giraud.

“What’s different is that it’s a safer motorbike with the safety features and transforming ergonomics that will keep you from smashing into someone’s car,” he said.

Not crashing into other people’s cars is certainly a compelling feature to offer in a motorcycle. Time and sales will ultimately tell how Damon fares in the inevitable cycle of events — profitability, failure, acquisition — that will play out in the increasingly competitive e-moto space.

 


0

Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

09:25 | 14 November

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of these matches, setting a new global record.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the company’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada, and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debut its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed over 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the tariff of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen towards the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said. Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut local rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from Showtime, HBO, and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and large library of Indian titles.

The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket seasons. The service’s monthly userbase plummets below 60 million in weeks following IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired over 60 engineers and researchers as it looks to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

 


0

Glovo is opening a tech hub in Poland after gobbling a local food delivery rival

16:08 | 6 November

Barcelona-based on-demand delivery startup Glovo is beefing up its engineering capacity by opening a second tech hub, its first in Poland — with an initial plan to hire 40 additional engineers and have a total of 50 tech and product experts working predominantly out of its Warsaw office.

Glovo says it expects the Polish engineering hub to make up half of its technology capacity in time. It will have a main focus on developing user-facing features for its marketplace product and for partners operating on the platform, it adds.

It also has plans for further expansion of the facility down the line — and an overarching roadmap for its business of a 300-strong engineering team to support building out its on-demand service offering.

Its pitch is “everything” delivered on-demand, from fast food to groceries or pharmaceuticals, so long as it’s small and light enough to be handled by one of the couriers picking up jobs on its platform.

While there’s little doubt that fast food makes up the bulk of Glovo orders right now the startup has been trying to push into online grocery deliveries, to compete with giants like Amazon — including setting up its own warehouses capable of fulfilling orders within 20 minutes, 24 hours a day. (It calls these ‘dark supermarkets’ SuperGlovo — ‘super’ meaning ‘supermarket’ in Spanish. Though its ‘dark’ model has also attracted attention from Barcelona City Council for lacking a correct permit.)

In August Spanish media reported that Glovo had itself been shopping — picking up Polish food delivery platform, Pizza Portal, for an acquisition price-tag that’s billed as up to €35M (~$39M).

Glovo raised a $169M Series D back in April which included investment from Drake, owner of global pizza franchise Papa John’s — giving it the means and the motive to gobble smaller rivals in the food delivery space.

Poland being one of its existing markets in Europe. (Albeit Pizza Portal offers various types of fast food for delivery, not just pizza.)

In all, Glovo operates in more than 20 countries at this stage, though its densest markets of operation remain its home market of Spain and also Italy.

In Poland it operates in just eight cities — so the Pizza Portal acquisition looks intended to beef up its footprint there, with the latter slated as the largest food-service platform in the market — even as Glovo doubles down on expanding its engineering capacity by tapping up local tech talent.

At the same time, competition for on-demand delivery, and especially food delivery, remains fierce in Europe where a number of players — including the likes of Deliveroo, JustEat and Uber Eats, are battling it out for territory. And, in some instances, consuming each other to carve out a bigger share of lunch in key markets.

Where Glovo doesn’t operate in Europe highlights some of that ongoing food fight, with no offering in Germany or the UK, for instance. Its regional strategy focuses on the South and East. It has also been building up an international business, opening in markets in LatAm and the Middle East and Africa.

Scaling fast is certainly core to Glovo’s playbook, though. It says it launched in a new city every four days on average last year, while the 2015-founded startup now employs over 1,300 people in all.

Glovo founder Oscar Pierre will be joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin in December to chat about growing an on-demand delivery business — you can find out more about Disrupt conference passes here

 


0

Talking to Zero Motorcycles’ CEO and taking home the 2020 SR/F

23:24 | 5 November

The motorcycle industry is shifting to electric. Harley Davidson signaled the trend this year, becoming the first big gas manufacturer to release a street-legal e-motorcycle in the US, the LiveWire.

But before Harley’s EV pivot, California based startup Zero Motorcycles had been selling e-motos for years.

“We’re an electric motorcycle and power-train manufacturer founded in 2006 in Santa Cruz, California…we’re sold in over 30 countries,” Zero CEO Sam Paschel told TechCrunch.

“Fundamentally we aim to transform and elevate the motorcycling experience and by doing that we expect to make a huge dent in transforming transportation globally.”

Toward that aim, Zero recently released the all-new 2020, SR/F — a $19K high-performance e-motorcycle and competitor to Harley Davidson’s $29K LiveWire.

TechCrunch took an SR/F home to experience going full e-moto. The biggest distinction between e-motorcycles — versus gas two-wheelers — is lightning acceleration and uninterrupted forward movement.

Zero’s SRF has a magnet motor and one gear — with no clutch or shifting — and fewer mechanical parts to put the 14.4 kWh battery’s 140 ft-lbs of torque to the pavement.

You simply twist and go.

The SR/F is a fully digital, IoT motorcycle that syncs to a smartphone and the cloud to monitor charge status or adjust performance. It has preset riding modes  — Eco, Street, Sport, and Rain — for different combinations of power and range. The EV also allows for customized riding modes dialed in via smartphone.

Zero Ride Mode GIFOne can power Zero’s sporty e-moto from a household outlet or use fast-charging networks — like ChargePoint — for a full battery in around 80 minutes.

Zero’s SR/F has a range of up to 161 miles in the city, where it can recharge itself marginally through regenerative braking. For a combination of city, highway, an sport riding, I averaged around 100 miles a charge, alternating between riding modes.

On performance, Zero’s new sport-entry hauls ass. Going 0 to 60 at full power on the new SR/F is a rush, while 60 to 100 speed is so fast it’s downright frightening.  Overall, the e-moto’s acceleration is stronger and more constant than internal combustion machines, with no emissions and little sound.

Zero’s CEO Sam Paschel thinks the distinct electric motorcycle experience can convert gas riders

“We have what we consider enthusiasts…These are people that are avid motorcycle riders…What we find with them is they throw a leg over a Zero…have an electric motorcycle experience, it’s fundamentally different…They fall in love, they buy one,” he said.

Zero’s e-motos — starting at around $9K for the entry level FX — are also attracting a younger generation, according to the startup’s CEO.

“They’re an early adopter of new technology. They love the idea — whether it’s the performance elements the riding experience, green or eco elements of having electric vehicle — and we’re actually drawing them into the sport in a way that they wouldn’t have been drawn in by internal combustion,” he said.

Zero Chargepoint 1Paschel is undaunted by Harley’s EV debut or the other big gas motorcycle manufacturers entering the E-market.

“You have a major OEM that’s launched a bike into the space that we have been defining and creating for over a decade. Of course, the nature of that relationship is fundamentally competitive,” he said.

“The question I get more often is…are we concerned? Are we worried or scared of any OEMs entering? And The answer is no. This is actually the most exciting thing that’s happened in the space in a long time,” said Paschel.

“A rising tide is going to lift all ships, and…I’m more than confident that we will capture more than our fair share of a rapidly growing market simply because this is all we do. And we spent 13 years, millions of miles, and a lot of time doing this just right.”

Both Zero and Harley are banking on e-motos to reboot a flailing U.S. motorcycle industry. New bike sales dropped 50% since 2008 — with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40.

Zero has worked to close gaps on price, range, charge times, and performance compared to petrol-powered motorcycles.

The startup is not alone. Italy’s Energica is expanding distribution of its high-performance e-motos in the U.S. Other competitors include California based Lightning Motorcycles and e-moto startup Fuell, with plans to release its $10K, 150 mile range Flow this year.

Of course, there’s already been some speed-bumps and market attrition, with three e-moto startups — Alta Motors, Mission Motors, and Brammo — forced to power down over the last several years.

Zero looks to its head start and proprietary technology to win in the electric conversion of motorcycles.

The company has also received partnership inquiries

“It’s not something that we are actively seeking…I will tell you that there’s a lot of inbound interest. I think people were waking up and realizing that that transition is much closer than they thought it was…We’ve had conversations from a list of OEMS, many of whom you would recognize,” said Paschel.

Still, Zero is likely to ride on alone, according to its CEO.

“Right now it’s an inherently competitive relationship with a lot of those guys, so it would have to be the right deal…But right now we’re fiercely competitive company. We’re in a competition with all these brands.”

ZERO SRF TC IIZero’s SR/F could be the sweet spot of tech, price, range, and performance it has been striving toward to finally go mass market and compete with those brands.

And with Zero and Harley growing e-moto market share, expect big names still on the sidelines — Honda, Ducati, Kawasaki — to debut production EVs soon.

With that, the electrification of the motorcycle industry will become another facet of the transformation of global mobility.

 


0

Google brings its Jacquard wearables tech to Levi’s Trucker Jacket

21:11 | 30 September

Back in 2015, Google’s ATAP team demoed a new kind of wearable tech at Google I/O that used functional fabrics and conductive yarns to allow you to interact with your clothing and, by extension, the phone in your pocket. The company then released a jacket with Levi’s in 2017, but that was expensive, at $350, and never really quite caught on. Now, however, Jacquard is back. A few weeks ago, Saint Laurent launched a backpack with Jacquard support, but at $1,000, that was very much a luxury product. Today, however, Google and Levi’s are announcing their latest collaboration: Jacquard-enabled versions of Levi’s Trucker Jacket.

These jackets, which will come in different styles, including the Classic Trucker and the Sherpa Trucker, and in men’s and women’s versions, will retail for $198 for the Classic Trucker and $248 for the Sherpa Trucker. In addition to the U.S., it’ll be available in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K.

The idea here is simple and hasn’t changed since the original launch: a dongle in your jacket’s cuff connects to conductive yarns in your jacket. You can then swipe over your cuff, tap it or hold your hand over it to issue commands to your phone. You use the Jacquard phone app for iOS or Android to set up what each gesture does, with commands ranging from saving your location to bringing up the Google Assistant in your headphones, from skipping to the next song to controlling your camera for selfies or simply counting things during the day, like the coffees you drink on the go. If you have Bose noise-canceling headphones, the app also lets you set a gesture to turn your noise cancellation on or off. In total, there are currently 19 abilities available, and the dongle also includes a vibration motor for notifications.

2019 09 30 0946 1

What’s maybe most important, though, is that this (re-)launch sets up Jacquard as a more modular technology that Google and its partners hope will take it from a bit of a gimmick to something you’ll see in more places over the next few months and years.

“Since we launched the first product with Levi’s at the end of 2017, we were focused on trying to understand and working really hard on how we can take the technology from a single product […] to create a real technology platform that can be used by multiple brands and by multiple collaborators,” Ivan Poupyrev, the head of Jacquard by Google told me. He noted that the idea behind projects like Jacquard is to take things we use every day, like backpacks, jackets and shoes, and make them better with technology. He argued that, for the most part, technology hasn’t really been added to these things that we use every day. He wants to work with companies like Levi’s to “give people the opportunity to create new digital touchpoints to their digital life through things they already have and own and use every day.”

What’s also important about Jacquard 2.0 is that you can take the dongle from garment to garment. For the original jacket, the dongle only worked with this one specific type of jacket; now, you’ll be able to take it with you and use it in other wearables as well. The dongle, too, is significantly smaller and more powerful. It also now has more memory to support multiple products. Yet, in my own testing, its battery still lasts for a few days of occasional use, with plenty of standby time.

jacquard dongle

Poupyrev also noted that the team focused on reducing cost, “in order to bring the technology into a price range where it’s more attractive to consumers.” The team also made lots of changes to the software that runs on the device and, more importantly, in the cloud to allow it to configure itself for every product it’s being used in and to make it easier for the team to add new functionality over time (when was the last time your jacket got a software upgrade?).

He actually hopes that over time, people will forget that Google was involved in this. He wants the technology to fade into the background. Levi’s, on the other hand, obviously hopes that this technology will enable it to reach a new market. The 2017 version only included the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. Now, the company is going broader with different styles.

“We had gone out with a really sharp focus on trying to adapt the technology to meet the needs of our commuter customer, which a collection of Levi’s focused on urban cyclists,” Paul Dillinger, the VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, told me when I asked him about the company’s original efforts around Jacquard. But there was a lot of interest beyond that community, he said, yet the built-in features were very much meant to serve the needs of this specific audience and not necessarily relevant to the lifestyles of other users. The jackets, of course, were also pretty expensive. “There was an appetite for the technology to do more and be more accessible,” he said — and the results of that work are these new jackets.

IMG 20190930 102524

Dillinger also noted that this changes the relationship his company has with the consumer, because Levi’s can now upgrade the technology in your jacket after you bought it. “This is a really new experience,” he said. “And it’s a completely different approach to fashion. The normal fashion promise from other companies really is that we promise that in six months, we’re going to try to sell you something else. Levi’s prides itself on creating enduring, lasting value in style and we are able to actually improve the value of the garment that was already in the consumer’s closet.”

I spent about a week with the Sherpa jacket before today’s launch. It does exactly what it promises to do. Pairing my phone and jacket took less than a minute and the connection between the two has been perfectly stable. The gesture recognition worked very well — maybe better than I expected. What it can do, it does well, and I appreciate that the team kept the functionality pretty narrow.

Whether Jacquard is for you may depend on your lifestyle, though. I think the ideal user is somebody who is out and about a lot, wearing headphones, given that music controls are one of the main features here. But you don’t have to be wearing headphones to get value out of Jacquard. I almost never wear headphones in public, but I used it to quickly tag where I parked my car, for example, and when I used it with headphones, I found using my jacket’s cuffs easier to forward to the next song than doing the same on my headphones. Your mileage may vary, of course, and while I like the idea of using this kind of tech so you need to take out your phone less often, I wonder if that ship hasn’t sailed at this point — and whether the controls on your headphones can’t do most of the things Jacquard can. Google surely wants Jacquard to be more than a gimmick, but at this stage, it kind of still is.

IMG 20190930 104137IMG 20190930 104137

 


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Wikipedia blames malicious DDOS attack after site goes down across Europe, Middle East

18:56 | 7 September

Wikipedia was forced offline in several countries Friday after a cyber attack hit the global encyclopedia.

Users across Europe and parts of the Middle East experienced outages shortly before 7pm, BST, according to downdetector.com.

Wikimedia’s German Twitter account posted: “The Wikimedia server…is currently being paralysed by a massive and very broad DDOS [distributed denial of service] attack.”

The site issued the following statement:

Today, Wikipedia was hit with a malicious attack that has taken it offline in several countries for intermittent periods. The attack is ongoing and our Site Reliability Engineering team is working hard to stop it and restore access to the site.

As one of the world’s most popular sites, Wikipedia sometimes attracts “bad faith” actors. Along with the rest of the web, we operate in an increasingly sophisticated and complex environment where threats are continuously evolving. Because of this, the Wikimedia communities and Wikimedia Foundation have created dedicated systems and staff to regularly monitor and address risks. If a problem occurs, we learn, we improve, and we prepare to be better for next time.

We condemn these sorts of attacks. They’re not just about taking Wikipedia offline. Takedown attacks threaten everyone’s fundamental rights to freely access and share information. We in the Wikimedia movement and Foundation are committed to protecting these rights for everyone.

Right now, we’re continuing to work to restore access wherever you might be reading Wikipedia in the world. We’ll keep you posted.”

The site was reported to be down in large parts of the UK as well as Poland, France, Germany and Italy.

 


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Porsche Taycan sets fastest 4-door electric car record at Nürburgring Nordschleife

22:08 | 26 August

Porsche’s upcoming all-electric Taycan has set a narrow, yet notable record lap time at the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife test track in Germany.

The company said Monday the Porsche Taycan, which will debut Sept, 4., completed the 12.8-mile course in 7 minutes and 42 seconds. This is the fastest lap for a four-door electric vehicle. The record time was set in a pre-series Taycan driven by Lars Kern.

But it’s not the fastest lap for any electric vehicle. That honor goes to Volkswagen’s ID R electric race car, which completed the course in 6:05.336 minutes. The previous record was set in 2017 by Peter Dumbreck, who was driving a Nio electric vehicle.

Still, it’s a zippy time for any vehicle. Porsche has set out to show the speed and endurance of its first electric vehicle ahead of its debut. Porsche says its record run at Nürburgring-Nordschleife and an endurance test the Nardò high-speed track show the Taycan can both.

Earlier this year, Porsche tested the Taycan’s ability to do successive acceleration runs from zero to 62 miles per hour. A video shows 26 successive starts without losses in performance. The average acceleration figure from the timed runs was under 10 seconds, according to Porsche. The difference between the fastest and slowest acceleration runs was 0.8 seconds, the company said.

The German automaker also drove 2,128 miles at speeds between 128 and 133 mph within 24 hours, only stopping to charge the battery and change drivers, at the Nardò track in Italy.

At Nürburgring-Nordschleife, development engineers started driving a Taycan around in a simulator to test and evaluate its performance on a virtual race track. Porsche said one of the main goals was determining electric energy with thermal management, which form an important contribution to achieving the lap time.

Porsche is aiming to prove to its existing customers, many of whom have never driven or owned an electric vehicle, that the Taycan will meet the same performance standards as its gas-powered cars and SUVs. It also hopes to attract new customers to the Porsche brand.

It appears the company is on the right track, if the thousands of reservations for the Taycan convert into actual purchases.

 


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Energy Vault raises $110 million from SoftBank Vision Fund as energy storage grabs headlines

02:30 | 15 August

Imagine a moving tower made of huge cement bricks weighing 35 metric tons. The movement of these massive blocks is powered by wind or solar power plants and is a way to store the energy those plants generate. Software controls the movement of the blocks automatically, responding to changes in power availability across an electric grid to charge and discharge the power that’s being generated.

The development of this technology is the culmination of years of work at Idealab, the Pasadena, Calif.-based startup incubator, and Energy Vault, the company it spun out to commercialize the technology, has just raised $110 million from SoftBank Vision Fund to take its next steps in the world.

Energy storage remains one of the largest obstacles to the large-scale rollout of renewable energy technologies on utility grids, but utilities, development agencies and private companies are investing billions to bring new energy storage capabilities to market as the technology to store energy improves.

The investment in Energy Vault is just one indicator of the massive market that investors see coming as power companies spend billions on renewables and storage. As The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, ScottishPower, the U.K.-based utility, is committing to spending $7.2 billion on renewable energy, grid upgrades and storage technologies between 2018 and 2022.

Meanwhile, out in the wilds of Utah, the American subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is working on a joint venture that would create the world’s largest clean energy storage facility. That 1 gigawatt storage would go a long way toward providing renewable power to the Western U.S. power grid and is going to be based on compressed air energy storage, large flow batteries, solid oxide fuel cells and renewable hydrogen storage.

“For 20 years, we’ve been reducing carbon emissions of the U.S. power grid using natural gas in combination with renewable power to replace retiring coal-fired power generation. In California and other states in the western United States, which will soon have retired all of their coal-fired power generation, we need the next step in decarbonization. Mixing natural gas and storage, and eventually using 100% renewable storage, is that next step,” said Paul Browning, president and CEO of MHPS Americas.

Energy Vault’s technology could also be used in these kinds of remote locations, according to chief executive Robert Piconi.

Energy Vault’s storage technology certainly isn’t going to be ubiquitous in highly populated areas, but the company’s towers of blocks can work well in remote locations and have a lower cost than chemical storage options, Piconi said.

“What you’re seeing there on some of the battery side is the need in the market for a mobile solution that isn’t tied to topography,” Piconi said. “We obviously aren’t putting these systems in urban areas or the middle of cities.”

For areas that need larger-scale storage that’s a bit more flexible there are storage solutions like Tesla’s new Megapack.

The Megapack comes fully assembled — including battery modules, bi-directional inverters, a thermal management system, an AC breaker and controls — and can store up to 3 megawatt-hours of energy with a 1.5 megawatt inverter capacity.

The Energy Vault storage system is made for much, much larger storage capacity. Each tower can store between 20 and 80 megawatt hours at a cost of 6 cents per kilowatt hour (on a levelized cost basis), according to Piconi.

The first facility that Energy Vault is developing is a 35 megawatt-hour system in Northern Italy, and there are other undisclosed contracts with an undisclosed number of customers on four continents, according to the company.

One place where Piconi sees particular applicability for Energy Vault’s technology is around desalination plants in places like sub-Saharan Africa or desert areas.

Backing Energy Vault’s new storage technology are a clutch of investors, including Neotribe Ventures, Cemex Ventures, Idealab and SoftBank.

 


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