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Main article: Transportation

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Bluespace.ai, a startup focused on AV technology for mass transit, gets $3.5 million in seed funding

14:00 | 13 December

Bluespace.ai, a new autonomous driving startup focused on mass transit, announced today that it has raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Fusion Fund.

Other investors include YouTube co-founder Steve Chen; UMC, the Taiwanese semiconductor foundry; Kakao Ventures; GDP Ventures; Atinum; Wasabi Ventures; Blue Ivy Ventures; Plug n Play; and SLV Capital.

The startup develops software systems for autonomous mass transit fleets and is currently in meetings with cities and transit providers. Its founding team includes CEO Joel Pazhayampallil, previously co-founder of Drive.ai, which was acquired by Apple earlier this year, and president and COO Christine Moon, whose experience includes serving as head of partnerships for Google’s Nexus program.

Bluespace.ai’s team also has people who have worked at AV companies like Zoox, Lyft Level 5 and Voyage. Their combined experience includes launching AV fleets in Texas, California and Florida.

In an email, Moon told TechCrunch that Bluespace.ai’s software “enables verifiably safe AV operation without the millions of miles of testing needed by current generation AVs. This enables our mission of making urban mobility more equitable, accessible and sustainable through mass transit automation in the near term.”

Several major automakers, including Volvo and Toyota, and startups like May Mobility and Optimus Ride, are also working on AV solutions for mass transit.

Moon said Bluespace.ai’s specific focus is on “increas[ing] the overall ability and efficiency across trunk transit routes with higher rider capacity.” While other startups have primarily focused on first- and last-mile solutions for slow-speed vehicles that are part of main transit systems, Moon added that Bluespace.ai’s aim is to safely enable full-size vehicles that can travel on public roads at road speed, therefore serving more passengers at a time.

In a press statement, Fusion Fund managing partner Lu Zhang said “After looking at many investment opportunities in the AV space, we found that BlueSpace stood out with their revolutionary technology approach and providing near term market application. The founding team has an incredibly strong technology background and significant deployment experience, having launched AV services in Florida, Texas and California.”

 


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Waymo buys Latent Logic, drives deeper into simulation and Europe

18:05 | 12 December

Waymo has acquired Latent Logic, a UK company that spun out of Oxford University’s computer science department, as the autonomous vehicle company seeks to beef up its simulation technology.

The acquisition also marks the launch of Waymo’s first European engineering hub will be in Oxford, UK. This likely won’t be the end of Waymo’s expansion and investment in Europe and the UK. The former Google self-driving project that is now an Alphabet business said it will continue to look for opportunities to grow the team in the UK and Europe.

Earlier this year, Waymo locked in an exclusive partnership with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan. In October, Waymo said that its working with Renault to study the possibility of establishing an autonomous transportation route in Paris.

Waymo has made simulation a one of the pillars of its autonomous vehicle development program. But Latent Logic could help Waymo make its simulation more realistic by using a form of machine learning called imitation learning.

Imitation learning models human behavior of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The idea is that by modeling the mistakes and imperfect driving of humans, the simulation will become more realistic and theoretically improve Waymo’s behavior prediction and planning.

Waymo isn’t sharing financial details of the acquistion. But it appears that the two founders Shimon Whiteson and João Messia, CEO Kirsty Lloyd-Jukes and key members of the engineering and technical team will join Waymo. The Latent Logic team will remain in Oxford.

“By joining Waymo, we are taking a big leap towards realizing our ambition of safe, self-driving vehicles,” said Latent Logic co-founder and chief scientist Shimon Whiteson. “In just two years, we have made significant progress in using imitation learning to simulate real human behaviors on the road. I’m excited by what we can now achieve in combining this expertise with the talent, resources and progress Waymo have already made in self-driving technology.”

 


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Daimler and Bosch take a mixed mobility approach to autonomous vehicles

12:41 | 11 December

A fleet of Mercedes-Benz S Class vehicles are now plying the roads of San Jose, California as part of a robotaxi pilot project that Daimler and Bosch have been developing for two and a half years, but the launch itself could be chalked up as a mere blip on the autonomous vehicle scene.

At last count, 65 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles in California. And a handful of companies, including Waymo and Zoox, have the additional permit from the California Public Utilities Commission to transport passengers in their robotaxis through the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot.

It’s a milestone for German automaker Daimler and Bosch, one of the world’s largest automotive tech and hardware suppliers, but the most noteworthy aspect is how the pilot has been structured. The companies’ approach provides a marker of sorts for exactly where the “race” to develop and deploy commercial autonomous vehicle stands. In short: this is no sprint. Adventure or expedition racing — a contest that requires strategy, partnerships, expertise in multiple areas, endurance and a head for navigating risk— might be a more apt analogy.

Much of the media coverage has focused on the launch of the pilot or that it will use self-driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class vehicles, the Sonderklasse (special class) of the automaker’s portfolio. What might have been missed is that this is really two projects in one.

 


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Passport raises $65 million for mobility data platform

19:55 | 10 December

Passport, a mobility management platform, just raised a $65 million Series D round from Rho Capital Partners, H.I.G. Growth Partners and ThornTree Capital Partners. This round brings its total funding to $125 million.

The plan is to use the funding to further invest in Passport’s mobility software platform and expand into digital parking payments.

In March, Passport partnered with Charlotte, N.C., Detroit, Mich. and Omaha, Neb. to create a framework to apply parking principles, data analysis and more to the plethora of shared micromobility services.

With Passport, cities can easily analyze scooter usage, parking patterns and curb utilization. Passport also enables cities to implement real-time curbside pricing and payments and better manage scooter placement. The idea is that cities and mobility providers will work better together if there are economic incentives in place.

Other than micromobility, Passport focuses on helping cities solve for issues with parking, enforcement and transit.

“In the future, almost everyone in the world will live in a city, so there’s no more important challenge to work on than how people move throughout communities and transact with cities,” Passport co-founder and CEO Bob Youakim said in a statement. “We envision a world where mobility is seamless. To bring this vision to life, we are creating an open ecosystem where any entity – a connected or autonomous vehicle, a mapping app, or a parking app – can leverage our transactional infrastructure to facilitate digital parking payments.”

 


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Wheels deploys helmet-equipped e-bikes

17:00 | 10 December

On the heels of a $50 million funding round in October, Wheels is launching its “smart” helmet system for its pedal-less e-bikes. The helmet, which locks into the rear fender of the bike, features sensors designed to know when a rider is using it.

In order to incentivize people to wear the helmets, Wheels will initially offer riders a 20% discount for unlocking and using the helmet for the duration of the ride.

Wheels, founded by Wag co-founders Josh and Jonathan Viner, aims to differentiate itself from the likes of other bike-share startups with its modular design, which includes swappable parts and batteries. Though, JUMP recently unveiled its vision for swappable batteries on bikes.The company says that results in a 4x longer product life cycle compared to other bikes on the market.

Wheels currently operates in six markets, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Scottsdale, Ariz.

 


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Real X-Wings took flight at Disney’s new Star Wars ride grand opening thanks to Boeing

16:48 | 7 December

Boeing might be taking the last crucial steps to prepare for its first crewed Starliner capsule spaceflight, but it’s also busy turning sci-fi into reality right here on Earth – by helping Disney build X-Wing large-scale starfighters to celebrate the opening of the ‘Rise of the Resistance’ ride at Disney World in Florida.

Earlier this week when the ride opened during an evening ceremony, X-Wings “roughly the size of a family van” flew over the event, as described by The Drive, which first identified earlier spy shots of the vehicles as potentially being based on Boeing’s aerial cargo drone. Boeing has since confirmed its involvement, but they aren’t providing more info than that the X-Wings were indeed their aircraft.

In the clip below, you can see the X-Wings ascend vertically into the night sky, then hover and rotate before heading out. Don’t go squinting to see if you can spot Poe Dameron at the controls, however – these are unpiloted drones based mostly likely on the Cargo Air Vehicle design Boeing has recently shown off, which sports six rotors (you can see them in close-ups of the X-Wing included in the gallery at the end of this post).

Astute observers and Star Wars fans will note that the X-Wings feature the split-engine design introduced in the T-70 variant that are flown by the Resistance in the current trilogy, as opposed to the full cylinder engine design on the T-65 from the original trilogy. That makes perfect sense, since the Rise of the Resistance ride takes place during an encounter between the Resistance and the First Order during the current trilogy timeline.

As for Boeing’s CAV, it recently completed a three-minute test flight during which it demonstrated forward movement, after flying outdoors during a hover test for the first time earlier this year. The cargo drone is designed for industrial applications, and can carry up to 500 lbs of cargo, but it’s still in the testing phase, which makes this Star Wars demonstration even more interesting.

[gallery ids="1921346,1921347,1921348,1921349"]

 


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Review: Driving the track-ready, race-banned McLaren Senna GTR

01:38 | 6 December

The McLaren Senna GTR shouldn’t exist.

This feat of engineering and design isn’t allowed on public roads. It’s built for the track, but prohibited from competing in motorsports. And yet, the GTR is no outlier at McLaren. It’s part of their Ultimate Series, a portfolio of extreme and distinct hypercars that now serve as the foundation of the company’s identity and an integral part of their business model.

The P1, introduced in 2012, was McLaren Automotive’s opening act on the hypercar stage and was an instant success for both the brand and its business. McLaren followed it up with the P1 GTR, then went on to chart a course toward the Ultimate Series of today and beyond.

Since 2017, the automaker has added the Senna, Speedtail, Senna GTR and now the open-cockpit Elva to the Ultimate Series portfolio. While the GTR is certainly the most extreme and limited in how and where it can be used, it follows a larger pattern of the Ultimate Series as being provocatively designed with obsessive intent.

Automotive takes the wheel

Purpose-built race cars that call on every modern tool of engineering and design have historically been produced for one purpose: winning. This objective, nourished by billions of dollars of investment from the motorsports industry, has led to technological and performance breakthroughs that have eventually trickled down to automotive.

The pipeline that has produced a century of motorsports-driven innovation is narrowing as racing regulations become more restrictive. Now, a new dynamic is taking shape. Automotive is taking the technological lead.

mclaren-car-stats-final

Take the McLaren Senna road car, the predecessor to the GTR. McLaren had to constrain the design of the Senna to make it road legal. But the automaker loaded it with active aerodynamics and chassis control systems that racing engineers could only dream about.

McLaren wasn’t finished. It pushed the bounds further and produced a strictly track-focused and unconstrained race car that expands upon the Senna’s lack of conformity. The Senna GTR might be too advanced and too fast for any racing championship, but McLaren said to hell with it and made the vehicle anyway.

The bet paid off. All 75 Senna GTR hypercars, which start at $1.65 million, sold before the first one was even produced.

The Senna GTR is the symbol of a new reality — a hypercar market that thrives on the ever-more-extreme, homologation standards be damned.

Two weeks ago, I had a chance to get behind the wheel of the Senna GTR at the Snetterton Circuit in the U.K. to find out how McLaren went about developing this wholly unconstrained machine.

Behind the wheel

Rr-rr-rr-kra-PAH! The deafening backfire of the GTR’s 814-horsepower 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine snapped me to attention and instantly transported me to the moment earlier in the day that provided the first hints of what my drive might be like.

Rob Bell, the McLaren factory driver who did track development for the GTR, was on hand to get the car warmed up. Shortly after he set out, the car ripped down the front-straight, climbing through RPMs with an ear-protection-worthy scream that reverberated off every nearby surface, an audible reminder of how unshackled it is.

As Bell approached Turn 1, the rear wing quickly dropped back to its standard setting from the straightaway DRS (drag reduction system) position, then to an even more aggressive airbrake as he went hard to the brakes from 6th gear down to 5th to 4th. The vehicle responded with the signature kra-PAH! kra-PAH! and then promptly discharged huge flames out the exhaust as the anti-lag settings keep a bit of fuel flowing off-throttle.

I thought to myself, ‘Holy sh*t! This thing is no joke!’

McLaren Senna GTR driver

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I feel at home. The cockpit is purposeful. The track was cold with some damp spots, and the GTR is a stiff, lightweight race car with immense power on giant slick tires. Conventional wisdom would suggest the driver — me in this case — should slowly work up to speed in these otherwise treacherous conditions. However, the best way to get the car to work is to get temperature in the tires by leaning on it a bit right away. Bell sent me out in full “Race” settings for both the engine and electronic traction and stability controls. Within a few corners — and before the end of the lap — I had a good feel for the tuning of the ABS, TC and ESC, which were all intuitive and minimally invasive.

As a racing driver, it’s rare to feel a tinge of excitement just to go for a drive. As professionals, driving is a clinical exercise. But the GTR triggered that feeling.

I started by pushing hard in slower corners and before long worked my way up the ladder to the fast, high-commitment sections. The car violently accelerated up through the gears, leaving streaks of rubber at the exit of every corner.

Once the car is straight, drivers can push the DRS button to reduce drag and increase speed for an extra haptic kick. The DRS button is now a manual function on the upper left of the steering wheel to give the driver more control over when it’s deployed. After hitting the DRS, the car dares you to keep your right foot planted on the throttle, then instantly hunkers down under braking with a stability I’ve rarely experienced.McLaren Senna GTR drive

The active rear wing adds angle while the active front flaps take it out to counterbalance the effect of the car’s weight shifting forward onto the front axle, letting you drive deeper and deeper into each corner. It’s sharply reactive; the GTR stuck to the road, but still required a bit of driving with my fingertips out at the limit on that cold day. I soon discovered that the faster I went, the more downforce the car generated, and the more speed I was able to extract from it.

Tip to tail

In almost any other environment, the Senna road car is the most shocking car you’ve ever seen. Its cockpit shape is reminiscent of a sci-fi spaceship capsule. The enormous swan neck-mounted rear wing is one highlight in a long list of standout features. The Senna road car looks downright pedestrian next to the GTR.

McLaren Senna GTR doors

The rear wing stretches off the back of the car with sculpted carbon fiber endplates and seamlessly connects to the rear fender bodywork. The diffuser that emerges from the car’s underbody — creating low pressure by accelerating the airflow under the car for added downforce — is massive. The giant 325/705-19 Pirelli slicks are slightly exposed from behind, giving you the full sense of just how much rubber is on the ground, and the sharp edges of the center exit exhaust tips are already a bluish-purple tint.

The cockpit shape and dihedral doors are instantly recognizable from the road car. But inside, the GTR is all business. The steering wheel is derived from McLaren’s 720S GT3 racing wheel, a butterfly shape with buttons and rotary switches aplenty. The dash is an electronic display straight out of a race car; six-point belts and proper racing seats complete the aesthetic.

McLaren Senna GTR cockpit

Arriving at the front of the car, the active front wing-flaps are as prominent as ever, while the splitter extends several inches farther out in front of the car and is profiled with a raised area in the center to reduce pitch sensitivity given the car’s much lower dynamic ride-height. In fact, nearly the entire front end of the car has been tweaked; there are additional dive-planes, the forward facing bodywork at the sides of the car have been squared-off and reshaped, and an array of vortex generators have been carved into the outer edge of the wider, bigger splitter surface.

All of these design choices in the front point to the primary area of development from the Senna road-car to the GTR: maximizing its l/d or ratio of lift (in this case the inverse of lift, downforce) to drag.

McLaren pulled two of its F1 aerodynamicists into the GTR project to take the car’s aero to a new level. The upshot: a 20% increase in the car’s total downforce compared to the Senna road car, while increasing aero efficiency — the ratio of downforce to drag — by an incredible 50%. The car is wider, lower and longer than its road-going counterpart, and somehow looks more properly proportioned with its road-legal restrictions stripped away to take full advantage of its design freedom.

McLaren Senna GTR back

This was the car the Senna always wanted to be.

The development process of the GTR was short and to the point. When you have F1 aerodynamicists and a GT3 motorsport program in-house attacking what is already the most high-performing production track car in the industry, it can be. There were areas they could instantly improve by freeing themselves of road-car constraints — the interior of the car could be more spartan; the overall vehicle dimensions and track width could increase; the car would no longer need electronically variable ride heights for different road surfaces so the suspension system could be more purposeful for track use; the car would have larger, slick tires.

All this provided a cohesive mechanical platform upon which to release the aerodynamic assault of guided simulation and CFD.

Senna GTR CFD1 aero side

The GTR benefits from the work of talented humans and amazing computer programs working together with a holistic design approach. What was once a sort of invisible magic, aerodynamics has become a well-understood means of generating performance. But you still have to know what you’re seeking to accomplish; the priorities for a car racing at Pikes Peak are much different than those of a streamliner at Bonneville.

The development team for the GTR sought to maximize the total level of downforce that the tires could sustain, then really kicked their efforts into gear to clean up airflow around the car as much as possible. Many of the aggressive-looking design elements that differentiate the GTR from the Senna are not just for additional downforce but to move air around the car with less turbulence — less turbulent air means less drag. You can’t see it or feel it, but it certainly shows up on the stopwatch, and is often the difference between a car that just looks fast and one that actually is.

I hadn’t asked how fast the car was relative to other GT race cars before I drove it. I think a part of me was fearful that despite its appearance and specs it might be wholly tuned down to be sure it was approachable for an amateur on a track day. And that would make sense, as that’s the likely use-case this car will have. After driving the GTR, I didn’t hesitate for a second to ask, to which they humbly said that it’s seconds faster than their own McLaren 720S GT3 car, and still had some headroom.The Senna GTR is another exercise in exploring the limits of technology, engineering and performance for McLaren, enabled by a market of enthusiasts with the means to support it. And this trend is likely to continue unless motorsports changes the rules to allow hypercars.

McLaren’s next move

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has been working for years to develop regulations that could include them. While these discussions are gaining momentum, it remains to be seen whether motorsport can provide a legitimate platform for the hypercar in the modern era.

The last time this kind of exercise was embarked on was more than 20 years ago during the incredible but short-lived GT1-era at Le Mans that spanned from 1995 to 1998. It saw McLaren, Porsche, Mercedes and others pull out all the stops to create the original hypercars — in most cases comically unroadworthy homologation specials like the Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion (literally “street version”) and Mercedes CLK GTR — for the sole purpose of becoming the underpinnings of a winning race car on the world’s stage.

At that time, the race cars made sense to people; the streetcars were misfits of which only the necessary minimum of 25 units were produced in most cases, and the whole thing collapsed due to loopholes, cost, politics and the lack of any real endgame.

Today, the ACO benefits from a road-going hypercar market that McLaren played a key role in developing. Considering McLaren’s success with hyper-specific specialized vehicles in recent years, I’d bet the automaker could produce a vehicle custom-tailored to a worthy set of hypercar regulations. Even if not, McLaren will continue to develop and sell vehicles under its Ultimate Series banner.

And there’s already evidence that McLaren is doubling down. 

McLaren Elva

McLaren shows off the open cockpit Elva.

McLaren’s Track 25 business plan targets $1.6 billion in investment toward 18 new vehicles between 2018 and 2025. The company’s entire portfolio will use performance-focused hybrid powertrains by 2025.

The paint had barely dried on the Senna GTR before McLaren introduced another new vehicle, the Elva. And more are coming. McLaren is already promising a successor to the mighty P1. I, for one, am looking forward to what else they have in store.

 


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Toyota leads $50 million investment in autonomous shuttle startup May Mobility

18:12 | 4 December

May Mobility, a Michigan-based startup that is operating autonomous shuttle services in three U.S. cities, has has raised $50 million in a Series B round led by Toyota Motor Corp.

The funding, which comes less than a year after May Mobility raised $22 million, will be used to expand every aspect of the company, including its AV shuttle fleet as well as its engineering and operations staff.

May Mobility has 25 autonomous low-speed shuttles spread out between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan and Providence, Rhode Island — the three cities it operates in. The startup wants to build that number up to 25 vehicles per city, co-founder and COO Alisyn Malek told TechCrunch. That fleet size improves the economic picture for the startup and begin to meaningfully impact transportation in that city.

This latest round does more than provide May Mobility with capital. The startup, which launched in 2017, has has gained a customer as well. Toyota has picked May Mobility as one of its “autonomous driving providers for future open platforms,” according to the startup.

Toyota and May Mobility didn’t share specifics of about what this partnership will lead to. But it will likely pair the startup’s autonomous vehicle technology with the Toyota e-Palette, a platform the automaker unveiled in 2018 at CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas.

The e-Palette was presented as a concept vehicle, but really it’s a platform that fits into Toyota’s vision for mobility ecosystem that will transition from a company that just produces and sells cars to one that handles all aspects of moving people and things from point A to point B.

The e-Palette is designed for flexibility. The platform, which theoretically will be outfitted with autonomous vehicle technology, could be used as a shuttle, for delivering packages to customers or even as a roving mobile shop.

May Mobility will be working with Toyota to identify market opportunities, Malek said, adding that the company will be one of the automaker’s primary partners in co-development to bring those platforms out to market.

“They really believe in the transportation-as-a-service work that we’re doing and want to support that,” Malek said.

 


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Lego’s take on the Tesla ‘Cybertruck’ comes with innovative roof racks

16:13 | 27 November

Lego seems to have been inspired by recent events to bring its own vision fo the truck of the future to the world – behold this bold design statement in all its glory. Clearly, Lego is having a go at Elon Musk and the Tesla Cybertruck that he unveiled last week – which was… divisive in its reception, to say the least.

The Lego version is “guaranteed shatterproof,” Lego notes on Twitter, which is a jab at the failed demo wherein Musk had designer Franz von Holzhausen hurl a large metal ball at the driver and rear passenger windows of the Cybertruck, only to have them smash instantly upon contact. Musk has since said that this only happened because Holzhausen’s prior sledgehammer strikes to the driver door panel undermined the structure of the windows, but it was still highly memorable and memeable moment.

Despite launch day hiccups and a lot of poking fun at its looks, Musk has said that so far, more than 250,000 customers have signed up and put down a refundable $100 deposit for the Cybertruck, so it’s garnering enough interest for at least that level of commitment.

No word on Lego’s truck availability or pre-orders, but maybe they’ll challenge Ford to a truck duel, too.

 


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Indian scooter rental startup Bounce raises $150M

11:02 | 27 November

Big bucks are pouring to get you through chaotic traffic on Indian roads.

Bounce, a Bangalore-based startup that operates over 17,000 electric and gasoline scooters in three dozen cities in India, has raised about $150 million as part of an ongoing financing round led by existing investors Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital and Accel Partners India, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The new financing round, dubbed Series D, values the startup “well over $500 million,” the people said requesting anonymity. This is a significant increase since the five-year-old startup’s Series C financing round, which closed in June, when it was worth a little over $200 million.

A spokesperson of Bounce declined to comment.

Bounce, formerly known as Metro Bikes, allows customers to rent a scooter for as little as Rs 15 (21 cents) an hour. Once the ride has been completed, customers can drop the scooter at any nearby parking spot.

The startup, which had raised $92 million prior to the new financing round, said last month that it has amassed 1.2 million customers.

The affordability of these rides is one of the selling points for smart electric and gasoline bikes in India. The other perk is the increasingly growing realization that two wheels warp through much faster in crowded traffic than four.

In this way, smart scooters are posing a challenge to Ola and Uber, both of which have invested billions of dollars to populate more than 100 cities with hundreds of thousands of cabs. In an interview with the New York Times, Bounce co-founder and chief executive Vivekananda Hallekere said earlier that “traditional”model of Uber and Ola is reaching its limits.

“You can’t make it affordable with a driver,” Hallekere told the Times. “And if users know how to use a scooter, why do you need a driver?”

Both Ola and Uber have taken notice.

Bounce competes with a handful of local players including Vogo, which is heavily backed by ride-hailing giant Ola, and Yulu, which maintains a partnership with Uber and closed an $8 million Series A funding this week.

Hallekere told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year that Bounce, which currently offers IoT hardware and design for the scooters, is working on building its own form factor for scooters.

India is the world’s largest market for two-wheelers. According to industry estimates, more than 200 million people have a license to ride a two-wheeler vehicle in the country. And about 20 million new motorcycles and scooters are sold in the nation each year.

 


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