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Main article: Uber

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Uber safety driver of fatal self-driving crash was watching Hulu, not the road

19:54 | 22 June

A safety driver operating an Uber self-driving vehicle looked down at a phone that was streaming The Voice on Hulu 204 times during a 43-minute test drive that ended when pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed in Tempe, Arizona, according to a 318-page police report reviewed by TechCrunch.

The Tempe Police Department released late Thursday evening the report on the fatal self-driving car crash that occurred in a Phoenix suburb in March. The lengthy report reveals that safety driver Rafaela Vasquez was streaming the show The Voice on her phone at the time of the crash.

Police determined that Vasquez’s eyes were off the road for 3.67 miles of the 11.8 total miles driven, or about 31 percent of the time.

Based on the data, police reported that Vasquez could have avoided hitting Herzberg if her eyes were on the road. The case has been submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney’s office for review against Vasquez, who could face charges of vehicular manslaughter.

“We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations while conducting our own internal safety review,” an Uber spokeswoman said. “We have a strict policy prohibiting mobile device usage for anyone operating our self-driving vehicles. We plan to share more on the changes we’ll make to our program soon.”

Uber has hired former National Transportation Safety Board chair Christopher Hart as an adviser on the company’s overall safety culture. The company is reviewing internal processes, including its safety driver training practices.

While the report reveals the actions of the safety driver, questions are still swirling around Uber’s self-driving technology system in the modified Volvo XC90. A preliminary report by the NTSB found Uber’s modified Volvo XC90’s LiDAR and radar first spotted an object in its path about six seconds before the crash. The self-driving system first classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, then as a vehicle and then as a bicycle. At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision, according to the NTSB. But Uber had disabled Volvo’s emergency braking system so it didn’t work when the vehicle was under computer control to reduce the potential for “erratic behavior.”

The accident occurred March 18 at about 10 p.m. when an Uber self-driving vehicle struck 49-year-old pedestrian Herzberg on Mill Avenue, just south of Curry Road, according to the Tempe Police Department. The vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision.

Uber immediately halted public testing of its self-driving vehicles following the crash. At the time, Uber was testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey later suspended Uber from testing its self-driving cars in Arizona.



Uber drivers made more than $600 million in tips in one year

16:00 | 21 June

Since finally launching in-app tipping for drivers last year, Uber has facilitated more than $600 million worth of payments in tips to its drivers. In August, Uber hit $50 million in tips.

Since introducing mid-trip ratings and tips in May, there has been a 30 percent increase in tipping, Uber product manager Dhruv Tyagi wrote in a blog post. In April, Lyft announced drivers hit $500 million in tips since its launch, with tip averages increasing by nearly 8 percent in 2017 compared to 2016.

Lyft, of course, is not available in nearly as many markets as Uber. Lyft only operates in the U.S. and Canada, while Uber operates in the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. So, more continents and cities means more opportunities for tipping.

Uber drivers make the most tips in Salt Lake City, Utah, San Antonio, Texas, Kansas City, Mo, New Orleans, La. and Nashville, Tenn. When Lyft ran its numbers, it found riders are most generous in New York City, Atlanta, Ga., Detroit, Mich., Dallas, Tx., San Jose, Calif., Minneapolis, Minn. and Westchester County, NY.

In terms of popular times to tip, people tip the most on Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they tip the most at 8:12pm on Thursday, 10:33pm on Saturday and 5:17am on Sunday.



Uber’s unrelenting desire to be everything

19:45 | 15 June

Welcome back to CTRL+T, the TechCrunch podcast where Megan Rose Dickey and I talk about stories from the week that we either found interesting or hated and had more to say about.

This week we talked about Uber . Uber, Uber, Uber. This company wants everything. The rideshare market! Autonomous vehicles! Flying vehicles! And now? Scooters. And to be able to detect inebriation in passengers! This week, we found out that Uber filed for a patent for tech to be able to tell whether a potential passenger is drunk.

And regular listeners know how we at CTRL+T feel about scooters, but we have to keep talking about them because the companies that facilitate that mode of transportation keep getting funded. Thanks, funders. And Uber is taking its place in the scooter racket. I mean, market.

Click play on the little player below or, better yet, subscribe on Apple PodcastsStitcherOvercastCastBox or whatever other podcast platform you can find.



China’s Didi Chuxing continues its international expansion with Australia launch

06:03 | 15 June

Didi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride-hailing company, is continuing its international expansion after it announced plans to launch in Australia this month.

The company — which bought Uber’s China business in 2016 — said it will begin serving customers in Melbourne from June 25 following a month-long trial period in Geelong, a neighboring city that’s 75km away. The business will be run by a Didi subsidiary in Australia and it plans to offer “a series of welcome packages to both drivers and riders” — aka discounts and promotions, no doubt. It began signing up drivers on June 1, the company added.

The Australia launch will again put Didi in direct competition with Uber, but that is becoming increasingly common, and also Ola which counts Didi as an investor — more on that below. This move follows forays into Taiwan, Mexico and Brazil this year as Didi has finally expanded beyond its China-based empire.

Didi raised $4 billion in December to develop AI, general technology and to fund international expansion and it has taken a variety of routes to doing the latter. This Australia launch is organic, with Didi developing its own team, while in Taiwan it has used a franchise model and it went into Brazil via acquisition, snapping up local Uber-rival 99 at a valuation of $1 billion.

It is also set to enter Japan where it has teamed up with investor SoftBank on a joint-venture.

“In 2018, Didi will continue to cultivate markets in Latin America, Australia and Japan. We are confident a combination of world-class transportation AI technology and deep local expertise will bring a better experience to overseas markets,” the company added in a statement.

This international expansion has also brought a new level of confusion since Didi has cultivated relationships with other ride-hailing companies across the world while also expanding its own presence internationally.

The Uber deal brought with it a stock swap — turning Didi and Uber from competitors into stakeholders — and the Chinese company has also backed Grab in Southeast Asia, Lyft in the U.S., Ola in India, Careem in the Middle East and — most recentlyTaxify, which covers Europe and Africa.

In the case of Australia, Didi will come up against both Uber and Ola, with the India firm currently present in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney via an expansion made earlier this year. Uber vs Didi is to be expected — that’s a complicated relationship — but in taking on Ola (so soon after it came to Australia), Didi is competing directly with a company that it funded via an investment deal for the first time.

That might be a small insight into Didi’s relationship with Ola. Unlike Grab, which has seen Didi follow-on its investments, the Chinese firm sat out Ola’s most recent fundraising last year despite making an investment in the company back in 2015.

Ola declined to comment. Didi did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its new rivalry with Ola Down Under.

The move into Australia comes at a time when Didi is under intense pressure following the death of a passenger uses its ‘Hitch’ service last month.

The company suspended the Hitch service — which allows groups people who are headed in the same direction together — and removed a number of features while limiting its operations to day-time only. This week, it said it would resume night-time rides but only for drivers picking up passengers of the sex.



Uber brings on Facebook product director to lead driver product

22:00 | 13 June

Uber has brought on Daniel Danker to serve as a senior director and head of driver product. Prior to joining Uber, he was a product director at Facebook responsible for video and Facebook Live.

“Drivers are the heart of the Uber experience, and Daniel’s passion for our mission and deep product knowledge will ensure we continue to improve and innovate on their behalf,” Uber Head of Product Manik Gupta said in a statement to TechCrunch.

Uber has been without a head of driver product since December, when Aaron Schildkrout left shortly after Uber wrapped up its 180 days of change driver campaign. As head of driver product, Danker will be responsible for planning, strategy and execution. Danker has had a long history in Silicon Valley. Between 2000 and 2010, Danker worked in a couple of roles at Microsoft, where he ended his stint as director of development and operations. He eventually left Microsoft for BBC in 2010 and then made his way to Shazam, where he served as chief product officer for nearly three years.

Danker’s addition to the team comes in lockstep with Uber Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John’s impending departure. This hire also comes a couple of months after Uber unveiled its revamped driver app. The new app was designed to make it easier for drivers to access pertinent information, while ensuring they wouldn’t be distracted behind the wheel. One key added feature was the ability for drivers to recognize where surge, boost and incentivized areas are located.

“Say you’re in a slow area,” Uber Driver Experience Group Manager Yuhki Yamashita told me in April. “We might actually suggest a place to go to instead because it’s much busier. And in this way you get a little bit more information about what’s happening around you. We get to answer questions like ‘well what should you be doing next.’ And you know it feels like the app understands your current situation.”

Under the leadership of CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber has placed a greater emphasis on its drivers. Its commitment to drivers kicked off in June with Uber’s 180 days of change. In that time, Uber added in-app tipping and a number of other features. At the Code conference last month, Khosrowshahi said, despite what former CEO Travis Kalanick said, Uber will never get rid of the driver.

“The face of Uber is the person sitting in the front seat,” Khosrowshahi said.

He also spoke about how Uber is looking for ways to offer benefits and insurance to its drivers.



Southeast Asia’s Grab lands $1B from Toyota at a $10B valuation

05:48 | 13 June

Grab, the ride-hailing firm that acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia business earlier this year, is raising a new round of funding and it just announced that it will be led by Toyota, which is committing $1 billion in capital. The deal values Grab at $10 billion, a source close to the company told TechCrunch.

In return for its capital, Toyota will also get a board seat and the opportunity to place an executive within Grab’s team. Grab said it plans to work with its new investor “to create a more efficient transport network that will ease traffic congestion in Southeast Asia’s megacities” and help its drivers increase their income. In particular, that will involve close collaboration with the Toyota Mobility Service Platform (MSPF), which is working on areas such as user-based insurance, new types of financial packages and predictive car maintenance.

“Going forward, together with Grab, we will develop services that are more attractive, safe and secure for our customers in Southeast Asia,” said Toyota executive vice president Shigeki Tomoyama in a statement.

Toyota put money into Grab via its Next Technology Fund last year, but this time around the capital comes directly from the parent company. Hyundai is another automotive firm that has backed Grab.

The new round follows a $2.5 billion investment that was jointly led by SoftBank and China’s Didi, two long-time investors put an initial $2 billion up for the round last year. That round quietly closed at the start of 2018, Grab has confirmed but so far it hasn’t said who put up the additional money.

The company’s valuation had been $6 billion but, unsurprisingly since the Uber deal, it has jumped by a further $4 billion based on Toyota’s investment.

Grab now claims over 100 million downloads of its app across eight countries in Asia, including Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and more. The firm said its annual revenue run rate has now surpassed $1 billion, although it declined to provide profit or loss numbers.

While it did remove Uber from the region by acquiring its business — although the deal didn’t go as smoothly as had planned — that exit prompted new entrants to jump into the region with Indonesia’s Go-Jek, in particular, looking like the key foe. Go-Jek, which is valued at some $4.5 billion, recently announced plans to expand to four new markets having itself raised a significant $1.5 billion round.

Aside from competition, Singapore-based Grab has kept its busy in recent years expanding its services from point-to-point taxis and private car hailing to include mobile payments, food delivery and dock-less bicycles. Earlier this month it officially unveiled Grab Ventures, a unit focused on helping building out an ecosystem through investment and mentoring.

Grab Ventures is not a VC arm, but it does plan to make 8-10 investments over the next two years while it will also open an accelerator program for “growth-stage” startups — although that doesn’t include equity investments for cash. The division will also focus on incubating new business ideas, which include its recently launched Grab Cycles product which aggregates on-demand bikes from a range of companies.



Why Bozoma Saint John is leaving Uber for Endeavor

23:11 | 11 June

Earlier today, news broke that Bozoma Saint John is leaving her position as chief brand officer at Uber to head over to Endeavor. At Endeavor, an entertainment industry behemoth, Saint John will serve as chief marketing officer, working across all of Endeavor’s portfolio companies, which includes William Morris Endeavor and IMG.

I had the chance to catch up with Saint John for a little bit over the phone to learn more about why she left. For starters, “nothing horrible or terrible happened,” she told me in response to a question about if something bad caused her to leave. “I am very thankful for that because we’ve had enough of those stories. We don’t want any more of that.”

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Saint John told me she wasn’t looking to leave Uber. Instead, Endeavor reached out to her and she didn’t want to pass up this opportunity to change the narrative around diversity and inclusion.

“Sometimes people think [pop culture] is superficial,” she told me. “These are where the stories that are being told are created. If we can help influence that, then that’s so much better for the entire narrative of what we need to get across.”

What we need to get across, she said, is “all the deep stuff,” like diversity, inclusion and sexual harassment.

“These are all pop culture issues,” she said. “It’s like, how can all of those things work in concert to make sure the narrative is told in a way that is powerful.”

While Saint John felt the work she was doing at Uber was important, there were other things Uber needed to take care of before she could be most impactful, she said. For example, Uber still has work to do around corporate culture, she said. As you all may remember, Uber had a horrific 2017, with reports of sexual harassment, mismanagement and an overall toxic culture. While Uber has taken some steps in the right direction, there is still work to be done, Saint John said.

“I’m not saying the corporate culture has righted itself 100 percent,” she said. “Or it’s where it needs to be today. It isn’t. There’s still a lot to be done in that regard.”

She went on to say that she never wanted to use Uber’s small wins around human resources and culture as marketing. Instead, it needed to be done because it was the right thing to do — not just to make Uber look good. Unfortunately, that left Saint John with “a huge gaping hole,” she said.

At Uber, Saint John said she had some personal work wins — like the partnership with LeBron James and Kevin Durant. She pointed to how powerful it was when James spoke about being a black man in America.

“I do feel very good about the stuff I was able to do there, but I know I’ll be able to do much more impactful work right now at Endeavor,” Saint John said.

As CMO at Endeavor, Saint John said she envisions being able to impact storytelling in a new type of way. And as industries, including Hollywood, battle with issues around sexual harassment and toxic work environments, Saint John said she wants to be part of crafting the solution — whether or not it’s part of her job.

“Unfair or not — as a black woman, as you know — when you’re in the job, it doesn’t matter what job you’re doing,” she said. “You are sometimes forcibly in the center of the conversation and sometimes, unfairly, given the reigns to fix it, quote un quote. So while I don’t feel the responsibility of actually doing that job — because there are people whose job that is — I do still feel the responsibility of contributing and creating solutions for the company I’m in and the industry for which I work, which is Hollywood.”



Uber’s chief brand officer, Bozoma Saint John, has left

21:53 | 11 June

Bozoma Saint John has left Uber for entertainment company Endeavor, Recode first reported. Saint John’s employment at Uber came in the midst of the company’s scandals around sexual harassment, management issues and toxic culture.

“I want to thank Boz for her contributions over the last year,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told TechCrunch in an emailed statement. “Boz joined Uber at a time when the company was hurting—but her energy, optimism and creativity have been a key part of our ongoing turnaround. Endeavor is lucky to have her, and I’m excited to watch her work in her new role.”

Before joining Uber, Saint John made a name for herself at Apple, where she led the company’s global consumer marketing division for Apple Music and iTunes. Saint John joined Beats Electronics only a few months before Apple bought the company for $3 billion.

Before that, she spent several years at PepsiCo doing music and entertainment marketing. But it wasn’t until Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2016 when the masses began to understand her talent. At Endeavor, Saint John will serve as chief marketing officer.

“Boz’s strong creative vision has the power to create cultural moments that are transformative for brands,” said Endeavor CEO Ariel Emanuel said in a statement. “We’re excited for what it means when her vision comes face-to-face with our client roster and portfolio of brands who are shaping the cultural conversation around the world every day.”



Uber applies for patent that would detect drunk passengers

15:45 | 11 June

While Uber has changed the way that many think about transportation, it’s also changed the way that many drunk people find their way home at night. Rather than haphazardly hailing a cab or driving home under the influence, Uber provides a relatively safer way to get from point A to B on an indulgent evening.

The company has been curious about its drunk users, applying for a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a system that would use machine learning to determine the ‘state’ of a passenger.

While the patent limits itself to a dry discussion of ‘user state,’ it seems that what Uber is really interested in is detecting the difference between users of sound mind and users who are under the influence.

CNN first spotted the patent, which describes a method of measuring the user’s behavior on their phone against their usual behavior, using information like location, data input accuracy, data input speed, interface interaction behavior, the angle at which the user is holding their device, or even the speed at which they’re walking.

The patent also describes a system that would notify drivers of the passenger’s ‘state’, theoretically letting them prepare for the adventure ahead.

The patent says that riders in a particularly unusual state may be matched with drivers who have special training or expertise, or may not be provided service at all.

In the vast majority of cases, hailing an Uber is one of the safest ways for a drunk person to get home. On the other hand, Uber has run into issues with drivers who have sexually assaulted passengers. CNN reports that at least 103 Uber drivers in the US have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers in the last four years, with many of the police reports noting that the passengers were inebriated or had been drinking before getting into the car.

Notifying drivers when a passenger is drunk could save those drivers the headache of hauling around an out-of-control passenger, or prevent drivers from dealing with passengers who puke in their car, which may lead to disputed charges. But the system described in this patent could also allow for predatory behavior by malicious drivers.

There is also the broader implications of Uber knowing when you’re drunk. The company has not been a beacon of trust with regards to user data, having to pay $20,000 for using “God View” to spy on users and reportedly paying to cover up a massive data breach.

Of course, only a fraction of a company’s patents ever make it into the final product. Only time will tell if Uber’s idea to monitor the state of passengers will end up in the app.



Uber is looking to buy the bike-share company behind Citi Bike and Ford GoBike

23:08 | 9 June

Uber is reportedly looking into buying Motivate, the company that makes Ford GoBike’s in the San Francisco Bay Area and Citi Bike over on the East Coast. This comes following reports of Lyft getting close to purchasing Motivate in a $250 million deal.

Uber bought bike-share startup JUMP, a dockless, electric bike-share service, earlier this year, for about $250 million. In April, Motivate deployed electric bikes in San Francisco. Once JUMP’s 18-month pilot program with the city is up next June, we can expect to see companies like Motivate, Lime and others apply to deploy their own dockless bikes in the city.

I’ve reached out to Uber and will update this story if I hear back.

Just this week, both Uber and Lyft applied to deploy electric scooters in San Francisco. You can read more about that here.


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