Harley-Davidson spins out LiveWire into a standalone electric motorcycle brand

LiveWire, Harley-Davidson’s electric motorcycle, is being spun out as a standalone brand, complete with a new logo and brand identity.

Harley-Davidson first unveiled the LiveWire electric motorcycle in 2018 with a listing price of $29,799, placing it on the higher end for motorcycles. It went into production the following year, with some bumps, including a brief halt to production due to a charging-related problem on one of the motorcycles. The first “first LiveWire branded motorcycle” will launch on July 8. Its public debut will come a day later at the International Motorcycle Show, Harley-Davidson said Monday.

Dealers had trouble selling the bike to younger, newer motorcycle riders, Reuters reported in 2019. Part of the issue was the price, which is in the same category as a Tesla Model S, dealers told the news wire at the time. Given that Harley-Davidson’s core constituency is still Baby Boomers, who are beginning to age out of the products, the question is whether a new spin out and rebranding can attract younger (and affluent) riders.

The two companies will share technological advancements and LiveWire will “benefit from Harley-Davidson’s engineering expertise, manufacturing footprint, supply chain infrastructure, and global logistics capabilities,” Harley-Davidson said Monday.

LiveWire will have dedicated showroom locations, starting in California, and a “virtual” headquarters with hubs in Silicon Valley and Milwaukee.

Harley-Davidson is one of the most recognizable motorcycle makers in the country, but its sales have struggled in recent years. The company’s annual revenue dropped nearly 24% in 2020 compared to the previous year, though some of that is likely due to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The company also cut 700 jobs from its global operations last summer, in a restructuring plan known as “The Rewire.”

More recently, the company debuted a five-year strategic plan dubbed “The Hardwire.” Included in the plan is to further invest in the electric market. The company has already started moving in this direction with the release last November of its Serial 1 Cycle e-bicycles. Its Rush/Cty Speed model can hit speeds of up to 28 mph and comes in at $5,000.

NTSB: Autopilot could not have been engaged in fatal Tesla crash

Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot could not have been engaged on the stretch of road where a Model S crashed last month in Texas, killing the two occupants, according to a preliminary report released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The results help clear up some of the mysteries around the crash, which has received widespread attention after police reported that there was no one in the driver’s seat, leading to speculation that Autopilot was functioning at the time.

Only adaptive cruise control, one of the functions in Autopilot, could be engaged in that section of the road, according to the NTSB. Autosteer, another feature that keeps the vehicle in the lane, was not available on that part of the road, the report says. The preliminary report supports comments made during Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering Lars Moravy, who said during an earnings call that adaptive cruise control was engaged and accelerated to 30 miles per hour before the car crashed.

NTSB also confirmed there were only two occupants in the vehicle. When the two men were found, one was in the passenger seat and the other was in the back seat, which led to speculation about whether Autopilot was engaged and even conspiracy theories that there was a third occupant.

“Footage from the owner’s home security camera shows the owner entering the car’s driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat,” the report reads. “The car leaves and travels about 550 feet before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.”

The NTSB said it will continue to collect data to analyze the crash dynamics, postmortem toxicology test results, seat belt use, occupant egress and electric vehicle fires. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation, the NTSB said.

The NTSB’s preliminary report also indicated that the crash of the Tesla Model S, which caught fire after hitting a tree, destroyed an onboard storage device and damaged the restraint control module — two components that could have provided important information about the cause of the incident. The car’s restraint control module, which can record data associated with vehicle speed, belt status, acceleration, and airbag deployment, was recovered but sustained fire damage, the agency said. The NTSB has taken the restraint control module to its recorder laboratory for evaluation.

The NTSB is investigating the crash with support from Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Harris County Texas Precinct 4 Constable’s Office is conducting a separate, parallel investigation.

Ford reveals three new details about its officially named F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck

Ford confirmed Monday that its all-electric pickup truck will be named the F-150 Lightning, resurrecting a name that once donned the SVT F-150 in the 1990s.

The company hasn’t said much about the powertrain, range or other specs. However, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided new details about the electric pickup that is coming to market next year. Most notably, it seems that the battery on the Ford F-150 Lightning will have the ability to power a home during an outage. Ford has touted the capability of its Hybrid F-150 to power a job site or tools, but this is the first time the company has said one of its vehicles could act as a backup generator to a home.

Farley also said the electric truck will have the capability to handle over-the-air software updates and will be quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck, the V8-powered truck that debuted in 1993.

“Every so often, a new vehicle comes along that disrupts the status quo and changes the game … Model T, Mustang, Prius, Model 3. Now comes the F-150 Lightning,” Farley said in a statement. “America’s favorite vehicle for nearly half a century is going digital and fully electric. F-150 Lightning can power your home during an outage; it’s even quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck; and it will constantly improve through over-the-air updates.”

Production of the electric pickup truck is expected to begin next spring at the company’s Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.

The Ford F-150 Lightning will be revealed via a livestream May 19 at the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. 

The Station: Einride preps for a US expansion, Argo AI reveals its lidar specs and a Tesla Autopilot reality check

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

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

What a week! It’s too much to cover everything that happened in world of transportation, so here are some of the highlights. Oh, and yes, I know that the big story this weekend was Elon Musk’s appearance on SNL. Since there’s no shortage of hot — and tepid — takes on Twitter and the rest of the interwebs, I think I’ll pass on any commentary.

Instead, it’s worth noting that what Musk says publicly about Tesla Autopilot and the company’s progress on a fully autonomous driving system directly contradicts with reality — and what his own employees are telling regulators.

A memo that summarizes a meeting between California regulators and employees at the automaker shows that Musk has inflated the capabilities of the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system in Tesla vehicles, as well the company’s ability to deliver fully autonomous features by the end of the year. The memo was released by transparency site Plainsite, which obtained it via a Freedom of Information Act request. You can read the whole story here.

My email inbox is always open. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

News and announcements this week demonstrated how micromobility businesses are evolving and merging with other forms of mobility.

No company embodies this better than Revel, the company that began with shared electric mopeds and, since the start of 2021, has evolved into an e-bike subscription service, an EV charging hub and an all-Tesla, all-employee ride-hailing service.

What, one might ask, is founder and CEO Frank Reig up to? Well, we did ask it, and we published our interview so our readers could learn more about Revel’s journey and plans for the future.

“If we’re talking about electrifying mobility in major cities, it starts with infrastructure. And we’re the company rolling up our sleeves and doing it now by building that infrastructure and operating fleets. Because in a city like New York, the infrastructure does not exist for electric mobility.”

Another company that’s diving straight into the subscription model is the Australian startup Zoomo. The startup — which connects the gig economy, subscription services, electric mobility and big business — has a business model that wouldn’t have seemed possible more than a decade ago. Zoomo offers monthly e-bike subscriptions to gig economy bike delivery workers and corporate partners with bike delivery fleets. The startup announced it raised $12 million, only a few months after an $11 million Series A. Zoomo said it will use the fresh cash to expand its service into more of the U.S. and into continental Europe, as well as to further develop its consumer subscription offerings.

Betting on e-mopeds

Micromobility charging infrastructure company Swiftmile is partnering with European e-moped manufacturer GOVECS Group to deploy Mobility Hubs to charge and organize e-mopeds in shared and commercial fleets. With included parking stations, this model, which we’re starting to see with e-bikes and e-scooters, could be a great way to eliminate the use of vans to swap batteries. Germany is expected to see the first of these hubs in Q1 2022.

A small win for JOCO

Last week, I wrote about NYC Department of Transportation’s cease-and-desist order to the new e-bike-sharing platform JOCO. The company ignored the order, maintaining that since its bikes are stationed in private garages, the city doesn’t have the authority to control its operations. To that, the city replied with a lawsuit, demanding a halt in operations and penalties for violations.

On May 7, the court denied the city’s request for a temporary restriction on JOCO’s operations. The case is very much still open, but it’s a small win for JOCO and will allow the company to continue operating and expanding as scheduled. The hearing is scheduled for June 16, during which time the city is likely to drive home its exclusive partnership with Lyft-owned Citi Bike.

#BatteriesForBirds

As a recent transplant to New Zealand, I can tell you that this country really loves its native birds (and therefore, often hates cats, which are not native). Because of the isolation of New Zealand’s ecosystem, mammalian life never arrived or evolved, meaning the country has only native birds, insects and reptiles and amphibians — and not much in the way of predators, allowing the birdlife to flourish.

I say all of this so you understand the significance of Lime’s plan to give its old scooter and bike batteries a second life powering tools designed to save these precious birds. The project, done in partnership with The Cacophony Project and 2040 Limited, will use damaged Lime e-bike battery cells to power thermal cameras that are used to identify bird predators.

Bike launches

CERO, the LA-based ebike startup, has launched its CERO One electric cargo bike for preorders. The bike, with a small front tire, a big back tire and racks over each one, is designed to carry loads up to 77 pounds. Customers can choose between a Platform, Small Basket, and Big Basket variant. The starting price (including a front platform) is $3,799, and first deliveries can be expected around August or September.

Aventon has also announced the launch of the newest model of its Aventure e-bike, complete with fat tires and a color display screen that syncs with your smartphone to handle functions like turning the bike on, tracking mileage, powering on and off the lights and planning trips.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

It’s not all acquisitions and SPAC rumors in the world of autonomous vehicles. There are still traditional VC raises taking place, even in the midst of continued consolidation.

Einride, the Swedish startup known for its unusual-looking electric and autonomous pods that are designed to carry freight, raised $110 million to help fund its expansion in Europe and into the United States. The Series B round, which far exceeds its previous raises of $10 million in 2020 and $25 million in 2019, included new investors Temasek, Soros Fund Management LLC, Northzone and Maersk Growth. Existing investors EQT Ventures, Plum Alley, Norrsken VC, Ericsson and NordicNinja VC also participated in the round.

Einride has raised a total of $150 million to date. The company didn’t share its post-money valuation.

Einride is an interesting case study in the AV world. It has a present-day business of human-driven electric trucks, which carry freight for customers like Coca Cola and Oatly. It’s also developing, testing and eventually planning to deploy its Pod vehicles, which are designed without a cab. These Pods are meant to operate autonomously, although it should be noted that they are also supported with teleoperations, which means a human monitors and can control the vehicle remotely.

Einride had planned to expand into the U.S. but COVID-19 interrupted the move. Now, with fresh capital co-founder and CEO Robert Falck told me that the company is planning to have operations up and running in the U.S. before the end of the year. The plan is to set up headquarters in Austin, Texas, and open additional offices in New York and Silicon Valley. Global agreements are in place with brands such as Oatly, which includes U.S. operations, with more to be announced soon.

Einride’s presence in the United States, and specifically Texas, brings yet another AV company focused on freight into the region. Middle-mile delivery is getting more attention, interest and investment as 2021 unfolds. Another competitor in the region promises to spice things up, particularly on the hiring front.

Other deals that got my attention …

Firefly Aerospace raised $175 million, across a $75 million Series A round that valued the company north of $1 billion, and a $100 million secondary transaction which consisted of the sale of holdings held by primary Firefly investor Noosphere Ventures. The launch startup also announced that it intends to raise another $300 million later in 2021, after its forthcoming inaugural Alpha rocket launch, which is currently targeting a June take-off.

Kneron, a startup that develops semiconductors to give devices artificial intelligence capabilities by using edge computing, received a $7 million boost in capital from Delta Electronics, a Taiwanese supplier of power components for Apple and Tesla. The $7 million investment pushes Kneron’s total financing to more than $100 million to date. As part of the deal, Kneron also agreed to buy Vatics, a part of Delta Electronics’ subsidiary Vivotek, for $10 million in cash, TechCrunch’s Rita Liao reported.

Reinvent Technology Partners X, a new special purpose acquisition company created by Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus, filed for an IPO. The filing states that the SPAC is looking at merging with a late-stage company in a “technology sector or subsector, including consumer internet, online marketplaces, ecommerce, payments, gaming, artificial intelligence, SaaS, digital healthcare, autonomous vehicles, transportation, and others.” The duo’s previous SPAC announced earlier this year it agreed to merge with Joby Aviation.

Solid Power, Louisville, Colorado-based developer of solid-state batteries, raised $130 million in Series B funding round led by Ford and BMW, the latest signal that the two OEMs see SSBs powering the future of transportation. Under the investment, Ford and BMW are equal equity owners, and company representatives will join Solid Power’s board. Solid Power received additional investment in the round from Volta Energy Technologies, the venture capital firm spun out of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

Youibot, a four-year-old startup that makes autonomous mobile robots for a range of scenarios, raised 100 million yuan ($15.47 million) in its latest funding round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, the Seoul-based early-stage arm of the global investment behemoth. Youibot’s previous investors BlueRun Ventures and SIG also participated in the round. Also, it’s worth noting that Softbank Ventures Asia led a financing round back in December for another Chinese robotics startup called KeenOn, which focuses on delivery and service robots.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

President Joe Biden isn’t the only person in Washington with his eyes on electrifying transportation. Two separate pieces of legislation were introduced in Congress this week aimed at boosting zero-emission vehicle use in the country.

First, we have a $73 billion proposal introduced May 4 by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Their plan, “Clean Transit for America,” would replace more than 150,000 diesel buses, vans, ambulances and other publicly-owned vehicles with zero-emission models, as well as building out charging infrastructure to support the new fleet.

The following day, Reps. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) re-introduced a revised version of the “Electric Vehicles Freedom Act” to build out a network of EV charging stations across the country. Democrats supported a version of this bill last year. Although that bill failed, Biden’s outspoken support for EVs and his $2 trillion climate plan may give this new bill a more optimistic fate.

On the same day that Reps. Levin and Ocasio-Cortez announced their bill, a House subcommittee on Commerce and Energy held a hearing to discuss yet another bill that was introduced back in March. This bill, known as the CLEAN Futures Act, is the Democrats’ comprehensive climate legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationally by 50% by 2030. It would also earmark billions for EV infrastructure and to spurn domestic manufacturing of EV parts, like batteries. (Are you keeping all of this straight?)

Not every lawmaker at the hearing was so enthusiastic on the terms of the CLEAN Futures Act. There was particular pushback from Republicans. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich) said that the bill would “push” EVs on Americans “whether they are ready for them or not.”

“I have concerns that the CLEAN Future Act puts the cart before the horse by mandating electric vehicles, because there is no consideration for American workers or car buyers, our growing reliance on China for critical materials and minerals to make batteries, and certainly the strain that EVs will place on our grid,” he said.

Rep. Greg Pence (R-Indiana) added that the future of the transportation industry should not be a “one-size-fits-all made by Washington.” He said that hydrogen and renewable diesel should also be considered alongside battery electric.

During that same House subcommittee on Commerce and Energy meeting, most of which was spent on the CLEAN Future Act, several other proposed bills were mentioned, including the “NO EXHAUST Act,”  the “Electric Vehicles for Underserved Communities Act of 2021” and the “Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Future Act of 2021” or the “ATVM Future Act.”

The NO EXHAUST Act promotes the electrification of the transportation sector to improve air quality and electric vehicle infrastructure access — especially in rural, urban, low-income,and minority communities, according to Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who introduced the bill.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We hear things; and we’re here to share them with you.

Remember waaaaayyyyy back in April when a report from The Information said that Argo AI CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky told employees in an all-hands meeting that the autonomous vehicle startup was planning for a public listing later this year? At the time, and right here in The Station, I provided a bit more context, noting that while Salesky did indeed mention the prospect of an IPO during the company’s regular weekly all-hands meeting, there was more to the story.

The comments were made as the CEO discussed upcoming important milestones in 2021 that will lead to an IPO or a significant raise of some kind. The upshot: apparently all fundraising options are on the table, including a merger with a special acquisition company, or SPAC. (Argo has raised $2 billion to date.)

Now, it appears that Argo is leaning towards a more traditional investment path — at least, at first. In an interview with Bloomberg’s Ed Ludlow, Salesky said the company is going to be raising money this summer. His public comments support what I’ve heard from folks in the know.

“We’re really excited about doing that,” Salesky said in the interview. “We’ll be taking money from some of the capital markets and we’ll be looking at, you know, an IPO in the in the future as well. I think that it’s one of those things where you know we don’t know the exact source that we’re going to take the funding from next. We’re looking at a bunch of options, but we’re really excited about how that’s going to keep us going for the future to really be able to scale out autonomous vehicles.”

Speaking of Argo, the company revealed new details on a long-range lidar sensor that it claims has the ability to see 400 meters away with high-resolution photorealistic quality and the ability to detect dark and distant objects with low reflectivity. The technology, which is the product of Argo’s acquisition of lidar company Princeton Lightwave, is poised to help it deliver autonomous vehicles that can operate commercially on highways and in dense urban areas starting next year.

The company said  the first batch of these lidar sensors are already on some of Argo’s test vehicles, which today is comprised of Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans and Ford Escape Hybrid SUVs. By the end of the year, Argo’s test fleet will transition to about 150 Ford Escape Hybrid vehicles, all of which will be equipped with the in-house lidar sensor. Ford, an investor in and customer of Argo, plans to deploy autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing and delivery in 2022. Argo’s other investor and customer, Volkswagen, said it will launch commercial operations in 2025.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

The TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event, which is scheduled for June 9, is approaching in about a month. We recently released a “mostly” final agenda.

Now two more announcements. Pam Fletcher, who is leading innovation efforts at GM, will be interviewed at the event. And, for all those AV fans out there … we’re putting Karl Iagnemma, an co-founder who now heads up Motional, and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson on our “virtual” stage together. Have a question for either of these folks? Email me.

Other guests to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, as well as Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. We also plan to bring together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to talk about equity, accessibility and shared mobility in cities.

See y’all next week. 

Tesla refutes Elon Musk’s timeline on ‘full self-driving’

What Tesla CEO Elon Musk says publicly about the company’s progress on a fully autonomous driving system doesn’t match up with “engineering reality,” according to a memo that summarizes a meeting between California regulators and employees at the automaker.

The memo, which transparency site Plainsite obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequently released, shows that Musk has inflated the capabilities of the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system in Tesla vehicles, as well the company’s ability to deliver fully autonomous features by the end of the year. 

Tesla vehicles come standard with a driver assistance system branded as Autopilot. For an additional $10,000, owners can buy “full self-driving,” or FSD — a feature that Musk promises will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities. FSD, which has steadily increased in price and capability, has been available as an option for years. However, Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. FSD includes the parking feature Summon as well as Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.

Tesla vehicles are far from reaching that level of autonomy, a fact confirmed by statements made by the company’s director of Autopilot software CJ Moore to California regulators, the memo shows.

“Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ,” according to the memo summarizing the conversation between regulators with the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ autonomous vehicles branch and four Tesla employees, including Moore.

The memo, which was written by California DMV’s Miguel Acosta, states that Moore described Autopilot — and the new features being tested — as a Level 2 system. That description matters in the world of automated driving.

There are five levels of automation under standards created by SAE International. Level 2 means two primary functions — like adaptive cruise and lane keeping — are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. Level 2 is an advanced driver assistance system, and has become increasingly available in new vehicles, including those produced by Tesla, GM, Volvo and Mercedes. Tesla’s Autopilot and its more capable FSD were considered the most advanced systems available to consumers. However, other automakers have started to catch up.

Level 4 means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention and is what companies like Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise, Motional, Waymo and Zoox are working on. Level 5, which is widely viewed as a distant goal, would handle all driving in all environments and conditions.

Here is an important bit via Acosta’s summarization:

DMV asked CJ to address from an engineering perspective, Elon’s messaging about L5 capability by the end of the year. Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ. Tesla is at Level 2 currently. The ratio of driver interaction would need to be in the magnitude of 1 or 2 million miles per driver interaction to move into higher levels of automation. Tesla indicated that Elon is extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 capabilities. Tesla couldn’t say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by end of calendar year.

Portions of this commentary were redacted. However, Plainsite was able to copy and paste the redacted part, which shows up as white space on a PDF, into another document.

The comments in the memo are contrary to what Musk has said repeatedly in the public sphere.

Musk is frequently asked on Twitter and in quarterly earnings calls for progress reports on FSD, including questions about when it will be rolled out via software updates to owners who have purchased the option. In a January earnings call, Musk said he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of a human this year.” In April 2021, during the company’s first quarter earnings call, Musk said “it’s really quite, quite tricky. But I am highly confident that we will get this done.”

The memo released this week provided other insights into Tesla’s push to test and eventually unlock greater levels of autonomy, including the number of vehicles testing a beta version of “Navigate on Autopilot on City Streets,” a feature that is meant to handle driving in urban areas and not just highways. Regulators also asked the Tesla employees if and how participants were being trained to test this feature, and how the sales team ensures that messaging about the vehicle capabilities and limitations are communicated.

As of the March meeting, there were 824 vehicles in a pilot program testing a beta version of “city streets.”  About 750 of those vehicles were being driven by employees and 71 by non-employees. Pilot participants are located across 37 states, with the majority of participants in California. As of March 2021, pilot participants have driven more than 153,000 miles using the City Streets feature, the memo states. The memo noted that Tesla planned to expand this pool of participants to approximately 1,600 later that month.

Tesla told the DMV that it is working on developing a video for the participants and that the next group of participants will include referrals from existing participants. “The new participants will be vetted by Tesla by looking at insurance telematics based on the VINs registered to that participant,” according to the memo.

Tesla also told the DMV that it is able to track when there are failures or when the feature is deactivated. Moore described these as “disengagements,” a term also used by companies testing and developing autonomous vehicle technology. The primary difference worth noting here is that these companies only use employees who are trained safety drivers, not the public.

Autonomous vehicle pioneers Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Long before the multimillion-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds pushed autonomous vehicles to the top of the hype cycle, Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson were researching and, later, developing the foundations of the technology.

These pioneers — Iagnemma coming from MIT, Urmson from Carnegie Mellon University — would eventually go on to launch their own autonomous vehicle startups in an aim to finally bring years of R&D to the public.

That task isn’t over quite yet. Urmson, who is co-founder and CEO of Aurora, and Iagnemma, who is president and CEO of Motional, are still working on unlocking the technical and business problems that stand in the way of commercialization.

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Urmson and Iagnemma will be joining us on the virtual stage of TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The one-day event, scheduled for June 9, is bringing together engineers and founders, investors and CEOs who are working on all the present and future ways people and packages will get from Point A to Point B. Iagnemma and Urmson will come to discuss the past, the present challenges and what both aim to do in the future. We’ll tackle questions about the technical problems that remain to be solved, the war over talent, the best business models and applications of autonomous vehicles and maybe even hear a few stories from the early days of testing and launching a startup.

Both guests have a long list of accolades and accomplishments — and too many to cover them all here.

Urmson has been working on AVs for more than 15 years. He earned his BSc in computer engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1998 and his PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005. He was a faculty member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where he worked with house-sized trucks, drove robots in the desert and was the technical director of the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge teams. Urmson has authored more than 60 patents and 50 publications.

He left CMU and was one of the founding members of Google’s self-driving program, serving as its CTO. In 2017, Urmson co-founded Aurora with Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell.

Iagnemma is also considered an authority on robotics and driverless vehicles. He was the director of the Robotic Mobility Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research resulted in more than 150 technical publications, 50 issued or filed patents and numerous edited volumes, including books on the DARPA Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. He holds a BS from the University of Michigan, where he graduated first in his class, and MS and PhD degrees from MIT, where he was a National Science Foundation fellow.

In 2013, Iagnemma co-founded autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch ride-hailing pilots. The company was acquired by Aptiv in late 2017. Aptiv and Hyundai formed the joint venture, which he now heads, in 2020. 

Iagnemma and Urmson are two of the many best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales end tonight, May 7 at 11:59 pm PT. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 early bird price extended for one more day

I feel the need — the need for speed.” That could be the official mobility startup founder credo, amirite? Speed and agility are important, but don’t move so quickly that you miss the chance to save $100 on a pass to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on June 9.

We’ve extended our early-bird price for just one more day. Slow your EV roll, reroute your autonomous vehicle or dock your scooter just long enough to buy a pass before the extended deadline expires on May 7, at 11:59 pm (PT).

TC Sessions: Mobility is where you’ll learn about the latest trends and tech advancements across the mobility spectrum — autonomous trucks, AI, EVs, the future of flight, regulatory issues, micromobility, robotics and more — from the brightest minds, makers and investors around the world.

Don’t just take our word for it. Here are what past attendees shared with us about their TC Sessions: Mobility experience.

“The virtual dynamic gave the conference a relaxed, conversational vibe. The speakers and TechCrunch editors were more accessible, and that was a welcome surprise.” — Rachael Wilcox, creative producer, Volvo Cars.

“TC Sessions: Mobility exceeded my expectations in terms of useful content. Every panel discussion I attended, every interaction I had was relevant to my work or to my daily life — because we don’t stop living at 5 pm.” — Jens Lehmann, technical lead and product manager, SAP.

“People want to be around what’s interesting and learn what trends and issues they need to pay attention to. Even large companies like GM and Ford were there, because they’re starting to see the trend move toward mobility. They want to learn from the experts, and TC Sessions: Mobility has all the experts.” — Melika Jahangiri, vice president at Wunder Mobility.

Did someone say experts? Here are just a few of the leading voices in the mobility ecosystem who will offer their invaluable insight and advice.

  • Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO at ChargerHelp! Inc.
  • Ahti Heinla, co-founder, CEO and CTO at Starship Technologies
  • Clara Brenner, co-founder and managing partner at Urban Innovation Fund

Check the event agenda and start planning your schedule now. Your pass includes both live-stream and video-on-demand, so you won’t miss a minute of startup action.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9, and you have just one last shot to save $100 on the price of admission. Buy your pass before the price goes up and the savings disappear on May 7, at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Chinese EV maker Nio is stepping outside of China for the first time

Chinese electric vehicle maker Nio has chosen a Norway — an EV hotspot — for its first foray into international markets. Nio Norway will offer a European version of ES8, Nio’s flagship electric SUV, to Norwegian customers from September this year. The ET7 sedan will follow in 2022.

“The decision to have Norway as our first destination overseas is backed by long-term thinking,” Nio founder William Li explained at an event Thursday. “Norway is the most EV-friendly company.” Among the European countries, Norway is the biggest adopter of battery electric vehicles. The company’s relationship with Norway stretches back to 2018 when Norges Bank, the country’s sovereign fund, gave the automaker “critical support” during its initial public offering, Li said at the event. Nio signed a strategic partnership agreement with the Norwegian EV Association, also in 2018.

That high EV adoption rate also means Nio will be making its pitch to a growing consumer base of savvy EV owners. In Norway, Nio will face competition from Chinese automakers like XPeng, international rivals Tesla and European automakers such as Volkswagen and Audi.

In addition to vehicle sales, the company also detailed plans to open dedicated service centers, vehicle charging stations and its Nio Power Swap battery swapping stations to Norway. The company aims to build four battery swapping stations around Oslo by the end of 2021, with additional swapping stations coming to the Norwegian cities Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger and Kristiansand in 2022. Nio’s Norway team is composed of around 15 people, but that number is expected to grow to around 50 by the end of 2021, according to the company.

The Chinese automaker has had a slow start since its founding in 2014, but started gaining ground in the second half of 2020 through the latest quarter. Nio reported deliveries of 20,060 vehicles in the first quarter, a 422.7% jump from the same period last year when COVID-19 was busy upending the economy on a global scale. Sales in the first quarter of 2021 were also 15.6% higher from the fourth quarter. It has delivered 102,000 vehicles to date. These deliveries helped the company increase its vehicle sales by 489% compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Still, Nio is losing money, albeit the gap between revenues and net loss continues to narrow.

The boost in sales was likely due in part to the January debut of the ET7, its flagship electric sedan and the first vehicle model to be fitted with its so-called “Nio Autonomous Driving” software. The company has been an outlier when it comes to charging, adopting a battery swap option in addition to traditional plug and charge stations. Nio has already completed more than 2.4 million swaps for Chinese users, Li said – a number that’s growing  by 10,000 every day. Last August, the company also debuted its “battery-as-a-service” purchasing option, which allows drivers to lease the battery from the company and only purchase the vehicle.

Less than 24 hours to save $100 to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Calling all frazzled procrastinators, feet-draggers, lollygaggers and last-minute decision makers. The best price on passes to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, which takes place on June 9, disappears in mere hours.

It’s now o’clock, baby. Shift your EV into gear, hail a robotaxi or tell Mr. Scott to beam you up — whatever it takes to buy your pass before the early bird deadline expires tonight, May 6, at 11:59 pm (PT).

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 gathers the very best people in the mobility startup ecosystem to discuss the rapidly evolving trends, opportunities and challenges that come from inventing new ways to move populations — and all their stuff — around the planet and beyond.

This one-day deep dive will help you drive your startup forward, understand emerging trends and gain insight on what investors want and where they’re placing bets. Engage in hyper-focused networking and discover opportunities anywhere in the world.

We have a great line up, and here are just a few examples of the interviews, inter-active panel discussions and breakout sessions waiting for you. Don’t forget to check out the event agenda here.

Mobility’s Robotic Future: Automotive manufacturers are looking to robotics as the future of mobility, from manufacturing to autonomy and beyond. We’ll be speaking with James Kuffner, CEO, Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development, the head of robotics initiatives at one of the world’s largest automakers, to find out how the technology is set to transform the industry.

The Rise of Robotaxis in China: Silicon Valley has long been viewed as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. But another country is also leading the charge. Executives from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

Will Venture Capital Drive the Future of Mobility? Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital) will discuss how the pandemic changed their investment strategies, the hottest sectors within the mobility industry, the rise of SPACs as a financial instrument and where they plan to put their capital in 2021 and beyond.

What are you waiting for? It’s now o’clock and time to save $100 — but only if you purchase your pass to Mobility 2021 before the price increase goes into effect tonight, May 6 at 11:59 pm (PT). Let the learning, networking and scaling begin!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Oculii looks to supercharge radar for autonomy with $55M round B

Autonomous vehicles rely on many sensors to perceive the world around them, and while cameras and lidar get a lot of the attention, good old radar is an important piece of the puzzle — though it has some fundamental limitations. Oculii, which just raised a $55M round, aims to minimize those limitations and make radar more capable with a smart software layer for existing devices — and sell its own as well.

Radar’s advantages lie in its superior range, and in the fact that its radio frequency beams can pass through things like raindrops, snow, and fog — making it crucial for perceiving the environment during inclement weather. Lidar and ordinary visible light cameras can be totally flummoxed by these common events, so it’s necessary to have a backup.

But radar’s major disadvantage is that, due to the wavelengths and how the antennas work, it can’t image things in detail the way lidar can. You tend to get very precisely located blobs rather than detailed shapes. It still provides invaluable capabilities in a suite of sensors, but if anyone could add a bit of extra fidelity to its scans, it would be that much better.

That’s exactly what Oculii does — take an ordinary radar and supercharge it. The company claims a 100x improvement to spatial resolution accomplished by handing over control of the system to its software. Co-founder and CEO Steven Hong explained in an email that a standard radar might have, for a 120 degree field of view, a 10 degree spatial resolution, so it can tell where something is with a precision of a few degrees on either side, and little or no ability to tell the object’s elevation.

Some are better, some worse, but for the purposes of this example that amounts to an effectively 12×1 resolution. Not great!

Handing over control to the Oculii system, however, which intelligently adjusts the transmissions based on what it’s already perceiving, could raise that to a 0.5° horizonal x 1° vertical resolution, giving it an effective resolution of perhaps 120×10. (Again, these numbers are purely for explanatory purposes and aren’t inherent to the system.)

That’s a huge improvement and results in the ability to see that something is, for example, two objects near each other and not one large one, or that an object is smaller than another near it, or — with additional computation — that it is moving one way or the other at such and such a speed relative to the radar unit.

Here’s a video demonstration of one of their own devices, showing considerably more detail than one would expect:

Exactly how this is done is part of Oculii’s proprietary magic, and Hong did not elaborate much on how exactly the system works. “Oculii’s sensor uses AI to adaptively generate an ‘intelligent’ waveform that adapts to the environment and embed information across time that can be leveraged to improve the resolution significantly,” he said. (Integrating information over time is what gives it the “4D” moniker, by the way.)

Here’s a little sizzle reel that gives a very general idea:

Autonomous vehicle manufacturers have not yet hit on any canonical set of sensors that AVs should have, but something like Oculii could give radar a more prominent place — its limitations sometimes mean it is relegated to emergency braking detection at the front or some such situation. With more detail and more data, radar could play a larger role in AV decisionmaking systems.

The company is definitely making deals — it’s working with Tier-1s and OEMs, one of which (Hella) is an investor, which gives a sense of confidence in Oculii’s approach. It’s also working with radar makers and has some commercial contracts looking at a 2024-2025 timeline.

CG render of Oculii's two radar units.

Image Credits: Oculii

It’s also getting into making its own all-in-one radar units, doing the hardware-software synergy thing. It claims these are the world’s highest resolution radars, and I don’t see any competitors out there contradicting this — the simple fact is radars don’t compete much on “resolution,” but more on the precision of their rangefinding and speed detection.

One exception might be Echodyne, which uses a metamaterial radar surface to direct a customizable radar beam anywhere in its field of view, examining objects in detail or scanning the whole area quickly. But even then its “resolution” isn’t so easy to estimate.

At any rate the company’s new Eagle and Falcon radars might be tempting to manufacturers working on putting together cutting-edge sensing suites for their autonomous experiments or production driver-assist systems.

It’s clear that with radar tipped as a major component of autonomous vehicles, robots, aircraft and other devices, it’s worth investing seriously in the space. The $55M B round certainly demonstrates that well enough. It was, as Oculii’s press release lists it, “co-led by Catapult Ventures and Conductive Ventures, with participation from Taiwania Capital, Susquehanna Investment Group (SIG), HELLA Ventures, PHI-Zoyi Capital, R7 Partners, VectoIQ, ACVC Partners, Mesh Ventures, Schox Ventures, and Signature Bank.”

The money will allow for the expected scaling and hiring, and as Hong added, “continued investment of the technology to deliver higher resolution, longer range, more compact and cheaper sensors that will accelerate an autonomous future.”