Equity Monday: Ola, DeFi, and how to turn cooler cabinets into ads

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Friday’s episode.

Starting the day American stocks are set to rise despite the country’s president spending the weekend in a military hospital to combat his COVID-19 infection. The weekend itself was marked with national turmoil as information was incomplete, and shifting when it came to the health of the current administration.

Over the weekend a few stories caught our eyes:

  • The Ola-London dustup that shows what regulatory risk remains for ride-hailing companies.
  • This DappRadar report on the boom in DeFi that is boosting ethereum.
  • Facebook’s leaked plan to combat a push by government to break it up into smaller pieces.

And there were a number of interesting funding rounds to look into. We selected two for your pleasure this morning:

What else was on our mind? We’re getting mentally ready for Q3 earnings. Now that it is Q4 that’s what’s coming up. What will the cycle bring? A clearer image of what happened in the quarter to companies that are not COVID-accelerated. What has happened to them, and can their results match investor expectations? The v-shaped recovery is actually a k-shaped recovery and, in time, it’s going to show. So, buckle up for one hell of an earnings cycle.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Einride raises $10 million to fast track its autonomous electric cargo pods

For the past four years, Swedish startup Einride has captured interest, investment and even a few customer contracts for its unusual-looking pods — electric and autonomous vehicles that are designed to carry freight. But progress in developing, testing and validating autonomous vehicles — particularly ones that don’t even have space for a driver and rely on teleoperations — is an expensive and time-consuming task.

The company has made some progress with its T-Pod vehicles; four of them are on public roads today and even carry freight for customer Oatly, the Swedish food producer. Now, a year after raising $25 million, the company said it has another $10 million coming in from its existing investors.

The announcement comes ahead of a new vehicle the Einride will unveil October 8. Not much is known about the vehicle; Einride has only supplied a short and obscure teaser video.

Einride said the $10 million in new funding was led by impact fund Norrsken VC and included participation from  EQT Ventures fund, Nordic Ninja VC and Ericsson Ventures. Norrsken VC is also joining Einride’s advisory board.

The capital will be used to fast track the official launch of its Einride Pods, the company said. Einride acknowledged that startups in AI and robotics were upended, and even shuttered altogether, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company contests that demand for contactless delivery options — not coincidentally the kind it hopes to provide — has grown because of COVID-19. Einride said it’s maintained a “strong stream of new partnerships,” including onboarding partners Oatly and supermarket chain Lidl as well as launching a freight mobility platform designed to give customers information on shipping volume, distance driven and associated emissions and help pick the most efficient routes.

“There is both a lot of excitement and a lot of uncertainty about autonomous trucking, but the fact remains: this is one of the largest business opportunities in the history of mankind,” said Einride CEO Robert Falck said in a statement, who added that the company expects to see the autonomous transport industry expand exponentially in the coming years, especially in the wake of a global pandemic.

Einride demonstrates a single operator controlling multiple of its driverless cargo vehicles

Autonomous electric transportation startup Einride has taken a key step in its mission to deploy autonomous cargo pods on roads for commercial operations. The Swedish startup demonstrated its technology in use with one person remotely operating two pods at once, which is a fundamental part of their vision of multiple pods ultimately being overseen by one person essentially operating as a traffic controller.

The demonstration saw an operator oversee and remotely control the two driverless pods using a steering wheel controller and a surround view display using a number of monitors. The system demo shows how a pod can request that an operator take over manual control if it encounters an issue it can’t address via its onboard automated driving computer.

It’s a clever and practical way to bridge the gap between manually driven vehicles and fully autonomous transportation, while still changing the economics of fleet logistics. With a one-to-many model, Einride would be able to offer trucking companies big advantages in terms of costs and efficiencies, increasing the number of miles that can be driven without boosting headcount requirements. Plus, the electric drivetrains of the vehicles will add up to big fuel and ecological advantages when it comes to day-to-day operations.

Einride also says that its platform has the potential to change the dynamics of the profession of trucker, since it can provide comfortable, remote operations centers that replace long weeks on the road away form home. This could open up the industry to more potential employees and recruits, which is a crucial need since trucking has typically required more new drivers than the market could supply in the U.S. over the pas few years.

Einride’s demonstration included complex maneuvers including parking and pulling out from a busy transportation hub, and shows in practice the potential of their tech. The company announced a commercial trial with Coca-Cola’s official European bottling and distribution partner at the end of last year, and is continuing to work towards broad commercialization.

Einride to launch commercial pilot of driverless electric pods with Coca-Cola European Partners

Autonomous robotic road-riding cargo pod startup Einride has signed a new partner for a commercial pilot on Sweden’s roads, which should be a great test of the company’s electric driverless transportation pods. Einride will be providing service for Coca-Cola European Partners, which is the official authorized bottler, distributor, sales and marketing company for Coca-Cola branded products in Sweden.

The partnership will see Einride commercially operating its transportation system between Coca-Cola European Partners’ warehouse in Jordbro outside Stockholm, and retailer Axfood’s own distribution hub, transporting Coca-Cola brand products to the retailer ahead of sending them off to local retail locations in Sweden.

Coca-Cola European Partners is looking to this partnership as part of its goal to continue to reduce emissions, since Einride’s system could potentially cut CO2 output by as much as 90% compared to current in-use solutions. This pilot is set to take place over the next few years, according to the two companies, and Einride says it hopes that it’ll be able to be on the road as early as some time next year, pending approval from the authorities since it’s a trial that will take place on public roads.

Einride announced $25 million in new funding in October, and has been running trials of the T-Pod electric transport vehicle it created on public roads since May.

Autonomous trucking startup Einride eyes U.S. market with $25 million in new funding

Einride, the Swedish autonomous vehicle startup known for its futuristic pods designed to haul freight, has raised $25 million in a Series A round that will be used to fund its expansion into the United States.

The round was co-led by the EQT Ventures fund and NordicNinja VC, a  fund backed by Panasonic, Honda, Omron and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Other investors joining the round include Ericsson Ventures, Norrsken Foundation, Plum Alley Investments and Plug and Play Ventures. The startup has raised $32 million to date.

Einride’s self-driving vehicle isn’t quite a truck, although it’s meant to perform the same freight-hauling tasks. The company’s T-Pod electric vehicle, which was unveiled in 2017, has been running on public roads since May of this year.

Einride, which was founded in 2016, has landed several customer contracts, including logistics provider DB Schenker and supermarket chain Lidl. Einride has a commercial pilot with DB Schenker. The startup said it has also signed on “large U.S.-based retail companies,” without naming them.

The funds will be used to hire more people, invest in its software platform and expand internationally, notably the U.S., according to the company. Einride plans to open a U.S. office next year.

“Our ambition is to disrupt the transport industry and closing our series A brings us one step closer to that goal,” Einride co-founder and CEO Robert Falck. “The funding will allow us to start expanding in the U.S., deliver on our technology road map and to meet rapidly increasing customer demand.”

Remote-control driverless car startup partners with vehicle manufacturers

Phantom Auto, a platform that can remotely control autonomous vehicles if something goes wrong, has partnered with Einride, Transdev and NEVS, formerly known as Saab Automobile.

Phantom Auto’s tech enables a remote driver to take control of an autonomous vehicle in the event the car encounters something it can’t handle on its own. The plan for NEVS is to use Phantom Auto’s technology to better ensure the safe deployment of electric, autonomous vehicles.

“Our AVs must be able to drive from any point A to any point B, which means driving through all edge cases they experience on the road, such as inclement weather, road work, and any other road obstructions,” NEVS CEO Stefan Tilk said in a statement. “Phantom Auto’s teleoperation safety technology ensures that passengers in our vehicles can safely and efficiently drive through any edge case, and that’s why I am excited and proud to call them NEVS’ partner.”

Phantom Auto, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., was founded just last year.