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Pervs kept stealing the ‘mile 69’ highway marker, so it was replaced with this

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2019 has barely started, and we’ve already suffered a great loss: A “69” mile marker is gone forever, and will not be replaced.

The Washington Department of Transportation is sick and tired of people stealing the marker (notably known as the ~sex number~) so it’s replacing the highway sign with one that says “68.9.” 

“Thieves show no signs of slowing down,” a local CBS station reported. Watch the mildly painful banter between the two anchors as they debate the accuracy of the sign without cracking up over its reference to a sex position.  Read more…

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Alibaba-backed Hellobike bags new funds as it marches into ride-hailing

2018 has been a rough year for China’s bike-sharing giants. Alibaba-backed Ofo pulled out of dozens of international cities as it fought with a severe cash crunch. Tencent-backed Mobike puts a brake on expansion after it was sold to neighborhood services provider Meituan Dianping. But one newcomer is pedaling against the wind.

Hellobike, currently the country’s third-largest bike-sharing app according to Analysys data, announced this week that it raised “billions of yuan” ($1 = 6.88 yuan) in a new round. The company declined to reveal details on the funding amount and use of the proceeds when inquired by TechCrunch.

Leading the round were Ant Financial, the financial affiliate of Alibaba and maker behind digital wallet Alipay, and Primavera Capital, a Chinese investment firm that’s backed other mobility startups including electric automaker Xpeng and car trading platform Souche. The fledgling startup also got SoftBank interested in shelling out an investment, The Information reported in November. The fresh capital arrived about a year after it secured $350 million from investors including Ant Financial.

As China’s bicycle giants burn through billions of dollars to tout subsidized rides, they’ve gotten caught up in financial troubles. Ten months after Ofo raised $866 million, the startup is reportedly mulling bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Mobike is downsizing its fleet to “avoid an oversupply,” a Meituan executive recently said.

It’s interesting to note that while both Ofo and Hellobike fall under the Alibaba camp, they began with different geographic targets. By May, only 5 percent of Hellobike’s users were in China’s Tier 1 cities, while that ratio was over 30 percent for both Mobike and Ofo, a report by Trustdata shows.

This small-town strategy gives Hellobike an edge. As the bike-sharing markets in China’s major cities become crowded, operators began turning to lower-tier cities in 2017, a report from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology points out.

The new contender is still dwarfed by its larger competitors in terms of user number. Ofo and Mobike command 43 million and 38 million unique monthly mobile installs, respectively, while Hellobike stands at 8 million, accroding to iResearch.

Hellobike’s ambition doesn’t stop at two-wheelers. In September, it rebranded its Chinese name to HelloTransTech to signify an extension into other transportation means. Aside from bikes, the startup also offers shared electric bikes, ride-hailing and carpooling, a category that became much contested following high-profile passenger murders on Didi Chuxing .

In May and August, two female customers were killed separately when they used the Hitch service on Didi, China’s biggest ride-hailing platform that took over Uber’s China business. The incidents sparked a huge public and regulatory backlash, forcing Didi to suspend its carpooling service up to this day. But this week, its newly minted rival Hellobike decides to forge ahead with a campaign to recruit carpooling drivers. Time will tell whether the latecomer can grapple with heightened security measures and fading customer confidence in riding with strangers.

Uber reaches tentative settlement with drivers arbitrating over employment status and expense reimbursement

Uber is reportedly on track to go public in the first quarter next year, and in the lead up to that, it’s sewing up some loose ends.

TechCrunch has learned that Uber has offered a tentative settlement to pay out 11 cents for every mile driven for Uber (including adjacent services like Uber Eats) to drivers who have been in individual arbitration with the company over their employment classification. Drivers were pursuing individual arbitration after an appeals court ruled in September that they could not combine their cases into a class action lawsuit.

Uber has declined to comment for this story, and one of the firms representing drivers, Lichten & Liss-Riordan, has not yet responded to our request for comment.

In a case that now goes back years and covers nine states, some 160,000 drivers had been seeking to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, partly in order to get compensated for expenses related to driving for the company, such as gasoline used and vehicle maintenance.

Another big complaint in the case involved tips: drivers said Uber would not allow them to take or keep tips from passengers. (The claim preceded June 2017, when Uber formally introduced tips in its app, netting some $600 million extra for drivers in one year.)

Uber’s settlement of 11 cents per mile for all on-trip miles that were driven for Uber bypasses addressing those specific details. Notably, drivers who accept the settlement sign documents to release all claims against Uber related to employee misclassification.

The settlement is tentative depending on a sufficient number of drivers signing the agreement (we do not know what the minimum would be), among other factors, and it could take up to six months for payments to get to drivers.

On one hand, this an okay result in what was a challenging situation for litigating drivers. A class action lawsuit, combining several people into one case, would have gained economies of scale in terms of legal costs, and that could have meant a stronger recovery payout for the group.

But with the appeals judges striking down that possibility, it would have been left to individual drivers to pursue their own cases against the company. That is an expensive and time-consuming process and might not have seen as many plaintiffs willing to fight.

It may have been unpalatable for Uber, too. With the company gearing up for a public listing and all the scrutiny that comes with that, drawing a line under these cases with a settlement is a better result than multiple, years-long arbitration cases.

It’s also an important step in Uber repairing its image with current and potential drivers.

The company went through a huge crisis last year that highlighted questionable management and bad company culture when it came to female employees, treatment of drivers, interfacing with regulators and more.

(In fact the tipping was introduced as part of the company’s wider efforts to repair its business and image among drivers, passengers and employees. It also included appointing a new CEO. )

Having a loyal and growing base of drivers is essential to Uber scaling its business, and this settlement is one signal to drivers that Uber is trying to do right by them.

Still, it seems that the bargaining power here may have been more on Uber’s side.

Uber, valued at $72 billion as of its last funding and potentially as high as $120 billion in an IPO, is one of the world’s biggest privately-held tech companies. The 11 cents per mile it’s offering as a settlement is estimated to be only one-third of what a driver could have recovered for just one of the claims, expense reimbursement, had he or she pursued the arbitration rather than opted for the settlement.

Securing rights for the growing number of contract workers in the labor market has been one of the more controversial aspects of the boom in “gig-economy” businesses. It will be interesting to see how and if more of these kinds of cases come to light, and if regulators start to wade in, in cases where employers have not.

Elon Musk’s underground tunnel has potential, but leaves a lot to be desired

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At first, the alley looked like many others: cinder block walls, neglected asphalt, and chain link fences that back up on beige single family bungalows.

There was one big difference, though. At the end of this unnamed alley between 122nd and 120th streets in Hawthorne, California is a subterranean elevator that can transport a small SUV underground. Oh, and that car-sized elevator? It’s owned by Elon Musk. The guy helming Tesla and SpaceX. And the Boring Company.

On Tuesday, Musk held a proof of concept launch event for his 1.4-mile long test tunnel at SpaceX headquarters, which is just outside Los Angeles. Musk said he chose the location for his first tunnel so that he would be able to watch progress from the window at his desk.  Read more…

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Air New Zealand’s new safety briefing is a music video set to ‘It’s Tricky’

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Air New Zealand has taken people to Middle Earth and done a Men In Black throwback in its safety videos, setting itself apart from other, boring pre-flight briefings.

The airline’s latest edition is dubbed “It’s Kiwi,” a remake of Run-DMC’s classic track “It’s Tricky” featuring Deadpool 2 actor Julian Dennison, local musicians, as well as talent from 30 community groups.

It’s the 18th safety video the airline has ever produced, and aims to celebrate Kiwi culture and the country’s diversity. Read more…

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Nikola Motor unveils a new hydrogen semi truck designed for Europe

Nikola Motor has started taking reservations for Tre, the startup’s first hydrogen-electric truck built for the European market.

Nikola Motor, which less than a year ago announced plans to build a $1 billion hydrogen-electric semi truck factory in a suburb of Phoenix, said it’s in the preliminary planning stages to identify the proper location for its European manufacturing facility.

European testing is projected to begin in Norway around 2020, the company said.

The Tre — it means three in Norwegian — is still years away from production. CEO Trevor Milton said production will begin around the same time as its U.S. version between 2022 and 2023.

But it illustrates Nikola’s global aspirations.

The U.S. and Europe have different trucking regulations. Nikola had to design a different model to meet those regulations before it consider trying to break into Europe. 

Nikola Motor Nikola Tre back

The Tre will be built with redundant braking, redundant steering, redundant 800V dc batteries and a redundant 120 kW hydrogen fuel cell, all necessary for true level 5 autonomy, Milton said in a statement. Level 5 is the highest level autonomy, a designation in which the vehicle handles all driving under all conditions.

The Nikola TRE will come will come in 500 to 1,000 horsepower versions. The truck will be able to travel 500 to 1,200 kilometers, depending on options a customer chooses.

Nikola plans to have more than 700 hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S. and Canada by 2028. The company said Monday it’s working Nel Hydrogen of Oslo to provide hydrogen stations for the U.S. market.

Nel will be used to secure resources for Nikola’s European growth strategy, according to Nikola CFO Kim Brady.

By 2028, Nikola plans to have a network of more than 700 hydrogen stations across the USA and Canada. Each station will be capable of 2,000 to 8,000 kgs of daily hydrogen production. Nikola’s European stations are planned to come online around 2022 and are projected to cover most of the European market by 2030.

The company will display a prototype display of the Nikola TRE during the Nikola World event April 16 and April 17 in Phoenix.

Tesla to bring portion of Model 3 production to China next year

Tesla, which reported its first quarterly profits in two years Wednesday, is looking to extend its earnings streak by bringing its new Model 3 to customers beyond North America. And part of that plan involves accelerating its manufacturing plans in China.

Tesla saw its revenue skyrocket to $6.8 billion in the third quarter (and a $312 million profit) thanks to sales of its new Model 3 vehicle, despite production bottlenecks and more recent issues with delivery logistics. The company was able to achieve that profitability milestone just through sales in the U.S. and Canada. That leaves two other massive markets on the table. Cue Europe and China.

Tesla said Wednesday it will start to take orders for the Model 3 in Europe and China before the end of 2018. Tesla said it will begin deliveries of the Model 3 to Europe early next year.

“The mid-sized premium sedan market in Europe is more than twice as big as the same segment in the U.S.,” Tesla said in its shareholder letter released Wednesday. “This is why we are excited to bring Model 3 to Europe early next year.”

Notably, the company is further accelerating its timeline for China and said it will bring portions of Model 3 production to the country next year.

“We are aiming to bring portions of Model 3 production to China during 2019 and to progressively increase the level of localization through local sourcing and manufacturing,” Tesla said in its earnings report. “Production in China will be designated only for local customers.”

Tesla said earlier this month it plans for as rapid build out of a factory in China. But there’s something new here. The term “portions of Model 3 production” is the important phrase. This could be referring to a term used in the manufacturing world known as a complete knock down. CKD is basically a kit of non-assembled parts of a product, like say a Model 3. It’s a strategy used to avoid tariffs when shipping to foreign countries.

Tesla has plans to build a factory in Shanghai, but construction hasn’t even begun yet.

The company secured in October rights to about 210 acres of land in Lingang, Shanghai, the site of the electric automaker’s planned factory and its first outside of the U.S.

Tesla warned in its production and delivery report in early October that tariffs, combined with the cost of shipping its vehicles via ocean carrier and the lack of access to cash incentives available to locally produced electric vehicles, has put the company at a disadvantage in China. Tesla reiterated those cost constraints in its third-quarter earnings report.

Tesla reached a deal in July with the Shanghai government to build a factory that it says will be capable of producing 500,000 electric vehicles a year. Once construction begins, it will take about two years until Tesla can produce vehicles. It will be another “two to three years before the factory is fully ramped up to produce around 500,000 vehicles per year for Chinese customers,” a Tesla spokesman said at the time.

Elon Musk’s high-speed hyperloop tunnel in L.A. will soon be open for public rides

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Elon Musk says the first tunnel is “almost done.” 

Posting on Twitter on Sunday night, the Boring Company founder and CEO announced the first test tunnel of the ambitious ultra-high-speed hyperloop project in Los Angeles will be open for public rides on Dec. 11.

The very first LA tunnel, which will primarily function to transport pedestrians and cyclists, was officially completed in May, after digging permission was granted in August last year. 

Opens Dec 10

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 22, 2018

Musk has previously announced that the service will apparently cost passengers just $1 to ride on shuttles within the city when it officially launches. Read more…

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SF judge denies Lime’s request to block electric scooter deployment

A judge today denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order that would block Skip and Scoot from deploying their electric scooters in San Francisco on Monday. This means San Franciscans will be able to use electric scooter services again first thing next week.

Following the SFMTA’s decision to grant Skip and Scoot electric scooter permits, Lime sent an appeal requesting the agency reevaluate its application. At the time, the SFMTA said it was “confident” it picked the right companies. Just yesterday, Lime said it believed “that it has no choice but to seek emergency relief in the court” and take legal action.

“We’re pleased the court denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order,” John Cote, communications director for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement to TechCrunch. “The bottom line is the judge said he would not stop the permits from being issued on Monday. The SFMTA’s permit program has been both fair and transparent. Lime just didn’t like the outcome. The reality is that Lime’s application fell notably short of its competitors. That’s why it didn’t get a permit. San Franciscans deserve scooter services that are safe, equitable and accountable, which is exactly what this pilot program was designed to do.”

While Lime didn’t quite get what it wanted, Lime says it still sees this as a victory. In a statement to TechCrunch, Lime Head of Communications Jack S. Song said:

The Honorable Harold E. Kahn voiced serious concerns about the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s (SFMTA) permit process and ordered expedited discovery into the SFMTA’s selection process.  In a rare move, the Judge ordered five key SFMTA officials and staff — including Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin himself — to testify next week. There will be another public hearing on this issue before Judge Kahn in mid-November, where the SFMTA will be required to answer to the people of San Francisco, and explain exactly what happened in the SFMTA’s biased selection process.  

We look forward to having our preliminary injunction request heard in the coming days — to ensure that the people of San Francisco receive a transparent, fair and equitable process that best serves the entire City and County.

Our decision to file this lawsuit was not about preventing other operators from going forward; it was about exposing the biased and flawed process of the SFMTA, standing up for the rule of law, and serving Lime’s hometown.

Lime wants to block Scoot and Skip from deploying electric scooters in SF next week

Lime is doing the most right now. In light of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency denying Lime a permit to operate electric scooters in the city, Lime is gearing up to request a temporary restraining order.

“Lime believes that after selecting two other less experienced electric scooter companies and comparatively weaker applications in a process that was riddled with bias, the SFMTA should revisit the decision and employ a fair selection process,” the company wrote in a press release.

Those two “less experienced” electric scooter companies Lime’s referring to are Skip, which currently operates via an official permit in Washington, D.C., and Scoot, which has successfully and legally operated shared electric mopeds in the city for several years.

Following the SFMTA’s decision, Lime sent an appeal requesting the agency reevaluate its application. At the time, the SFMTA said it was “confident” it picked the right companies.

Now, since the SFMTA still plans to enable both Scoot and Skip to deploy their respective scooters on Monday, Lime says it “believes that it has no choice but to seek emergency relief in the court.”

Ahead of the decision in Santa Monica, Lime, along with Bird, protested recommendations for the city to not grant Lime a permit. Though, the city did end up granting Lime a permit. Lime, however, is not the only company that has appealed the decision in San Francisco. Earlier this week, Lyft reportedly petitioned SF Mayor London Breed, asking her to reconsider the SFMTA’s decision to only grant two permits for electric scooters.

“It’s unfortunate Lime has chosen this course,” John Coté, communications director for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “The SFMTA’s permitting process for the pilot program was thoughtful, fair and transparent. It includes an appeal process that Lime should be pursuing instead of wasting everyone’s resources by running to court.”

He added:

Lime appears to be playing games. It had weeks to resolve this and instead chose a last-minute motion in an effort to shut down the entire scooter program. Lime fails to admit that its application simply didn’t match those of its competitors. If Lime succeeds, it will be hurting the very people it purports to want to help – those who are ready to use scooters on Monday.

Last spring, Lime told San Franciscans that electric scooters were a great transportation alternative. Now, Lime is saying that if they can’t run electric scooters in San Francisco, no one can. It’s sour grapes from Lime, plain and simple.

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

Tesla’s first safety report claims drivers on Autopilot are safer, but lacks detail

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Tesla has released its first Autopilot safety report on Thursday, following promises from CEO Elon Musk in May that the company would do so quarterly after highly-publicised crashes involving its cars.

The one-page report claims that in the third quarter of 2018, there has been one accident or crash-like event for every 3.34 million miles for Tesla cars driven with Autopilot. 

Without Autopilot engaged, Tesla registered one accident or crash-like event for every 1.92 million miles driven. 

Tesla compared their findings to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, whose latest data shows “an automobile crash every 492,000 miles,” — this doesn’t include near-misses that Tesla has recorded in its report. Read more…

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Scooting while drunk is a dangerous, lame way to get a DUI

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Yes, you can get busted for scooting while drunk. 

With scooters swooping into more and more cities, it’s no surprise that people are behaving badly on the electric devices. E-scooter rental company Bird celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month with 2.1 million riders in 100 cities. That’s 10 million rides.  

But not all those rides have gone smoothly. Just this week Los Angeles had its first DUI case involving an e-scooter. The Bird scooter driver was three times over the legal limit when he crashed into a 64-year-old pedestrian, who fell to the ground, scraping their knees. Twenty-eight-year-old Nicholas Kauffroath rode off without helping the pedestrian. Read more…

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A Lime scooter rider died this morning in Washington, D.C., marking the second fatality this month

Lime, the 18-month-old, San Francisco-based company whose bright green bicycles and scooters now dot cities throughout the U.S., launched a pilot program in Tacoma, Washington, today, but that tiny victory might have felt short-lived. The reason: on the opposite side of the country, a Lime rider was killed today by an SUV while tooling around Washington D.C.’s DuPont neighborhood. The local fire department shared video of the rescue, which shows that the victim, an adult male, had to be pulled from the undercarriage of the vehicle.

It’s the second known fatality for the company following a death earlier this month in Dallas, when a 24-year-old Texas man fell off the scooter he was riding and died from blunt force injuries to his head.

On the one hand, the developments, while unfortunate, can hardly come as a surprise to anyone given how vulnerable riders or e-scooters are. E-scooter use is on the rise, with both Lime and its L.A.-based rival Bird, announcing this week that their customers have now taken north of 10 million rides. At the same time, city after city has deemed their use on sidewalks illegal out of fear that fast-moving riders will collide with and injure pedestrians. That leaves riders sharing city streets with the same types of giant, exhaust-spewing machines that they hope to increasingly displace. In fact, sales of traditional SUVs has continued to surge, thanks in part to low unemployment, high consumer confidence, and Americans’ enduring love with gigantic vehicles.

One solution to the issue, and one for which the e-scooter companies and their investors have been advocating, are protected lanes that would allow e-scooters to be operated more safely. Bird has even publicly offered to help fund new infrastructure that keeps cyclists and scooter riders safer.

Another possible answer would appear to be mandating the use of helmets with e-scooters, though California evidently disagrees. On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into a law that states Californians riding electric scooters will no longer be required to wear helmets as of January 1.

The bill was reportedly sponsored by Bird.

Used car site Vroom is raising $70M six months after a big round of layoffs

After cutting a big portion of its staff in March, Vroom is back pitching investors. Yesterday, the site for buying and selling used cars filed to raise $70 million in new equity funding.

Vroom has already secured $30 million of that $70 million target, signaling confidence from investors that it’ll become profitable and beat out key competitors in the space, like Carvana and Shift.

The startup wants to make the process of buying a used car as easy as ordering a pizza. With more than 3,000 cars for sale on the site, Vroom delivers directly to its customers’ doorsteps. Since it was founded in 2013, Vroom has brought in $320 million from General Catalyst, T. Rowe Price, Altimeter and others, reaching a valuation of $655 million in July 2017.

Vroom declined to comment on its upcoming round.

As part of the March layoffs, Vroom, which is headquartered in New York City, also shuttered its Dallas, Texas and Whitestown, Indiana locations. The official number of employees Vroom let go is unclear, though when news of the layoffs broke, the company listed 845 employees on its website. Today, the site list “600+” or about 30% fewer employees.

The cuts, the company said, were part of a restructuring that would allow Vroom to focus on profitability. This is what the company had to say in March:

“While Vroom’s business is healthy and financially stable, we’re always looking to align our resources to fulfill our long-term vision and deliver on our mission,” the statement said. “In sharpening our focus on profitability, we recently made some adjustments to our strategy that has impacted our headcount. While decisions like this are never easy, we are putting the company in a better position to become the leader in online car buying and continue to invest in future areas of growth.”

It’s not surprising Vroom is back in the fundraising game. Buying and selling cars is a capital-intensive business. 

Vroom’s competitors have similarly raised a lot of capital. Carvana brought in more than $300 million in equity funding, as well as $400 million in debt, before hitting the stock markets in 2017. Shift has raised roughly $110 million to date. Beepi, a cautionary tale in the business of selling used cars online, landed $150 million in VC funding, then failed to sell its business twice, ultimately selling for parts to multiple buyers, including Vroom.

Yeaaah, Waymo’s self-driving taxis don’t seem like they’ll be ready for their 2018 launch date

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It appears that Waymo’s “fully self-driving” taxi service was a bit too aggressive with its 2018 launch date.

A report from The Information Tuesday paints a bleak picture out of Phoenix, Arizona, where Waymo seems to be experiencing glitches with its autonomous vehicles.

Merging into highway traffic, navigating around groups of people, turning left — these are just a few of the hurdles facing Waymo’s fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans that the company is hoping to turn into a fully autonomous taxi service. 

The minivans often drive in the center of wide roads and stop for a full three seconds at stop signs, habits that aren’t popular among some local residents. At least a dozen people told The Information, “I hate them.”  Read more…

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China announces transportation industry reform, days after murder of Didi carpooling passenger

The Chinese government announced it will reform the transportation industry to safeguard passengers, three days after a female passenger was allegedly raped and murdered by a Didi Chuxing driver last Friday. Provinces and autonomous regions are now tasked with setting up passenger safety committees by the end of this month and ensuring that incidents are investigated promptly.

The crime led to the suspension of Hitch, Didi Chuxing’s carpooling service, and the firing of two executives: Hitch’s general manager and Didi’s vice president of customer services. This is not the first time, however, that Didi has been forced pull back on Hitch. Earlier this year, it suspended night operations after a female passenger was allegedly murdered by an unregistered driver who had accessed the service using his father’s account. Nighttime Hitch rides then resumed in June after Didi put new safety measures in place, including a rule that prohibited drivers from accepting ride requests by passengers of the opposite sex during certain hours.

The latest incident took place on Friday in the eastern province of Zhejiang and is especially concerning because the driver had been flagged just one day before the murder by another female passenger who complained that he followed her after she left his vehicle. In a statement, Didi said a safety center representative failed to follow corporate policy and initiate an investigation within two hours. The company also admitted that its customer service procedures has “many deficiencies” and said it will “plead for law enforcement and the public to work with us in developing more efficient and practical collaborative solutions to fight criminals and protect user personal and property safety.”

China’s police and transport ministries have already said that Didi bears “unshirkable responsibility” for Friday’s murder. The company has already been accused of being too lax with passenger safety, leaving its users–particularly women–vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault.

What stunned me while reporting this was the numbers. According to Southern Weekly, at least 53 women have been raped or sexually harassed by Didi drivers in the past 4 yrs?! Caixin says there are 14 rapes linked to Didi drivers, citing court docs. https://t.co/Me0oBXRyxo

— Sui-Lee Wee 黄瑞黎 (@suilee) August 27, 2018

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the agency that enacts strategies for China’s economic and social development, posted its announcement, titled “Concerning untrustworthy behavior in the emerging transportation sector,” online on Monday morning.

In it, the NDRC said it will put measures into place to root out untrustworthy and dishonest operators in China’s transportation industry, which has grown dramatically over the past two decades. Provinces and autonomous regions must form committees and procedures to ensure passenger safety by August 31 and share information about violations and offenders with other municipalities.

While the NDRC mentioned all transportation sectors, including railways, airplanes and ships, it singled out passenger vehicles, including buses, shuttles and cabs, in one passage and ordered municipalities to investigate offenses in a timely manner. Operators that don’t take action quickly to fix “untrustworthy behavior” risk being placed on a blacklist and having their names published on government websites.

Elon Musk: Tesla will remain a public company

Tesla will remain a public company, CEO Elon Musk said Friday night, less than three weeks after he announced to the world via Twitter that he was considering taking the electric automaker private at $420 a share.

Musk, who posted the announcement via Tesla’s blog, said Friday that after speaking with shareholders and investigating the process of taking the company private he believes the better path is for Tesla to remain public. Musk met with Tesla’s board of directors Thursday and told him his decision. The board agreed, he wrote.

Here’s an excerpt:

Given the feedback I’ve received, it’s apparent that most of Tesla’s existing shareholders believe we are better off as a public company. Additionally, a number of institutional shareholders have explained that they have internal compliance issues that limit how much they can invest in a private company. There is also no proven path for most retail investors to own shares if we were private. Although the majority of shareholders I spoke to said they would remain with Tesla if we went private, the sentiment, in a nutshell, was “please don’t do this.”

I knew the process of going private would be challenging, but it’s clear that it would be even more time-consuming and distracting than initially anticipated. This is a problem because we absolutely must stay focused on ramping Model 3 and becoming profitable. We will not achieve our mission of advancing sustainable energy unless we are also financially sustainable.

That said, my belief that there is more than enough funding to take Tesla private was reinforced during this process.

Friday night’s announcement closes a tumultuous 17 days that began with Musk tweeting that he secured funding and was considering taking Tesla private. The tweet wasn’t warmly embraced by the Tesla board or many shareholders. It also prompted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate.

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/10268726522903797

While this 17-day ride might be over, the questions over Musk’s behavior (and possible drug use) and the company’s future are likely not.

Uber and Lyft encourage NYC customers to oppose proposed ride-hail cap legislation

Uber is making calls to some of its customers in New York City, offering to connect them to local council members to express their opposition to the proposed legislation that would cap the number of ride-hailing drivers in the city, BuzzFeed first reported. Meanwhile, Lyft is also reaching out to its NYC-based riders, asking them to contact their local officials.

For context, the NYC city council is currently considering legislation that would limit the number of ride-hail drivers on the road. Specifically, the proposal wants to place a one-year hold on the issuance of new for-hire vehicle licenses, unless the vehicles are wheelchair accessible.

This legislation would affect Uber, Lyft, Juno and Via — all of which operate ride-hailing services in the city. The deadline to submit an amended version of the proposal is tonight at midnight, so the clock is ticking.

Anyway, some people seem to be a bit upset about receiving calls from Uber, but Uber Director of Public Affairs Jason Post told TechCrunch the calls are simply one of its tactics that is consistent with its terms of services.

Uber is not calling every single customer in the city, Post said, but the company is making enough calls to yield a few dozen calls per council member. Though, why people are answering calls from unknown numbers is beyond me.

Uber is also employing an in-app takeover that notifies passengers of the legislative landscape in NYC.

“Uber has launched an App takeover so New Yorkers can read the Council’s bills for themselves,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe New Yorkers will join us in supporting living wages for drivers and opposing a cap that will harm outer borough riders who have come to rely on Uber because of the unreliable, or non-existent subway.”

Lyft says the proposals would affect wait times, driver earnings and job opportunities.

“Worst of all, the proposals prioritize corporate medallion owners above the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers,” a Lyft spokesperson said. “And while many are saying that this a cap would not diminish service, based on Lyft’s internal driver attrition trends, we believe the industry’s annual churn rate is at least 25%, meaning available drivers for New York City ride-share would shrink significantly within the next year if a cap were imposed, massively undercutting service levels across the board and in particular in outer-borough neighborhoods.”

Lyft’s VP of public policy, Joseph Okpaku, also noted in a Medium post that the cap would have even worse effects on communities of color.

“For communities of color, who, before the arrival of ridesharing, were denied equal transportation options, the impact will be felt even more strongly,” he wrote. “It will return us to the days when African-American and Latino New Yorkers had to worry whether they would get a ride every time they raised their hand to hail a cab.”

Segway’s whacky new roller shoes will cost $399

Did you know Segway is making a pair of self-balancing roller shoes? It is! The company has been tinkering with all sorts of new form factors since it was acquired by Ninebot in 2015, from half-sized Segways to kick scooters. Next up: inline… shoe… platform things.

Called the Segway Drift W1s, they sorta look like what would happen if you took a hoverboard (as in the trendy 2016 hoverboard-that-doesn’t-actually-hover “hover”board, not Marty McFly’s hoverboard), split it in two and plopped one half under each foot.

It released a video demonstrating the shoes a few weeks back. Just watching it makes me feel like I’ve bruised my tailbone, because I’m clumsy as hell.

Pricing and availability was kept under wraps at the time, but the company has just released the details: a pair will cost you $399, and ship sometime in August. Oh, and they’ll come with a free helmet, because you’ll probably want to wear a helmet.

A new product page also sheds some light on a few other previously undisclosed details: each unit will weigh about 7.7lbs, and top out at 7.5 miles per hour. Riding time “depends on riding style and terrain,” but the company estimates about 45 minutes of riding per charge.

I look forward to trying these — then realizing I have absolutely no idea how to jump off and just riding forever into the sunset.

Uber is looking at adding benefits and insurance for drivers

At the Code Conference tonight, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi spoke about the company’s relationship with drivers, autonomous driving, uberEATS having a $6 billion bookings run rate, taking over as CEO and flying taxis, obviously.

Just this week, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent subpoenas to Uber and Lyft seeking information on driver pay, benefits and classification info. Uber wasn’t available for comment at the time, but now it seems that the company is looking at ways to offer benefits and insurance to drivers. Specifically, Uber is looking at an economically-sound way to offer drivers a benefits and insurance package so that “this can be a safer way of living,” Khosrowshahi said.

And despite what former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in the past about needing to get rid of the driver, Khosrowshahi said he disagrees.

“The face of Uber is the person sitting in the front seat,” Khosrowshahi said. He added that it usually is a man driving, but that he would “love to have more women sitting in the front seat” because it’s a “great form of employment.”

Still, Uber is moving ahead with autonomous driving. That’s in light of the fatal car accident in Tempe, Arizona involving one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles.

“We will get back on the road over the summer,” Khosrowshahi said.

Uber also envisions licensing its technology — once it’s safe enough — to third-parties and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Despite the high-profile lawsuit between Uber and Waymo over self-driving car technology, Khosrowshahi said he’d welcome Waymo to put its cars into its network. Regarding Uber’s relationship with Waymo, Khosrowshahi said it’s “getting better.”

In addition to Uber’s core driver business and autonomous driving, it has several other things going on for it. One of those is uberEATS, which Khosrowshahi said has a $6 billion run rate, is growing 200 percent and is the biggest food delivery company in the world, with the exception of those in China.

Uber also recently acquired JUMP Bikes for about $200 million, launched UberRENT, announced a public transportation partnership with Masabi and is working on flying cars via its Elevate program.

Just like residential and buildings have gone three-dimensional, Khosrowshahi said, “you’re going to have to build a third-dimension in terms of transportation.”

For Uber, Elevate is its “big bet” on that third-dimension of transportation, he said. The big plan with all of these modes of transportations — whether that’s bike-sharing, ride-sharing, flight-sharing or whatnot — is to become a multi-modal transportation service.

“We want to be the Amazon for transportation,” Khosrowshahi said.

Earlier in the conversation, Khosrowshahi shed some light into how he had no idea he’d get the chief executive officer job at Uber. In fact, he said that while his wife thought he would get the job, he wasn’t as optimistic.

He also spoke about his relationship with Kalanick and how, early on, Khosrowshahi asked for space and Kalanick respected that.

“I consult with him the way I consult with the board,” Khosrowshahi said.

Moving forward, Khosrowshahi still has his eyes set on the second half of 2019 to go public.

“We’re on track,” he said.

Elon Musk details his plan to rid LA of traffic with $1 rides on the Boring Co. ‘Loop’

This evening, Boring Company executives Elon Musk and Steve Davis offered a few more details about their plans to revolutionize LA urban transit, introducing the “Loop” which would eventually be composed of all-electric pods that transport up to 16 passengers at a time. Musk theorizes that the Loop could take Los Angeles residents from downtown LA to any terminal at the LAX airport within 8 minutes for about $1.

Much of the focus of the presentation was to assure the public that the Boring Company’s efforts would not be disruptive to the public or heavily stress the city’s existing highway systems. While the company has been best known for its hat and flamethrower sales, its most daunting challenge is courting public opinion for its plans to upgrade LA’s transport infrastructure.

The odd little presentation held at an LA synagogue started about 25 minutes behind schedule after a late arrival from Elon Musk who ironically said he got stuck in traffic. Musk offered a few minutes of eccentric discussion about why flying cars couldn’t solve the problem of “soul-destroying traffic.” Tunnels, on the other hand, Musk detailed were “way less nerve-racking than flying cars” and still “so fun.”

Alongside the execs onstage was Boring Company “mascot” Gary the snail.

Musk said that Boring Company Loop’s vision of the future would be much more congruous with city life than subways, and that while it was very difficult to weave large stations into a city, building many more parking spot-sized stations could theoretically be much more effective. Musk also noted that he hoped the Loop would supplement existing transport systems and connect public transport lines.

To get moving towards this “Loop” vision, the company will begin with a 2.7 mile test tunnel on private property with private funds. Just last month, SEC documents were filed detailing that Musk’s Boring Company had raised just shy of $113 million.

Once the test site has been completed, Musk suggested that they would begin offering free rides which he hoped the company could make as fun as a Disney theme park, joking that guests could “bring [their] flamethrowers.”

As Musk has previously noted, the Boring Company’s focus will prioritize pedestrian traffic rather than pods that house vehicles. While the executives were sure to distinguish the difference between the “Loop” and the Hyperloop, Musk also theorized that the two systems could eventually be seamlessly connected so riders could travel within the city and between cities with minimal friction.

Musk was notably asked during a Q&A about whether the Boring Company would do a full environmental impact report. He noted that they would but given the length of the process would do so once moving towards a larger-scale project rather than on one of the test tunnels.

It’s clear from the presentation that things are very much in their early stages, but Musk and Davis seemed to do a good job assuring the public that they would be moving with the bureaucracy on this project rather than trying to push their vision forward quickly and recklessly.

Tesla says fatal crash involved Autopilot

Tesla has provided another update to last week’s fatal crash. As it turns out, Tesla said the driver had Autopilot on with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum. However, it seems the driver ignored the vehicle’s warnings to take back control.

“The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision,” Tesla wrote in a blog post. “The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”

The promise of Tesla’s Autopilot system is to reduce car accidents. In the company’s blog post, Tesla notes Autopilot reduces crash rates by 40 percent, according to an independent review by the U.S. government. Of course, that does not mean the technology is perfect in preventing all accidents.

As Tesla previously noted, the crash was so severe because the middle divider on the highway had been damaged in an earlier accident. Tesla also cautioned that Autopilot does not prevent all accidents, but it does make them less likely to occur.

No one knows about the accidents that didn’t happen, only the ones that did. The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe. There are about 1.25 million automotive deaths worldwide. If the current safety level of a Tesla vehicle were to be applied, it would mean about 900,000 lives saved per year. We expect the safety level of autonomous cars to be 10 times safer than non-autonomous cars.

In the past, when we have brought up statistical safety points, we have been criticized for doing so, implying that we lack empathy for the tragedy that just occurred. Nothing could be further from the truth. We care deeply for and feel indebted to those who chose to put their trust in us. However, we must also care about people now and in the future whose lives may be saved if they know that Autopilot improves safety. None of this changes how devastating an event like this is or how much we feel for our customer’s family and friends. We are incredibly sorry for their loss.

This development, of course, comes in light of a fatal accident involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona.

Engineering against all odds, or how NYC’s subway will get wireless in the tunnels

 Never ask a wireless engineer working on the NYC subway system “What can go wrong?” Flooding, ice, brake dust, and power outages relentlessly attack the network components. Rats — many, many rats — can eat power and fiber optic cables and bring down the whole system. Humans are no different, as their curiosity or malice strikes a blow against wireless hardware… Read More

Waymo orders thousands of Pacificas for 2018 self-driving fleet rollout

 Waymo has ordered thousands of new Chrysler Pacifica minivans from FCA to help populate its autonomous ride-hailing fleet, which it will open to the public in 2018, the company says. The public launch of its Pacifica-based self-driving ride hailing service is set to occur sometime later this year, after Waymo starts testing its minivans without anyone behind the wheel, achieving true Level… Read More

Elon Musk’s Boring Co. flamethrower is real, $500 and up for pre-order

 So that flamethrower that Elon Musk teased The Boring Company would start selling after it ran out of its 50,000 hats? Yeah, it’s real – and you can pre-order one now if you want need a ridiculous way to spend $500. Musk revealed the flamethrower on Saturday, after some digging tipped its existence late last week. The Boring Company Flamethrower is functional, too, as you can see… Read More

GM and Cruise reveal their fourth-generation, steering wheel-free Cruise AV

 GM and Cruise are making progress on their plan to deploy autonomous vehicles on roads for the public: Today, it’s showing off its fourth-generation Cruise Autonomous Vehicle (AV), which comes just a few short months after it first revealed its third-generation vehicle. The fourth generation car is production-ready, according to GM’s Dan Ammann, who discussed the new vehicle on a… Read More

VW taps Nvidia to build AI into its new electric microbus and beyond

 Nvidia will power artificial intelligence technology built into its future vehicles, including the new I.D. Buzz, its all-electric retro-inspired camper van concept. The partnership between the two companies also extends to the future vehicles, and will initially focus on so-called “Intelligent Co-Pilot” features, including using sensor data to make driving easier, safer and… Read More

SpaceX caps a record year with 18th successful launch of 2017

 SpaceX has completed its 18th launch in 2017, marking a record year for the private space company. It’s the most rockets SpaceX has launched in a single year, beating its previous best by ten missions. The launch today was for client Iridium, delivering 10 satellites to low Earth orbit for its Iridium NEXT communications constellation. This is the fourth such mission that SpaceX has… Read More

Behind the ambitious plan to build and race flying cars

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Since Back to the Future, you’re far from alone if you’ve wondered where the heck your flying car is already.

Sure, we’ve seen pitches by the likes of Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, and Slovakian startup AeroMobil — but the reality of a flying car still seems a way off.

An Australian startup called Alauda has an ambition to fast-track that reality with its electric, low-altitude aircraft, the Airspeeder Mark I. 

Alauda is founded by Matt Pearson, who also cofounded space startup Fleet. Over the past two years, Pearson has been working on the project as part of a team of five in a Sydney warehouse. Read more…

More about Tech, Australia, Transportation, Racing, and Flying Cars

Lyft gets approval to test self-driving cars on public roads in California

 Lyft is the latest company to be added to the ever-growing list of those permitted to test their self-driving technology on California state public roads. The California Department of Motor Vehicles added Lyft to the list recently (via Axios), following Lyft’s foundation of a self-driving technology development center earlier this year, and its announcement that it would work on both its… Read More

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Here’s our first look at Elon Musk’s Boring Co. LA tunnel

 Elon Musk is digging a tunnel under Hawthorne near SpaceX headquarters in California, after receiving approval from city council to do so. Musk’s Boring Co. has already made considerable progress on the dig and tunnel build, apparently, as Musk shared an image of the tunnel from the inside showing a reinforced tube that stretches off into the distance out of sight.
The tunnel features… Read More

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SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod speed competition winner tops 200 MPH

 SpaceX held its second Hyperloop Pod design competition for student feeds at the test track built near its test track today. The mile long track saw three finalist teams battle it out for speed supremacy, including WARR Hyperloop from Germany, Switzerland’s Swissloop and Paradigm, a North American team with members from Northeastern and Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada. The… Read More

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Here is Uber’s first pitch deck

 On the ninth anniversary of the founding of Uber, its co-founder Garrett Camp shared the company’s initial pitch deck via a personal Medium post. The deck, and the short post, comes off quite sentimental because of how much has happened to the company since it was created.
But company growth and drama aside, there’s a lot to be learned from Uber’s 25 slide deck. Enjoy the… Read More

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A biohacker named Meow-Meow implanted an Opal card into his hand. That's all.

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Public transit can be a nightmare. Endless amounts of people and fumbling with your transit card are pretty much unavoidable, and that’s before you even get on that crowded train. 

Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow, an Australian molecular biologist and the founder of citizen scientist lab Biofoundry, literally took matters into his own hands to find a solution to this problem.

Meow-Meow uses the Opal card — the equivalent of London’s Oyster card — to get on public transit in Sydney. Instead of remembering to bring the physical card with him every day, Meow-Meow decided to get a little bit creative. He had the chip from his card professionally implanted beneath the skin in his left hand. Read more…

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AAA officially launches its car sharing startup Gig with a giant, sober dance party in Oakland

 Gig, a new car-sharing app created by the emergency roadside assistance service AAA rolled out to the Bay Area today. The startup comes out of A3 Ventures, AAA’s venture arm and the new one-way car sharing service is now active in Oakland and Berkeley, California. Gig is similar to other temporary car share services like Enterprise CarShare or Zipcar. But unlike the traditional car… Read More

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ChargePoint is ready for flying EVs

ChargePoint and Uber Elevate Yesterday I wrote about a poll conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan that found people were interested in flying cars if they were autonomous, shared, and electric. As soon as I posted that, I found an email in my inbox saying that ChargePoint and Uber Elevate, among others at the recent conference on flying vehicles, had partnered to prepare for just that exact… Read More

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Apple testing process for autonomous safety drivers revealed in DMV documents

 Apple has developed a testing procedure for drivers who would act as failsafe controls during autonomous vehicle testing, documents discovered by Business Insider via a public records request show. The documents detail the testing procedure that Apple has created in order to comply with the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s rules regarding autonomous testing on state roads.… Read More

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Tesla to reveal a pickup truck within two years, and final Model 3 design in July

 Tesla plans to show off an electric pickup truck sometime within the next two years, the company’s CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter today. The pickup was teased originally when Musk revealed the second part of his “master plan” for Tesla, which began with selling expensive vehicles like the Roadster and Model S, and eventually leads to producing a wide range of more… Read More

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Lyft to let passengers round up their fare and donate the difference to charity

 Lyft is looking at one of its biggest potential opportunities to make up some ground on its rival Uber, given the latter company’s ongoing and worsening PR crisis. So it makes sense that Lyft would go even further in the opposite direction, with a new program that lets riders top off their fare to the nearest dollar, and donate the difference to one of a group of selected charities. The… Read More

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Tesla Model 3 is ‘just a smaller, more affordable’ Model S, says Elon Musk

 The Tesla Model 3 is not a product iteration along the lines of successive iPhones, Elon Musk clarified on Twitter on Friday. Instead, it’s a “smaller model affordable versions of Model S” with less range, less power and fewer features, according to the Tesla CEO. The Model S is still going to be the leader in terms of it technological capabilities – so think more iPhone… Read More

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ANA’s new C-3PO jet is fluent in over 6 million forms of communication

 Fancy paint jobs for airplanes are nothing novel, but few airlines ever really commit to making their jets look unique like Japan’s ANA. The air carrier’s latest custom craft is one of its Star Wars series of planes, commemorating everyone’s favorite golden protocol droid with a C-3PO yellow fuselage wrap, and interior decorating to match. The C-3PO ANA Jet follows R2-D2… Read More

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Wright Electric unveils its commercial electric plane business

 Gas is the biggest cost for airlines. The easiest way to reduce these costs? Don’t use gas at all. That was the pitch from Wright Electric, a startup building an commercial passenger plane that runs on batteries and can handle flights under 300 miles. These short-haul trips make up 30 percent of all flights and a $26 billion market. Today Wright Electric gave its first preview to the… Read More

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LimeBike raises $12 million to roll out bike sharing without kiosks in the US

 A startup called LimeBike has raised $12 million in venture funding to make Chinese-style bike sharing mainstream in the US. Andreessen Horowitz led the round joined by IDG Ventures, DCM Ventures and other investors who declined to be named. In China, companies like MoBike and Ofo have raised massive amounts of venture capital and distributed tens of thousands of their GPS-enabled bikes in… Read More

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Airbus reveals a modular, self-piloting flying car concept

 Airbus has been talking about its Vahana flying autonomous vehicle project for a while now, but at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, it’s showing off a concept design created in partnership with Italdesign. The demonstration vehicle offers modular functionality, meaning it an operate both on the ground and in the air, and Airbus thinks it’s one potential answer to the growing… Read More

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Goodyear’s AI tire concept can read the road and adapt on the fly

 Goodyear is thinking ahead to how tires – yes, tires – might change as autonomous driving technology alters vehicle design, and as available technologies like in-vehicle and embedded machine learning and AI make it possible to do more with parts of the car that were previously pretty static, like its wheels. Its new Eagle 360 Urban tire concept design builds on the work it… Read More

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Uber’s VP of product and growth has left the company

BEIJING, CHINA - 2016/10/08: UBER art station in Beijing CBD.  There are 8 UBER art stations in Beijing, each with a sculpture made by some of China's promising modern designers, provided especially for the carpooling riders and drivers to gather and find each other easily. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images) Ed Baker, Uber’s VP of product and growth, has resigned from Uber, Recode first reported. Uber declined to comment on the story but TechCrunch has confirmed that Baker has left the company, and that Daniel Graf, Uber’s head of marketplace, will be the interim head of product and marketplace. “I have always wanted to apply my experience in technology and growth to the… Read More

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Uber plans to turn its app into a ‘content marketplace’ during rides

uber-exper Uber can’t seem to avoid headlines for the wrong reasons right now, as it gets slammed for its toxic work culture, its connections to a polarizing U.S. President, and its CEO’s attitude to Uber drivers. 
But despite all that, the transportation company — currently valued as high as $68 billion — continues to grow and is expanding its business into ever more areas. Read More

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Jeff Bezos wants Blue Origin to be the Amazon of the Moon

Fourth successful launch of the same New Shepard vehicle during test flights / Image courtesy of Blue Origin Not one to be left out, Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos is also making plans to go to the Moon, just like fellow space magnate Elon Musk. Bezos’ plan, uncovered by The Washington Post via a draft proposal presented to NASA and Trump’s administration, outlines Blue Origin’s plan to create a cargo spacecraft destined for the Moon that would help it ferry supplies… Read More

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