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Volkswagen to bring self-driving electric shuttles to Qatar by 2022

Volkswagen Group and Qatar have agreed to develop a public transit system of autonomous shuttles and buses by 2022 for the capital city of Doha.

The agreement signed Saturday by VW Group and the Qatar Investment Authority is an expansive project that will involve four brands under VW Group, including Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Scania, its shared ride service MOIA and Audi subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving, or AID.

The aim is to develop the entire transport system, including the electric autonomous shuttles and buses, legal framework, city infrastructure and ride-hailing software required to deploy a commercial service there. The autonomous vehicles will be integrated into existing public transit.

“For our cities to progress we need a new wave of innovation,” QIA CEO Mansoor Al Mahmoud said in a statement. “AI-enabled, emission-free transportation technologies will help advance urban mobility, while diminishing congestion and improving energy efficiency.

The fleet will include 35 autonomous electric ID. Buzz vehicles from the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles unit, which will shuttle up to four passengers on semi-fixed routes in a geo-fenced area of Doha. Another 10 Scania buses will be used for larger groups.

Closed testing of the shuttle vehicles and buses is expected to begin in 2020. Trials could start as early as 2021. VW and QIA said the project will go live by the end of 2022.

Reliance Industries acquires a majority stake in SaaS startup NowFloats for $20M

Reliance Industries, one of India’s largest industrial houses, has acquired a majority stake in NowFloats, an Indian startup that helps businesses and individuals build online presence without any web developing skills.

In a regulatory filing on Thursday, Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited said (PDF) it has acquired an 85% stake in NowFloats for 1.4 billion Indian rupees ($20 million).

Seven-and-a-half-year old, Hyderabad-headquartered NowFloats operates an eponymous platform that allows individuals and businesses to easily build an online presence. Using NowFloats’ services, a mom and pop store, for instance, can build a website, publish their catalog, as well as engage with their customers on WhatsApp.

The startup, which has raised about 12 million in equity financing prior to today’s announcement, claims to have helped over 300,000 participating retail partners. NowFloats counts Blume Ventures, Omidyar Network, Iron Pillar, IIFL Wealth Management, and Hyderabad Angels among its investors.

Last year, NowFloats acquired LookUp, an India-based chat service that connects consumers to local business — and is backed by Vinod Khosla’s personal fund Khosla Impact, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Narayana Murthy’s Catamaran Ventures and Global Founders Capital.

Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, said that it would invest up to 750 million Indian rupees ($10.6 million) of additional capital into the startup, and raise its stake to about 89.66%, if NowFloats achieves certain unspecified goals by the end of next year.

In a statement, Reliance Industries said the investment will “further enable the group’s digital and new commerce initiatives.” NowFloats is the latest acquisition Reliance has made in the country this year. In August, the conglomerate said it was buying a majority stake in Google-backed Fynd for $42.3 million. In April, it bought a majority stake in Haptik in a deal worth $100 million.

There are about 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India. Like hundreds of millions of Indians, many in small towns and cities, who have come online in recent years thanks to world’s cheapest mobile data plans and inexpensive Android smartphones, businesses are increasingly building online presence as well.

But vast majority of them are still offline, a fact that has created immense opportunities for startups — and VCs looking into this space — and major technology giants. New Delhi-based BharatPe, which helps merchants accept online payments and provides them with working capital, raised $50 million in August. Khatabook and OkCredit, two digital bookkeeping apps for merchants, have also raised significant amount of money this year.

In recent years, Google has also looked into the space. It has launched tools — and offered guidance — to help neighborhood stores establish some presence on the web. In September, the company announced that its Google Pay service, which is used by more than 67 million users in India, will now enable businesses to accept digital payments and reach their customers online.