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Tag Archives: automotive

Behind the auto industry’s quest to replace the aging CAN standard with a new in-vehicle networking standard for transmitting data from autonomous car…

John R. Quain / New York Times : Behind the auto industry's quest to replace the aging CAN standard with a new in-vehicle networking standard for transmitting data from autonomous car sensors   —  Cars need to get faster — not on the road, but on the inside.  —  Speed has always been part of the mystique of the automotive business.

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Tesla shares tumble in early trading after another Elon Musk-powered PR blunder

Elon Musk, the embattled chief executive of electric automaker and sustainable energy company Tesla, tried to “set the record straight” about his recent behavior in an hour-long exclusive interview with The New York Times . Instead, it only served to further underscore how out-of-touch the billionaire chief executive seems from the ongoing operations at his company. The fallout has already begun, with shares falling in early trading. His erratic behavior could cost investors billions and potentially destroy a company that has, in fact, revolutionized the automotive industry in America. In the wide-ranging interview, Musk acknowledged the personal and physical toll running Tesla was taking on him and tried to explain away his recent behavior. The latest drama began with a simple midday tweet last week indicating that Musk had secured funding to take Tesla private at a price of $420 per share. Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2018 The number (which is both within the range of a 20 percent premium of Tesla shares at the time, and a code with special significance for people who smoke marijuana), the timing of the announcement and the medium on which it was issued all raised eyebrows. just spent the past fifteen minutes delivering a rudimentary explanation of financial markets to someone just so i could help them appreciate my “elon musk absolutely did a weed twete today” theory — ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac) August 8, 2018 From there, it has pretty much been all downhill for Musk and Tesla as the company’s executive bounced from one public relations blunder to another. There are the allegations of illegal drug use, which Musk feebly addresses in his interview, saying: “I was not on weed, to be clear,” he said. “Weed is not helpful for productivity. There’s a reason for the word ‘stoned.’ You just sit there like a stone on weed.” Reporting from the Times also contradicts another assertion that Musk made in the interview — which is that Tesla’s board is not seeking someone to take the reins as a chief operating officer at the company. Something which would indubitably help take off of Musk’s shoulders some of the pressures of running the business

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Update: New whistleblower claims against Tesla allege drug trafficking, theft and phone hacking coverup

This post has been updated with a comment from Tesla and to indicate that a single employee was allegedly involved in the drug trafficking ring.  Employees at Tesla’s Nevada gigafactory were allegedly involved in a massive drug ring, stole $37 million worth of precious metals and equipment and illegally spied on former employees at the behest of chief executive Elon Musk, according to a new whistleblower complaint filed against the company. First reported by Jalopnik , the complaint is only the latest in a string of damaging news stories that have erased millions in value for Tesla shareholders and could cast the future of the company’s celebrity chief executive, Elon Musk, into doubt. It’s also the second whistleblower claim filed against the company this summer. Ex-Tesla worker makes it official and blows the whistle to SEC This time the whistleblower is Karl Hansen, a former member of Tesla’s internal security department and investigations division. The complaint from Hansen, a former special agent, member of the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, and senior investigator for the Federal Maritime Commission, reads like a weird mashup of Sons of Anarchy, Silicon Valley and Scandal. Hansen claims that Tesla failed to disclose a recent internal investigation the company made into a tip it received from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Storey County Sheriff’s Office that one of its gigafactory employees were part of “a narcotics trafficking ring involving the sale of significant quantities of cocaine and possibly crystal methamphetamine at the Gigafactory on behalf of a Mexican drug cartel from Sonora Mexico.” According to a statement from Hansen’s legal counsel (Meissner Associates — the firm also representing Tesla’s other whistleblower, Martin Tripp), Hansen claims that he corroborated connections between the named employees and alleged members of the Mexican drug cartel, but Tesla refused to investigate the matter further and said it would hire “outside vendors” to follow up. Hansen says the company never did. For its part, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued a statement to BuzzFeed  saying that it would not inform any “non-law enforcement entities” of ongoing or pending investigations. Drug smuggling may not be the wildest allegation in Hansen’s complaint. According to the summary from Meissner, Hansen also claims that Tesla installed eavesdropping and wiretapping equipment at its facilities and was illegally listening to conversations and scanning messages from Tripp at the behest of the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk . Here’s the relevant section from the complaint: According to Mr. Hansen, following Tripp’s departure from Tesla, Tesla went so far as to install specialized router equipment within its Nevada Gigafactory designed to capture employee cell phone communications and/or retrieve employee cell phone data. The Meissner firm recently released police reports relating to this past June’s GigaGate incident indicating that Tesla security personnel may have unlawfully accessed Mr. Tripp’s cell phone long after he was fired by Tesla.

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New whistleblower claims against Tesla allege drug trafficking, theft and phone hacking coverup

This post has been updated with a comment from Tesla and to indicate that a single employee was allegedly involved in the drug trafficking ring.  Employees at Tesla’s Nevada gigafactory were allegedly involved in a massive drug ring, stole $37 million worth of precious metals and equipment and illegally spied on former employees at the behest of chief executive Elon Musk, according to a new whistleblower complaint filed against the company. First reported by Jalopnik , the complaint is only the latest in a string of damaging news stories that have erased millions in value for Tesla shareholders and could cast the future of the company’s celebrity chief executive, Elon Musk, into doubt. It’s also the second whistleblower claim filed against the company this summer. Ex-Tesla worker makes it official and blows the whistle to SEC This time the whistleblower is Karl Hansen, a former member of Tesla’s internal security department and investigations division. The complaint from Hansen, a former special agent, member of the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, and senior investigator for the Federal Maritime Commission, reads like a weird mashup of Sons of Anarchy, Silicon Valley and Scandal. Hansen claims that Tesla failed to disclose a recent internal investigation the company made into a tip it received from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Storey County Sheriff’s Office that one of its gigafactory employees were part of “a narcotics trafficking ring involving the sale of significant quantities of cocaine and possibly crystal methamphetamine at the Gigafactory on behalf of a Mexican drug cartel from Sonora Mexico.” According to a statement from Hansen’s legal counsel (Meissner Associates — the firm also representing Tesla’s other whistleblower, Martin Tripp), Hansen claims that he corroborated connections between the named employees and alleged members of the Mexican drug cartel, but Tesla refused to investigate the matter further and said it would hire “outside vendors” to follow up. Hansen says the company never did. For its part, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued a statement to BuzzFeed  saying that it would not inform any “non-law enforcement entities” of ongoing or pending investigations. Drug smuggling may not be the wildest allegation in Hansen’s complaint. According to the summary from Meissner, Hansen also claims that Tesla installed eavesdropping and wiretapping equipment at its facilities and was illegally listening to conversations and scanning messages from Tripp at the behest of the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk

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Apple hints at plan to build a car after all as it rehires ex-Tesla engineering head

If you’re looking for hints that Apple might deliver on its long-rumored plan to develop its own car, a significant one landed this week after it emerged that Doug Field — Apple’s former VP of Mac hardware engineering — has rejoined from the company after a spell with Tesla. John Gruber at Daring Fireball broke the news of Field returning to Apple following five years at Tesla where he oversaw the production of the Model 3. Apple confirmed in a statement to TechCrunch that it has rehired Field, but it declined to give information about this role. Gruber reports, however, that Field will link up with Bob Mansfield, the former colleague he worked with on the Mac hardware business. Mansfield just so happens to be the person who is heading up Apple’s ‘Project Titan’ car project , having been tempted back and out of retirement, so there’s a lot to dig into. There’s been plenty of speculation about the secretive Project Titan, most notably it was reported in 2016 that Apple had abandoned plans to develop a car. Instead, it was said to be focused on autonomous driving technology . While the project remains pretty opaque and tough to gauge, the hiring of the man who oversaw Tesla production — right after Apple poached a Waymo self-driving engineer — is a pretty interesting clue that suggests Apple might be reviving plans to develop a car once again. Ex-Apple employee charged with stealing self-driving car secrets

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With no white knight in sight, Tesla shares plummet from Musk’s tweet-related highs

Investors definitely aren’t stoked by the deafening silence coming from Tesla  after its chief executive announced in a tweet that he plans to drop a fat sack of cash on public shareholders in a bid to take the company private. Tesla’s shares have tumbled from their post-tweet highs as investors are now left with the embers of what is increasingly looking like a Musk-induced pipe dream to lift the economic burdens the company faces by delisting it. At the close of the market Tesla shares were down $17.89, to $352.45, basically erasing the gains it had earned based on speculation of an acquirer at a $420 price tag. Days after Tesla chief executive Elon Musk tweeted a $420 per share buyout offer for the company , no new details have emerged and several potential contenders for Tesla’s white knight have basically said “ It wasn’t me .” Elon Musk tweets he’s thinking about taking Tesla private Reports from The New York Times, Axios and Bloomberg indicate that none of the likely buyers — the private equity firms, multinational banks, sovereign wealth funds or SoftBank — had approached or been approached by Tesla about the take-private transaction. Dan Primack reported in Axios that “it’s none of the usual suspects on the debt side (i.e. big Wall Street banks). Nor many on the equity side, such as big strategics (not Apple or Uber), private equity (not KKR, Mithril, Silver Lake, TPG, etc.) nor deeper financial pockets (not SoftBank or Mubadala).” That’s kind of everyone that would be involved in what would be the biggest take-private deal in history (Primack valued Tesla at around $85 billion including debt). Indeed, the New York Times noted that Wall Street banks are only now looking at ways to get in on the action. From the Times’ report: Executives at banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are discussing ways a deal could be structured, angling to land the potentially prestigious assignment of taking the maker of electric cars off public markets, according to people familiar with the discussions. Bankers and lawyers on Wall Street said any deal is likely to be valued at $10 billion to $20 billion. The $20 billion figure, far lower than what would be required for full privatization, assumes that Tesla is only looking to reduce the number of shareholders on its cap table so that it is no longer required to list on a major exchange. The argument is that with fewer shareholders, the company would not be subject to the whims of short sellers as easily as it is on the open markets. That’s the publicly stated rationale that Musk has given for his desire to take the company private.

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Scale, whose army of humans annotate raw data to train self-driving and other AI systems, nabs $18M

The artificial intelligence revolution is underway in the world of technology, but as it turns out, some of the most faithful foot soldiers are still humans. A startup called Scale , which works with a team of contractors who examine and categorise visual data to train AI systems in a two-sided marketplace model, announced that it has raised an additional $18 million in a Series B round. The aim will be to expand Scale’s business to become — in the words of CEO Alexandr Wang, the 21-year-old MIT grad who co-founded Scale with Lucy Guo — “the AWS of AI, with multiple services that help companies build AI algorithms.” “Our mission is to accelerate the development of AI apps,” Wang said. “The first product is visual data labelling, but in the future we have a broad vision of what we hope to provide.” Wang declined to comment on the startup’s valuation in an interview. But according to Pitchbook , which notes that this round actually closed in May of this year, the post-money valuation of Scale is now $93.50 million ($75 million pre-money). The money comes on the back of an eventful two years since the company first launched, with revenues growing 15-fold in the last year, and “multiple millions of dollars in revenue” from individual customers. (It doesn’t disclose specific numbers, however.) Today, Scale’s base of contractors numbers around 10,000, and it works with a plethora of businesses that are developing autonomous vehicle systems such as General Motors’ Cruise, Lyft Zoox, Nuro, Voyage, nuTonomy and Embark. These companies send Scale’s contractors raw, unlabelled data sets by way of Scale’s API, which provides services like Semantic Segmentation, Image Annotation, and Sensor Fusion, in conjunction with its clients LIDAR and RADAR data sets. In total, it says it’s annotated 200,000 “miles of data” collected by self-driving cars. AV companies are not its only customers, though. Scale also works with several non-automotive companies like Airbnb and Pinterest, to help build their AI-based visual search and recommendation systems. Airbnb, for example, is looking for more ways of being able to ascertain what kinds of homes repeat customers like and don’t like, and also to start to provide other ways of discovering places to stay that are based not just on location and number of bedrooms (which becomes more important especially in cities where you may have too many choices and want a selection more focused on what you are more likely to rent)

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Self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics raises $40 million

In Don Burnette and Paz Eshel’s view, trucking is the killer app for self-driving technology. It’s what led Burnette to leave the Google self-driving project and co-found Otto in early 2016, along with Anthony Levandowski , Lior Ron and Claire Delaunay. And it’s what would eventually prompt Burnette to leave Uber — the company that acquired Otto  — and co-found with former venture capitalist Eshel a new driverless-trucks startup called Kodiak Robotics. “It was no secret that Uber was primarily focused on the car project and 80 to 90 percent of my time was focused on the car project,” Burnette told TechCrunch. “But I still felt that trucking was the killer app for self-driving. I still believe that. I wanted to focus 100 percent of my time on trucking.” Now he and Eshel can. Kodiak Robotics, which was founded in April, is coming out of stealth loaded up with venture capital. Kodiak Robotics announced  Tuesday  it has raised $40 million in Series A financing led by Battery Ventures. CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Tusk Ventures also participated in the round. Itzik Parnafes, a general partner at Battery Ventures, will join Kodiak’s board. Kodiak Robotics will use the funds to expand its team and for product development. The company has about 10 employees, according to Eshel, who was a vice president at Battery Ventures, where he led the firm’s autonomous-vehicle investment project. Burnette noted the core engineering team — many of whom have experience in shipping self-driving vehicles on public roads — has been assembled. The pair weren’t ready to discuss the company’s go-to-market strategy.

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RideOs raises $25M to become the traffic control center for self-driving cars

A mere sprinkling of autonomous vehicles exist in a few dozen cities today. A smattering in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. A dusting in the greater Phoenix area and Pittsburgh. A few drops in Boston, Detroit, Gothenburg, Shenzhen and Singapore. And none of them—at least not yet—have been deployed as a true commercial enterprise. While the bulk of this nascent industry fixates on the system of sensors, maps, and AI necessary for vehicles to drive without a human behind the wheel, the founders of startup RideOS are directing their efforts to the day when fleets of self-driving cars hit the streets. It’s there, where human-driven and automated vehicles will be forced to mingle, that RideOS co-founders Chris Blumenberg and Justin Ho see opportunity. And so do investors. The company, which has existed for all of 11 months, has raised $25 million in a Series B funding round led by Next47, the venture arm of Siemens. Sequoia, an existing investor, and Singapore-based ST Ventures, also participated in the round. The Series B round brings the company’s total funding to $34 million. RideOS announced in June that it was partnering with Ford Motor subsidiary Autonomic and had  raised $9 million  in a Series A round led by Sequoia Capital.

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On Tesla’s earnings day, watch for these 4 indicators

A little more than a year ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk handed over the first Model 3 electric vehicles to employees at a splashy event in Hawthorne, California. It’s been (production) hell ever since, a term Musk has used repeatedly in the past 12 months as the electric automaker struggled to ramp up production of its most important vehicle to date. Now, a month after Tesla hit a key milestone and produced nearly 5,000 Model 3 cars in the last week of June, investors, fans and critics are waiting to get a closer look at the company’s finances. Tesla is expected to report its second quarterly earnings after the market closes August 1. A conference call will be held at 2:30 pm PT. Here’s what we’re looking for and what we hope to hear from Musk: Conversions Tesla has opened the Model 3 waitlist floodgates and invited all reservation holders in the U.S. and Canada to order the electric sedan. Tesla might not share the number of reservations holders who have opted to ask for a refund or to go ahead and order a Model 3. But that figure would give insight on demand as well as help determine what obstacles lie ahead. For instance, a large number of reservations converting to orders might signal a rosy future for revenue as well as potential headwinds in production and delivery times with the increased volume. Those reservations also equal money. The company had $985 million in customer deposits, which includes the Model 3, at the end of the first quarter.

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Waymo partners with Phoenix to connect people to public transit

Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet, is launching a program in Phoenix next month that will focus on delivering people to bus stops and train and light-rail stations. The pilot program announced Tuesday is in partnership with Valley Metro, the Phoenix area’s regional public transportation authority. The announcement gives clarity to the fourth leg in Waymo’s business strategy. The company’s has publicly shared plans to focus on four areas: create a ride-hailing service, develop self-driving trucks for logistics and license its technology to automakers for personally owned vehicles. But it was the fourth piece — connecting people to public transportation — that was nebulous until now. The program initially will be offered to employees of Valley Metro. These riders will be able to use the Waymo app to hail a ride in one of the company’s autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to take them to the nearest public transportation option. Waymo will expand the program and provide first-and-last mile travel to Valley Metro RideChoice travelers, which covers groups traditionally underserved by public transit. Waymo and Valley Metro hope to learn more about how people use public transit and what role self-driving cars can have in connecting people to the buses, trains and light-rail systems found in cities. The company said it hopes to open the service to the public in the future. Phoenix has become a major testing hub for Waymo. The company has been testing its self-driving vehicles there for months and launched an early rider program.

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Renovo partners with aiPod to deploy self-driving cars in London and beyond

Renovo is licensing its technology to yet another self-driving startup—this time aiPod—in its bid to sell a platform that will enable companies to deploy commercial fleets of fully automated vehicles. Fleets of autonomous vehicles that can safely pick up and drop off people and packages will require more than an AI system that can brake, accelerate and steer. Commercial self-driving fleets will have to complete all sorts of other tasks that human taxi and ride-share drivers handle today, including recognizing when a rider is uncomfortable or notifying passengers when a phone or other items have been left behind. Never mind all the data, cybersecurity, infotainment and other services delivered to passengers that must be managed as well. In short: the software stack required for a fully automated driving service is complicated. It’s in that chaotic intersection where software startup Renovo sees opportunity. Renovo isn’t developing the AI (or brain as some refer to it) that allows the autonomous vehicles to to navigate city streets. Instead, Renovo has developed an operating system called AWare OS designed specifically for the commercial deployment of fully automated vehicles. AWare OS works a lot like how Google’s Android allows app developers to launch services in the smartphone market. It can even be compared, in a way, to Amazon Web Services’ on-demand cloud computing platform. This middleware provides a platform that other companies can use to deploy software. A number of companies, including Inrix, Speak With Me, HD mapping and localization company Civil Maps, and simulation startup Metamoto have already joined Renovo’s ecosystem. Now Renovo is starting to license its technology to companies that want to deploy autonomous vehicle services. The latest licensee aiPod, a rather quiet startup, plans to pilot a self-driving vehicle service in London, beginning in early 2019. Renovo’s AWare OS will be integrated into aiPod’s autonomous vehicles

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Uber’s self-driving trucks division is dead. Long live Uber self-driving cars

Uber is shuttering its self-driving trucks unit, a beleaguered program borne out of the company’s controversial multi-million acquisition of Otto nearly two years ago. The company said Monday that Uber Advanced Technologies Group will stop development of self-driving trucks and instead focus its efforts on self-driving cars. “We recently took the important step of returning to public roads in Pittsburgh, and as we look to continue that momentum, we believe having our entire team’s energy and expertise focused on this effort is the best path forward,” Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in an emailed statement. Uber Freight, a business unit that helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, is unaffected by this decision. Uber Freight , which launched in May 2017, is designed for vetted and approved drivers, who can use it to find nearby available loads, see destination info, distance required and payment upfront. If the drivers like what they see, they can tap to book. Uber Freight, which started in three regions, is now available throughout the continental U.S. And it is considered a viable and promising business (and revenue opportunity) within the company. The business unit has expanded threefold in the past 15 months and has offices in San Francisco and Chicago. “Rather than having two groups working side by side, focused on different vehicle platforms, I want us instead collaborating as one team, according to an email reviewed by TechCrunch that was sent by Meyhofer to employees. “ I know we’re all super proud of what the Trucks team has accomplished, and we continue to see the incredible promise of self-driving technology applied to moving freight across the country. But we believe delivering on self-driving for passenger applications first, and then bringing it to freight applications down the line, is the best path forward. For now, we need the focus of one team, with one clear objective.” Uber’s self-driving trucks unit is based in San Francisco, while the team dedicated to self-driving cars is located in Pittsburgh. Uber says it will pivot employees focused on self-driving trucks to other work that supports its ongoing development of self-driving technology. If there isn’t a comparable role, Uber will offer relocation to Pittsburgh or a separation package to support the transition

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