Inboard opens general availability of its premium electric scooter

Inboard, the startup that sells a range of electric scooters and skateboards, has just opened sales of its first premium scooter — just in time for the holiday season.

The company has already sold 285 of the scooters in a private pre-sale, with 80 percent of the orders coming from the United States and 35 percent coming from inside California.

Best known for its M1 electric skateboard, the “Glider” electric scooter will become the second product in the Inboard suite.

Retailing for $999, the Glider scooter boasts a swappable battery and an integrated app that gives users information about their location while on the go, and provides traffic information and diagnostics and maintenance alerts, according to the company.

“The Glider is the confluence of hardware mastery, software expertise and our team’s relentless ambition to provide safer and smarter urban transportation,” said Inboard co-founder and chief executive, Ryan Evans. “Our goal is not only to release the most advanced e-scooter on the market, but to enter the space responsibly and lead with safety. Our hardware will be the most innovative on the market, but it is our software that truly separates the Glider from the competition – allowing riders a safer and more efficient journey, while providing a fun way to re-imagine your city.”

Inboard pitches itself as a safer scooter, designed for a rider height below the axle centerline and featuring headlights, brake lights, turn signals, bigger tires and a wider deck.

Gliders also come with a three-axis accelerometer to detect board vibrations and inform riders about road obstacles through its app.

Backed with $11.7 million in venture financing from investors, including Upfront Ventures and the battery technology developer LION Smart, European investment firm Sunstone Capital and Sweet Capital, Inboard is betting on the same mobility revolution that has fueled the sky-high funding rounds for companies like Bird and Lime.

The company is betting that the mobility revolution isn’t something that riders will want to rent, but something that they’ll own as the types of people-moving options and services continue to expand.

The Glider’s pre-sale price of $999 is only available via pre-order until 12/31/18, the company said, at which point pricing will be increased to the full price of $1,299.

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GM’s self-driving unit Cruise is expanding to Seattle

Cruise, the self-driving company acquired by GM in 2016, is expanding to Seattle as it seeks out more engineering talent to develop its technology.

The company doesn’t have any plans right now to test its autonomous vehicles in the city. Instead, GM Cruise plans to set up offices in Seattle to attract and hire between 100 to 200 engineers by the end of 2019.

“To continue growing a team that is diverse and rich in talent, we feel that it’s important to explore talent pools outside of the Bay Area, and Seattle’s vibrant tech community and proximity to our headquarters in San Francisco make it a logical choice,” CEO Kyle Vogt said in an emailed statement.

GM Cruise hasn’t chosen an office location yet. The company it’s considering a number of locations in the Seattle area. There are no plans to house autonomous test vehicles at the Seattle location.

The hunt for qualified people with backgrounds in software engineering, robotics and AI has heated up as companies race develop and deploy autonomous vehicles. Founders from several self-driving car startups have regaled TechCrunch with stories of generous, even outrageous, compensation packages and poaching as they fight over a small pool of talent.

For instance, there are more than 60 companies that have permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicles in the state.

GM Cruise has one of the most aggressive timelines among companies hoping to deploy a commercial self-driving vehicle service. The company has said it plans to launch a commercial autonomous ride-hailing service in 2019.

GM Cruise has the funds needed to pump up its workforce. The company received a giant $2.25 billion investment by SoftBank’s vision fund in May. More recently, Honda commited $2.75 billion as part of an exclusive agreement with GM and Cruise to develop and produce a new kind of autonomous vehicle.

As part of that agreement, Honda will invest $2 billion into the effort over the next 12 years. Honda also is making an immediate and direct equity investment of $750 million into Cruise, which pushes the company’s valuation up to $14.6 billion. Honda’s investment gives the automaker a 5.7 percent stake in Cruise.

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Nissan boss who championed the Leaf EV arrested on tax charges


Carlos Ghosn, the CEO who guided Nissan through difficult times and masterminded the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, has reportedly been arrested in Japan and could soon be fired by Nissan. In an extraordinary news release, Nissan said that an internal investigation found that Ghosn and Director Greg Kelly were under-reporting their compensation in the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The automaker also discovered “significant acts of misconduct … such as personal use of company assets” by both executives.

According to reports that have yet to be confirmed, Ghosn failed to report up to 5 billion yen in income ($44 million) over a five-year period since 2011. He was one of the best paid bosses in Japan, earning about $10.3 million per year, and $6.4 million in 2017 when he gave up his role as CEO. Ghosn is reportedly cooperating with authorities.

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance is one of the largest automakers in the world, and the French government still holds a 15 percent share stake in Renault. Given that, President Emmanuel Macron saw the need to give a statement saying that France would be “extremely vigilant” about the stability of Renault and its future within the alliance. Macron recently appeared with Ghosn at the Paris Auto Show and the pair later visited a Renault plant in Maubeuge, in Northern France.

Ghosn was first known as a “cost-killer,” closing factories and cutting jobs, but established his reputation as Nissan became profitable again. Under his leadership, Nissan was the first automaker to make a serious effort at selling a mainstream EV with the Leaf. Renault, meanwhile, is far and away the leading EV seller in Europe with the Zoe electric car.

Nissan said that CEO Hiroto Saikawa will ask the board to “promptly remove” Ghosn from his position as chairman and said that it’s “fully cooperating” with the Japanese Public Prosecutor’s Office. The story is being regarded with interest around the world, obviously, but particularly in Japan, where Ghosn has a high amount of respect, even appearing on his own bento lunchbox.

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GoEuro is adding ferries to its multi-modal travel planner mix

European multi-modal travel planning platform, GoEuro, is adding another transport option to its ‘compare and book’ proposition by introducing ferries to the existing mix of trains, planes and buses.

The platform is powered by partnerships with more than 800 regional transport operators at this stage.

The initial focus for ferries will be on the Mediterranean, where GoEuro says it has been testing the product for destinations in Italy, including Amalfi-Positano and Naples-Ischia via ferry providers SNAV and Travelmar.

The move will add another string to GoEuro’s multi-modal bow. Albeit it’s a toe-in-the-water for now — with the beta launch only set to cover ferries in Italy and Croatia as its starting point. But GoEuro says it will build on that next year by adding more routes and markets.

Ticket booking for ferry travel can be a confusing and research-intensive process, owing to unfamiliar options and multiple providers of varying sizes plying different routes. Booking options are also not standardized. Add in the vagaries of weather and taking a ferry can feel like a tricky option to consider let alone nail down and book vs more digitally accessible alternatives like buying a plane ticket.

Hence GoEuro reckons there’s “significant opportunity” in the “limited digital booking capabilities” in the ferry market.

Its hope is to become a go-to middleman platform, providing a slicker and less stressful ticket booking experience for consumers, on the one hand, while offering ferry operators a new channel to expand sales and reach travellers who might not otherwise have considered going by ship. 

It also says its longer term aspiration is to connect ferry legs with other parts of a multi-modal journey — to create “true end-to-end booking for consumers”.

Though there’s clearly a way to go before its platform can claim to offer seamless linking between and across all the various transport types its platform is surfacing.

In another business development, also revealed to TechCrunch today, GoEuro has unveiled a new look for its brand, outing a redesigned logo and a color palette chosen to project calm reassurance to combat travel stress.

There’s also a new suite of anchor illustrations that paint a romantic view of the transport modes its platform sells access to…

GoEuro unveils new brand identity

It says this new look will be rolled out across Europe over the next month, with the ferry beta launching at the same time.

Another planned update will add more information and clarity around “often confusing travel elements”, such as add-ons, duration and transfers — also intended to de-stress the trip planning processes by making customers feel better informed and more in control.

Commenting in a statement, Naren Shaam, CEO and Founder, said: “The changes we’re announcing today — from an exciting new brand through to new modes of transportation — represent a big moment for GoEuro and a major step towards a more complete experience for our millions of users. We want to make travel booking seamless and provide reassurance, no matter where customers want to go, or how.

“Bringing more modes into one place, with mobile ticketing as default, and a smooth user experience, is much closer to our vision of the future of travel. Our new brand identity is designed to resonate well with our customers, and reaffirm our commitment to making their travel easier.”

In an additional development, GoEuro says it has integrated a portion of flight bookings directly on the platform, rather than requiring users to go — via redirect — to a third party site to book that leg of their trip. It now has onsite booking for “hundreds” of air carriers, enabling users to compare and buy flights directly too.

The Berlin-based startup recently announced a $150M funding raise — a month ago — led by Kinnevik AB, Temasek and Hillhouse Capital, bringing the total raised since it was founded in 2012 to close to $300M.

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Stealing a Tesla just got harder thanks to a new update


Antony Kennedy (YouTube)

Last month, an unlucky Tesla owner managed to record his own Model S being stolen via a sneaky keyfob “relay” tablet hack, part of a wave of European thefts in which the vehicles were never recovered. Tesla has now fought back via a new Model 3 update that might not stop the original theft, but will make it possible for owners and police to track their stolen cars.

Thieves have been stealing Tesla and other vehicle brands for awhile via “relay attacks,” which relies on the owners leaving their cars in passive entry mode. It senses the presence of the fob’s signal, allowing drivers to enter their EVs without unlocking them. Enterprising thieves in both Europe and the US were boosting the signal from owners’ fobs, often located in their house far away from the vehicle, using a tablet or other device.

As Electrek points out, US owners and police were able to track the vehicles and catch the guilty parties. In Europe, however, the thieves were sophisticated enough to deactivate mobile access, but with the latest update, you need a code to do that. As such, crooks won’t be able to easily disable tracking and will need to quickly get out of GPS range before they’re discovered.

The problem can be avoided altogether by deactivating passive entry mode, particularly when your car is outside or in a public spot. Lots of owners have been demanding the extra layer of security for mobile access mode, however, so this could curtail some thefts. With the update,Tesla also improved the Summon feature to allow its EVs to self-drive out of narrow parking spaces, and made its climate controls easier to use.

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How cities can fix tourism hell

A steep and rapid rise in tourism has left behind a wake of economic and environmental damage in cities around the globe. In response, governments have been responding with policies that attempt to limit the number of visitors who come in. We’ve decided to spare you from any more Amazon HQ2 talk and instead focus on why cities should shy away from reactive policies and should instead utilize their growing set of technological capabilities to change how they manage tourists within city lines.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.
  

Well – it didn’t take long for the phrase “overtourism” to get overused. The popular buzzword describes the influx of tourists who flood a location and damage the quality of life for full-time residents. The term has become such a common topic of debate in recent months that it was even featured this past week on Oxford Dictionaries’ annual “Words of the Year” list.

But the expression’s frequent appearance in headlines highlights the growing number of cities plagued by the externalities from rising tourism.

In the last decade, travel has become easier and more accessible than ever. Low-cost ticketing services and apartment-rental companies have brought down the costs of transportation and lodging; the ubiquity of social media has ticked up tourism marketing efforts and consumer demand for travel; economic globalization has increased the frequency of business travel; and rising incomes in emerging markets have opened up travel to many who previously couldn’t afford it.

Now, unsurprisingly, tourism has spiked dramatically, with the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reporting that tourist arrivals grew an estimated 7% in 2017 – materially above the roughly 4% seen consistently since 2010. The sudden and rapid increase of visitors has left many cities and residents overwhelmed, dealing with issues like overcrowding, pollution, and rising costs of goods and housing.

The problems cities face with rising tourism are only set to intensify. And while it’s hard for me to imagine when walking shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers on tight New York streets, the number of tourists in major cities like these can very possibly double over the next 10 to 15 years.

China and other emerging markets have already seen significant growth in the middle-class and have long runway ahead. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the global middle class is expected to rise from the 1.8 billion observed in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. The new money brings with it a new wave of travelers looking to catch a selfie with the Eiffel Tower, with the UNWTO forecasting international tourist arrivals to increase from 1.3 billion to 1.8 billion by 2030.

With a growing sense of urgency around managing their guests, more and more cities have been implementing policies focused on limiting the number of tourists that visit altogether by imposing hard visitor limits, tourist taxes or otherwise.

But as the UNWTO points out in its report on overtourism, the negative effects from inflating tourism are not solely tied to the number of visitors in a city but are also largely driven by touristy seasonality, tourist behavior, the behavior of the resident population, and the functionality of city infrastructure. We’ve seen cities with few tourists, for example, have experienced similar issues to those experienced in cities with millions.

While many cities have focused on reactive policies that are meant to quell tourism, they should instead focus on technology-driven solutions that can help manage tourist behavior, create structural changes to city tourism infrastructure, while allowing cities to continue capturing the significant revenue stream that tourism provides.

THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

Yes, cities are faced with the headwind of a growing tourism population, but city policymakers also benefit from the tailwind of having more technological capabilities than their predecessors. With the rise of smart city and Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives, many cities are equipped with tools such as connected infrastructure, lidar-sensors, high-quality broadband, and troves of data that make it easier to manage issues around congestion, infrastructure, or otherwise.

On the congestion side, we have already seen companies using geo-tracking and other smart city technologies to manage congestion around event venues, roads, and stores. Cities can apply the same strategies to manage the flow of tourist and resident movement.

And while you can’t necessarily prevent people from people visiting the Louvre or the Coliseum, cities are using a variety of methods to incentivize the use of less congested space or disperse the times in which people flock to highly-trafficked locations by using tools such as real-time congestion notifications, data-driven ticketing schedules for museums and landmarks, or digitally-guided tours through uncontested routes.

Companies and municipalities in cities like London and Antwerp are already working on using tourist movement tracking to manage crowds and help notify and guide tourists to certain locations at the most efficient times. Other cities have developed augmented reality tours that can guide tourists in real-time to less congested spaces by dynamically adjusting their routes.

A number of startups are also working with cities to use collected movement data to help reshape infrastructure to better fit the long-term needs and changing demographics of its occupants. Companies like Stae or Calthorpe Analytics use analytics on movement, permitting, business trends or otherwise to help cities implement more effective zoning and land use plans. City planners can use the same technology to help effectively design street structure to increase usable sidewalk space and to better allocate zoning for hotels, retail or other tourist-friendly attractions.

Focusing counter-overtourism efforts on smart city technologies can help adjust the behavior and movement of travelers in a city through a number of avenues, in a way tourist caps or tourist taxes do not.

And at the end of the day, tourism is one of the largest sources of city income, meaning it also plays a vital role in determining the budgets cities have to plow back into transit, roads, digital infrastructure, the energy grid, and other pain points that plague residents and travelers alike year-round. And by disallowing or disincentivizing tourism, cities can lose valuable capital for infrastructure, which can subsequently exacerbate congestion problems in the long-run.

Some cities have justified tourist taxes by saying the revenue stream would be invested into improving the issues overtourism has caused. But daily or upon-entry tourist taxes we’ve seen so far haven’t come close to offsetting the lost revenue from disincentivized tourists, who at the start of 2017 spent all-in nearly $700 per day in the US on transportation, souvenirs and other expenses according to the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office.

In 2017, international tourism alone drove to $1.6 trillion in earnings and in 2016, travel & tourism accounted for roughly 1 in 10 jobs in the global economy according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. And the benefits of travel are not only economic, with cross-border tourism promoting transfers of culture, knowledge and experience.

But to be clear, I don’t mean to say smart city technology initiatives alone are going to solve overtourism. The significant wave of growth in the number of global travelers is a serious challenge and many of the issues that result from spiking tourism, like housing affordability, are incredibly complex and come down to more than just data. However, I do believe cities should be focused less on tourist reduction and more on solutions that enable tourist management.

Utilizing and allocating more resources to smart city technologies can not only more effectively and structurally limit the negative impacts from overtourism, but it also allows cities to benefit from a significant and high growth tourism revenue stream. Cities can then create a virtuous cycle of reinvestment where they plow investment back into its infrastructure to better manage visitor growth, resident growth, and quality of life over the long-term. Cities can have their cake and eat it too.

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Elon Musk celebrates The Boring Company's L.A. tunnel completion with a video

Image: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

There’s light at both ends of The Boring Company’s first tunnel.

Elon Musk celebrated his tunneling company’s success on Friday night as a key phase in one of two ongoing Los Angeles projects came to an end. Just before 8:00 p.m. PT, Musk shared a video of a mammoth boring machine breaking through an opening to mark the end of the company’s Hawthorne tunnel.

Work on The Boring Company’s first “Hawthorne test tunnel” began in mid-2017. It runs the SpaceX headquarters (another Musk-founded company) and follows Hawthorne’s 120th St. for about two miles.

An opening ceremony is planned for Dec. 10, at which point the public will be able to check out the tunnel for the first time. It’s worth noting that The Boring Company’s website describes the soon-to-be-completed bit that will open on Dec. 10 as only the “first section” of what will presumably be a longer Hawthorne tunnel.

There are other projects in development as well. Also in L.A. is the “Dugout Loop,” which will give the residents of Los Felix, East Hollywood, and Rampart Village easier access to Dodger Stadium. Outside of California, The Boring Company is also working on a “Chicago Express Loop” for easier access to the city’s O’Hare Airport and an “East Coast Loop” that will connect Washington, D.C. and Maryland.

The Hawthorne tunnel is the smallest of those projects, and can accurately be characterized as The Boring Company’s proof-of-concept tunnel. Still, with the Dec. 10 opening now less than a month away, opening up the other end of the tunnel — which workers have been sealing off behind the boring machine — is a major step forward.

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Boring Company breaks through to the end of its first test tunnel


We’re about a month away from the planned opening of The Boring Company’s Test Tunnel in LA, and it appears progress is moving along. Elon Musk tweeted this brief video of a digging machine breaking through, and although he wasn’t specific about the location, it looks like they’ve reached O’Leary Station where the first test tunnel will end.

The ‘Godot’ machine dug its first segment on SpaceX property in June, and things have been moving along busily ever since. We’ll probably see people lining up for test rides after Black Friday. As the Boring Company explains, the point of this tunnel isn’t just to dig it, but also to show off the small elevators that are key to its “loop” concept and are small enough to fit inside a house.

Update: Just after this post was published, Musk tweeted again congratulating his company on completing the LA/Hawthorne tunnel.

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This self-driving billboard and vending machine is so dystopian

If San Francisco’s robot security guards faced backlash for simply standing around, an autonomous tech company’s latest self-driving idea doesn’t stand a chance.

This week PerceptIn, a Chinese robotics company with Silicon Valley offices, introduced the DragonFly Intelligent Advertising Vehicle, a self-driving vending machine and mobile advertising unit. It’s effectively a robotic billboard that takes your money.

A promo video for the device, above, shows the small robot on wheels flagging down a thirsty runner. You can also hail the robot from your phone to buy food or drinks, or other products that companies want to put on wheels. 

It's not just any billboard, it's a self-driving billboard.

It’s not just any billboard, it’s a self-driving billboard.

Image: perceptin

PerceptIn considers this a new way to grab would-be customers’ attention (that isn’t on a smartphone, computer, or boring stationary billboard). Apparently in a 15-minute test in a commercial complex, the vehicle caught the attention of 1,000 people. Nearly 60 percent of viewers looked at the autonomous advertisement for more than 5 seconds, which PerceptIn considers a sign of being “highly engaged.”

This is something new, different, and pretty strange, so it seems like the novelty factor is contributing to engagement. If these mobile ads start popping up everywhere, it will likely be a similar story to pop-up or banner ads on the web.

The company says the DragonFly is a retail opportunity and will start selling it in the first part of 2019 for $40,000. It’s this lowish price compared to other digital billboards (this marketing site says a digital ad starts at around $10,000 for a month depending on the location) and to other self-driving vehicles that the CEO sees as a key selling point. That and its capabilities to collect location-based data showing when and where people are paying attention to the vehicle. 

Back to the price, the CEO’s got a point. Self-driving vehicles are usually super expensive. The autonomous equipment alone usually starts at around $100,000. But at least those cars can get you somewhere.

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Tesla has opened up Model 3 orders to customers in China

Tesla is now taking orders for the Model 3 from customers in China, according to its website.

Reuters was the first to report that Tesla is taking orders in China.

Tesla won’t confirm or comment on the information published on its own China-focused website. Tesla CEO Elon Musk did say in a tweet Thursday that some deliveries to customers in China will probably begin in March, but “April is more certain.”

Customers must place a deposit of 8,000 yuan, or about $1,153, to begin their booking, according to materials on Tesla’s China website. They are eventually invited to configure the car to their liking (items such as paint color and other features). Once they complete the car purchase agreement, the remaining amount is due. 

It appears, based on the FAQs section, that Tesla will make most of the options (including the Performance variant) that are available in the U.S. accessible to Chinese customers, as well. It’s unclear if the cheaper mid-range version of the Model 3 will be sold in China.

Tesla has had mixed success in China, home of the world’s largest EV market. When Tesla first began delivering Model S vehicles to China in 2014, the company went on a hiring spree and eventually amassed a staff of 600 people. Tesla opened stores and service centers and erected fast-charging stations known as superchargers.

Tesla sold an estimated 3,500 cars in 2014, below its sales goal and behind electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles produced by Chinese rivals BYD and BAIC. Those sales continued to lag in the beginning of 2015. Tesla pulled off a turnaround in China by 2016, tripling its sales over the previous year, and extended gains into 2017.

Now, it’s facing new headwinds thanks to pressure from new tariffs.

Last month, Tesla announced plans to speed up construction of a factory in Shanghai as tariffs, shipping costs and missed incentives continue to drive up the price of the company’s electric vehicles and dampen demand.

Trade tensions between the U.S. and China have led to 40 percent tariffs on Tesla vehicles compared to 15 percent duties placed on imported autos from other countries. The tariffs, combined with the cost of shipping its vehicles via ocean carrier and the lack of access to cash incentives that are available to locally produced electric vehicles, has put the company at a disadvantage, the company warned at the time.

As a result, Tesla said it’s now operating at a 55 percent to 60 percent cost disadvantage compared to the exact same car locally produced in China.

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