Daimler pours millions into electric bus company Proterra

Proterra has raised $155 million in a funding round co-led by Daimler and Tao Capital Partner, a deal that could transform the school bus market in North America.

Until now, Proterra has focused on producing electric buses for municipal, federal and commercial transit agencies. The company has developed a line of electric buses that can travel 350 miles on a single charge, enough range to last entire day. Proterra has sold hundreds of its all-electric buses as cities try to reduce tailpipe emissions.

This latest investment comes with a catch: Proterra will work with Daimler to possibly electrify the company’s Thomas Built Buses division, which manufactures a line of school buses. The two companies didn’t provide a lot of detail on when electric school buses might come to market.

For now, the two companies are only committing publicly to collaborating on an electric vehicle for the school bus market. Proterra, which has two factories in the U.S., will lend its battery and drive train expertise. Daimler will show Proterra how to scale its manufacturing business even further.

Proterra raised $140 million in January 2017.  The company filed a restated certificate of Incorporation authorizing $100M in new equity funding on May 18, according to the Prime Unicorn Index.

G2VP and other technology investors also participated in this latest funding round, Proterra said.

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American Airlines offers free live TV through Dish


Dish

You might not be stuck watching a handful of mediocre movies (or your offline copies of streaming shows) the next time you’re on a long-haul flight. American Airlines and Dish recently started offering free live TV for domestic US flights aboard 100-plus aircraft with Gogo’s 2Ku satellite access. It won’t match your service back home, but you will have access to a dozen major networks including CNN, ESPN, NBC and Telemundo. And you don’t have to squint at a small seatback display — you can stream the channels directly to your laptop or mobile device.

The service will spread to AA’s fleet of over 700 mainline, narrowbody aircraft throughout 2019. The company is in the midst of an upgrade plan that will bring more power outlets to its aircraft, too, reducing the chances that you’ll reach your destination with a low battery.

This could make the airline more alluring if you’re not in the mood to read books or listen to podcasts in mid-flight. However, there’s also a decided advantage for Dish. This serves as a kind of ad for Dish’s satellite and streaming TV offerings. If it works well, you might be inclined to subscribe to one of those services when you’re back on terra firma.

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Renault’s EZ-PRO is a workspace, coffee truck and rolling post office

Renault, one of Europe’s major automakers, is trying to help us imagine a world with fewer cars. Earlier this year, it unveiled the EZ-GO concept, a sort of anti-Uber autonomous ride-sharing vehicle for the masses. Now, it has taken the wraps off EZ-PRO, a last-mile autonomous electric delivery vehicle system that can double as a coffee truck, portable office and postal outlet on wheels.

The EZ-GO was one of the most interesting concepts we’ve seen this year, so how does the EZ-PRO stack up? At the company’s TechnoCentre near Paris, we get a closer look at Renault’s multitasking, multipurpose self-driving solution.

“EZ-GO was the first chapter, where we showed how mobility services can be applied to personal transportation,” Renault Corporate Design Director Laurens van den Acker told Engadget. “EZ-PRO is our vision on urban mobility for utilitarian use, for commercial use. It’s another side of mobility services that we expect to increase enormously in the years to come.”

EZ-PRO is a lot different from Toyota’s e-Palette, the Mercedes Vision Urbanetic and other delivery concepts we’ve seen so far. The system consists of two parts: a “Leader Pod” that can hold both parcels and a human concierge and “Robo Pods” that carry packages or act as a food truck, portable grocery store, or whatever else the operator wants to do.

When I saw it at the TechnoCentre, the EZ-PRO was pretty much a static display unit, though all the ports (doors, retractable steps and screens) work. Renault did move the Leader and Robo Pods forward and backwards a few times at the end of the event and promised it will be more dynamic when it’s shown off at the Hanover Auto Show starting September 19th.

The Leader Pod and Robo Pods can depart as a sort of train, linked together electronically in a platooning mode. After they head out, the Robo Pods can leave the platoon to do separate drop-offs or stick together for large-volume deliveries. The Robo or Leader Pods can also deliver independently of each other.

The Leader Pod is made of two parts: a cab for the concierge and a rear hold for the packages or merchandise. Rather than driving, the human passenger can sit in an office-like section of the cab and focus on coordinating package deliveries or doing administration chores. If need be, they could take over driving using a joystick and other controls. It also has a traffic-connected control screen, an iPad, USB sockets and more. Lighting adjusts to suit driving or working, and a glass partition behind the concierge lets you see the cargo.

Gallery: Renault EZ-PRO autonomous last-mile delivery EV | 27 Photos

The Robo Pods, meanwhile, are autonomous and reversible, with lights that show which way they’re going (white at the front and red at the rear). They can take multiple forms depending on the jobs they have to fill: lockers with client-specific keys for small packages, a large hold for merchandise, a food truck or even a mobile store. To illustrate that, Renault teamed with a logistics delivery firm, coffee supplier, champagne company and chocolate manufacturer to show off pods with several configurations.

The EZ-PRO pods are vaguely van-shaped but look more like a train locomotive and its companion carts than road-going vehicles. They’re autonomous and electric, like the EZ-GO, and share the same platform, with rear-wheel drive, a battery on the floor and an active suspension to avoid jarring people and goods.

They have four-wheel steering for maneuverability, but the wheels are covered by rather impractical fairings which hold the driving sensors, including radar, lidar, ultrasonic sensors and cameras. Renault hasn’t specified the EV range or battery sizes because, well, it’s a concept.

The EZ-PRO automatically plans the routes for its pods, taking into account traffic conditions, traffic lights, parking space availability and other factors. “This ensures more efficient deliveries that are more secure, smoother and reduce road congestion,” Renault explains. It can park by itself in GPS-identified spots and will never double park or block pedestrians.

As automakers tend to do, Renault describes the EZ-PRO with a lot of PR-talk, saying the colors “express technical complexity, efficiency and minimalism.” The tl;dr is it’s adorned with drab grey and green to better blend into its urban-concrete environment. The designers even considered the reflectivity of the side glass to reduce the visual impact of the cars. That’s in stark contrast to most other concept vehicles that are designed to stand (way) out.

For the interior materials, Renault used wool felt for the non-technical areas, black cork on vertical surfaces and leather for seating. The inspiration for this came from a pretty weird source: “The combination of some of these materials and the surface treatment directly reflect the spirit and the use of sportswear,” it said.

(All the design minimalism and social responsibility talk sounds grand. Rather than passing unnoticed, though, the EZ-PRO would still likely draw slack-jawed stares if it rolled down the street.)

Renault has thought through the EZ-PRO operations in serious detail, considering it’s still just a concept. For large-scale deliveries, trucks coming from a port or warehouse could carry containers pre-loaded with merchandise. They could then be brought to a hub and installed on EZ-PRO platforms. The loaded Robo Pods could then form a convoy and head to their delivery points.

Gallery: Renault EZ-PRO autonomous EV concept press gallery | 26 Photos

For smaller deliveries, packages could be delivered to a location of the customer’s choice, using lockers that open to a code sent to a smartphone, for instance. A customer could also drop off his dry-cleaning to a Robo Pod, then pick it up at a set location from another pod later in the day. More valuable goods could be hand-delivered by a concierge.

Daily deliveries could be made from a large wholesale market to a florist in the city or as home grocery deliveries. Companies using the system could customize the vehicles in its colors or change the configuration depending on whether they’re picking up supplies or delivering the final goods to consumers. It could also be used to make daily deliveries to residential or commercial hubs.

Finally, the Leader or Robo Pods could be adapted for jobs other than deliveries. They could function as food, coffee or automatic vending trucks, either with or without someone to serve up the goods. Renault showed off this idea with a pod with equipment from coffee company Jofi, transforming it into a sort of Starbucks on wheels.

On top of the social responsibility angle, Renault has some pretty solid reasons to get a jump on the autonomous delivery market. Renault is the top manufacturer of electric utility vehicles in Europe and no doubt wants to keep that position. It notes that 78 percent of folks will be living in cities in Europe by 2030, with deliveries expected to grow by 20 percent, and a whopping 125 percent in China. Costs for the last-mile delivery of a package amount to 35 to 50 percent, and totaled $86 billion around the globe last year.

So it’s thinking ahead to get a jump on the market, though autonomous deliveries are, despite the hype train, still a long ways off. Renault also fancies itself as a car manufacturer for everyone and not just the rich, so projects like EZ-GO and EZ-PRO are a way to flaunt its social bonafides.

“We want to provide an easy life for customers and that also applies to utility vehicles,” said van den Acker. “It’s a logical extension of our activities because we’ve been leaders in utility vehicles for more than 100 years. We want to be at the forefront of urban mobility, and we are already everywhere, so we will make sure to have a good solution.”

Toyota created a blueprint for multi-use autonomous delivery vehicles with the e-Palette. Unlike Renault, it essentially married the delivery and transit ideas into one vehicle. That way, they can be used not just for parcel deliveries but also mass transit and even temporary accommodation. It also partnered with various firms, including Amazon, Uber, Mazda and Pizza Hut to show what the concept could do.

Mercedes, meanwhile, has a single platform with swappable consoles for ridesharing, a shuttle bus, cargo and other chores. All you need to do is swap out the modules, and hey presto, you have an autonomous van or delivery cube.

Renault has a lot of the same ideas but has split it into two separate vehicles. By doing so, it was able to make the EZ-PRO more business and delivery specific, with the idea of a concierge and multiple vehicles running together in a platoon configuration. The company will reportedly be launching a third EZ-class vehicle soon, one that’s more about personal luxury transportation.

If these concepts are ever to be commercialized, first automakers will have to nail down at least level 4 autonomy — and the closer we get to that goal, the farther away it seems. For now, however, Renault, like Toyota, Mercedes and other automakers, has shown how concepts can be more than cool designs and raw horsepower. Rather, they can represent a company’s complete vision of the future and generate discussion around ideas like autonomous city transportation. In that sense, the EZ-PRO is already a success.

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Google Maps works with Apple CarPlay following iOS 12 update


Engadget

We’ve known since WWDC in June that iOS 12 would herald the arrival of Google Maps on CarPlay. Apple released the latest version of the iPhone and iPad software Monday, and after Google updated its app to support CarPlay, you can now use that navigation option on your car’s infotainment system.

Waze was also expected to add CarPlay support. However, Google, which owns that app too, has yet to update it to work on the system. You might expect that update to arrive soon, and more third-party turn-by-turn apps to add support as well, so you’ll have more alternatives to Apple Maps to help you get where you want to be.

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DOJ launches investigation into Tesla, Elon Musk’s tweets

Tesla’s stock is down 5 percent this morning after news emerged the U.S. Department of Justice had launched a criminal investigation into CEO Elon Musk’s Aug. 7 tweets about taking the company private. The criminal probe is in addition to the previously reported Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the electric car company.

Bloomberg reports that the DOJ’s criminal inquiry is in the “early stages”

“The Justice Department generally does not confirm, deny or otherwise comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation,” a spokesperson for the DOJ told TechCrunch.

We’ve reached out to Tesla for comment.

Musk has since retracted those statements, or tweets rather, after speaking with shareholders and investigating the process, realizing the best path forward for the company was to remain public. Here’s an excerpt from his Tesla blog post at the time:

“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.’”

The billionaire leader of Tesla and SpaceX wrote at the time that he was considering buying back the company for $82 billion (at a share price of $420 plus debt), and already has the funding to do so. He later disclosed the funding would come from a Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund.

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Tesla reportedly faces DOJ investigation over Elon Musk tweets


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It looks like Tesla is in more hot water over Elon Musk’s tweets that the company might go private. Bloomberg reports that, according to two people familiar with the matter, the Department of Justice is investigating Tesla because of the CEO’s statements. In August, Musk tweeted that he was considering taking his company private, adding that funding had already been secured. Musk later announced that Tesla would remain a publicly traded company for the time being.

But the incident led the SEC to launch an investigation into the matter, and Bloomberg’s sources say the DOJ probe will operate alongside the SEC’s inquiry. The SEC is said to be looking into the legality of how Musk announced the plan to go private and whether he properly notified the company’s investors of how statements like that would be made ahead of time. Bloomberg says that federal prosecutors initiated a fraud investigation following the CEO’s tweets.

We’ve reached out to Tesla and we’ll update this post if we hear more.

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Lyft marks its 1 billionth ride as it expands beyond cars


Lyft

Lyft may be an underdog relative to Uber, but it’s still huge in the transportation world. The ridesharing firm has officially provided 1 billion rides, including 233 million shared rides. That pales in comparison to Uber’s 10 billion trips. However, Uber also got a three-year head start (2009 versus 2012) and has focused on international expansion where Lyft only ventured outside the US last year. It’s doing well considering its scale.

The milestone comes as Lyft is in the midst of rapid growth. It added about 100 more US cities in 2017 on top of its fledgling international presence. More importantly, though, it’s expanding beyond the car rides that have dominated its business for the past six years. It just launched its first electric scooter services, and it recently bought the company behind CitiBike as part of a move to offer pedal-powered transportation. In other words, the next billion rides may look very different than the first — only some of them may involve a car and a separate driver.

It’s not all sunshine and roses for Lyft, however. Although it’s often portrayed as the kinder, gentler alternative to Uber, it faces some of the same criticisms. Governments and workers alike are concerned about driver pay, and accessibility remains a problem. There’s also the question of growth. Lyft predicted that it would finally turn a profit in 2018, but the jury’s still out on that figure. As far as Lyft has come with a billion rides, it didn’t reach that point with a sterling reputation.

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Lyft hits 1 billion rides a couple of months after Uber hit 10 billion trips

Today marks a big milestone for Lyft — one billion rides. That’s a milestone Uber hit in December 2015. Uber has since grown to 10 billion trips completed — including Eats deliveries — as of this past July. Uber, of course, had a bit of head start given it launched in 2009 while Lyft first launched in 2012.

This milestone for Lyft comes about a year after it announced it was completing one million rides a day. To celebrate it, Lyft employees are surprising 3,500 drives with a free tank of gas.

Earlier this month, Lyft officially entered the scooter sharing space when it launched electric scooters in Denver, Colo. Lyft has since deployed its scooters in Santa Monica, Calif. as part of the city’s pilot program. Lyft’s entrance into scooters came close after its acquisition of bike-share company Motivate. We’ll be watching closely to see how Lyft’s additional modes of transportation impacts number of trips completed.

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Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi tap Google to power in-car systems


Nissan

This week, the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance, the world’s largest maker of cars, signed a deal with Alphabet’s Google to be able to use Google Maps, Google Assistant and the Android OS in its vehicles. The new systems will debut starting in 2021.

“Our ambition is to offer the same customer experience inside the car as on a mobile phone,” Hadi Zablit, the head of business development at the Alliance, told The Financial Times. “It is becoming an important feature when people choose their cars. It’s a competitive advantage.”

Anyone who has struggled with a sluggish or difficult head unit display in a car will likely agree. Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal points out, Consumer Reports downgrades its picks if in-dash electronics are frustrating or don’t measure up. It’s a crucial part of the driving experience, especially as more and more systems are controlled through the head unit. The ability to use Google Maps and operate climate control and more with your voice using Google Assistant definitely will provide an edge over other car makers.

With a few exceptions, such as Tesla, manufacturer’s navigation and other software often leaves much to be desired. However, it also provides valuable customer data, so many auto companies are hesitant to take advantage of Google’s Android Auto and rival Apple’s CarPlay. This new agreement could help these third-party software options become more standard in cars.

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The world's first hydrogen train is now in service

The world’s first (and second) hydrogen-powered trains have entered service in northern Germany, marking the start of a new era for sustainable travel. Two Coradia iLint trains, made by Alstom, have begun working the line between Cuxhaven and Buxtehude just west of Hamburg. Until now, the nearly 100km-long line has been serviced by diesel trains, but will now play host to near-silent engines.

We wrote the first iLint prototype at Alstom’s German facilities earlier this year, and found the experience not to dissimilar to that of a diesel train. That is, however, the point, Alstom has made the vehicles so that they operate in the same way as the existing fleet to avoid any culture shock for passengers and crew. Except that they need to refuel their 1,000km capacity tanks at a dedicated H2 fueling station located at Bremervorde.

Rather than a diesel tank powering an engine, the iLint trains are more like a Toyota Mirai in their construction. A hydrogen tank feeds a fuel cell that generates energy, which is then pushed to an electric drivetrain. A very small battery helps maintain power continuity, as well as storing energy saved from regenerative braking.

The fuel cell itself sits close to the middle of the train, where one unit joins onto the other, and should be almost totally silent. In the prototype we rode, the cell’s housing wasn’t insulated, and you could hear the slightly unsettling noises that the system made. Train nerds and horror fans might want to sit close to the middle and try and listen for the weird screeching noise, because it’s the only sound the vehicles make.

Railways need a clean energy revolution, but the obvious solutions may not work as well as you might expect. Electrification is the obvious choice, but the costs are prohibitive, especially on regional lines that may not have the passenger volumes. Batteries have their own issues, with their heavy weight and high cost making it difficult, right now, to make them cost effective. Not to mention that the heavier your train is, the more power you need to push it, which leads to a need for more batteries, and so on.

Hydrogen’s strong energy density and relative ease of generation and transportation makes it ideal for heavy loads. And while its currently not a clean material, the hope is that companies can push towards creating H2 with 100 percent renewables in the future. And demand will increase, as Alstom has pledged to deliver at least another 14 trains to the local German railway operator by 2021.

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