The Station: Zoox's six-year ride, Aurora makes its Uber ATG employee picks and NHTSA takes a new position on AVs
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Hello friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter that covers all of the current and future ways people and packages get from point A to point B.
I asked you last week to share your pick for the biggest stories of the year. While there was a mix, two startup issues emerged: COVID-19 and the pressures it was putting on businesses, as well as the unexpected flurry of deals that happened despite the pandemic.
SPACs, Tesla's skyrocketing share price, Waymo's driverless hail service open to the public in the Phoenix area, Uber's 2020 development (which I touched on last weekend), and Amazon's acquisition of Zoox were also on the list.
Speaking of Zoox, I published an article last week about my interview with Jesse Levinson, the co-founder and CTO of Zoox. An EC subscription is required to access the article. So I'm offering a nugget here that I thought was new and interesting.
I asked Levinson what his hope was at the federal level. Especially when he sees real guidelines being formalized? Here is the exchange.
LEVINSON: Well, we are actually in good shape from a federal perspective. We designed our vehicle to meet the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards), and we test our vehicle to all of these standards. We actually tried most of them, and passed everyone we tried. So you know we're not really blocked at the federal level.
We'll see what happens to the new administration and what the future of regulations brings, but now we can get started.
YOUR REALLY: Then you don't need an exception (at federal level)? You don't have a steering wheel.
LEVINSON: Yes, we designed our vehicle to comply with the FMVSS. So we weren't looking for an exceptional approach.
ME AGAIN: Is it because you are less than 25 mph? My understanding was that the vehicle wouldn't keep up if you didn't have a steering wheel. How does this work?
LEVINSON: I would just say that this is not our take on the standards.
Readers: Read the last article in the newsletter for the punchline.
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time to exchange thoughts, criticism, opinions or tips. You can also send me a direct message on Twitter - @kirstenkorosec.
offer of the week
Money the station
The end of 2020 has sparked a series of acquisitions, mergers, and fundraising drives that seemed unlikely this spring due to the volatility and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the bright spots in 2020 was delivery. Startups that focused on delivery - be it via trucks, autonomous bots, or airborne devices like drones - were able to secure new funding while others struggled.
That doesn't mean the pandemic hasn't delayed or hampered the starts of delivery. Take, for example, the Indian grocery supplier Zomato.
The 12-year-old raised $ 660 million in a Series J round this month. Tiger Global, Kora, Luxor, Fidelity (FMR), D1 Capital, Baillie Gifford, Mirae and Steadview participated in the round. Zomato now has a post-money valuation of $ 3.9 billion.
However, Zomato originally expected to close the round 11 months ago. Several obstacles, including the current pandemic, delayed the fundraiser. Ant Financial, which originally pledged to invest $ 150 million in this round, only provided a third of that.
India's Zomato is raising $ 100 million from Tiger Global and plans to file for an IPO next year
More money seems to be pouring towards Zomato, which is preparing to go public in 2021. Deepinder Goyal, Zomato's co-founder and CEO, said the company is also in the process of closing a secondary transaction valued at $ 140 million.
Zomato, which acquired Uber's India-based grocery mail order business earlier this year, has good reasons to stack its tills. The company faces a battle for market share with rival Swiggy and a new threat from Amazon.
Other offers that caught my attention this week ...
AutoLeap, a six-month-old Toronto-based startup, announced that it raised $ 5 million in seed capital in September under the leadership of Threshold Ventures. The round also included individual investors, Shift co-founder George Arison, former General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, and former Bridgestone executive Ned Aguilar.
Bolt, the Estonian startup building an on-demand network to move groceries and people around in cars, on scooters and on bicycles, has raised 150 million euros ($ 182 million at current terms) in an equity round. CEO and co-founder Markus Villig has growth in the brain. He told TechCrunch that Bolt, which already covers 200 cities in 40 countries, will use the new funds to expand geographically to become the largest supplier of electric scooters in Europe.
Bolt raises $ 182 million to expand its on-demand transportation network in Europe and Africa
Boom Supersonic raised $ 50 million in new funding, led by WRVI Capital, for a post-money valuation of more than $ 1 billion, Bloomberg reported.
Cargo.one, the booking platform for air freight, raised 42 million US dollars in a series B financing round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Existing investors such as Creandum, Index Ventures, Next47 and Point Nine also took part in the round. The company raised $ 18 million in a Series A round earlier this year.
CarGurus, the online automotive market, has agreed to acquire a 51% interest in CarOffer of Plano, Texas for an enterprise value of $ 275 million. Under the agreement, CarGurus has the option to purchase the remaining stakes in the company over the next three years. CarOffer is an automated platform for instant vehicle trading that offers an alternative to the traditional wholesale auction model.
GoFor Industries, a Canadian delivery company, has raised CA $ 20 million in a Series A round to help drive expansion into the U.S., Freightwaves reported.
Motorq, the API company for connected cars, raised $ 7 million in a Series A funding round led by Story Ventures, involving existing investors FM Capital and Monta Vista Capital. A new strategic investor, Avanta Ventures, the investment arm of CSAA, also joined the round.
Motorq developed a cloud-based system that collects and monitors embedded data from a vehicle's on-board computers, and then runs analysis and machine learning models on the data. According to Motorq, the system can help put these analyzes into context that can be combined with other information and then sent to customers via application programming interfaces (APIs) and other tools. Data points include vehicle location, charge / fuel consumption, driver behavior, safety alerts, maintenance alerts and certain remote commands.
Volcon ePowersports raised $ 2.5 million in public funding through the WeFunder platform. The company said it has raised more than $ 4.5 million since September through a startup round and WeFunder. The capital will be used to continue expanding Volcon's manufacturing facilities and assembly lines. For strangers, Volcon wants to build and deliver a fully electric off-road motorcycle called the Grunt in spring 2021.
Vroom, the online used vehicle company, has agreed to acquire Vast Holdings Inc., which also owns Austin-based vehicle listing platform CarStory, for $ 120 million, Automotive News reported.
About ATG-Aurora integration
Autonomous vehicle company Aurora Innovation is wasting no time integrating with Uber Advanced Technologies Group. As you may recall, Aurora announced about a week ago that it would acquire Uber's self-driving subsidiary as part of a complex deal that will bring the combined company $ 10 billion worth of business.
Aurora CEO Chris Urmson emailed offers to more than 75% of Uber ATG employees on Thursday. This comes from a source familiar with the post-acquisition integration process. That is more than 850 employees. If every employee accepts, Aurora will more than double in size overnight.
Aurora sends offers to the majority of Uber ATG employees, but not the research and development lab
Uber ATG Toronto, which employs around 50 people where the subsidiary has done its research and development, did not make the cut, according to a source. Neither did Uber ATG's chief scientist, Raquel Urtasun, who led Uber ATG's research and development team, either. Urtasun, a leading expert on machine perception for self-driving cars, is also a professor at the University of Toronto and the Canadian Research Chair in Machine Learning and Computer Vision and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI.
News of the Toronto shutdown prompted some venture capitalists and founders to share their surprise that Aurora had not identified Urtasun and the rest of the research and development team as some of the most desirable candidates to join the newly combined company. We don't know if they did. Here's what I can predict. If the texts and emails I've received are any indication, Urtasun is already having offers from several other AV companies.
One more political thing
the autonomous vehicles station 1
A strange article popped up this week that must have caught the attention of the politicians of an autonomous vehicle manufacturer planning to operate in the United States.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a notice this week that provides clarification of AV guidelines. Before getting started, let me give you a quick rundown of the law.
Today, a motor vehicle must meet all federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS), which set a minimum performance threshold that a vehicle must meet. However, once you discover that the "driver" can be a system of hardware and software (a simplification, I know) and not a human, the question arises as to whether a vehicle really needs the physical steering wheel and other traditional controls that one Robot simply has no use for.
This announcement overrides previous statements by NHTSA, in particular a letter of interpretation the agency sent in 2016 to Chris Urmson, who at the time was leading Google's self-driving project.
The 2016 interpretation created a catch-22 scenario for AV companies that wanted to use vehicles with novel designs, such as no steering wheel or pedals. NHTSA said at the time that manufacturers would have to certify that a motor vehicle met the requirements of all applicable FMVSSs and design the vehicle so that NHTSA would be able to perform every element of every test procedure set out in any applicable regulation. However, this was impossible because certain test conditions or procedures could not be performed on the vehicle in accordance with FMVSS.
The only real way forward was for a company to apply for exemptions.
This announcement not only confirms that the 2016 interpretation was too restrictive, it also appears to have removed a major obstacle that allows the robot axis to get on the road faster.
And now suddenly Levinson's comments (yes, at the top of this newsletter) make more sense. Here is a link to point it out.
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