Author: Kirsten Korosec

Transportation Weekly: Amazon’s secret acquisition and all the AV feels

Welcome to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. I cover all the ways people and goods move from Point A to Point B — today and in the future — whether it’s by bike, bus, scooter, car, train, truck, robotaxi or rocket. Sure, let’s include hyperloop and eVTOLs, or air taxis, too. Yup, another transportation newsletter. But I promise this one will be different. Here’s how. Newsletters can be great mediums for curated news — a place that rounds up all the important articles a reader might have missed in any given week. We want to do a bit more. We’re doubling down on the analysis and adding a heaping scoop of original reporting and well, scoops. You can expect Q&As with the most interesting people in transportation, insider tips, and data from that white paper you didn’t have time to read. This isn’t a lone effort either. TechCrunch senior reporter Megan Rose Dickey, who has been writing about micro mobility since before the scooter boom times of 2017, will be weighing in each week in our “Tiny But Mighty Mobility” section below. Follow her @meganrosedickey. Consider this a soft launch. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share those thoughts, opinions, or tips. Eventually, we’ll have a way for readers...

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Waymo CTO on the company’s past, present and what comes next

A decade ago, about a dozen or so engineers gathered at Google’s main Mountain View campus on Charleston Road to work on Project Chauffeur, a secret endeavor housed under the tech giant’s moonshot factory X. Project Chauffeur — popularly know as the “Google self-driving car project” — kicked off in January 2009. It would eventually graduate from its project status to become a standalone company called Waymo in 2016. The project, originally led by Sebastian Thrun, would help spark an entire ecosystem that is still developing today. Venture capitalists took notice and stampeded in, auto analysts shifted gears, regulators, urban planners and policy wonks started collecting data and considering the impact of AVs on cities. The project would also become a springboard for a number of engineers who would go on to create their own companies. It’s a list that includes Aurora  co-founder Chris Urmson,  Argo AI co-founder Bryan Salesky as well as Anthony Levandowski, who helped launch Otto and more recently Pronto.ai. What might be less known is that many who joined in those first weeks are still at Waymo, including Andrew Chatham, Dmitri Dolgov, Dirk Haehnel, Nathaniel Fairfield and Mike Montemerlo. Depending on how one defines “early days,” there are others like Hy Murveit, Phil Nemec, and Dan Egnor, who have been there for eight or nine years. Dolgov, Waymo’s CTO and VP of engineering, chatted recently with TechCrunch about the early days, its...

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One of Tesla’s biggest investors upped its stake by more than $30M

Baillie Gifford  & Co., the second-biggest shareholder of Tesla stock and the , has increased its stake in the electric automaker and energy storage company. A regulator filing posted Friday shows Baillie increased its stake in Tesla from 7.64 percent at the end of the third quarter to 7.71 percent at the end of the fourth quarter. That doesn’t sound like much. But it translates into Baillie purchasing nearly 109,000 Tesla shares in the fourth quarter. That pencils out to a ballpark of $32 million worth of shares, if based on Friday’s price alone. CNBC was the first to report the filing. The UK-based investment management firm Baillie now owns 13.2 million shares of Tesla stock, according to the regulator filing. That translates to more than $4 billion worth of Tesla, based on the latest share price of $304.26. Last month, Tesla reported it earned a $139 million in the fourth quarter — its second consecutive quarterly profit. The company managed to string together two profitable periods in a row thanks to sales of the Model 3 and despite several headwinds in the fourth quarter, including a non-cash charge of $54 million attributable to non-controlling interests, higher import duties on components from China, a price reduction for Model S and Model X in China and the introduction of a lower-priced mid-range version of Model 3. Baillie Gifford is the largest outside shareholder of Tesla...

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Amazon, Sequoia invest in self-driving car startup Aurora

Aurora, the buzzy startup founded by early pioneers of self-driving car technology who led programs at Google, Tesla, and Uber, has raised more than $530 million in a Series B round led by Sequoia and includes “significant investment” from Amazon and T. Rowe Price Associates. The monster round pushes Aurora’s valuation near $2.5 billion. Aurora announced a $90 million Series A round last February from Greylock Partners  and Index Ventures, bringing its total raised to date to more than $620 million. Sequoia partner Carl Eschenbach is joining Aurora’s board, which already includes external directors Mike Volpi of Index Ventures, LinkedIn co-founder and venture capital investor Reid...

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Meet the tiny startup that helped build Amazon’s Scout robot

When Amazon unveiled a six-wheeled urban delivery robot called Scout a couple of weeks ago, its website was pretty definitive about who was behind it. “These devices were created by Amazon,” the page reads. “We developed Amazon Scout at our research and development lab in Seattle.” But that is only part of the story, TechCrunch has discovered. Some of the intellectual property and technology behind Scout likely came from farther afield – a small San Francisco startup called Dispatch that Amazon stealthily acquired in 2017. Although the Dispatch.AI website is still active, and press reports have even called its...

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Tesla has opened an Amazon store to spread its swag far and wide

Tesla has had a brisk merch business for years now, thanks to its fervent owner base and fans, who are enthusiastic supporters of the company and its CEO Elon Musk. But until now, those Tesla-branded items — everything from water bottles and hats to jackets, chargers and once a surfboard — have been sold through the automaker’s own website. Tesla has now expanded it merch ambitions and opened a store on Amazon. (A reader tipped TechCrunch off to the store; however, the story was first reported by Electrek). Tesla confirmed the store opened earlier this week. It should be noted that, for now, the store on Amazon isn’t as robust as the one on Tesla’s website. However, there are at least two items that can only be found on the Amazon page: an iPhone 8+ case and a Tesla iPhone  X folio case. No prices are listed for the items and they’re currently “unavailable.” In fact, every item on the store is “unavailable.” It’s not clear when these items will be back in stock or why they aren’t available now. Did the company sell out already? Has it simply failed to make the items available? So many questions. Tesla merchandise, especially specialty items, do tend to sell out quickly. For instance, the Tesla branded surfboard priced at $1,500 sold out in a day. However, the mini diecast Tesla models...

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Self-driving truck startup Ike raises $52 million

Ike, the autonomous trucking startup founded by veterans of Apple, Google, and Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s self-driving truck program, has raised $52 million in a Series A funding round led by Bain Capital Ventures. Redpoint Ventures, Fontinalis Partners, Basis Set Ventures, and Neo also participated in the round. Bain Capital Ventures partner Ajay Agarwal has joined Ike’s board.  Ike’s funding round will help the company expand beyond its 30-person team as it drives forward with its mission to build a commercial product at scale. It’s a mission — expand and deploy — that sounds a lot like other autonomous vehicle startups. But that’s where the parallels end. Ike’s three founders — Jur van den Berg, Nancy Sun, and Alden Woodrow — aren’t pushing to have the first self-driving trucks on the road. It’s a declaration, and one the company outlined Tuesday in a blog post on Medium, that lies in contrast with a budding and cutthroat industry often described as being in a frantic race. But then again, these founders were in the thick of those buzzy, heady days of 2016 and 2017, when startups were being snapped up by automakers and big tech companies and term sheets were raining down. Van den Berg and Sun were both working at Apple’s special projects group when they left to join Otto, an autonomous trucking startup that was acquired by Uber in 2016. Woodrow,...

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Toyota’s new car subscription company Kinto is gamifying driving behavior

Toyota has officially launched Kinto, a company first revealed late last year that will manage a car subscription program and other mobility services in Japan, including the sale and purchase of used vehicles as well as automotive repair and inspection. Kinto is jointly funded by Toyota Financial Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota, and Sumitomo Mitsui Auto Service Company, a member of the Sumitomo Corporation Group. Initial funding for Kinto is 1.8 billion yen, or about $16 million, according to Toyota. The creation of Kinto marks a shift that began a couple of years ago within the automotive industry to...

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