Uber’s unrelenting desire to be everything

Welcome back to CTRL+T, the TechCrunch podcast where Megan Rose Dickey and I talk about stories from the week that we either found interesting or hated and had more to say about. This week we talked about Uber . Uber, Uber, Uber. This company wants everything. The rideshare market! Autonomous vehicles! Flying vehicles! And now? Scooters. And to be able to detect inebriation in passengers! This week, we found out that Uber filed for a patent for tech to be able to tell whether a potential passenger is drunk. And regular listeners know how we at CTRL+T feel about scooters, but we have to keep talking about them because the companies that facilitate that mode of transportation keep getting funded. Thanks, funders. And Uber is taking its place in the scooter racket. I mean, market. Click play on the little player below or, better yet, subscribe on Apple PodcastsStitcher
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Meet Atoms, the minimalist startup shoes you’ll actually wear

Step aside, Allbirds. Atoms come in quarter sizes you can mix-and-match. Emerging from stealth today in a TechCrunch exclusive, this shoe startup’s obsession with satisfaction allowed it to replace my Nikes. I’ve spent the last 2 months wearing Atoms every day. They’re the first sneaker classy looking enough for semi-formal occasions, but that I can comfortably walk or even hike in for hours.

Here’s how Atoms is modernizing the footwear experience:

  • Pick your quarter size, say 10.25, and Atoms sends you 10s, 10.25s, and 10.5s, plus socks
  • Try them on and pick any two, even different sizes for different feet, and send the rest back free
  • No logos. Atoms come in jet black, pure white, or black top/white bottom, but don’t stick an ad on your feet
  • Copper threads inside eat bacteria, preventing funky smells
  • Elastic laces with subtle oval eyelets let Atoms slip on but stay
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Elon Musk has new plans to tunnel into Chicago

If you’re planning to fly into Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at some point in the future, you might be pleasantly surprised by the transit options. The city struck a deal with Elon Musk today to move forward with its plan to build a high-speed rail between O’Hare and downtown Chicago. In November, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his decision to go forward with plans for the high-speed rail line and asked for bids from teams interested in building and financing the project. Emmanuel’s goal is to transport travelers from the airport to Chicago’s center in 20 minutes or fewer, and at roughly a third of the cost of an expensive taxi or ride-sharing app. After five months of negotiations, the city announced that Musk’s company, The Boring Co., beat out runner-up O’Hare Xpress LLC, a consortium that includes the companies Meridiam, Antarctica Capital, JLC Infrastructure, First Transit and Mott MacDonald
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Luminar rolls out its development platform and scores Volvo partnership and investment

The wizards in lidar tech at Luminar are doubling down on the practical side of autonomous car deployment with a partnership with and investment from Volvo, as well as a new “perception development platform” that helps squeeze every last drop out of its laser-based imagery. Volvo Cars has been one of the big investors in autonomous vehicles, and while they have produced some cars equipped for driverless operation, the company seems to understand that this is a very long game it’s playing. There’s more to it than just slapping some sensors on a production vehicle and sending it on its way. Part of that long game is picking winners in the industry, as well, and Volvo seems to be confident that Luminar, whose lidar tech is in many ways leaps and bounds beyond the competition, will be among them. Volvo’s recently established Tech Fund has made an investment in Luminar
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Uber brings on Facebook product director to lead driver product

Uber has brought on Daniel Danker to serve as a senior director and head of driver product. Prior to joining Uber, he was a product director at Facebook responsible for video and Facebook Live. “Drivers are the heart of the Uber experience, and Daniel’s passion for our mission and deep product knowledge will ensure we continue to improve and innovate on their behalf,” Uber Head of Product Manik Gupta said in a statement to TechCrunch. Uber has been without a head of driver product since December, when Aaron Schildkrout left shortly after Uber wrapped up its 180 days of change driver campaign. As head of driver product, Danker will be responsible for planning, strategy and execution. Danker has had a long history in Silicon Valley. Between 2000 and 2010, Danker worked in a couple of roles at Microsoft, where he ended his stint as director of development and operations. He
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Self-driving shuttle startup May Mobility partners with auto supplier Magna

Magna, one of the largest tier-one automotive industry suppliers in the world, has teamed up with Michigan-based startup May Mobility for the building and deployment of self-driving shuttles. The plan is to scale May Mobility’s self-driving shuttle fleet across the U.S. The initial fleet will debut for passengers on June 26 in Detroit, Mich. What Magna brings to the table is the retrofitting of micro transit electric cars. So, while May Mobility is responsible for the design of self-driving shuttles, Magna will be responsible for the assembly. That assembly will entail  a complete rebuild with custom doors, a panoramic moonroof, sensor integration and conversion to an autonomous-ready state. On top of that, May Mobility will add its autonomous driving technology stack. 

“Magna shares our high technical standards and excitement about servicing the growing demand for self-driving vehicles to meet today’s transportation needs, while also laying the path for

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Tesla lays off roughly nine percent of workforce

Tesla has laid off about nine percent of its employees, Electrek first reported. This is part of the reorganization Musk talked about in May on the company’s quarterly earnings call. The layoffs reportedly started on Monday and will be made official at some point today. Tesla, which also operates SolarCity, is only laying off salaried employees. Tesla isn’t letting go any production associates, as the company is trying to ramp up Model 3 production. “We made these decisions by evaluating the criticality of each position, whether certain jobs could be done more efficiently and productively, and by assessing the specific skills and abilities of each individual in the company,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote to employees in an email obtained by TechCrunch. “As you know, we are also continuing to flatten our management structure to help us communicate better, eliminate bureaucracy and move faster.” When Tesla acquired SolarCity in 2016, its headcount
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Uber bets on developing world growth with low-data Uber Lite

“The next hundreds of millions of riders for us are going to come from outside of the United States”, Uber’s head of rider experience Peter Deng tells me. The transportation giant already sees 75 million riders per month and 15 million rides per day. But to grow in the developing world, it had to rethink its app to work on the oldest phones and slowest networks. So Deng’s team traveled the globe asking people what they needed from Uber, but also what they didn’t. The result is Uber Lite. It’s launching today in India before rolling out to more countries, though there’s still a waitlist form instead of a download link. The Android app takes up just 5 megabytes. “You delete three selfies, you have room for Uber” Deng laughs. 300-millisecond response time means its quick to hail a ride, even for the 4 percent of users in India
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Chinese electric car startup Byton raises $500 million

Byton, a Chinese electric car startup, has secured a $500 million Series B funding round to fuel the development of smart, connected cars. Investors include FAW Group, Tus-Holdings and CATL. Byton also announced the opening of a new HQ in Nanjing, China. This is on top of Byton’s research and development center in Santa Clara, Calif. “By combining our expertise in R&D and traditional car-making with innovative Internet technologies, we aspire to pioneer a smart mobility revolution,” Byton CEO and co-founder Dr. Carsten Breitfeld said in a statement. At the Consumer Electronics Show, Byton unveiled its all-electric SUV concept. Earlier this year, Byton also announced a partnership with self-driving car startup Aurora. The terms of the partnership entail Aurora powering Byton’s autonomous driving features via a pilot deployment in the next couple of years. Byton plans to roll out its first batch of prototypes in April 2019 with the goal
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Ford tests autonomous on-demand delivery with Postmates

Ford is teaming up with startup Postmates to pilot test autonomous on-demand delivery in Miami and Miami Beach, Fla. The pilot program includes 70 businesses like Coyo Taco Ford is also testing vehicle designs with multiple lockers in order to be able to serve more than one customer per delivery route. Since Postmates handles anything from food to hardware, the lockers are a variety of sizes. The goal is to see how businesses and consumers interact with self-driving delivery cars. On the employee end, they get an access code to place the item inside. On the customer side, they’ll receive a text message with an access code when the order is ready to be picked up. “Ultimately, we’re trying to make interaction with self-driving vehicles as easy as possible,” Ford wrote in a blog post. “Through our collaboration with Postmates, we’re testing different methods for efficient deliveries to help local
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Uber applies for patent that would detect drunk passengers

While Uber has changed the way that many think about transportation, it’s also changed the way that many drunk people find their way home at night. Rather than haphazardly hailing a cab or driving home under the influence, Uber provides a relatively safer way to get from point A to B on an indulgent evening. The company has been curious about its drunk users, applying for a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a system that would use machine learning to determine the ‘state’ of a passenger. While the patent limits itself to a dry discussion of ‘user state,’ it seems that what Uber is really interested in is detecting the difference between users of sound mind and users who are under the influence. CNN first spotted the patent, which describes a method of measuring the user’s behavior on their phone against their usual behavior, using
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Uber is looking to buy the bike-share company behind Citi Bike and Ford GoBike

Uber is reportedly looking into buying Motivate, the company that makes Ford GoBike’s in the San Francisco Bay Area and Citi Bike over on the East Coast. This comes following reports of Lyft getting close to purchasing Motivate in a $250 million deal. Uber bought bike-share startup JUMP, a dockless, electric bike-share service, earlier this year, for about $250 million. In April, Motivate deployed electric bikes in San Francisco. Once JUMP’s 18-month pilot program with the city is up next June, we can expect to see companies like Motivate, Lime and others apply to deploy their own dockless bikes in the city. I’ve reached out to Uber and will update this story if I hear back. Just this week, both Uber and Lyft applied to deploy electric scooters in San Francisco. You can read more about that here.

Silicon Valley scooter wars

Electric scooters have become the hot new area for startups and “innovation.” For those who haven’t been keeping track, there are three main players in the Silicon Valley scooter wars: Bird, Lime and Spin. Bird first launched in Venice, Calif. before expanding into San Francisco in March. It’s worth pointing out that Bird, for now, is strictly an electric scooter company. That’s not the case for Lime and Spin, which both have their own bike-share services deployed throughout various parts of the country and world. That same month — almost in complete lockstep — Lime and Spin deployed their own electric scooters in the city. Fast forward to June and the city of SF has placed a temporary hold on electric scooters until it can review permit applications. As part of a new city law, which went into effect June 4, scooter companies are not able to operate their services
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Zoetrope effect could render Hyperloop tubes transparent to riders

An optical illusion popular in the 19th century could make trips on the Hyperloop appear to take place in a transparent tube. Regularly spaced, narrow windows wouldn’t offer much of a view individually, but if dozens of them pass by every second an effect would be created like that of a zoetrope, allowing passengers to effectively see right through the walls. It’s an official concept from Virgin Hyperloop One and design house Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and in fact was teased back in 2016. Now the companies have shared a video showing how it would work and what it would look like for passengers — though there’s no indication it would actually be put in place in the first tracks. A zoetrope is a simple apparatus consisting of a cylinder with slits on the sides and a series of sequential or looping images printed on the inside. When the
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Uber and Lyft apply for electric scooter permits in SF

Uber and Lyft have officially put their respective names into the electric scooter competition. Uber and Lyft are among the 11 companies that applied to operate an electric scooter-sharing service within San Francisco city limits. The city, however, will only offer up to five companies permits to operate as part of a one-year test program. Uber declined to comment, but confirmed that it has applied for a permit via JUMP, the bike-share startup Uber acquired for about $200 million in April. Once Uber is cleared to operate electric scooters, the plan is to integrate them into the Uber app and continue fleshing out Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s vision for a full-fledged multi-modal transportation platform. Lyft also confirmed to TechCrunch that the company applied for a permit, but declined to share any further details. Here’s the full list of companies that applied, via the SF Chronicle:
  1. Bird
  2. CycleHop
  3. JUMP via
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Lime brings electric scooters to LA

While electric scooter startups are at a standstill in San Francisco, Lime is taking its scooter service to Santa Monica, Calif. — competitor Bird’s home turf. Lime was planning to launch its new model of scooter that it built in partnership with Segway in San Francisco last month, it’s now debuting them in the Los Angeles area first. These Segway-powered Lime scooters are designed to be safer, longer-lasting via battery power and more durable for what the sharing economy requires, Lime CEO Toby Sun told TechCrunch in May. Now, instead of a maximum distance of 23 miles or so, Lime scooters can go up to 35 miles. “A lot of the features in the past on scooters were made for the consumer market,” Sun said. “Not for the shared, heavy-duty markets.” On the safety side, Lime enhanced its night-light on both the front and back of the
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Tesla Model X sped up in Autopilot mode seconds before fatal crash, according to NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report detailing the fatal crash involving a Tesla Model X in March. The crash also resulted in a fire and shut down two lanes of Highway 101 near Mountain View, Calif. At this point, the NTSB has yet to determine a probable cause of the crash and is continuing to investigate the accident. The report says the Model X, while in Autopilot mode, sped up to 71 mph in the seconds leading up to the crash. “At 3 seconds prior to the crash and up to the time of impact with the crash attenuator, the Tesla’s speed increased from 62 to 70.8 mph, with no precrash braking or evasive steering movement detected,” the report states.

Source: NTSB/S. Engleman

Tesla’s Autopilot mode is designed to match the speed of a slower vehicle traveling ahead of it. At the time, Autopilot was
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Lyft redesigns rider app to encourage shared rides

Lyft has revamped its rider app in an attempt to help people get where they’re going faster. Instead of first asking for pickup information, the app will now ask where you’re going, which Uber first started asking in 2016. The app is also designed to encourage more shared rides. Oh, and Lyft is now no longer calling its carpool feature Line. Instead, they’re simply shared rides. “We’re updating [Line] to shared and you’re going to see a suite of options for shared as we evolve over time,” Lyft VP of Design Katie Dill told TechCrunch. “There are multiple different ways of sharing a ride. By calling it shared, we’re a lot more clear with our passengers.” This new app will roll out to everyone over the next month. Currently, 35 percent of Lyft rides are shared, but the goal is to reach 50 percent shared rides by 2020, Lyft
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Self-driving robot delivery startup Starship Technologies raises $25 million

The robots are here and one company, Starship Technologies, has raised $25 million to bring even more to the mainstream. This latest round of funding includes a follow-on investment from Matrix Partners and Morpheus Ventures. New investors include Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk, Skype founding engineer Jaan Tallinn and others. These autonomous robots can carry items, like groceries or packages, within a two-mile radius. The plan with the funding is to deploy Starship robots in neighborhoods, corporate and university campuses in both the U.S. and Europe. Starship has also brought on former Airbnb business development lead Lex Bayer as chief executive officer. “We are at the point where we are ready to start deploying our network of robots at scale,” Starship co-founder Janus Friis said in a statement. “This additional funding, and Lex’s appointment, will allow us to bring our services to market. Lex joins us with a proven track
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Uber is bringing its Jump e-bikes to Europe

Dockless bike sharing startups — such as Ofo, Mobike and LimeBike — have flooded European cities with rides that can be hired at the tap of an app in recent years. But fierce competition in the urban mobility space is not deterring Uber from peddling into the region, and attempting to put some shine back on a brand that’s still divisive — charged with all sorts of problematic effects from rising congestion and air pollution to having a damaging impact on workers’ rights. It’s certainly true that the hangover from Uber’s legacy operational style of brash expansionism and thumbing its nose at regulators continues to cause the company problems in Europe. Many cities have banned its p2p service, and last year — in a major upset — London’s transport regulator withdrew its license to operate. Though under new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi Uber has also been expanding in some European markets —
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