VW reimagines the microbus as an all-electric cargo hauler

The slow roll towards electrified vehicles isn’t isolated to passenger cars and SUVs. Manufacturers are investing in commercial vehicles as well — everything from school buses and delivery vans to big commercial trucks.

VW Group’s vision for an electrified commercial vehicle future also includes a microbus. The automaker’s commercial vehicles unit unveiled five zero-emission vehicles at the 69th IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hannover, Germany. Among them is an all-electric cargo van that’s meant to be the commercial equivalent of the I.D. Buzz microbus revealed in 2017.

The others include a commercial-grade cargo e-bike, an electric concept van called the Crafter HyMotion that’s powered by hydrogen fuel cell system, a Transporter concept van with a 48-volt mild hybrid drive system that combines a turbodiesel engine with an electric drive and finally, the ABT e-Caddy, a small van that will to arrive on market in mid-2019.

Some of these concepts such as the hydrogen fuel cell Crafter HyMotion are far from hitting the streets. The Crafter HyMotion concept 3.5-ton van is equipped with a hydrogen tank that enable a total range of about 217 miles.

“This is still a concept vehicle, but the technical concept is already near-production,” Heinz-Jürgen Löw, head of sales and a board member of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles said in a statement.  “We are conducting an intensive cost and benefit analysis to determine its market potential. The Crafter HyMotion with a fuel cell drive is absolutely a beneficial addition to our drive portfolio of petrol, diesel, natural gas and electric motors.”

The microbus with its 1970s hippie-turned Jetson-vibe is of course the show stopper, which VW describes at the “ideal vehicle for the urban traffic of tomorrow.” And unlike many other concepts, a version of this one might actually make it into production. The company said it could be launched into the market as early as 2021, a year ahead of the passenger version unveiled last year.

The I.D. Buzz cargo microbus concept is equipped with 20-inch wheels (smaller than the I.D. Buzz passenger van) and a solar roof that can extends the battery’s range another 9 miles a day.

It also wide-opening rear wing doors, a new rear bumper and  is equipped with a “connected” system that allows all items on its interior shelves to be tracked. Users can unlock the vehicle from the outside via a sensor that recognizes authorized persons via a digital key which is sent to the van from a smartphone.

The cockpit has all the futuristic leanings you might expect with information like navigation projected in #D via an augmented reality head-up display and a portable tablet where the infotainment and climate control functions are housed. The main controls for driving are located on the steering wheel.

The concept also has autonomous driving capabilities, although it’s unclear if this technology will make it into a production version.

Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This isn’t the first microbus concept VW has shown off in recent years. There was the BUDD.e, which was introduced in January 2016 at CES. BUDD.e was intended to show the world that VW was serious about electric vehicles in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal that has led to arrests, jail sentences and fines.

The following year, VW unveiled an electric all-wheel drive microbus called I.D. Buzz, a futuristic take on the family camper van. The I.D. Buzz will go into production starting in 2022.

While the diesel emissions saga drags on, VW is pushing slowly ahead with its electric vehicle plans. VW Group’s board agreed in June 2016 to transform its core automotive business to focus more on electric vehicles, autonomous driving technology and launch mobility services such as shuttle on demand and ride hailing. Up to 25% of new vehicles under VW Group — a portfolio that includes Audi and Volkswagen Passenger Cars — will be all-electric under the board’s Strategy 2025 plan.

Those electric ambitions (and investments) doesn’t translate into an exodus of diesel — at least on the commercial vehicle front.

Thomas Sedran, board chairman of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said  that despite progress made in the electrification of its products, the business unit would continue to rely on highly advanced diesels as the backbone for logistics, particularly vehicles that make long distance runs, in rough terrains and for heavy loads.

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India’s Livspace raises $70M for its one-stop-shop for interior design

Livspace, an India-based startup that helps consumers manage home renovations and interior design, has pulled in a $70 million Series C deal that’s led by Goldman Sachs and TPG Growth.

Existing investors Jungle Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Helion Ventures also took part in the round, which takes Livspace total funding to date to around $97 million. The deal follows Goldman’s involvement in fintech startup Jumo’s recent $52 million round, while TPG Growth recently hired former Twitter Asia head Shailesh Rao to lead its business in India and Southeast Asia.

Livspace was founded by former Googler Anuj Srivastava and Ramakant Sharma, who has spent time with Myntra and Jungle Ventures among others, in 2015. The business aims to be a one-stop-shop for home interior design — whether that be renovations or new home design. That makes it an e-commerce business that integrates multiple pieces of the interior ecosystem: consumers, designers and the supply chain.

For that reason, Livspace is an inherently local business. Interior designers need to be local to customers and supply chain partners need to have the capacity to ship to a location, too, but Livspace actually goes beyond that by mapping buildings in a city to enable virtual mockups and 3D models to be rendered to help show a consumer a compelling preview of what their home could look like. The company also operates brick and mortar ‘Design Centers’ where consumers can touch and see materials and furniture, while the centers also operate as a location for designers and consumers to meet up if needed.

The company is currently present in seven cities in India. With this money in the bank, the plan is to expand to reach 13 cities in India by the end of next year but it’s ambitions go beyond its founders’ home country.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Srivastava said that he sees an opportunity to grow the business not just in Asia but also western markets where, to date, there are no integrated solutions such as Livspace.

“The industry has suffered from chaos,” he said. “There’s little to no aggregation on supply and demand, and there is significant opportunity for tech-based platform to unite consumers, agents and the supply chain market.

“We have focused so far on doing one market really, really, well,” he added. “We wanted to make sure you can knock it out of the park first.”

So far so good. Livspace says it is on track to reach $100 million in annualized gross revenue by March 2019. Srivastava said it has outfitted 5,000-6,000 houses so far with 1,200-1,500 projects in its system at any one time.

Consumers, of course, shop around for deals and the completion rate of projects is at around one-third, Srivastava said, with an average of about $15,000 per consumer. Of that, the take rate for Livspace is around 40 percent with seven percent for the designer. The company claims to have around 25,000 designers on the platform but less than 10 percent of all applicants are approved to ensure quality and expertise.

Through Livspace, Srivastava claims designers can massively boost their income, typically by around 2X. He argues that is not only because the rates earned are higher, but also because average project time is reduced from multiple-months to just 12-14 weeks. That means designers can also operate more efficiently.

Financially, Srivastava said he believes the business model itself can scale and that there is clear “path to profitability” particularly if the company can expand internationally.

“We started monetizing in India but we have our eyes set on every single other similar market in the planet. We’ll get there in time,” he said.

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India’s Livspace raises $70M for its one-stop-shop for interior design

Livspace, an India-based startup that helps consumers manage home renovations and interior design, has pulled in a $70 million Series C deal that’s led by Goldman Sachs and TPG Growth.

Existing investors Jungle Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Helion Ventures also took part in the round, which takes Livspace total funding to date to around $97 million. The deal follows Goldman’s involvement in fintech startup Jumo’s recent $52 million round, while TPG Growth recently hired former Twitter Asia head Shailesh Rao to lead its business in India and Southeast Asia.

Livspace was founded by former Googler Anuj Srivastava and Ramakant Sharma, who has spent time with Myntra and Jungle Ventures among others, in 2015. The business aims to be a one-stop-shop for home interior design — whether that be renovations or new home design. That makes it an e-commerce business that integrates multiple pieces of the interior ecosystem: consumers, designers and the supply chain.

For that reason, Livspace is an inherently local business. Interior designers need to be local to customers and supply chain partners need to have the capacity to ship to a location, too, but Livspace actually goes beyond that by mapping buildings in a city to enable virtual mockups and 3D models to be rendered to help show a consumer a compelling preview of what their home could look like. The company also operates brick and mortar ‘Design Centers’ where consumers can touch and see materials and furniture, while the centers also operate as a location for designers and consumers to meet up if needed.

The company is currently present in seven cities in India. With this money in the bank, the plan is to expand to reach 13 cities in India by the end of next year but it’s ambitions go beyond its founders’ home country.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Srivastava said that he sees an opportunity to grow the business not just in Asia but also western markets where, to date, there are no integrated solutions such as Livspace.

“The industry has suffered from chaos,” he said. “There’s little to no aggregation on supply and demand, and there is significant opportunity for tech-based platform to unite consumers, agents and the supply chain market.

“We have focused so far on doing one market really, really, well,” he added. “We wanted to make sure you can knock it out of the park first.”

So far so good. Livspace says it is on track to reach $100 million in annualized gross revenue by March 2019. Srivastava said it has outfitted 5,000-6,000 houses so far with 1,200-1,500 projects in its system at any one time.

Consumers, of course, shop around for deals and the completion rate of projects is at around one-third, Srivastava said, with an average of about $15,000 per consumer. Of that, the take rate for Livspace is around 40 percent with seven percent for the designer. The company claims to have around 25,000 designers on the platform but less than 10 percent of all applicants are approved to ensure quality and expertise.

Through Livspace, Srivastava claims designers can massively boost their income, typically by around 2X. He argues that is not only because the rates earned are higher, but also because average project time is reduced from multiple-months to just 12-14 weeks. That means designers can also operate more efficiently.

Financially, Srivastava said he believes the business model itself can scale and that there is clear “path to profitability” particularly if the company can expand internationally.

“We started monetizing in India but we have our eyes set on every single other similar market in the planet. We’ll get there in time,” he said.

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SparkLabs is launching a cybersecurity and blockchain accelerator program in the US

Investment firm SparkLabs has run accelerator programs across APAC, now it has announced its first that’ll be based on U.S. soil and it’s a cybersecurity and blockchain program that’ll be located in Washington, D.C. from next year.

The program will be led by former Startup Grind COO Brian Park and Mike Bott, who is ex-managing director of The Brandery accelerator. Advisors signed on to work with the batch of companies includes top names like Microsoft’s former chief software architect Ray Ozzie, Litecoin creator Charlie Lee, LinkedIn co-founder Eric Ly and Rich DeMillo, who was the first CTO of HP.

Named “SparkLabs Cybersecurity + Blockchain,” the program will kick off with an inaugural batch of companies in March next year, with applications opening accepted from January. SparkLabs co-founder and partner Bernard Moon told TechCrunch in an interview that the plan is to run the program for four months with two intakes per year.

It’ll use SparkLabs’ standard investment approach that sees selected companies offered $50,000 for up to six percent equity. That’s variable on a case-by-case basis — for example for those that have raised significant early funding at a large valuation — but Moon said that the priority for the security and blockchain program is to seek out companies that are bootstrapped or at least have not raised much.

Moon said that the general focus is not on cryptocurrency but instead enterprise-led technologies. So, on the blockchain side, that might mean protocols and other infrastructure layer plays, although Moon said he does believe that there is scope for more consumer companies, too.

SparkLabs has a dedicated blockchain fund — SparkChain Capital — but neither that fund nor its principal, Stellar founder Joyce Kim, is directly involved in the accelerator. That’s very deliberate, Moon said, because SparkLabs wants to grow its network in the blockchain space outside of SparkChain, although he did explain that the program will be “a vetted deal source” for the fund, so graduates could potentially look it to when they want follow-on funding.

Outside of SparkChain Capital, SparkLabs is active in crypto, primarily through its presence in Asia — especially Korea where it operates its first accelerator program. The company is even tokenizing two of its accelerators — a six month IOT-focused initiative in Korean smart city Songdo and Cultiv8, an accelerator for agriculture and food tech in Australia — although Moon said that the project has been delayed but remains on track to happen soon. Investment-wise, it has backed over 10 blockchain companies and a dozen in the cybersecurity space.

The cybersecurity and blockchain program has an interesting story. Park and Bott originally spun out AOL’s Fishbowl Labs accelerator program but after a discussion with Moon for advice, the pair ended up signing up with SparkLabs. That’s a move that Moon believes will help bring a global perspective through SparkLabs’ presence in the rest of the world — it has six other programs globally — and marrying that with what’s happening in the U.S.

“We want to foster and grow a robust ecosystem in both cybersecurity and distributed ledger technologies.  We believe these two verticals are synergetic by nature, but we will seek innovations beyond the overlap,” Park said in a statement

“It’s so early within this space that we are only seeing the Friendsters and MySpaces of the blockchain world.  The next Facebooks and Twitters will be developed over the next several years,” he added.

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Google’s GitHub competitor gets better search tools

Google today announced an update to Cloud Source Repositories, its recently relaunched Git-based source code repository, that brings a significantly better search experience to the service. This new search feature is based on the same tool that Google’s own engineers use day in and day out and it’s now available in the beta release of Cloud Source Repositories.

If you’ve been on the internet for a while, then you probably remember Google Code Search. Code Search allowed you to search through any open-source code on the internet. Sadly, Google shut this down back in 2012. This new feature isn’t quite the same, though. It only allows you to search your own code — or that from other people in your company. It’s just as fast as Google’s own search, though, and allows you to use regular expressions and other advanced search features.

One nifty feature here is that for Java, JavaScript, Go, C++, Python, TypeScript and Proto files, the tools will also return information on whether the match is a class, method, enum or field.

Google argues that searching through code locally is not very efficient and means you are often looking at outdated code.

As Google also notes, you can mirror your code from GitHub and Bitbucket with Cloud Source Repositories. I’m not sure a lot of developers will do this only to get the advanced search tools, but it’s definitely a way for Google to get more users onto its platform, which is a bit of an underdog in an ecosystem that’s dominated by the likes of GitHub.

“One key benefit is that now all owned repositories that are either mirrored or added to Cloud Source Repositories can be searched in a single query,” Cloud Source Repositories product manager Russell Wolf writes in today’s announcement. “This works whether you have a small weekend project or a code base the size of Google’s. And it’s fast: You’ll get the answers you need super quickly—much faster than previous functionality—so you can get back to writing code. And indexing is super fast, too, so the time between new code being added and being available means you’re always searching up-to-date code.”

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Google brings vulnerability scanning to its Cloud Build CI/CD platform

Google today announced an important update to its Cloud Build CI/CD platform that brings vulnerability scanning to all container images built using the service. Container Registry vulnerability scanning, which is now in beta, is meant to ensure that as businesses adopt modern DevOps practices, the container they eventually deploy are free of known vulnerabilities.

As Google rightly notes, the only way to ensure that security protocols are always followed is by automating the process. In this case, all new Cloud Build images are automatically scanned when Cloud Build creates an image and stores it in the Container Registry.

The service uses the standard security databases to find new issues. Currently, the service can identify package vulnerabilities for Ubuntu, Debian, and Alpine, with CentOS and RHEL support coming soon.

When it finds an issue, the service will notify the user, but businesses can also set up automatic rules (using Pub/Sub notifications and Cloud Functions) to take actions automatically. Users also get detailed reports about the severity of the vulnerability, VCSS scores, which packages were affected and whether there’s a fix available already.

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Google’s Cloud Memorystore for Redis is now generally available

After five months in public beta, Google today announced that its Cloud Memorystore for Redis, its fully managed in-memory data store, is now generally available.

The service, which is fully compatible with the Redis protocol, promises to offer sub-millisecond responses for applications that need to use in-memory caching. And because of its compatibility with Redis, developers should be able to easily migrate their applications to this service without making any code changes.

Cloud Memorystore offers two service tiers — a basic one for simple caching and a standard tier for users who need a highly available Redis instance. For the standard tier, Google offers a 99.9 percent availability SLA.

Since it first launched in beta, Google added a few additional capabilities to the service. You can now see your metrics in Stackdriver, for example. Google also added custom IAM roles and improved logging.

As for pricing, Google charges per GB-hour, depending on the service level and capacity you use. You can find the full pricing list here.

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‘Jackrabbot 2’ takes to the sidewalks to learn how humans navigate politely

Autonomous vehicles and robots have to know how to get from A to B without hitting obstacles or pedestrians — but how can they do so politely and without disturbing nearby humans? That’s what Stanford’s Jackrabbot project aims to learn, and now a redesigned robot will be cruising campus learning the subtleties of humans negotiating one another’s personal space.

“There are many behaviors that we humans subconsciously follow – when I’m walking through crowds, I maintain personal distance or, if I’m talking with you, someone wouldn’t go between us and interrupt,” said grad student Ashwini Pokle in a Stanford News release. “We’re working on these deep learning algorithms so that the robot can adapt these behaviors and be more polite to people.”

Of course there are practical applications pertaining to last mile problems and robotic delivery as well. What do you do if someone stops in front of you? What if there’s a group running up behind? Experience is the best teacher, as usual.

The first robot was put to work in 2016, and has been hard at work building a model of how humans (well, mostly undergrads) walk around safely, avoiding one another while taking efficient paths, and signal what they’re doing the whole time. But technology has advanced so quickly that a new iteration was called for.

The JackRabbot project team with JackRabbot 2 (from left to right): Patrick Goebel, Noriaki Hirose, Tin Tin Wisniewski, Amir Sadeghian, Alan Federman, Silivo Savarese, Roberto Martín-Martín, Pin Pin Tea-mangkornpan and Ashwini Pokle

The new robot has a vastly improved sensor suite compared to its predecessor: two Velodyne lidar units giving 360 degree coverage, plus a set of stereo cameras making up its neck that give it another depth-sensing 360 degree view. The cameras and sensors on its head can also be pointed wherever needed, of course, just like ours. All this imagery is collated by a pair of new GPUs in its base/body.

Amir Sadeghian, one of the researchers, said this makes Jackrabbot 2 “one of the most powerful robots of its size that has ever been built.”

This will allow the robot to sense human motion with a much greater degree of precision than before, and also operate more safely. It will also give the researchers a chance to see how the movement models created by the previous robot integrate with this new imagery.

The other major addition is a totally normal-looking arm that Jackrabbot 2 can use to gesture to others. After all, we do it, right? When it’s unclear who should enter a door first or what side of a path they should take, a wave of the hand is all it takes to clear things up. Usually. Hopefully this kinked little gripper accomplishes the same thing.

Jackrabbot 2 can zoom around for several hours at a time, Sadeghian said. “At this stage of the project for safety we have a human with a safety switch accompanying the robot, but the robot is able to navigate in a fully autonomous way.”

Having working knowledge of how people use the space around them and how to predict their movements will be useful to startups like Kiwi, Starship, and Marble. The first time a delivery robot smacks into someone’s legs is the last time they consider ordering something via one.

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‘Jackrabbot 2’ takes to the sidewalks to learn how humans navigate politely

Autonomous vehicles and robots have to know how to get from A to B without hitting obstacles or pedestrians — but how can they do so politely and without disturbing nearby humans? That’s what Stanford’s Jackrabbot project aims to learn, and now a redesigned robot will be cruising campus learning the subtleties of humans negotiating one another’s personal space.

“There are many behaviors that we humans subconsciously follow – when I’m walking through crowds, I maintain personal distance or, if I’m talking with you, someone wouldn’t go between us and interrupt,” said grad student Ashwini Pokle in a Stanford News release. “We’re working on these deep learning algorithms so that the robot can adapt these behaviors and be more polite to people.”

Of course there are practical applications pertaining to last mile problems and robotic delivery as well. What do you do if someone stops in front of you? What if there’s a group running up behind? Experience is the best teacher, as usual.

The first robot was put to work in 2016, and has been hard at work building a model of how humans (well, mostly undergrads) walk around safely, avoiding one another while taking efficient paths, and signal what they’re doing the whole time. But technology has advanced so quickly that a new iteration was called for.

The JackRabbot project team with JackRabbot 2 (from left to right): Patrick Goebel, Noriaki Hirose, Tin Tin Wisniewski, Amir Sadeghian, Alan Federman, Silivo Savarese, Roberto Martín-Martín, Pin Pin Tea-mangkornpan and Ashwini Pokle

The new robot has a vastly improved sensor suite compared to its predecessor: two Velodyne lidar units giving 360 degree coverage, plus a set of stereo cameras making up its neck that give it another depth-sensing 360 degree view. The cameras and sensors on its head can also be pointed wherever needed, of course, just like ours. All this imagery is collated by a pair of new GPUs in its base/body.

Amir Sadeghian, one of the researchers, said this makes Jackrabbot 2 “one of the most powerful robots of its size that has ever been built.”

This will allow the robot to sense human motion with a much greater degree of precision than before, and also operate more safely. It will also give the researchers a chance to see how the movement models created by the previous robot integrate with this new imagery.

The other major addition is a totally normal-looking arm that Jackrabbot 2 can use to gesture to others. After all, we do it, right? When it’s unclear who should enter a door first or what side of a path they should take, a wave of the hand is all it takes to clear things up. Usually. Hopefully this kinked little gripper accomplishes the same thing.

Jackrabbot 2 can zoom around for several hours at a time, Sadeghian said. “At this stage of the project for safety we have a human with a safety switch accompanying the robot, but the robot is able to navigate in a fully autonomous way.”

Having working knowledge of how people use the space around them and how to predict their movements will be useful to startups like Kiwi, Starship, and Marble. The first time a delivery robot smacks into someone’s legs is the last time they consider ordering something via one.

via Click on the link for the full article

Lime is pissed at San Francisco for denying it an e-scooter permit, claims ‘unlawful bias’

Lime is waging a war against the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency (SFMTA), claiming that the organization acted with “unlawful bias” and “sought to punish Lime” when it chose not to award the e-scooter and dockless bike startup a permit to operate in San Francisco last month.

Lime has sent an appeal to the SFMTA, requesting an “unbiased hearing officer” reevaluate its application to participate in the city’s 12-month pilot program for e-scooter providers.

San Francisco’s permit process came as a result of Lime and its competitors, Bird and Spin, deploying their scooters without permission in the city this March. As part of a new city law, which went into effect in June, scooter startups are not able to operate in San Francisco without a permit.

Lyft, Skip, Spin, Lime, Scoot, ofo, Razor, CycleHop, USSCooter and Ridecell all applied for said permit in June; the SFTMA only awarded permits to Scoot and Skip.

Lime thinks the selection process was unfair and that because it deployed scooters in the city without asking permission — the Uber model of expansion — SFMTA intentionally rejected its application despite its qualifications.

“The SFMTA ignored the fact that Scoot’s price is twice that of other applicants, including Lime, and that Scoot declined to offer any discounted cash payment option to low-income users, as required by law,” Lime wrote in a statement today. “SFMTA inexplicably avoided inclusion of these factors as evaluation criteria and instead deemed Scoot “satisfactory” because they ‘agreed to comply.’”

When Lime learned of its rejection on Aug. 30, CEO Toby Sun said he was disappointed and planned to appeal the decision.

San Franciscans deserve an equitable and transparent process when it comes to transportation and mobility. Instead, the SFMTA has selected inexperienced scooter operators that plan to learn on the job, at the expense of the public good … The SFMTA’s handling of the dockless bike and scooter share programs has lacked transparency from the beginning. We call on the Mayor’s Office and Board of Supervisors to hold the SFMTA accountable for a flawed permitting process. As a San Francisco-based company, this is where we live and work. We want to serve this community.”

Though Lime wasn’t able to successfully sway San Francisco authorities, it was given permission to operate in Santa Monica last month alongside Bird, Lyft and JUMP Bikes.

E-scooters are expected to return to the streets of San Francisco on Oct. 15.

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