Lyft hires former Tesla Autopilot manager for self-driving car efforts

Sameer Qureshi has left his role as a senior manager of Tesla Autopilot Programs and has joined Lyft, according to his LinkedIn. We first saw the news over on Electrek. Tesla declined to comment, but Lyft confirmed Qureshi joined the team this week.

At Lyft, Qureshi is now director of product for autonomous driving, specifically focused on Lyft’s Level 5 self-driving car efforts. To be clear, Level 5 is when a car requires no human to be at the wheel. In fact, Level 5 prohibits humans from intervening, even if they want to.

At Tesla, Qureshi was “responsible for the entire Autopilot software stack across all of Tesla’s cars and platforms” for over one year, he wrote on his LinkedIn. To be clear, Qureshi was not an executive, VP or director, but one of 4,000 managers at Tesla. Prior to his most recent role at Tesla, Qureshi served as senior manager for software and firmware programs at Tesla for over two years.

Lyft first launched its self-driving car division in July 2017. At the time, the project was led by Lyft VP of Engineering Luc Vincent. Since then, Lyft has partnered with tier-one automotive industry supplier Magna on autonomous vehicle technology. Magna also invested $200 million in Lyft in exchange for an equity stake.

Elon Musk keeps Tesla board buddy on leave for more than six months in sign of weak governance

He’s appeared at a flashy Tesla Inc. product unveiling and a thunderous SpaceX launch while his boardroom chairs have sat empty. Now, Steve Jurvetson is surfacing as the central figure in the debate over governance at Elon Musk’s electric-car company.

The well-known Silicon Valley investor and friend of Musk’s has been on leave from Tesla’s board since resigning from DFJ, the venture capital firm he co-founded. The same day of his exit in November — precipitated by accusations of misconduct that he has denied — Tesla put Jurvetson on a leave of absence, “pending resolution of these allegations.”

More than six months later, little has changed and much remains unclear. Tesla won’t say if it’s commissioned or is doing its own investigation. DFJ, which conducted its own probe, declined to comment for this story, as did Jurvetson, 51.

Tesla’s handling of Jurvetson doesn’t sit well with CtW Investment Group. The activist firm affiliated with union pension funds pointed to the director’s leave as emblematic of poor leadership and weak corporate governance. Proxy adviser Glass Lewis agreed and cited the “fairly extraordinary length” of Jurvetson’s board absence in a report to clients this week. It sided with CtW by urging shareholders to vote against the three directors up for re-election at the company’s annual meeting next month.

‘Highly Unusual’

“Six months is a highly unusual time to be on leave,” Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, said in a phone interview. “As a director, you are supposed to be minding the store. You are there to serve shareholders. If you can’t fill the job, you resign. Jurvetson’s extended leave means that there is a gap on the board during a very important period.”

In November, Jurvetson said he was leaving DFJ “to focus on personal matters, including taking legal action against those whose false statements have defamed me.”

While on this indefinite break, Jurvetson hasn’t yet filed a defamation lawsuit in state or federal court, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Law. No complaints turned up in a separate search of county courts in Northern California.

Roadster, Rocket

Jurvetson does still seem to be in the fold with Musk, 46, and his companies. Four days after leaving DFJ, Jurvetson attended Tesla’s last big party — the debut of its Semi Truck and surprise reveal of the next-generation Roadster — at the company’s design studio near Los Angeles. He also attended Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s maiden launch of its massive Falcon Heavy rocket in February. SpaceX also put Jurvetson on leave from its board in November.

In a letter to Tesla shareholders opposing the re-election of three directors, CtW criticized lead independent director Antonio Gracias, saying his failure to insist that Jurvetson resign rather than take a leave of absence has signaled “an extraordinary unwillingness to accept the need for change.”

Tesla’s annual shareholders meeting is set for June 5 in Mountain View, California. In its proxy statement, the company said that Jurvetson “possesses specific attributes that qualify him to serve as a member of our Board, including his experience in the venture capital industry and his years of business and leadership experience.”

Hotmail Riches

Jurvetson, who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University and made an early bet on Hotmail before it was acquired by Microsoft Corp., has served on Tesla’s board since 2009, a year before the company went public. He holds more than 104,000 Tesla shares worth about US$29.6 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The venture capital firm originally known as Draper Fisher Jurvetson no longer has a stake in Tesla. It’s named new directors to the boards of several startups Jurvetson used to be on, including Memphis Meats, Mythic, Planet and Synthetic Genomics.

He remains on the board of D-Wave, although DFJ has the right to nominate its own representative. “Steve has been a fantastic board member, and he’s going to stay on the board of D-Wave as an independent director,” Chairman V. Paul Lee said in an interview.

Bedtime Reading

Tesla’s board has long drawn flak for being comprised of several close confidants of Musk and the potential for this presenting conflicts of interest. Jurvetson shared an image on the photo-sharing service Flickr in January of a book of Musk quotes that used one of his portraits of Musk for its cover. He wrote that he had “a copy at each bed stand” and was “reading them as bedtime parables to the kiddos.”

Jurvetson’s friendship with Musk suggests it’s unlikely the Tesla CEO will get unbiased, objective advice from him, said Kabrina Chang, an associate professor at the Boston University Questrom School of Business, who studies corporate ethics and labour laws.

“The friendship is problematic even under the best of circumstances,” Chang said. “Because research has shown that confirmation bias is a thing, conflicts of interest are a thing. And dealing with the conflict of interest in the right way is really hard to do when your friend is the CEO.”

Bloomberg.com

Uber’s chief product officer is out

Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden, who oversaw Uber Elevate, has left the company, Recode first reported. His last day was yesterday, TechCrunch confirmed.

On a day-to-day level, Holden was not that heavily involved. Manik Gupta, for example, is in charge of product, maps and marketplace at the VP level. There was also Uber Head of Product Daniel Graf, who left the company in March but was quickly replaced by former Amazon Alexa shopping lead Assaf Ronen.

Holden, instead, was more of a big-picture kind of executive, which entailed him taking ownership over Uber Elevate. Under his leadership, Uber brought on the CEO of flying taxi startup Zee Aero, Eric Allison.

Eric Allison at Uber Elevate in May 2018. (Photo by MRD)

“As demonstrated by last week’s Uber Elevate Summit, we’re incredibly bullish on the future of aerial ridesharing,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Under the leadership of Eric Allison, the Elevate team is set up for success and will continue to chart the course for this growing industry.”

But it’s worth pointing out that Holden had a lengthy conversation with Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Dan Elwell about regulation for uberAIR, the company’s upcoming aerial taxi service. That was just last week at Uber Elevate, the company’s two-day summit on aerial transportation. It seems odd that Holden was tasked with leading a conversation with the head of the FAA regarding what will arguably be the biggest hurdle uberAIR will face: regulation.

Prior to joining Uber, Holden served as Groupon’s senior vice president. It’s not clear what Holden’s next move is, but a source says Holden is pursuing another opportunity somewhere.

Elon Musk details his plan to rid LA of traffic with $1 rides on the Boring Co. ‘Loop’

This evening, Boring Company executives Elon Musk and Steve Davis offered a few more details about their plans to revolutionize LA urban transit, introducing the “Loop” which would eventually be composed of all-electric pods that transport up to 16 passengers at a time. Musk theorizes that the Loop could take Los Angeles residents from downtown LA to any terminal at the LAX airport within 8 minutes for about $1.

Much of the focus of the presentation was to assure the public that the Boring Company’s efforts would not be disruptive to the public or heavily stress the city’s existing highway systems. While the company has been best known for its hat and flamethrower sales, its most daunting challenge is courting public opinion for its plans to upgrade LA’s transport infrastructure.

The odd little presentation held at an LA synagogue started about 25 minutes behind schedule after a late arrival from Elon Musk who ironically said he got stuck in traffic. Musk offered a few minutes of eccentric discussion about why flying cars couldn’t solve the problem of “soul-destroying traffic.” Tunnels, on the other hand, Musk detailed were “way less nerve-racking than flying cars” and still “so fun.”

Alongside the execs onstage was Boring Company “mascot” Gary the snail.

Musk said that Boring Company Loop’s vision of the future would be much more congruous with city life than subways, and that while it was very difficult to weave large stations into a city, building many more parking spot-sized stations could theoretically be much more effective. Musk also noted that he hoped the Loop would supplement existing transport systems and connect public transport lines.

To get moving towards this “Loop” vision, the company will begin with a 2.7 mile test tunnel on private property with private funds. Just last month, SEC documents were filed detailing that Musk’s Boring Company had raised just shy of $113 million.

Once the test site has been completed, Musk suggested that they would begin offering free rides which he hoped the company could make as fun as a Disney theme park, joking that guests could “bring [their] flamethrowers.”

As Musk has previously noted, the Boring Company’s focus will prioritize pedestrian traffic rather than pods that house vehicles. While the executives were sure to distinguish the difference between the “Loop” and the Hyperloop, Musk also theorized that the two systems could eventually be seamlessly connected so riders could travel within the city and between cities with minimal friction.

Musk was notably asked during a Q&A about whether the Boring Company would do a full environmental impact report. He noted that they would but given the length of the process would do so once moving towards a larger-scale project rather than on one of the test tunnels.

It’s clear from the presentation that things are very much in their early stages, but Musk and Davis seemed to do a good job assuring the public that they would be moving with the bureaucracy on this project rather than trying to push their vision forward quickly and recklessly.

Intel starts testing self-driving cars in Jerusalem

Intel and its subsidiary Mobileye have started testing 100 self-driving cars in Jerusalem. In the “coming months,” the plan is to deploy the fleet in the U.S. and other regions, Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua wrote in a blog post.

Through this test, Intel/Mobileye hope to demonstrate that its cars are 1,000 times safer than human drivers “without the need for billions of miles of validation testing on public roads.”

These cars are equipped with 12 cameras to create a 360 view of its surroundings. Eight of those cameras are for long-range viewing purposes while the other four are for parking. In phase two of development, which will happen in the next few weeks, Intel/Mobileye will add a layer of radar and LIDAR.

“The camera-only phase is our strategy for achieving what we refer to as ‘true redundancy’ of sensing,” Shashua wrote. “True redundancy refers to a sensing system consisting of multiple independently engineered sensing systems, each of which can support fully autonomous driving on its own.”

Intel and Mobileye landed on Jerusalem as its test city to prove its tech can work “in any geography and under all conditions.” Shashua also noted Jerusalem is “notorious for aggressive driving” and doesn’t always have clearly marked roads. Jerusalem, he said, also has complicated merging situations and people walking outside of crosswalks.

“You can’t have an autonomous car traveling at an overly cautious speed, congesting traffic or potentially causing an accident,” he wrote. “You must drive assertively and make quick decisions like a local driver.”

Intel/Mobileye’s goal is to deploy Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous vehicles on the roads by 2021 in partnership with its vehicle manufacturers. Earlier today, Reuters reported Mobileye signed a contract with an automaker based in Europe to supply eight million of its cars with Mobileye technology. The company’s known vehicle partners include General Motors, Nissan, Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and China’s Nio.

Watch a truly driverless car navigate city streets

Drive.ai, the company that’s gearing up to launch an autonomous ride-hailing pilot in Frisco, Texas, just released a video showing off its driverless capabilities. Drive.ai’s service will initially launch with safety drivers in July, but the goal is to ultimately operate the ride-hailing platform without a driver behind the wheel.

In the video below, you can see a Drive.ai-powered car navigate both public and private roads without even a safety driver. On the lower-right-hand corner, you can see an augmented reality visualization that shows how the perception system works to identify cars, pedestrians, cyclists and other objects.

Before the July launch, Drive.ai will be collecting data along the routes and working with the city to educate people about self-driving technology. During this trial period, which starts in July and will run for six months, the service will be limited to employees, residents and patrons of Hall properties. Down the road, the goal is to open up the program to all residents of Frisco.

Lime is reportedly trying to squeeze up to $500 million out of VCs

Lime, the electric scooter and bike company, is looking to raise up to $500 million in new funding, Axios reports, citing sources. The round could come in the form of both equity and debt, according to Axios.

To date, Lime has raised $132 million from investors. Its most recent round was just in February, when it raised $70 million from Fifth Wall. Lime declined to comment for this story.

Earlier this month, Lime announced a partnership with Segway to build version two of its electric scooters. Lime, along with its competitors Bird and Spin, all ultimately rely on Ninebot, a Chinese scooter company that has merged with Segway. Ninebot is backed by investors including Sequoia Capital, Xiaomi and ShunWei.

Without taking into account Lime’s potential round, here’s where Lime compares to Bird and Spin.

The electric scooter space has been under scrutiny as of late — partly due to the fact that Bird, Spin and Lime deployed their respective scooters without explicit permission in San Francisco back in March.

Less than one month ago, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority announced its permitting process for electric scooters. You can read more about that here.

And if you want the full breakdown of what the deal is in San Francisco as it pertains to electric scooters, here’s the story.

Uber ends policy of forced arbitration for individual sexual assault clams

In a major policy change, Uber has announced it’s ending mandatary arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment by Uber drivers, riders or employees.

It is also ending the requirement that victims sign a confidentiality provision preventing them from speaking about the sexual assault or sexual harassment they suffered — saying survivors will now have the option to settle their claims with Uber without having to agree to being publicly silenced in order to do so.

Last month a group of women alleging sexual violence from Uber drivers sent an open letter to the company’s board asking to be released from the mandatory arbitration clause in the Uber app’s terms of service.

Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler — who was instrumental in highlighting internal problems with sexual harassment and sexism at Uber when she blogged about her experiences at the company last year — also urged CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to end the policy. And in a Twitter exchange in March Khosrowshahi signaled he was willing to consider ending forced arbitration. “I will take it seriously, but we have to take all of our constituents into consideration,” he wrote to Fowler then.

Concerns about safety and Uber’s attitude to reporting serious crimes were also among the reasons identified by London’s transport regulator for withdrawing Uber’s license to operate in the UK capital last September.

Also today Uber has announced that it will be publishing what it describes as a “safety transparency report” — which it says will include data on sexual assaults and “other incidents” that occur as a result of activity on its platform.

Announcing the moves in a blog post today, entitled ‘Turning the lights on’, Uber’s chief legal officer Tony West writes that the company has committed to doing “the right thing” under its new CEO — a new attitude which requires “three key elements: transparency, integrity, and accountability”.

Describing sexual violence as “a huge problem globally”, he continues: “The last 18 months have exposed a silent epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every community. Uber is not immune to this deeply rooted problem, and we believe that it is up to us to be a big part of the solution.”

Commenting on Uber’s policy changes to end mandatory arbitration, Jeanne Christensen, a partner at New York based law firm Wigdor LLP, which filed a class action lawsuit against Uber last year on behalf of women who said they were assaulted or raped by Uber drivers, described it as a critical step to “reduce future suffering by women passengers”.

But she also flagged Uber’s decision to not end forced arbitration for groups of victims acting on a class basis — saying this shows the company is “not fully committed to meaningful change”.

“Victims are more likely to come forward knowing they can proceed as a group. This is the beginning of a longer process needed to meaningfully improve safety,” Christensen added in a statement.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on why it’s not ending mandatory arbitration for group claims.

On the decision to end mandatory arbitration for individuals, West writes: “We have learned it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims. So moving forward, survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer: in a mediation where they can choose confidentiality; in arbitration, where they can choose to maintain their privacy while pursuing their case; or in open court. Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit.”

On the changes to confidentiality provisions, he says: “Divulging the details of what happened in a sexual assault or harassment should be up to the survivor, not us.”

And on the new transparency report, West admits Uber struggled with the decision to publish data — saying this is “because data on safety and sexual assaults is sparse and inconsistent”, and there is no uniform industry standard for reporting it.

He also flags the problem of crimes of sexual violence being underreported.

However, in the end, Uber has decided it will go ahead and publish data. Although it’s not clear when the first report will go live (we’ve also asked about that).

“We’re working with experts in the field to develop a taxonomy to categorize the incidents that are reported to us,” adds West. “We hope to open-source this methodology so we can encourage others in the ridesharing, transportation and travel industries, both private and public, to join us in taking this step. We know that a project of this magnitude will take some time, but we pledge to keep you updated along the way.”