Lyft’s dockless e-bikes have made their way to SF, but it wasn’t easy

When tech companies sue cities, it’s rare to see a resolution — albeit a temporary one — in favor of the tech company happen so quickly, if at all. Lyft sued San Francisco in early June, claiming the city was in violation of a 10-year contract that would give Lyft exclusive rights to operate bike-share programs.

Now, the city has granted Lyft an interim permit to deploy its dockless e-bikes, and is holding off on granting to permits to other operators. Lyft officially deployed its bikes on Friday.

“We’re thrilled to share our new ebikes with riders in San Francisco,” Lyft Head of Micromobility Policy Caroline Samponaro said in a statement. “We’ll be rolling out bikes starting today and appreciate our riders’ patience as we waited for the green light from SFMTA.”

In its lawsuit, Lyft sought a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order to prevent the city from issuing permits to operators for stationless bike-share rentals. While the court denied Lyft’s request for a TRO, it did approve a preliminary injunction to temporarily stop the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency from issuing dockless permits to operators other than Lyft, without at least giving Lyft the first opportunity to submit a proposal.

The whole process, called “Right of First Offer,” may take months, according to the SFMTA. That’s why it decided to offer Lyft an interim permit to operate up to 1,900 of its dockless, hybrid e-bikes in addition to its classic bikes offered through its station-based service, once known as Ford GoBike.

“These new bikes will allow Lyft to address the severe bicycle availability issues that Bay Wheels has faced since Lyft removed e-bikes from service in April,” the SFMTA wrote in a blog post. “Essentially, the interim permit allows the existing system to return to functionality even as we negotiate with Lyft for a potential future expansion.”

The lawsuit was in light of SF announcing it would take applications for operators seeking permits to deploy additional stationless bikes. San Francisco, however, said the contract does not apply to dockless bike-share, but only station-based bike-share. Well, a judge sided with Lyft, saying the agreement did “not draw a distinction between docked/stationed and stationless/dockless bikes…Plaintiff therefore is entitled to unconditional exclusivity for stationed or stationless ‘traditional’ bikes during the term of the agreement.”

While the process continues in court, the SFMTA has also extended JUMP’s permit for up to 500 stationless bikes in order to ensure more reliable services.

I’ve reached out to Uber/JUMP and will update this story if I hear back.

Self-driving startup AutoX expands beyond deliveries and sets its sights on Europe

AutoX, the Hong Kong and San Jose, Calif.-based autonomous vehicle technology company, is pushing past its grocery delivery roots and into the AV supplier and robotaxi business.

And now, it’s taking its business to Europe.

AutoX has partnered with NEVS — the Swedish holding company and electric vehicle manufacturer that bought Saab’s assets out of bankruptcy — to deploy a robotaxi pilot service in Europe by the end of 2020. Under the exclusive partnership, AutoX will integrate its autonomous drive technology into a next-generation electric vehicle inspired by NEVS’s “InMotion” concept that was shown at CES Asia in 2017.

autox nevs

This next-generation vehicle is being developed by NEVS in Trollhättan, Sweden. Testing of the autonomous NEVs vehicles will begin in the third quarter of 2019. The vehicles will hit public roads in Europe next year, the companies said. 

AutoX founder and CEO Jianxiong Xiao, commonly referred to as Professor X, noted that this particular vehicle is ideal for an autonomous taxi service because it is purpose-built for this specific application, doesn’t produce tailpipe emissions, can be used 24 hours a day and can help reduce the number of vehicles in the streets.

The companies ultimately want to deploy a large fleet of robotaxis globally.

The partnership with NEVs is the latest sign that AutoX has broader ambitions for its autonomous vehicle technology than delivery services. AutoX launched in 2016 and was initially focused on using self-driving vehicles for delivering packages, namely groceries. Last August, the startup kicked off a grocery delivery and mobile store pilot in a limited area in San Jose in partnership with GrubMarket.com and local high-end grocery store DeMartini Orchard.

But more recently, the company, which has raised about $58 million from venture and strategic investors, has expanded its plans. The company now wants to supply manufacturers with autonomous vehicle technology and launch its own robotaxi service.

In June, AutoX became the second company to receive permission from California regulators to transport passengers in its robotaxis. AutoX is calling its California robotaxi service xTaxi.

The California Public Utilities Commission has also granted Pony.ai, Waymo and Zoox permits to participate in the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, which prohibits the companies from charging for these robotaxi rides.

Professor X has previously said his mission is to open up autonomous vehicles to everyone, and so this expansion shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a goal the company contends can be reached using economical (and better) hardware. The company does use light detection and ranging radar, known as lidar. But instead of loading up its self-driving vehicles with numerous expensive lidar units, AutoX relies more on cameras, which it argues have better resolution. The company’s proprietary AI algorithms tie everything together.

For now, the xTaxi pilot in California will be rather limited. It will operate in the same operational design domain as the delivery service in San Jose, an area of about five square miles. But the company clearly has ambitions to expand both in size and geographic reach. AutoX has more than 115 employees, and plans to hire more than 50 people this year.

The company is also working with San Jose city government to launch another pilot downtown. It has yet to reveal details, although the pilot could launch as early as next month.

AutoX also has a permit to operate a robotaxi service in Shenzhen, China. It’s not clear whether the company will operate this service on its own or follow the model it set in Europe with NEVS. It’s possible AutoX will partner with BYD in China. AutoX is already working with the Chinese company to integrate its AV tech into BYD vehicles.

After Baidu tie-up, BMW taps Tencent for autonomous driving in China

China is BMW’s largest market, and the German automaker knows in order to capture the country’s demanding consumers, its future models must support robust autonomous driving capability.

But to build it itself in China is hardly possible. The success of autonomous driving relies in part on high-definition mapping, a process that requires an expansive collection of geographic information. By law, foreign entities can’t host China-based data without local partnerships. Apple noticeably works with a Chinese firm to store user emails, text messages and other forms of digital footprint in the country.

That appears to be one of the catalysts for BMW’s new partnership with Tencent. The Chinese tech giant, which is best known for WeChat and runs an expanding cloud computing business, said on Friday it’s setting up a data computing and storage platform for the German premium carmaker. Reuters reported that the pair plans to launch the computing center by the end of this year in Tianjin, a port city near Beijing.

The tie-up came months after BMW’s earlier data expansion in the world’s largest passenger car market. In February, Here — a Google Maps alternative partly owned by BWM — joined forces with Chinese navigation service Navinfo which would help Here collect data locally. It’s perhaps by no coincidence that Navinfo and Tencent both bought small shares in Here three years ago.

As BMW gets more familiar with China’s road conditions, there’s no reason why it won’t apply those data to its freshly minted ride-hailing venture.

Teaming up with BMW can be a big win for Tencent, which has been placing more focus on enterprise-facing endeavors as its main gaming business copes with regulatory pressure. In the world of transportation, “Tencent is committed to assisting automotive companies in the digital transformation,” said Dowson Tong, the company’s president of Cloud and Smart Industry, in a statement.

Another relationship

BMW has previously sought after another Chinese tech leader to automate its vehicles. It has been working with Baidu, the country’s largest search engine provider with a growing list of artificial intelligence initiatives, on automated driving since 2014.

Last October, the duo ramped up their alliance after the German automaker joined Baidu’s autonomous driving open platform Apollo . The deal carried larger diplomatic significance as it came about during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit in Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Baidu president Zhang Yaqin said at the time the deal was meant to “accelerate the development of autonomous driving technologies that align with the Chinese market.”

BMW’s relationship with Tencent, on the other hand, has previously played out on other fronts including joint research into autonomous driving security and testing that involved Tencent’s noted Keen Security Lab.

Baidu and Tencent don’t compete directly for their core businesses, but both are making a big push into the future of mobility, whether the effort pertains to in-car entertainment or self-driving. It’s not uncommon for tech rivals in China to target the same partner. A spokeswoman for BMW told TechCrunch that “there is no overlap in the collaboration” and the German firm is “cooperating with different top-notch Chinese companies in different fields.”

Indeed, the setup with Tencent seems more comprehensive at first glance. The Chinese company is providing “IT architecture, tools and platforms supporting the entire process of [BMW’s] automated driving research and development,” according to the spokeswoman. When it comes to Baidu, she cited an example of the pair working on a self-driving safety white paper that also involved ten other partners.

That might be a roundabout way of saying that the Baidu alliance is looser. It’s worth pointing out that BMW isn’t unique to Apollo, which bills itself as the “Android for autonomous cars” and now counts more than 100 auto partners from across the world.

A large network helps generate conversations and potential leads down the road, but keeping it this way could compromise the depth of “collaboration” — a word that’s too often co-opted by publicists. As Cao Xudong, founder of Chinese autonomous driving unicorn Momenta, told TechCrunch earlier, collaboration in the auto sector “demands deep, resource-intensive collaboration, so less [fewer partnerships] is believed to be more.”

What about the other heavyweight Alibaba, which also wants to own the future of driving? The Chinese e-commerce and cloud computing company has become pally with state-owned carmaker SAIC, with which it has set up a joint venture called Banma to create autonomous driving solutions. This existing marriage means BMW will unlikely tap Alibaba for automation, an employee at a major Chinese self-driving startup suggested to me.

Virgin Orbit signs agreement to launch small satellites for the UK’s Royal Air Force

Virgin Orbit, the small satellite launch company backed by billionaire Richard Branson, has signed an initial agreement to develop small satellite launch capabilities for the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF). The deal, which is part of the RAF’s Artemis project, will see Virgin Orbit aim to launch hardware provided by Guildford, UK-based Surrey Satellites in a demo mission.

This is in keeping with Virgin Orbit’s stated hope to bring spacecraft launch capabilities to the UK. The closest the UK has come is when it launched a British satellite aboard a British rocket in 1971 – but that took off from a launchpad in Australia. Virgin Orbit announced a deal to build a new Spaceport from which its modified 747 launch aircraft will take-off in Cornwall, with a target open date of early next decade.

Virgin Orbit’s method for launching doesn’t involve terrestrial rockets at all, which helps a lot with the cost of infrastructure (since you basically just need a traditional airfield). Basically, a smaller rocket is attached to the wing of a modified Boeing 747, which then separates at a high cruising altitude and blasts the rest of the relatively short way to low-Earth orbit carrying light payloads.

The method doesn’t work to get big, heavy satellites into space (which, somewhat ironically in this case, are the kind typically sent up by government and military agencies). But it’s perfect for sending smaller satellites, which have become popular because of their cost benefits in terms of both construction and launch price.

Tesla’s new V3 Supercharger can charge up to 1,500 electric vehicles a day

Tesla has opened a massive next-generation electric vehicle charging station in Las Vegas that combines the company’s core products into one sustainable energy ecosystem, fulfilling a vision CEO Elon Musk laid out nearly three years ago.

The new V3 Supercharger, which supports a peak rate of up to 250 kilowatts, is designed to dramatically cut charging times for its electric vehicles. Tesla unveiled its first V3 Supercharger in March at its Fremont, Calif. factory. A second V3 Supercharger is located in Hawthorne, Calif., near the Tesla Design Studio. Both of these locations, which were initially used as test sites, lack two key Tesla products.

This new location in Las Vegas is considered the first V3 Supercharger. It’s notable, and not just because of the size — there are 39 total chargers in all. This V3 Supercharger also uses Tesla solar panels and its Powerpack batteries to generate and store the power needed to operate the chargers. The result is a complete system that generates its own energy and passes it along to thousands of Tesla vehicles.

The new Supercharger, located off the Las Vegas Strip, below the High Roller on the LINQ promenade, was built on Caesars Entertainment property. The site is part of Caesars Entertainment’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2025.

There are caveats to the capabilities of this Supercharger station. Only one Tesla vehicle — the Model 3 Long Range iteration — can charge at the peak rate of 250 kW. The 250 kW results in up to 180 miles of range added to the battery in 15 minutes on a Model 3 Long Range.

The company’s new Model S and Model X vehicles can charge up to a 200 kW rate.

However, even older Model S and X vehicles and more basic versions of the Model 3 will experience faster charging rates at this location because there is no power sharing, a standard practice at Tesla’s other charging stations.

Improvements to charging times are critical for the company as it sells more Model 3 vehicles, its highest volume car. Wait times at some popular Supercharger stations can be lengthy. Early adopters might have been content to wait, but as new Tesla customers come online that patience could dwindle. And as more of these V3 Superchargers come online, potential customers might be encouraged to buy the pricier long range version Model 3.

Tesla has said in the past that these improvements will allow the Supercharger network to serve more than twice as many vehicles per day at the end of 2019 compared with today.

The V3 is not a retrofit of the company’s previous generations. It’s an architecture shift that includes a new 1 MW power cabinet, similar to the company’s utility-scale products, and a liquid-cooled cable design, which enables charge rates of up to 1,000 miles per hour. Tesla uses air-cooled cables on V2 Superchargers.

Uber and Lyft drivers demand better pay, workplace protections and driver-led unions

As Assembly Bill 5 makes its way through the California state legislature, Uber and Lyft drivers are voicing their demands for better pay, basic workplace protections and the right to organize through unions. Tomorrow, Lyft and Uber drivers will convene outside Uber’s San Francisco headquarters to make their voices heard.

As established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles, AB-5 seeks to codify the ruling. In that case, the court decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors.  AB-5, which has already passed in the California State Assembly, would ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits.

To fuel its mission, Gig Workers Rising and Mobile Workers Alliance took out an ad in the SF Chronicle, coming out tomorrow, that features an open letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and Lyft co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer. In it, the groups applauded both Lyft and Uber for saying they want to do better by their drivers.

“But the most important step in accomplishing that goal has yet to be taken: drivers need a seat at the table as equal partners to chart our path forward,” Linda Valdivia of Mobile Workers Alliance and Rebecca Stack-Martinez of Gig Workers Rising wrote in the letter. “That is why we have been organizing, demonstrating, and speaking out to demand that you put your words into action.”

In short, drivers want to be part of the conversations around AB-5 and have their voices heard in the decision-making process. Additionally, drivers want California’s leaders to give them the ability to organize and bargain through a driver-led union, the letter states.

“It’s time for Uber, Lyft, and California state leaders to come together with drivers to chart the path forward,” organizers wrote. “It’s time for Uber and Lyft to do right by us. That means extending all drivers the living wages and basic workplace protections we deserve. It also means an end to putting the cost and the risk of doing your business on us.”

As noted in Uber and Lyft’s op-ed, neither company wants its drivers to be employees. It would be a very costly endeavor that would undoubtedly impact their bottom lines.

“Lyft is advocating for an approach in line with the interests of our driver community, by modernizing century old labor laws that make it difficult to provide both flexibility and benefits,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement. “That’s why we’ve been working with lawmakers and labor leaders on a different solution, so drivers can continue to control where, when, and how long they drive. It’s encouraging that more groups are joining the conversation to preserve flexibility for drivers while also providing new benefits and protections.”

Behind the scenes, Uber has reportedly paid drivers to protest the legislation that would make them employees, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We will continue to work collaboratively with our diverse community of drivers — and the legislators who represent them — to improve the quality and security of independent work,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement.

How autonomous vehicles and hyperloop are scooting along

Two years ago, Lime was a great addition to guacamole, rather than a sidewalk. The market wasn’t sure about car sharing and whether it had long-term viability. Now, with the acquisition of Drivy, Getaround is the largest car-sharing platform with partnerships the likes of Uber and Toyota. Uber and Lyft were (and are) a phenomenon, but there were still pundits who weren’t sure if Uber would ever overcome the adversity of its culture.

At the same time, I wrote a series of four articles on the latest transport technologies, and the waves they would create with perspectives focused on the impact on retail, commercial real-estate, short-haul travel and hyperloop. Among those predictions was the impact hyperloop and autonomous vehicle technology would have on commuting, short-haul air travel and the retail industry.

Since then, these technologies have continued to develop and evolve, and it’s worthwhile to revisit assumptions and assertions. Some of the more optimistic expectations put upon them by their proponents have so far failed to be realized, and they are no closer to becoming a reality in our day-to-day lives.

This begs the question as to whether they will still become the industry disruptors many pundits, including me, suggested they would, or if expectations have become more tempered.

Both hyperloop and autonomous vehicle technology have had their ups and downs over the past two years, but they’re still set to change the way we (and the things we need) travel.

Delayed promotion to the back seat

When people think about transport innovation, we often think of self-driving cars or, maybe, flying cars.

Many believed that we’d be relegated (or promoted) to the back seat as soon as 2020. We would be sitting comfortably while fleets of autonomous cars chauffeured us along. Over the past two years the landscape has consolidated and the players are arguing what’s possible.

Driverless cars haven’t managed to achieve some of the targets that were being set for the technology two years ago. For instance, as we discussed, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed in 2015 that the company’s cars would be fully autonomous by 2017 — a prediction that, of course, didn’t and still hasn’t come to pass as of mid 2019. And in January this year, Nissan — one of the main proponents of autonomous vehicle technology — said “true autonomous cars will not happen within the next decade.”

But it would be overly pessimistic to suggest the technology isn’t coming at all. The progress has been incredible.

Disruptive leaps forward often result in a net gain in employment.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett said that “[w]e overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” at an April 2019 Detroit Economic Club event. Ford believes its fully driverless cars will be in commercial operation by 2021, and the technology has remained a major and consistent talking point in the media. At the annual WSJ conference, D.Live, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said that “autonomy will always have constraints,” to communicate his belief that fully autonomous Level 5 transport is not coming anytime soon.

Industry pundits like the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) would argue that Waymo is leading the pack on unlocking the promise of autonomous technology. Tesla’s founder and chief, Elon Musk, feels that Teslas will leapfrog Waymo with an upgrade in 2020 that will make more than a million cars fully autonomous. “By the middle of next year, we’ll have over a million Tesla cars on the road with full self-driving hardware, feature complete, at a reliability level that we would consider that no one needs to pay attention.” My excitement is tempered by the fact that Musk said before that Teslas would be fully autonomous by 2017. That said, I wouldn’t slight him for being audacious, as I do believe he was just being overly optimistic rather than scamming the market.

We shouldn’t forget everyone’s favorite punching bag, Uber, which entered the race in 2015 when they first partnered, then acquired, an entire Carnegie Mellon autonomy lab. Their foray into self-driving abruptly stopped after a tragic accident that killed a pedestrian in Arizona. At this point, it would seem more likely they are going to use the technology rather than develop it themselves.

Driverless cars will create more jobs than they will destroy

In my piece titled “Transport’s coming upheaval,” published in the original series on TechCrunch, I suggested that new modes of transport, such as autonomous vehicles and hyperloop, would end up creating more jobs than they would eliminate. They, coupled with improvements in remote work technologies, should contribute to lowering the cost of human capital by allowing them to comfortably move outside of urban centers to lower-cost housing.

Job loss has been one of the common themes in the discussion around the innovative transport technologies. Some reports have suggested that autonomous vehicle technology could destroy 300,000 jobs a year, and that hyperloop would have a devastating effect on the trucking industry. But as I previously posited, history shows us that, more often than not, disruptive leaps forward often result in a net gain in employment.

Take, for instance, the introduction of the personal computer in the 1970s. It initially destroyed 3.5 million jobs in total, including those in typewriter manufacturing, secretarial work and bookkeeping. But it went on to help create 19.3 million jobs, in the U.S. alone, across a wide range of industries and occupations, according to McKinsey estimates.

New transport innovations will have a similar effect, creating many new jobs. Even though driverless cars aren’t yet available for commercial purchase, there have been developments with the technology that give us a better idea as to how it will likely affect global workforces.

Rather than be a disaster for the world of work, autonomous vehicles and hyperloop could be a boon for employees.

As a whole host of companies, including Waymo, Tesla, Cruise and Ford, strive to make a breakthrough with autonomous vehicle technology, more workers are required to make the driverless car dream a reality. According to the online talent platform ZipRecruiter, the number of job listings related to driverless cars increased 27% year over year in January 2018, and the amount of job postings in the autonomous vehicle sector rose by 250% from the second quarter in 2017 to the second quarter in 2018 due to a hiring spree at the beginning of the year. Indeed, a report from Boston Consulting Group and Detroit Mobility Lab released in January estimated that self-driving and electric cars would create more than 100,000 jobs in the U.S. over the next decade.

In fact, the trucking industry seems ripe for change, and not just because of the benefits that autonomous vehicle technology would bring. There is a shortage of truck drivers in the U.S., according to CNBC. The unemployment rate fell to 3.9% percent in July of last year, meaning companies are struggling to recruit for a job that has long, demanding hours.

Drivers for both trucking and autonomous taxis won’t be irrelevant for some time. For trucking, there is a need for a human to secure the cargo and manage the many checkpoints. For taxis, if Waymo’s CEO is correct, there will still be routes where the driver may be needed, especially in high traffic cities with variability in routes, road quality, construction and traffic conditions.

As the new transport technologies are slowly introduced, they will indeed eliminate existing jobs after, first, making them much more enjoyable for the workers. But evidence suggests that those jobs will be replaced by new ones that require different experiences and levels of education. Rather than be a disaster for the world of work, autonomous vehicles and hyperloop could be a boon for employees everywhere.

What happened to hyperloop?

Two years ago, there was a ton of buzz around what Elon Musk once deemed a “fifth mode of transport.” Hyperloop — a form of terrestrial travel where pod-like vehicles travel in near-vacuum tubes at more than 700 mph — was set to be up-and-running by 2020, with plans to create routes between San Francisco and LA, and Washington and New York.

The impact of this, as I discussed in my original transport series, would be huge for commuting and real estate, and would be a devastating disruptor for short-haul air travel and some trucking routes. Even though hyperloop isn’t being talked about in the same way it was, the promising global projects are far from dead. There are still plenty of developments that suggest hyperloop could be a major form of transport in the future.

Virgin Hyperloop One is now testing empty pods along its 1,640-foot-long, 11-foot-high tube just north of Las Vegas; and in October last year, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) unveiled its first full-scale capsules, which it believes will be passenger-ready by the end of 2019. However, many of the widely publicized Hyperloop routes — LA to San Francisco, and Washington to New York — have gone cold in recent years. As have plans to create a high-speed rail across California. In February, California Governor Gavin Newsom said that plans for the new track had been scaled back from the previous grand ambition to connect north to south, saying that, “The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long.”

Efficiency isn’t the only factor that would put self-driving in good stead against airline competitors.

The financial problems the California high-speed rail track has come up against could be an ominous sign for hyperloop technology in the U.S. These types of transport systems are often vastly expensive (the California high-speed rail project was set to cost $68 billion, if completed), and there’s no guarantee they’ll return the investment. Taiwan’s high-speed rail, for instance, suffered heavy losses due to depreciation charges, interest burdens and lower-than-expected demand. And while Elon Musk claimed the LA to SF hyperloop track would cost as little as $6 billion, the SpaceX founder’s estimates have been largely rebuked, with some critics claiming the track would actually cost closer to $100 billion.

Hyperloop is becoming a commercial reality as soon as 2021, just not in the United States. HTT will be building a 10 km track to connect Abu Dhabi to Al Ain and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The hope is to be operational by the universal exposition, Expo 2020, on October 20th, 2020.

Clearly, hyperloop still has a lot of questions to answer if it is to fulfill the expectations placed on it, but leaving the technology by the wayside without further testing would be foolish when taking into consideration the environmental and commuting benefits hyperloop would bring. If the technology proves to be cost efficient and as effective as its proponents have previously claimed, it will still have a huge impact on how we and our cargo travel.

A new way to travel and commute

I continue to believe that self-driving technology will disrupt short-haul air travel in a massive way. Why would you go through the hassle of airport security when a terrestrial mode of transport could get you to your destination even quicker?

Efficiency isn’t the only factor that would put self-driving in good stead against airline competitors. Commuting would be easier, too. In all likelihood, traveling by car would be more comfortable and spacious than air travel, but it would also be more amenable to good Wi-Fi connection. In the two years since writing the original series on innovations in transport, in-flight Wi-Fi has improved, but it’s often costly and leaves much to be desired.

Autonomous vehicles will be the next step in brick-and-mortar retail innovation.

Volvo, for instance, released an autonomous car concept in September last year of an electric vehicle that can double up as a living room, bedroom and office. The car, named the 360c, benefits from a larger interior thanks to its lack of a bulky combustion engine and steering wheel. The 360c can be configured in four different ways, with spacious seating, a table and a fold-away bed.

This type of travel would revolutionize how we commute. Workers traveling long distances would surely choose to spend more time in a spacious, work-friendly driverless car than by air travel, if it meant they could comfortably work en route. And it’s a vision that automotive companies with an eye to autonomous vehicle technology are considering seriously.

Mobile retail

As we’ve already seen, the claim that new transport innovations such as driverless cars and hyperloop will destroy more jobs than they’ll create is specious at best. But that doesn’t mean the technology won’t change certain roles in the sector.

Already, the role of driver in ridesharing companies is beginning to change and become more enterprising. In July last year, in-car commerce startup Cargo partnered with Uber. The deal allows drivers to sell passengers candy, cosmetics and electronics during the journey. And, according to Cargo’s estimates, drivers using its service can earn between $1,500 to $3,000 in extra income per year.

As cars become more autonomous and the form-factors evolve, it will allow the drivers to provide more services to passengers.

This type of new mobile retail could go on to sell far more than just a few select products in an Uber, though, and it may have a knock-on effect on the retail industry as a whole — an assertion I made in the original series.

Two years ago, retail was suffering badly and, in large part, that trend continues as many fail to adapt. Today, it’s still in a state of flux, with constant disruptions threatening the future of brick-and-mortar stores. Those stores that are surviving the onslaught are adapting and improving with the latest technology. For instance, many companies, such as Ikea, are using augmented and virtual reality to make the shopping experience more immersive.

The reality is that scooters, e-bikes and other modalities will continue to infiltrate our cities.

Autonomous vehicles will be the next step in brick-and-mortar retail innovation. The technology could allow fleets of stores on wheels to come to consumers on demand straight to their location. When I made the claim two years ago, it may have seemed a bit far-fetched, but since then, plenty of businesses have started utilizing the concept.

Walmart, Ford and Postmates are reportedly collaborating on a pilot program in Miami where goods will be delivered to consumers’ doors in a driverless vehicle. They aren’t the only ones exploring how to use the technology in retail. In mid-2017, Swedish company Wheelys launched Moby Mart — a fully autonomous, staffless supermarket on wheels. The service currently operates in Shanghai, China, and is available 24/7.

Consumers have shown an increasing appetite for on-demand food delivery services since I wrote the original series. Uber Eats is only three years old, but it’s already valued at $20 billion; and one of its main rival, Postmates, made more than 35 million deliveries in 2018. As autonomous vehicle technology becomes more widely adopted, more businesses will see the advantage in using it to deliver efficient services to a growing customer base.

New kids on the block

E-bikes have been a steadily growing market since the end of the 20th century, but with the help of on-demand bike sharing they’ve exploded in major cities. Meanwhile, another form of transport left the playground and moved mainstream. Scooters have long been a staple, but since 2017, they’ve changed the landscape of short city commutes.

According to a report released by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, riders took nearly 39 million trips on shared electric scooters in 2018. For the first time they surpassed e-bikes by nearly 10%.

The biggest names behind the scooter boom in the U.S. are Lime, Bird and Scoot. Ironically, their scooters are powered by inventor Dean Kamen’s technology that was at the heart of the Segway. It only took nearly two decades for his future to be realized with a slight design change.

Although I’m not clear that the scooter rental companies are as big a financial opportunity as their investors are hoping, I do believe they aren’t going anywhere. The reality is that scooters, e-bikes and other modalities will continue to infiltrate our cities as urban planners move away from designs centered around automobiles.

The future of innovation in transport

With the setbacks and failed predictions that have been made of autonomous vehicles and hyperloop technology, it would be easy to be skeptical if they will come at all. But, as is often the case with innovation and change, adoption can be slow, and there are often unforeseeable delays. However, with so many startups and major global businesses — from Waymo to Virgin — betting heavily on the future of hyperloop and autonomous vehicles, it’s surely a question of when rather than if they come to pass.

As we’ve seen, these technologies have made huge strides in the two years since I wrote the original series, and the applications of them are starting to be realized. And those applications go far beyond faster, more convenient travel. As more businesses sit up and take notice of the potential driverless cars and hyperloop have to offer, they will continue to shape the future of transport, retail, work and much more.

SpaceX shares video of multiple Crew Dragon parachute recovery system tests

SpaceX is providing a closer look at some of its Crew Dragon parachute recovery system testing, with a new video compiling footage of a number of tests, including those flown from a cargo plane and a high-altitude balloon. The video shows a test version of their Crew Dragon capsule falling through the sky over desert testing ground, and deploying the multi-parachute array it’ll employ to coast gently back to Earth after its planned missions ferrying astronauts to space.

Elon Musk’s private space company has been testing the Crew Dragon parachute system for a while now, and we don’t know too much about its progress yet, beyond that it performed an “advanced development test” in April using a metal sled in place of an actual demonstration Crew Capsule that did not meet NASA’s expectations. Regardless, the test was seen as a “good one” by both parties because of the data it provided in terms of working toward an ultimately successful system.

SpaceX shows footage from seven different tests in the highlight video it shared today, which include both reliability and qualification tests. It still has yet to announce that its parachute system is approved for flight, however, and that’s a milestone that Boeing achieved for its rival Starliner crew craft in June.

Beyond the parachute system, SpaceX is undertaking a wide range of tests in order to quality its craft for crewed flight with NASA personnel on board. The company also recently detailed progress it made into an investigation of the cause behind its failed Dragon abort engine test in April, and the steps it’s taking to remedy the issue so that it can move forward with a crewed test launch.

SpaceX had been targeting a 2019 date for its first crewed test mission for Crew Dragon, and had previously been aiming to run that mission at the end of July. At this stage, it seems increasingly unlikely that we’ll see astronauts on board a SpaceX spacecraft before the end of the year.