close
  • Te chevron_right

    Uber’s ride-hailing business hit with ban in Germany

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Thursday, 19 December - 15:54

Another legal blow for Uber in Europe: A regional court in Frankfurt has banned the company from sending ride-hailing requests to rental car companies via its app — with the court finding multiple competition violations.

The ruling, over Uber’s dispatching process, follows a legal challenge brought by a German taxi association.

In Germany Uber’s ride-hailing business works exclusively with professional and licensed private hire vehicle (PHV) companies — whose drivers and cars have the necessary licenses and permits to transport passengers. So the court ban essentially outlaws Uber’s current model in the country — unless it’s able to make changes to come into compliance.

Uber can appeal the Frankfurt court’s judgement but did not respond when asked whether it intends to do so.

The ban is enforceable immediately. It’s not clear whether Uber will temporarily pausing service in the market to come into compliance — it has not said it will do so, suggesting it intends to scramble to make changes while continuing to operate. But if it does that it risks fines if it’s caught breaching the law in the meanwhile.

Per Reuters , the plaintiff in the case, Taxi Deutschland, has said it will seek immediate provisional enforcement — with the threat of fines of €250 per ride, or up to €250,000 per ride for repeated offences if Uber fails to make the necessary changes.

“We will assess the court’s ruling and determine next steps to ensure our services in Germany continue,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “Working with licensed PHV operators and their professional drivers, we are committed to being a true partner to German cities for the long term.”

Among the issues identified by the court as violations of German law are Uber’s lack of a rental licence; rental drivers it uses to supply the driving service accepting jobs via the Uber app without first returning to their company’s headquarters; and rental drivers accepting jobs directly in the app without the jobs being previously received by their company.

Uber’s p2p ride-hailing offering has been effectively outlawed across Europe since a 2017 decision by the region’s top court which judged it a transportation company, not merely a tech platform — which means its business is subject to PHV regulations in each EU Member State. Compliance costs have thus been piled onto its model in the region.

Uber argues that reform of German transport law is needed to take account of digital business models and app-based dispatch. In the meanwhile its business demonstrably remains vulnerable to legal challenges around PHVs regulations.

The Frankfurt court ruling also comes hard on the heels of a decision by London’s transport regulator not to renew Uber’s license to operate in the UK capital.

The city regulator found a “pattern of failures” which it said put “passenger safety and security at risk” — including unauthorised drivers being able to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver in at least 14,000 trips.

In that case Uber can continue to operate in London during the appeals process. The company submitted an appeal last week.

  • Te chevron_right

    Mental health startup eQuoo joins UK’s NHS app library, closes in on seed round

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Thursday, 19 December - 11:56

UK-based mental health startup eQuoo has become the only game in the UK’s National Health Service App Library and is set to shortly close it’s seed funding round. The app is an emotional fitness game that aims to teach healthy psychological skills.

The NHS announcement means a UK doctor can now formally refer eQuoo to their patients to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

The app has also now achieved a top rating at ORCHA , the leading health app assessment platform and now has clients including Barmer, the largest insurance company in Germany.

Founder and CEO Silja Litvin says she created the startup because of the mental health crisis. “While working in an NHS Trust for eating and mood disorders I was dismayed about the fact that many of our young clients had to wait months to see us for a measly 6 sessions. Psychologists are not scalable, but apps are, so I decided to make an app. After developing PsycApps, an evidence-based anti-depression app I learned the hard way that mental health apps all struggle with drop off rates of up to 90% in week 1, so we pivoted towards gamification with the launch of eQuoo, as casual games can have a positive mental health effect and intrinsically get players to stick to them.”

A spokesperson for the NHS said: “Approximately 58% GPs across England now have the ability to refer patients directly to Equoo, as its now live on the EMIS App Library. The EMIS App Library is powered by IQVIA’s AppScript® platform, which enables clinical users of the EMIS Web clinical system to find and recommend high quality digital health apps to their patients via text or email, directly from their existing workflow. All apps listed on the platform (including Equoo) have been evaluated under NHS Digital’s digital assessment questions (DAQ) and assessed for their clinical safety, data protection, security and usability.”

Earlier this year the startup also gained scientific backing for its app, Going through a “three arm”, five-week-long, randomized control trial with over 350 participants, with Bosch UK. By contrast Woebot , a highly lauded mental health chatbot startup, went through only a two-week trial with 70 participants.

Results showed “statistically significant increases in wellbeing metrics” and a significant decrease in anxiety when using the app over a timeframe of five weeks.

  • Te chevron_right

    Audi experiments with a ride share service in Southern Germany using an EV and gasoline fleet

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Wednesday, 11 December - 11:04

Audi Business Innovation is testing out a ride sharing service in Southern Germany called BITS that uses both gasoline and electric vehicles in its fleet.

To manage the service, Audi has turned to Fleetonomy , a fleet management service that offers white labeled ride hailing app services and fleet management technology.

The company develops technology to handle fleet utilization and improve efficiency by bringing visibility to maintenance constraints, real-time demand and supply availability.

The service provides long-distance drives across Southern Germany with a mix of electric and internal combustion powered vehicles.

“The need for flexible mobility among customers is growing and is set to become an additional focus area for the automotive industry said Nico Gropper, Audi Business Innovation GmbH, in a statement. “We always aspire to be at the forefront of these developments. Services that include both electric and ICE vehicles have to deal with additional levels of complexity in order to run smoothly and solving these complexities with the right technology partner is crucial to the operational and financial success of the entire service.”

After a successful initial test in October, the company is planning on doing more with the service. The new partnership with Fleetonomy gives Audi both an app-based bespoke ride hailing service and a way to manage a fleet of both electric and combustion vehicles.

The tech can be used to address range anxiety issues by supplying specific vehicles for trips that are scheduled for certain distances so that battery capacity isn’t as much of an issue and so that routes can be managed by optimizing for charging time and locations.

Using Fleetonomy, Audi has dispatch and scheduling management dashboards, and presents a mobile  app for both passengers and drivers (it’s an Uber-like experience that automakers can control themselves).

“Automotive manufacturers worldwide are expanding their role as service providers of on-demand mobility services and are looking for efficient ways to manage their fleets in order to create services that are both profitable as well as provide a great traveling experience,” said Fleetnomy Co-Founder & CEO Israel Duanis, in a statement. “Fleetonomy’s advanced mobility platforms are up for the task in Audi Business Innovation’s new mobility project, BITS, and we are immensely honored to be the technology partner chosen to power this first-of-its-kind service. We are looking forward to continuing to support Audi Business Innovation in their New Mobility journey.”

  • Te chevron_right

    The Station: Canoo hits the road, Coup shutters and Samsung shifts

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Monday, 2 December - 16:30

Welcome back to The Station, the go-to newsletter for keeping up-to-date on what the heck is going on in the world of transportation. I’m your host, Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

Portions of the newsletter are published as an article on the main site after it has been emailed to subscribers (that’s what you’re reading now). The Station is emailed every Saturday morning. To get everything, you have to sign up. And it’s free. To subscribe, go to our newsletters page and click on The Station.

We love tips and feedback. Please reach out anytime and tell us what you love and don’t love so much. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec .

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Shared mopeds might be popular, but that doesn’t mean companies operating these services are guaranteed to succeed. This week, TechCrunch reporter Romain Dillet reported that Coup, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bosch that operates an electric moped scooter-sharing service in Berlin, Paris and Madrid, is shutting down.

The closure might surprise some, considering Coup has brand recognition and, according to the company a loyal customer base that uses its services. That’s not enough to be a profitable enterprise. Coup said that operating the service is “economically unsustainable” in the long term.

Meanwhile, TechCrunch reporter Manish Singh learned from two sources familiar with the deal that Bangalore-based startup Bounce has raised about $150 million as part of an ongoing financing round led by existing investors Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital and Accel Partners India. Bounce, formerly known as Metro Bikes, operates more than 17,000 electric and gasoline scooters in three dozen cities in India.

The new round values the startup “well over $500 million,” the people said, requesting anonymity. This is a significant increase since the year-old startup’s Series C financing round, which closed in June , when it was worth a little more than $200 million.

Bounce, which is known for its cheap rental costs, along with competitors Vugo and Yulu are trying to carve market share away from ride-hailing companies like Uber . The big attraction isn’t necessarily price either. Traffic congestion is prompting people to turn to two wheels as well, giving Bounce and others a boost.

Subscriptions are so hot right now

the station electric vehicles1

Remember Canoo, the Los Angeles startup that revealed a minibus-type electric vehicle a few months back? We have an update. In short, the company’s rapid ramp continues to accelerate despite some legal headwinds .

Canoo is taking an interesting approach to EVs. It aims to offer a “subscription only” electric vehicle in the U.S. and China.

The company began life as Evelozcity in late 2017 after ex-BMW executives Stefan Krause and Ulrich Kranz left Faraday Future amid an internal power struggle. Evelozcity rebranded as Canoo in spring 2019 and unveiled its prototype electric vehicle several months later.

Now, the company is beta testing its EV on public roads. Canoo tells me that its focus is to validate the powertrain, steer-by-wire system, battery, chassis and body structure.

Canoo is building a fleet of more than 30 beta vehicles for various types of testing. The bulk of the beta testing is expected to take place over the next six months in various locations, including near Canoo’s Torrance, California headquarters, Toyota’s Arizona proving grounds and on public roads in Ohio.

Canoo said it’s also conducting hot and cold testing as well as focusing on the advanced driver assistance system in various locations.

Canoo electric vehicle

A subscription reboot

Automakers including Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen have been testing subscription programs with mixed success. Now, one failed pilot is coming back.

At an event in Los Angeles, GM’s Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl said the subscription service Book by Cadillac will return next year. GM’s luxury brand Cadillac will pilot the next-generation of the subscription service in San Francisco starting in the first quarter of 2020.

“We learned a lot from the first pilot… first, it verified that there is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution to personal transportation,” Wahl said at the event. “Second, we learned that the BOOK model is enormously effective as a conquest mechanism: 70% of Book subscribers were new to Cadillac.”

Moving forward, Cadillac plans to integrate the subscription service into the retail dealer network, Wahl said.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

Samsung appears to be yet another company stepping back from a pursuit of full autonomy and refocusing efforts and investments towards advanced driver assistance technology. At least for now.

Several years ago, Samsung was all in on autonomous vehicle technology.  At CES in 2018, the company introduced its new Samsung DRVLINE platform — an “open, modular, and scalable hardware and software-based platform for the autonomous driving market. But Samsung is changing up its strategy.

The DRVLINE/Smart Machines team based out of its Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center has been shuttered, a source with direct knowledge of the events told me. This move also includes closing offices in Germany.

Let’s get wonky

the station autonomous vehicles1

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is keen to change how the 5.9 GHz band is used and that matters for connected car technology and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles.

For the unfamiliar, the 5.9 GHz band has been reserved for the past two decades to be used by the Dedicated Short Range Communications, a service in the Intelligent Transportation System that was designed to enable vehicle communication. (ITS is a joint operation that overlaps five offices under the Department of Transportation.)

In the FCC’s view, the DSRC service has evolved slowly and has not been widely deployed. The commission issued this month a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to take, what it calls “a fresh and comprehensive look” at the 5.9 GHz band rules and propose changes to how the spectrum is used.

The upshot: the FCC wants to carve up the band. The commission proposed dedicating the upper 30 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band to meet current and future needs for transportation and vehicle safety-related communications, while repurposing the lower 45 megahertz of the band for unlicensed operations like Wi-Fi.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of this proposed change is the FCC’s views on DSRC and what sounds like a strong endorsement for Cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X). The FCC wants to revise the rules and give C-V2X the upper 20 megahertz of the band reserved for vehicle communications. The commission plans to seek comment on whether this segment of the spectrum should be reserved for DSRC or C-V2X systems.

C-V2X, which the 5G Automotive Association supports, would use standard cellular protocols to provide direct communications between vehicles as well as infrastructure like traffic signals. But here’s the thing. C-V2X is incompatible with DSRC-based operations.

It’s pretty clear which way the FCC is leaning. In a speech Nov. 20, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he believes the government “should encourage the expansion and evolution of this new vehicle-safety technology.” Pai insists that the FCC is not “closing the door” on DSRC, but instead allowing for both.

“So moving forward, let’s resist the notion that we have to choose between automotive safety and Wi-Fi,” Pai said in his speech. “My proposal would do far more for both automotive safety and Wi-Fi than the status quo.”

  • Te chevron_right

    Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Thursday, 14 November - 06:25

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of these matches , setting a new global record.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the company’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox , would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada, and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31 , the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debut its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed over 10 million subscribers , plans to raise the tariff of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen towards the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said. Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut local rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia .

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from Showtime, HBO, and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and large library of Indian titles.

The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket seasons. The service’s monthly userbase plummets below 60 million in weeks following IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired over 60 engineers and researchers as it looks to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

  • Te chevron_right

    Volkswagen’s $800M Tennessee factory expansion to include battery pack plant

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Wednesday, 13 November - 17:53

Volkswagen said Wednesday it will build a battery pack assembly facility as part of an $800 million expansion project that will turn the Chattanooga, Tenn. factory into its North American base for manufacturing electric vehicles.

The Chattanooga factory expansion, which is includes a 564,000-square-foot addition to the body shop and is expected to create 1,000 new jobs at the plant, has been in the works for some time now. But the battery pack assembly announcement, while logical, came as a surprise.

“This is a big, big moment for this company,” Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America said in a statement. “Expanding local production sets the foundation for our sustainable growth in the U.S. Electric vehicles are the future of mobility and Volkswagen will build them for millions of people.”

The automaker’s Chattanooga expansion is just a piece its broader plan to move away from diesel in the wake of the emissions cheating scandal that erupted in 2015. Globally, VW Group plans to commit almost $50 billion through 2023 toward the development and production of electric vehicles and digital services.

The Tennessee factory (along with the other new facilities) will produce electric vehicles using Volkswagen’s modular electric toolkit chassis, or MEB, introduced by the company in 2016. The MEB is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The company also built a European facility in Zwickau, Germany. Earlier this month, VW began production of the ID. 3 electric vehicle began at the Zwickau factory. By 2022, VW’s MEB vehicles will be produced at eight locations on three continents.

EV-production at facilities are expected to come online in Anting and Foshan in China in 2020, and in the German cities of Emden and Hanover by 2022.

Volkswagen currently produces the midsize Atlas SUV and the Passat sedan at the Chattanooga factory. Production of its electric vehicles is  set to begin in Chattanooga in 2022. First model will be a SUV of ID. family.

  • Te chevron_right

    Reaction Engines’ Mach 5 engine is just the tip of the new aerospace boom

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Friday, 1 November - 21:28

Imagine a hypersonic passenger aircraft that would cut the journey time between London and New York to around two hours. At Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, the aircraft would complete a trip across the Atlantic in around 120 minutes. Mach 5 is more than twice as fast as the cruising speed of Concorde and over 50% faster than the SR-71 Blackbird – the world’s fastest jet-engine powered aircraft. A flight across the Pacific would take roughly three hours. Flight times from London to Sydney could be 80% shorter. Who needs Elon Musk ?

Reaching these speeds would require an aircraft engine that has never previously existed. But last week, the world got a glimpse of a new future via a project which has been germinating for 30 years.

Reaction Engines was founded in 1989 by three propulsion engineers from Rolls Royce: Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott Scott. Their idea was that in order for an engine to reach hypersonic speeds, the air going into it would have to be rapidly cooled, otherwise the engine would melt. Reaction’s breakthrough was inventing a “precooler” or heat exchanger which can take the air down to minus 150 degrees centigrade in less than a 20th of a second.

These ultra-lightweight “heat exchangers” would enable aircraft to fly over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. Thus the SABRE – Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine – was born. The Sabre engine “breathes” air to make 20 per cent of the journey to orbit, before switching to rocket mode to complete the trip.

Last week, Reaction Engines passed a significant milestone. It successfully tested its innovative precooler at airflow temperature conditions representing Mach 5.

The ground-based test at the Colorado Air and Space Port in the US, saw the precooler successfully operate at temperatures of 420ᵒC (~788ᵒF) – matching the thermal conditions corresponding to Mach 3.3 flight.

Reaction Engines

But this technology wouldn’t just be applicable to hypersonic flight. The precooler technology, developed by Reaction Engines, would significantly enhance the performance of existing jet engine technology, along with applications in automotive, aerospace, energy and industrial processes. Reaction Engines has attracted development funding from the British government, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the European Space Agency. It’s also raised over £100m from public and private sources and has secured investment from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Boeing’s venture capital arm HorizonX. Reaction is expected to start building and testing a demonstrator engine next year.

The success of Reaction Engines to date is a sign that the ‘AerospaceTech’ sector is now booming. It is most certainly not alone.

Last month, Boeing and the UK government launched a £2m accelerator program to look for new innovations in this area. Boeing’s HorizonX is backing the initiative.

  • Te chevron_right

    Porsche pilots online vehicle sales in the U.S. and Germany

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Monday, 28 October - 15:55

Porsche will begin selling its vehicles online in the U.S . for the first time, the company announced on Monday. To begin with, the company is proceeding with a pilot program that will be offered with 25 of its U.S.-based dealer partners, but the automaker says it could expand to cover the U.S. market more broadly across a larger group of the 191 independent Porsche dealers that currently operate in the U.S.

The pilot project will let Porsche buyers pick out and submit an order for both new and used in-stock vehicles, but the process isn’t entirely online – buyers will still have to show up at a dealership to sign the final paperwork, and to take delivery of their new car. All the heavy lifting is handled online, however, including things like financing and payment calculators, as well as credit approvals and any insurance options that a buyer chooses to append to their purchase.

U.S. online shoppers will be able to do all of this through new sections integrated into the websites of the dealers participating into the program. Meanwhile, at the same time in Germany, Porsche is introducing online vehicle sales centralized through their own ‘www.porsche.de’ website, which itself is a pilot designed to test the waters for a broader European roll-out.

Online auto sales are not new, but they still aren’t really a widespread thing in most markets, especially in the U.S. where the existing independent dealership system persists. Tesla leaned heavily into online vehicle sales, however, due in part to its unwillingness to work with independent dealer partners, and to the inflexibility of state laws that protect that system. The automaker’s investment in automotive ecommerce has clearly inspired others to follow suit, however, and I don’t expect Porsche will be the last to dip its toes in these waters.