Volvo Launches a VC Fund to Keep Up With the Future

Startups looking to cash checks had better start learning Swedish and get ready for meetings at the IKEA cafeteria. Today, Volvo announced it has launched its very own in-house venture capital fund.

Working with an undisclosed amount of money, Volvo Cars Tech Fund will look to invest in startups it believes could help it keep pace in a shape shifting auto industry.

In an industry being rocked by electrification, connectivity, autonomy, and changing ideas of what car ownership even is, every automaker is racing to rethink how it does business. Rather than try to develop everything with its own R&D team or buy components from suppliers, Volvo hopes to take an active role in shaping new ideas—and bring them into the Swedish fold. “Capital adds a strategic element,” says Zaki Fasihuddin. The CEO of the new fund has done similar work for American Express, PayPal, and McDonald’s.

The Swedes are not pioneering this move. General Motors formed a VC arm called GM Ventures [...]  read more


Ride-Hailing Is Now So Much Bigger Than Uber and Lyft

Anyone need a ride?

It’s the question on the lips of just about everybody involved in the transportation business—and a few who aren’t. The ranks of those offering ride-sharing services have swelled far beyond the likes of Uber and Lyft, past the self-driving gurus like Google sister company Waymo, past even the established automakers.

Now they include companies like Bosch, the German company best known as an automotive parts supplier, which last week acquired American ride-sharing startup SPLT. And Sony, which just announced it will partner with Tokyo taxi companies, lending its artificial intelligence tech to the tricky business of dispatch. And even rental company Avis, which purchased car-sharing company ZipCar and is working with Waymo to support a self-driving taxi rollout in Arizona.

Welcome, passengers, to the confused and confusing age of mobility. The central quandary, the reason for these new sorts of businesses and brainwaves about revenue streams, [...]  read more

Ford Will Test Self-Driving Cars in Miami

If you work on self-driving cars, the cocktail party question people always ask is probably: When will I get to interact with one? For two years now, Ford Motor Company has had an answer—in 2021. That year, Ford wants to launch a self-driving taxi service, and it wants to start making deliveries with driverless vehicles.

But before the Detroit automaker does any of that, it needs to figure out how to run a fleet. Which is why the company announced today that it will begin to test autonomous vehicles and build its first operations terminal in Miami, Florida. The focus there won’t be on getting you from A to B. It will be on maintaining and operating the armada of robot delivery cars that get your stuff from A to, well, to you.

As part of partnerships with Domino’s and the on-demand delivery company Postmates, Ford will use its first few months in Miami to study how people interact with driverless deliveries, from the [...]  read more

California Welcomes Self-Driving Cars Without Humans Inside

UPDATE: On Monday, February 26, California gave the official green light for self-driving cars without humans inside to begin testing on public roads. The first permits could be issued as early as April 2. The new rules do require a remote operator be able to control the vehicle—so expect to hear more about the quietly booming field of teleoperations. This story, about the details of those rules, originally ran on October 11, 2017.

OK, sure, there are self-driving cars on California roads today. General Motors’ Cruise has Chevrolet Bolts zipping around San Francisco; Google self-driving spinoff Waymo has got Chrysler Pacifica motoring about Mountain View; secretive startup Zoox has black Toyota Highlanders mixing it up along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. But all these vehicles, however capable, have a decidedly un-futuristic feature: There’s a human in the driver’s seat, ready to grab control in case the robot goes rogue.

It’s not just common sense, [...]  read more

The Security Command Center Protecting the Winter Olympics

It’s a Sunday during the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, at one in the afternoon—at least in this simulation. The US security forces in charge of protecting Team USA receive word of an explosion outside the main entrance of the hockey arena, where teams have been battling for gold.

“Fans begin to panic, resulting in a stampede,” says Donald Grinder, a crisis management expert with the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. His first question to the room full of special agents, analysts, and intelligence experts goes to Mark Woods-Hawkins, deputy Olympic security coordinator at the Diplomatic Security Service: How do you start gathering the information the team will need to address the unfolding crisis?

“We’ll first reach out to our people in the venues to get reporting and accountability,” Woods-Hawkins says, referring to the agents stationed at the arena, several of whom would likely already be moving the U.S. athletes to a secure area. “If [...]  read more

F1’s 2018 Cars Come With a New Engineering Puzzle: The Halo

We’re just a month from the start of the 2018 Formula 1 season, and that means it’s debutante season, where teams take the wraps off the extreme machines they’ve spent the offseason building. So far, the theme seems to be retro-chic. McLaren has gone for an “papaya” orange and blue livery for its MCL33 car, inspired by its early 1970s racing machines. Ferrari’s SF-71H has returned to a classic red, dropping last year’s splashes of white. Red Bull is being cagey about its competition colors, revealing its new RB14 in a “special edition” black livery.

When the cars line up on the grid in Melbourne, Australia, on March 25th, they will share one feature that is totally new to the sport: a clunky looking loop of metal and carbon fiber, directly in the drivers’ eye line. This is the “halo,” a T-shaped safety cage designed to protect the driver’s head in crashes, to protect them by deflecting flying objects, like a wheel flung loose from a smash up ahead. [...]  read more

Uber’s Express Pool, GM’s Super Cruise, and More Car News

Once upon a time, car companies were in charge of, you know, building cars. They put that widget against that gizmo and bolted and screwed until the whole thing hanged together—a thing you could buy and own and drive. No longer. Increasingly, car companies—and parts suppliers, and car-sharing startups, and ride-hailing giants—are in the business of data. Collecting it, compiling it, selling it.

This week, we got a few good looks into how these mobility-focused companies are using your data. Ski resorts are especially good at this, I report, and might be a model for the much-discussed, little-defined “smart city”. Uber launched Express Pool, a new service that asks riders to walk a block or so before meeting drivers. Based on pilots in two cities, Uber thinks it can get people, and especially commuters, to use their app more regularly thanks [...]  read more

The Doomsday L Train Shutdown Just Might Save New York City

Like Y2K and the Mayan prophecies concerning December 21, 2012, the apocalypse heading for New York City comes with that “mark it on your calendar” feature you just don’t get from surprise nuclear attack. Here, the end-of-the-world date in question is April 2019, when one of the key linkages between Manhattan and Brooklyn will shut down.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy flooded the the 92-year-old Canarsie tunnel, which takes straphangers under the East River, with 7 million gallons of seawater. So, in just over a year, the stretch of the L subway train that runs from the west side of Manhattan, along 14th St, and through the tunnel into Brooklyn will go on a 15-month hiatus. A full shutdown, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says, is the best way to make much-needed repairs.

This presents a problem. Some 225,000 New Yorkers ride the L train through that tunnel every day—more than the population of Birmingham, Alabama. The subway line is the key connection between [...]  read more

Dockless Electric Bike-Share Companies Take on Uber

Riding an electric bicycle is a bit like becoming the Hulk. When I hopped on a pedelec bike owned by Jump Bikes (”pedelec” short for “pedal electric cycle,” an e-bike with a small motor that assists pedaling but doesn’t do all the work) for a ride around San Francisco, I felt just a touch stronger. Like someone had sprinkled me with a few gamma rays.

The e-bike was better than a regular bike, obvi. But it might be better than the bus, too. And better than another awkward conversation with an Uber driver. At $2 for 30 minutes, it might be cheaper, faster, and easier, too. That’s because Jump runs a dockless bike-share service, the kind that has been hoovering venture capital like a Dyson run amok.

The company isn’t alone. There’s been an explosion of American dockless, electric bike-sharing systems, which started in Europe and Asia and have now reached American shores. Eight-year-old Jump is live in San Francisco and Washington, DC. Limebike has [...]  read more

Airlines Won’t Dare Use the Fastest Way to Board Planes

Maybe you don’t think you and your favorite airline agree on anything: on how much room an adult human requires, on what counts as food, or on how much it should cost for a soothing, tiny bottle of wine. But surely you agree on at least one point: People take way too long getting to their seats.

For passengers, the cumbersome boarding process—watching people insist that yes, this bag will fit in the overhead bin, it has before!—means more time spent jammed in a too-small seat. For airlines, it means lost revenue. In an industry with tight profit margins, every moment a plane spends on the tarmac is time it’s not making money.

This is the concept known as turnaround time: how long it takes an airline to get the people and luggage off a plane that has just landed, to clean, refuel, and restock it, then get a new load of people and bags in. It’s a complex dance, says Martin Rottler, a lecturer at The Ohio State University’s Center for Aviation Studies. But [...]  read more