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Scale AI hits $3.5B valuation as it turns the AI boom into a venture bonanza

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Scale AI, the four-year-old data labeling startup, has discovered that selling the picks and shovels needed to develop and apply artificial intelligence is big business.

The company, which created a visual data labeling platform that uses software and people to label image, text, voice and video data for companies building machine learning algorithms, has raised another $155 million. The funding round, led by Tiger Global, pushes Scale’s post-money valuation to more than $3.5 billion. 

Importantly, Scale is now a “break even” business and is set up to continue to add employees and expand into new markets in a sustainable way, Scale’s CEO and co-founder Alexandr Wang told TechCrunch. Scale will use the funds to grow its workforce from 200 people to about 350 by the end of next year. (Those employee numbers don’t include the tens of thousands of contractors it uses to label data.) It’s also focused on new markets and adding products and platform capabilities.

Scale got its start by supplying autonomous vehicle companies with the labeled data needed to train machine learning models to develop and deploy robotaxis, self-driving trucks and automated bots used in warehouses and on-demand delivery. Legacy automakers such as General Motors and Toyota, chipmaker Nvidia and a slew of AV startups, including Nuro and Zoox, have used its platform.

More recently, Scale’s customers have spilled over into government, e-commerce, enterprise automation and robotics. Airbnb, OpenAI, DoorDash and Pinterest are some of its customers. That pace of expansion has accelerated in 2020, according to Wang. 

“One thing that we saw, especially in the course of the past year, was that AI is going to be used for so many different things,” Wang said. “It’s like we’re just sort of really at the beginning of this and we want to be prepared for that as it happens.”

Part of that preparation means evolving beyond being just a data labeler. Earlier this year, the company quietly launched Nucleus, an AI development platform that Wang describes as the “Google Photos for machine learning data sets.” Nucleus provides customers a way to organize, curate and manage massive data sets, giving companies a means to test their models and measure performance among other tasks.

“Nucleus is the first product of our future, I would say,” Wang said. “We definitely see that the next biggest bottleneck for a lot of our customers is, ‘how are they going to have the suite of tools and suite of infrastructure that exists today for building out software?’ None of that exists for machine learning.”

The plan is to continue to build out Nucleus into a fully integrated platform that helps more companies be able to do AI, Wang said.

Scale made its first acquisition to support Nucleus with the purchase of a four-person startup called Helia. The team, which has expertise in real-time video and neural network training, will support Nucleus.

“The one thing that we were noticing across our whole customer base was that more and more customers, even beyond just the self-drive folks were wanting to do AI on real-time video. And so it was becoming this expertise that we knew just wasn’t going to go away.”

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/12/01/scale-ai-hits-3-5b-valuation-as-its-turns-the-ai-boom-into-a-venture-bonanza/

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Tesla gains permission to begin second phase of deforestation at Giga Berlin

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Tesla has received federal approval to remove more trees from the property it owns in Brandenburg, Germany. The site, which is currently being used for the company’s European production facility, known as Giga Berlin, is under development. However, the automaker requested permission to remove trees from more of the property and received approval early this morning.

The State Office for the Environment in Brandenburg approved an early start for the clearing of further forest areas for the construction of a pipeline system and storage areas on the Tesla Giga Berlin property. The Office approved 82.8 hectares, or 204.6 acres, of land to be cleared to prepare the pipeline and storage systems to be installed.

Tesla initially sought out approval for the tree clearing process in late August 2020, but constant revisions to what the company would be allowed to do on the site delayed the announcement until now. The scope of the area that the automaker would be allowed to remove trees from was reduced several times in accordance with environmental concerns, and the Office decided that the removal of 82.8 hectares of trees was “absolutely necessary” for Tesla to continue its efforts, Land Brandenburg first reported.

Comprehensive requirements have been outlined and must be followed in order to protect the land and the species that inhabit the area. Tesla has made it obvious that it aims to protect the area and the wildlife that call it home and have taken necessary steps to alleviate any concerns of wrongdoing. When the automaker performed the first deforestation efforts in 2020, it made several promises to citizens and the Environmental Office, including replanting three trees for every tree it removes and protecting wildlife in the area. For example, Tesla did not remove the Giga Berlin land’s final tree until the bats who live in the tree had vacated it.

Tesla finds target area for Giga Berlin’s tree replanting initiatives

The State Office for the Environment has stated that the deforestation work may only take place during weekdays and must occur between 7 AM and 8 PM local time. Tesla must document compliance with these requirements and must also submit noise measurements to ensure that volume levels comply with local standards. Construction should not interfere with the life of local residents.

It should be noted that Tesla continues to carry out the approved measures at its own risk. This means that if the project’s final approval is not granted, the entire facility, including its buildings, must be removed, and the entire area must be reforested on the company’s dime.

Tesla gains permission to begin second phase of deforestation at Giga Berlin

Source: https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-giga-berlin-tree-removal-phase-two/

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GM cuts back terms of partnership with Nikola, shares drop over 24%

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Shares of Nikola Motor Company (NASDAQ: NKLA) dropped by over 24% in early trading hours on Monday morning after General Motors signed a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, describing their partnership’s newly minimized terms. GM has completely backed out of the idea of helping Nikola produce its all-electric Badger pickup and will focus solely on the manufacturing of Nikolas Class 7 and Class 8 zero-emission semi-trucks that will be powered by GM’s Hydrotec fuel-cell technology.

Nikola released a statement on Monday morning that described a non-binding MOU, which was signed by both parties, outlining a partnership between the two companies that would have GM supplying its fuel-cell systems into Nikola’s semi-trucks. The new MOU will supersede and replace the previous agreement that was set to be finalized in early December. The initial agreement was announced on September 8th, but many things have happened since then that have complicated the nature of the deal.

After GM and Nikola had announced their initial intentions to make a deal for manufacturing, a group known as Hindenburg Research released a document entitled, “Nikola—How to Parlay An Ocean of Lies Into a Partnership With the Largest Auto OEM in America.” The report called the company “an intricate fraud” and outlined several accusations involving Nikola being fraudulent and misleading to its shareholders. Arguably the most shocking claim was that Nikola’s demonstration of the One, its introductory semi-truck, was not self-propelled. Nikola revealed that it had spent a tremendous sum of money on the One, and it had no desire to spend more capital on the development of a One prototype. Instead, the company let the semi-truck drift down a slightly embanked hill, which gave the appearance that it was self-propelled.

After admitting this, Nikola shares fell by around 10%, and the company’s widely-criticized CEO, Trevor Milton, stepped down from his position and disappeared from the public spotlight.

Nikola Motors loses founder Trevor Milton amid SEC and DOJ probe

Teslarati recently reported that GM and Nikola talks had frozen after the Hindenburg accusations. GM told us that the transaction was still incomplete as of November 18th. It appears that the two companies were working out a new deal that would still require a partnership but would be less intimate.

As a result of GM’s new, minimal agreement with Nikola, the electric automaker filed an offer of up to 23.9 million shares linked to warrants and an additional 53.4 million shares of common stock. The extension of shares caused the stock to fall, and at the time of writing, it was down 24.26%.

GM cuts back terms of partnership with Nikola, shares drop over 24%

Source: https://www.teslarati.com/gm-nikola-partnership-mou/

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Tesla secures permission to start selling the Model Y in China

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Tesla China continues to blitz towards the impending ramp of the Model Y in Gigafactory Shanghai, with the EV maker securing the necessary permissions to start selling the all-electric crossover in the country. The approval was published by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on its website on Monday.

Tesla applied for the Made-in-China Model Y’s sales permission earlier this month. The application comes amidst sightings of trial production Model Y around the country and within the Gigafactory Shanghai complex. With these developments in mind, it appears that Tesla China is poised to start delivering the Model Y to customers in early 2021.

As observed by Tesla owner-investor @Ray4Tesla, the Made-in-China Model Y has also been included in the 12th batch of New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) that are recommended by the country. The all-electric crossover is also poised to be exempted from purchase taxes, which stand at about 10%.

Assuming that Tesla is also able to secure a production permit for the Made-in-China Model Y, the electric car maker could very well start a serious ramp of the vehicle’s production soon.

With the Model Y entering the Chinese EV market, the reach of the electric car maker in the country would likely see a boost. The Model Y, after all, is a crossover, which competes in a segment that is far more popular and lucrative than the sedan market, which the domestically-produced Model 3 competes in.

Tesla China is poised to take on a larger role in the EV maker’s global operations, with Gigafactory Shanghai recently producing vehicles that are designed for export to the European market. Reports indicate that next year, Tesla plans to produce 550,00 vehicles in Gigafactory Shanghai alone, over 100,000 of which will be intended for exports.

Tesla secures permission to start selling the Model Y in China

Source: https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-model-y-sales-permit-china-secured/

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