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Leading robotics VCs talk about where theyre investing

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The Valley’s affinity for robotics shows no signs of cooling. Technical enhancements through innovations like AI/ML, compute power and big data utilization continue to drive new performance milestones, efficiencies and use cases.

Despite the old saying, “hardware is hard,” investment in the robotics space continues to expand. Money is pouring in across robotics’ billion-dollar sub verticals, including industrial and labor automation, drone delivery, machine vision and a wide range of others.

According to data from Pitchbook and Crunchbase, 2018 saw new highs for the number of venture deals and total invested capital in the space, with roughly $5 billion in investment coming from nearly 400 deals. With robotics well on its way to again set new investment peaks in 2019, we asked 13 leading VCs who work at firms spanning early to growth stages to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunity in the sector:

Participants discuss the compelling business models for robotics startups (such as “Robots as a Service”), current valuations, growth tactics and key robotics KPIs, while also diving into key trends in industrial automation, human replacement, transportation, climate change, and the evolving regulatory environment.

Shahin Farshchi, Lux Capital

Which trends are you most excited in robotics from an investing perspective?

The opportunity to unlock human superpowers:

  • Increase productivity to enhance creativity leading to new products and businesses.
  • Automating dangerous tasks and eliminating undesirable, dangerous jobs in mining, manufacturing, and shipping/logistics.
  • Making the most deadly mode of transport: driving, 100% safe.

How much time are you spending on robotics right now? Is the market under-heated, overheated, or just right?

  • Three-quarters of the new opportunities I look at involve some sort of automation.
  • The market for robot startups attempting direct human labor replacement, floor-sweeping, and dumb-waiter robots, and robotic lawnmowers and vacuums is OVER heated (too many startups).
  • The market for robot startups that assist human workers, increase human productivity, and automate undesirable human tasks is UNDER heated (not enough startups).

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? Plus any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers.

I want to see more founders that are building robotics startups that:

  • Solve LATENT pain points in specific, well-understood industries (vs. building a cool robot that can do cool things).
  • Focus on increasing HUMAN productivity (vs. trying to replace humans).
  • Are solving for building interesting BUSINESSES (vs. emphasizing cool robots).

Kelly Chen, DCVC

Three years ago, the most compelling companies to us in the industrial space were in software. We now spend significantly more time in verticalized AI and hardware. Robotic companies we find most exciting today are addressing key driver areas of (1) high labor turnover and shortage and (2) new research around generalization on the software side. For many years, we have seen some pretty impressive science projects out of labs, but once you take these into the real world, they fail. In these changing environmental conditions, it’s crucial that robots work effectively in-the-wild at speeds and economics that make sense. This is an extremely difficult combination of problems, and we’re now finally seeing it happen. A few verticals we believe will experience a significant overhaul in the next 5 years include logistics, waste, micro-fulfillment, and construction.

With this shift in robotic capability, we’re also seeing a shift in customer sentiment. Companies who are used to buying outright machines are now more willing to explore RaaS (Robot as a Service) models for compelling robotic solutions – and that repeat revenue model has opened the door for some formerly enterprise software-only investors. On the other hand, companies exploring robotics in place of tasks with high labor shortages, such as trucking or agriculture, are more willing to explore per hour or per unit pick models.

Adoption won’t be overnight, but in the medium term, we are very enthusiastic about the ways robotics will transform industries. We do believe investing in this space requires the right technical know-how and network to evaluate and support companies, so momentum investors looking to dip their hand into a hot space may be disappointed.

Rob Coneybeer, Shasta Ventures

We’re entering the early stages of the golden age of robotics. Robotics is already a huge, multibillion-dollar market – but today that market is dominated by industrial robotics, such as welding and assembly robots found on automotive assembly lines around the world. These robots repeat basic tasks, over and over, and are usually separated by caged walls from humans for safety. However, this is rapidly changing. Advances in perception, driven by deep learning, machine vision and inexpensive, high-performance cameras allow robots to safely navigate the real world, escape the manufacturing cages, and closely interact with humans.

I think the biggest opportunities in robotics are those which attack enormous markets where it’s difficult to hire and retain labor. One great example is long-haul trucking. Highway driving represents one of the easiest problems for autonomous vehicles, since the lanes tend to be well-marked, the roads have gentle curves, and all traffic runs in the same direction. In the United States alone, long haul trucking is a multi-hundred billion dollar market every year. The customer set is remarkably scalable with standard trailer sizes and requirements for shipping freight. Yet at the same time, trucking companies have trouble hiring and retaining drivers. It’s the perfect recipe for robotic opportunity.

I’m intrigued by agricultural robots. I’ve seen dozens of companies attacking every part of the farming equation – from field clearing and preparation, to seeding, to weeding, applying fertilizer, and eventually harvesting. I think there’s a lot of value to be “harvested” here by robots, especially since seasonal field labor is becoming harder to find and increasingly expensive. One enormous challenge in this market, however, is that growing seasons mean that the robotic machinery has a lot of downtime and the cost of equipment isn’t as easily amortized in other markets with higher utilization. The other big challenge is that fields are very, very tough on hardware and electronics due to environmental conditions like rain, dust and mud.

There are a ton of important problems to be solved in robotics. The biggest open challenges in my mind are locomotion and grasping. Specifically, I think that for in-building applications, robots need to be able to do all the thing which humans can do – specifically opening and closing doors, climbing stairs, and picking items off of shelves and putting them down gently. Plenty of startups have tackled subsets of these problems, but to date no one has built a generalized solution. To be fair, to get to parity with humans on generalized locomotion and grasping, it’s probably going to take another several decades.

Overall, I feel like the funding environment for robotics is about right, with a handful of overfunded areas (like autonomous passenger vehicles). I think that the most overlooked near-term opportunity in robotics is teleoperation. Specifically, pairing fully automated robotic operations with occasional human remote operation of individual robots. Starship Technologies is a perfect example of this. Starship is actively deploying local delivery robots around the world today. Their first major deployment is at George Mason University in Virginia. They have nearly 50 active robots delivering food around the campus. They’re autonomous most of the time, but when they encounter a problem or obstacle they can’t solve, a human operator in a teleoperation center manually controls the robot remotely. At the same time. Starship tracks and prioritizes these problems for engineers to solve, and slowly incrementally reduces the number of problems the robots can’t solve on their own. I think people view robotics as a “zero or one” solution when in fact there’s a world where humans and robots work together for a long time.

 

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/26/leading-robotics-vcs-talk-about-where-theyre-investing/

Automotive

China’s autonomous vehicle startups AutoX, Momenta and WeRide are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

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As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches toward consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. And 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.

Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidar to detect the cars’ surroundings, while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.

The industry is still years from being truly driverless and operational at scale, so some contestants are seeking easier cases to tackle and monetize first, putting self-driving software inside buses, trucks and tractors that roam inside industrial parks.

Will investors continue to back the lofty dreams and skyrocketing valuations of China’s robotaxi leaders? And how is China’s autonomous driving race playing out differently from that in the U.S.?

We hope to find out at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, where we speak to three female leaders from Chinese autonomous vehicle startups that have an overseas footprint: Jewel Li from AutoX, which is backed by Chinese state-owned automakers Dongfeng Motor and SAIC Motor; Huan Sun from Momenta, which attracted Bosch, Daimler and Toyota in its $500 million round closed in March; and Jennifer Li from WeRide, whose valuation jumped to $3 billion after a financing round in May.

We can’t wait to hear from this panel! Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in these final weeks. Book your general admission pass for $125 today and join this year’s deep dive into the world of all things transportation at TC Sessions: Mobility.




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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/13/chinese-autonomous-driving-tc-sessions-mobility-2021/

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Motul Goes Retro With Classic Line Of Engine Oil For Older Cars

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Without engine oil your car wouldn’t run for seven minutes, never mind seven decades. Furthermore, ask any car enthusiast about oil and odds are each person will vehemently support one brand over another. Now Motul seeks to win the hearts of classic car owners with a new series of oils that tug on retro heartstrings while also offering better blends for specific eras of motoring.

Motul simply calls its new lubricants the Classic Line, but it’s not just new synthetic oil packaged into cool containers. In a press release, the company says all Classic Line oils include an additive package with high-zinc and molybdenum and start with a base synthetic oil. From there, the individual formulas have various detergent levels and other tweaks that are designed to work better with engines from specific eras going back to pre-1950 vehicles.

It starts with straight-weight, low-detergent Classic Oil SAE 30 and SAE 50 for those old cars, back when engine tolerances weren’t as tight as they are today. Classic Oil 20W-50 is designed for muscle cars, hot rods, and collector cars after 1950 where muscular engines with high-lift cams are common. Classic Oil 15W-50 is a revised version of Motul’s 2100 oil designed for both naturally aspirated and forced induction engines with a focus on 1970s engine technology.

Similarly, Motul’s Modern Classic Eighties 10W-40 and Modern Classic Nineties 10W-30 are also aimed at both naturally aspirated and forced-induction mills. The Nineties oil is further tweaked for better protection in high-revving, DOHC engines.

As for the containers, Motul uses its historical logo for the Classic Oils, while the Modern Classics get their own cool containers with retro appeal. In addition to the actual oil, we suspect there are more than a few car-crazy folks out there keen on simply collecting the neat cans.

The new oil lineup from Motul is available now.

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Source: https://www.motor1.com/news/507193/motul-classic-line-engine-oil/?utm_source=RSS&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=RSS-category-technology

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Ford Power-Up Launches To Give Models Over-The-Air Software Updates

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Ford Power-Up is the brand’s newly announced name for its over-the-air software updates. One major implementation of this tech is the introduction of voice-controlled Amazon Alexa that can even control your smart home devices from the vehicle.

The Ford F-150 and Mustang Mach-E with the Sync 4 infotainment system already support Power-Up. The Bronco is the next to get the tech, and the Escape and Super Duty receive the functionality this fall. Ford will make 33 million vehicles with Power-Up capability by 2028.

Upcoming over-the-air updates for the F-150 and Mach-E will include improvements to the navigation system to add destination suggestions and conversational voice command recognition. Plus, the Apple CarPlay system will be able to show turn-by-turn navigation on the instrument cluster.

external_image

Soon, the Mach-E gets an app called Sketch (example above) for its infotainment system. It lets owners draw pictures with their fingers on the screen. It could be a fun way to spend the time while waiting for the EV to charge.

The improved Amazon Alexa capability lets simply speak commands for controlling both the vehicle and other Alexa-enabled devices. Users get three years of free functionality. Afterward, owners have to purchase a subscription to retain the features. Ford isn’t yet disclosing the cost after the initial period.

Power-Up goes far beyond just improving the infotainment software because the Blue Oval can send upgrades to over 110 vehicle modules. The company says it can tweak any of them as long as the change doesn’t require hardware changes. When there’s an upgrade, the installation is generally seamless. In cases where the installation takes longer, owners can schedule a time, like overnight when they aren’t using the vehicle.

As an example, Ford used connected vehicle data to identify an issue with the F-150’s zone lighting. The engineers are also working on an update to fix a problem with the Android Auto connectivity in the F-150 and Mach-E. 

If you want to know more about Power-Up, listen to Motor1.com’s podcast Rambling About Cars tomorrow where we interview Ford Director of Retail Operations Kate Pearce about the tech.

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Source: https://www.motor1.com/news/507133/ford-power-up-software-updates/?utm_source=RSS&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=RSS-category-technology

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Tesla’s Heavy Trucking executive sells $6M+ in stocks

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Tesla’s President of Heavy Trucking Jerome M. Guillen sold over $6 million worth of TSLA stock earlier this week, according to a SEC Form 4 filing. Based on Guillen’s recent Form 4 submission, transactions occurred under transaction code M and code S.

Code M means to exercise or the conversion of derivative security receives from the company, like an option. Transaction code S means the sale of securities on an exchange or to another person. 

Based on the Form 4 filing, the Tesla executive acquired 10,000 stock for the price of $55.32, exercising his options under transaction code M. Under transaction code S, Tesla’s President of Heavy Trucking also disposed of 10,000 stocks at market value, ranging from $628.46 to $664.77. Guillen recently sold TSLA shares totaling $6,440,627.

Looking at Guillen’s activity throughout 2021 thus far, a trend emerges over the past few months. In April, he also sold 10,000 TSLA shares for an average price of $697.87 for a total amount of $6,978,659. Guillen executed similar transactions between January and March.

Compared to Guillen’s transactions, Tesla’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Zachary Kirkhorn sold less shares this year. In April 2021, Kirkhorn sold 1,250 shares for an average price of $718, totaling $897,500. While in March, the CFO sold 4,068 TSLA shares for an average of $655.81-$595.08 with a total amount of over $2 million. 

Jerome Guillen’s role in Tesla changed from president of Automotive to president of Heavy Trucking, according to a regulatory filing dated March 11, 2021. The shift in his role suggests that Guillen will have fewer overall responsibilities at Tesla in terms of overseeing the company’s entire automotive business. Instead, his new role suggests that Guillen will be concentrating more on the production of the Tesla Semi, the company’s much-anticipated all-electric Class-8 truck. 

The Teslarati team would appreciate hearing from you. If you have any tips, email us at [email protected] or reach out to me at [email protected].

Tesla’s Heavy Trucking executive sells $6M+ in stocks

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Source: https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-jerome-guillen-sells-tsla-stocks/

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