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While Rebecca Bellan held down the transportation fort, I headed to UP Summit, an invite-only event focused on mobility (and mostly aviation) held at Ross Perot Jr’s Circle T Ranch near Dallas that brought together founders, investors, C suite executives, industrialists, designers, pilots, high-ranking military and even politicians, notably former UK prime minister Boris Johnson. As you might imagine, the conversations over coffee and cocktails were fascinating.
I was there to find founders, scout out startups and the investors who might fund them. And yup, I found them.
Some news came out of the event as well, including that electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle company Wisk Aero started flight testing a version of its autonomous air taxi aircraft in Los Angeles and Alaska Airlines tapped UP.Labs to help it build and launch aviation startups.
Other tidbits included Google’s Wing starting drone deliveries from a Walmart in Frisco, Texas, Zipline partnering with Mendocino Farms, California-based evTOL company Opener, which is backed by Larry Page, rebranding to Pivotal and revealing its first “scalable production vehicle” called Helix and Beta Technologies opening its first electric-aircraft assembly plant in Vermont, a 188,500-square-foot facility that will eventually have the capacity to produce 300 aircraft per year.
There were funding announcements as well. Jetson, the personal electric aerial vehicle startup, closed a $15 million seed round from angel investors including will.i.am, who will also train to become a Jetson pilot; and Electric seaglider startup Regent announced a $60 million raise co-led by 8090 Industries and Founders Fund and an MOU with Japan Airlines.
The tl;dr: evTOL startups, and more broadly, the future of flight sector, is no longer just a collection of far-flung ideas and dreams anymore. While there is certainly quite a bit of hype and excitement around the nascent sector, real progress has been made. Of course, challenges, including the multi-year certification process with the FAA, remain. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the autonomous vehicle technology sector five years ago.
I’ll leave you with one other fun fact that might be under your radar. Remember the Estes Industries rockets from your childhood? John Langford, the founder of Aurora Flight Sciences (Boeing acquired) and founder of Electra.Aero, bought the failing company out of bankruptcy back in 2018. He was at the event and shared a bit about his story and why he wanted to keep these rockets flying.
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Bird is laying off more staff, according to an internal email viewed by TechCrunch. The company didn’t confirm to us how many people would be affected, nor from which teams, but we’re not surprised.
A little over a week ago, Bird was delisted from the NYSE. A week before that, the company acquired Spin, the e-scooter operator that was previously owned by Tier, and before that Ford. The letter from Bird’s interim CEO Michael Washinushi said the layoffs were due to redundancies from integrating the two teams.
If anyone has been affected by the layoffs and wants to share information with us, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Meet Bastille, the makers of a low-tech folding bike that has normal sized wheels.
Finally, pour some out for Karim Slaoui, the co-founder of legendary e-bike company Cowboy, who passed away at 36-years-old. His raison d’etre was to “be optimistic and innovate.”
Deal of the week
Electric Hydrogen, a Massachusetts-based green hydrogen technology company, raised a $380 million Series C, bringing its valuation up to $1 billion. That, folks, makes Electric Hydrogen (EH2) the green hydrogen industry’s first unicorn.
We’re starting to see an uptick in green hydrogen investment as investors begin to recognize that batteries aren’t ideal when it comes to decarbonizing aviation and long-haul trucking, not to mention steel mills and chemical plants.
EH2 brought on some heavy hitters like Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, United Airlines, BP and Fortescue Metals. The company says its electrolyzers can produce more hydrogen at a cheaper price. That’s partly due to EH2’s tech, but partly due to the IRA’s renewable energy incentives. EH2 says those offers will help it make green hydrogen that’s actually competitive in today’s market and doesn’t use cheap natural gas to generate greenhouse-gas emissions.
Other deals that got my attention…
Bolt.Earth, an Indian startup that offers charging infrastructure and software solutions for EVs, raised $20 million to expand its presence in India and beyond. The round was funded by new and existing investors, including Union Square Ventures, Prime Venture Partners and ITIGO Funds, among others.
More like no deal. Tiny EV maker ElectraMeccanica has terminated its plan to merge with hydrogen EV truck maker Tevva.
Kinetic Automation closed a $10 million Series A to expand its network of EV-focused service centers. Lux Capital and Construct Capital led the all-equity round, with participation from Haystack Ventures, Automotive Ventures and Shakti Ventures.
Loop, a Chicago-based provider of audit and payment systems for logistics companies, secured $35 million in funds from JP Morgan, Growth Equity Partners and Index Ventures.
Rivian said it intends to offer $1.5 billion of green convertible senior notes, which sent shares plummeting. The automaker also shared a preliminary forecast into its Q3 earnings. Alex Wilhelm broke down what this all means in a TC+ post, but here are a couple of financial highlights:
- Q3 2023 revenue between $1.29 billion and $1.33 billion (compared to $0.54 billion a year earlier).
- Q3 2023 ending cash balance of $9.1 billion, down from $10.2 billion at the end of Q2 2023.
Vayu Robotics closed a $12.7 million seed round led by Khosla Ventures with participation from Lockheed Martin Ventures, ReMY Investors and others. Vayu is working on a low-cost sensing technology to replace lidar.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Tesla scored a win this week when a judge ruled that a group of Tesla owners couldn’t pursue claims in court that the company falsely advertised its Autopilot and FSD systems. This isn’t a win for the tech in itself, but rather for Tesla’s terms and conditions. The judge found that the plaintiffs had all agreed to arbitrate any legal claims when they signed up for their services, which they could have opted out of within 30 days. Tesla’s success in dodging a class action lawsuit could encourage other automakers to lean more heavily on this tactic.
A Cruise robotaxi was involved in yet another scandalous incident, which is currently being investigated by the San Francisco police. TechCrunch saw video of the incident, showing how a pedestrian was struck by a human-driven vehicle. The pedestrian landed in the lane where the Cruise robotaxi was. The Cruise vehicle “braked aggressively” but the pedestrian was still run over and then stuck under the vehicle.
Polestar delivered 13,900 units in the third quarter, a 12% decline from Q2, but a 50% rise from the same period last year.
Rivian reported it produced 16,304 vehicles and delivered 15,564 to customers in the third quarter. Those results are 23% higher than the previous quarter.
Tesla’s Q3 numbers were 7% lower than the previous quarter. The automaker delivered 435,059 vehicles in Q3, missing Wall Street expectations. Tesla attributed the miss to planned downtime at its factories.
Electric vehicles, charging & batteries
Ford is launching another version of its electric F-150 Lightning pickup that prioritizes tech and battery range over other premium features. The Lightning Flash will start at $68,995 and will come with an extended battery range of 320 miles, a 1.2 version of Ford’s hands-free ADAS, a 15.5-inch touchscreen and other fun features.
Hyundai and Kia are the latest to promise future EVs built with Tesla’s NACS charging standard. What we want to know is, when will Volkswagen join the party?
The Lucid Air Pure RWD, the automaker’s lower-end offering, is available to order at a starting price of $77,400.
Uber was found to have failed to comply with EU algorithmic transparency requirements in a legal challenge brought by two drivers whose accounts were terminated.
Uber also introduced a feature that allows you to courier your packages to the post office, UPS or FedEx. And no, it’s not a pivot away from the sketchy, drug-mule-attracting peer-to-peer courier service Uber currently has going. We asked.
Dave Clark, the former Amazon exec who was ousted as CEO of Flexport a year into the job, fired back at Flexport’s founder and board calling a recent reporting on the logistics company “deeply concerning.” He said he discovered extensive problems when he joined in September 2022 including a “revenue forecasting model that was consistently providing overly optimistic outputs.”
SmartEye revealed its new driver monitoring system developed specifically for bus and truck manufacturers to detect drowsiness.