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Volvo partners with Luminar and Zenseact to bring autonomous driving feature to new e-SUV

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Volvo Cars is working with lidar company Luminar and its autonomous driving (AD) software subsidiary Zenseact to introduce an AD feature to its next generation of fully electric cars, the automaker said on Wednesday at CES. The company aims to first introduce the feature, named “Ride Pilot,” as an add-on subscription to an electric SUV that will be revealed later this year.

Ride Pilot is what Volvo is calling an “unsupervised” AD feature – meaning the car will be able to drive itself, giving passengers plenty of time to enjoy “secondary activities like reading, writing, working or socializing,” according to Volvo. Luminar and Zenseact, in which Volvo owns a majority stake, have been working on building these capabilities since at least March 2021, when the two companies shared plans to combine tech and create a “holistic autonomous vehicle stack” that could be offered to other automakers. Nvidia’s system-on-a-chip will power Volvo’s core compute system.

Volvo is the latest automaker to create a strategy around getting commercial passenger vehicles with autonomous capabilities to market. Tesla has pushed out its misleadingly named “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” software, which rely solely on cameras and computer vision tech to provide advanced driver assistance features that can handle tasks like autosteering within a clearly marked lane, traffic-aware cruise control, auto lane change, auto park, summon and traffic and stop sign control. Chinese automaker Xpeng is also rolling out its next generation of ADAS called “Xpilot,” which relies on lidar, radar and cameras to provide automated navigation assisted driving from point to point based on the route set by the driver.

“The key thing here with Ride Pilot is that it’s actually self driving,” Martin Kristensson, Volvo’s VP of digital business, told TechCrunch. “You don’t have to keep your hands on the steering wheel. You don’t have to look at the road ahead. You can actually eat your breakfast in the car or read a book or watch a movie and the car will drive itself. We will take liability when the car is driving itself. So I think that in that sense, it is an offer that doesn’t exist in the market today.”

Before Ride Pilot goes to market, the software will undergo rigorous verification and testing protocol, which includes validating the technology for safe use on highways in a number of conditions, Volvo says. Initially, Ride Pilot will be available on a limited operational design domain. Specifically, it will only operate on highways that Volvo has validated and at lower speeds.

Customers in California will be the first to experience Ride Pilot before a gradual rollout to other markets, which makes sense given the state’s favorable regulatory environment to autonomous testing, sunny weather and accumulation of highways packed with cars. Los Angeles commuters apparently spend an average of 119 hours per year stuck in traffic, time Volvo thinks can be better spent.

Volvo will still need to secure permits for testing its vehicles on public roads in California, but Kristensson says the company is “in dialogue with relevant regulatory bodies, including the California DMV, to secure all necessary approvals.” So far, the company is only testing Ride Pilot in Sweden with Zenseact, but it expects to receive the necessary permits to begin testing on public roads in California by the middle of the year. The regulation Volvo will need to actually implement this tech on a commercial scale is not yet mature enough for what the industry is offering. For example, California currently has laws to prohibit drivers from using their phones while driving, which might be a snag in Volvo’s plans to entice drivers to subscribe to Ride Pilot so they can scroll through Twitter or respond to emails while the car drives itself.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for information in time.

Volvo did not share how much the Ride Pilot subscription would cost, nor how much the SUV might sell for, but Kristensson did say the car would be around the same price of the 2022 Volvo XC90, which has a starting price of around $50,000. Whether or not customers choose to add on the software, their vehicles will be built with all of the sensors needed to make AD and ADAS capabilities happen. Chief among those sensors is Luminar’s Iris lidar sensor, which is more seamlessly integrated into the roofline of the vehicle rather than attached to the rooftop like a glowing jewel. In addition, the new SUV will come with five radars, eight cameras and 16 ultrasonic sensors.

“Volvo decided to standardize the hardware meaning that all the vehicles, whether people are subscribing to Ride Pilot or not, will have the hardware that’s possible to launch this software, and also possible to collect the data that we need to monitor and make sure we’re safe and able to launch,” Zenseact CEO Ödgärd Andersson told TechCrunch. “So every car will have a basic level of safety, which is like helping you do emergency braking or steering, and that’s standard. Now with this new level of technology and the lidar to actually take it to a whole new level, on top of that there’s the cruise functionality to assist while you’re driving that’s taken to a new level because we have better sensing and compute.”

As with Tesla’s FSD, the software itself and updates can be sent over-the-air to both users in new markets as well as existing users in order to continuously ensure redundancy.

Volvo hasn’t yet shared details about the design of its upcoming electric SUV, but Kristensson said its concept EV revealed in July called “Concept Recharge,” which looks a bit like a crossover with a flat floor, a glass ceiling and rear suicide doors, is “a good indication of what the actual car will look like.” Volvo is partnering with companies like Northvolt, which makes EV batteries, Google and Luminar to build out this EV, as well as future vehicles.

During CES, the automaker also shared plans to implement Qualcomm’s Snapdragon digital cockpit infotainment center into the new electric SUV. Volvo also announced on Wednesday more details of its partnership with Google, like an integration with Google Assistant-enabled devices that will allow users to do things like ask Google to warm up their car, as well as enabling YouTube to be downloaded to the vehicles.

“We see that drivers will spend more time in the car not driving, while electrical cars are charging and you’re waiting for it to charge, or maybe in a situation with an autonomous vehicle where you’re riding and relaxing rather than driving, so we want to enable more digital services in the car,” said Kristensson.

The suite of digital services that Volvo is building through strategic partnerships give Volvo a chance to build out its subscription model and learn how customers want to interface with these new products.

“We will see a lot of services and experiences coming through to our consumers in the next year that they can actually subscribe to rather than buy it upfront,” Anne-Mette Nygaard, head of digital consumer products, told TechCrunch. “So more flexible ownership and more transparency directly with our consumers is the way to go.”

Source: Tech

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Clean energy firm Husk signs UN energy compact as it begins solar mini-grid expansion in Nigeria, rest of Africa

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Husk Power Systems, a clean energy company that has been at the forefront of fueling rural electrification since 2008, is planning to launch 500 solar mini-grids in Nigeria over the next five years.

The renewable energy firm revealed the plans today when it announced the signing of a voluntary commitment with the United Nations to grow its energy market in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The commitment is contained under the 24/7 Carbon-free Energy Compact, by leading energy buyers, suppliers, equipment manufacturers and governments. The compact represents a global effort to accelerate the uptake of carbon-free electricity as a way of averting the perilous effects of climate change.

The startup currently has operations in Nigeria, Tanzania and India (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), where it has the ambitious goal of installing at least 5,000 mini-grids by 2030 and in the process make 1 million connections – half of which will be micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. Husk launched its first six mini-grids in Nigeria November last year, and it’s looking to have 100 mini-grids operational in the country within two years.

“Husk is committed to powering households, but our focus is first and foremost on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and public institutions like health clinics and schools. MSMEs are the engine of economies in Africa, and powering existing small businesses and encouraging the formation of new MSMEs helps create the type of economic growth and social benefit that carries over to households by creating more opportunity and more jobs,” the company’s CEO and co-founder Manoj Sinha, told TechCrunch.

The renewable energy firm is planning to launch 500 mini-grids in Nigeria in a period of five years, and is eyeing the rest of Africa for expansion. Image Credits: Husk Power Systems

The firm is now exploring growth opportunities in the western, southern and eastern regions of Africa, while prioritizing the countries that have a “supportive regulatory environment” like its current markets. In Nigeria, for example, mini-grid operators are “largely free of permit requirements for either standalone off-grid mini-grids or interconnected mini-grids.”

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission Mini-Grid Regulation (2016) stipulates the transfer of assets and financial compensation for mini-grid operators in cases where the national grid finally connects the regions where private mini-grids are operational.

Husk is one of the companies participating in the Nigeria Electrification Project, which provides performance-based grants, a sort of capital subsidy, to mini-grid developers — part of the national effort to solve the country’s chronic power supply issues.

“In terms of policy frameworks and regulation, the states where Husk works in India (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) have supportive policies. And the Nigerian mini-grid policy is actually based on those policies, with additional improvements. As a result, Nigeria is seen to have the most conducive policy in sub-Saharan Africa at the moment, which also includes their Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP), a program administered by the Rural Electrification Agency and funded by the World Bank to provide a capital subsidy to mini-grid developers and accelerate market development,” said Sinha.

The company plans to have additional technological and business model innovations, and the use of AI and IoT to remotely manage its fleet. Image Credits: Husk Power Systems

Nigeria and India are the company’s biggest markets at the moment. A supportive environment encourages investments from private players like Husk, and bridges the energy needs of households and small businesses, especially in rural areas.

Potential markets for Husk include Kenya, which at the start of this month, recognized mini-grid power systems granting them 50% tax allowance and other tax incentives enjoyed by large-scale generators.

“We welcome the Energy Compact commitments made by Husk Power and appreciate their leadership. It showcases the business opportunity presented by the global energy transition, and how private enterprises can drive accelerated action on ending energy poverty, expand renewable energy solutions for consumptive and productive load, and improve the adoption of energy efficiency solutions by end consumers,” said UN Energy programme manager, Kanika Chawla.

According to the World Bank, mini-grids have the potential to provide half a billion people with clean energy by the end of this decade (including those using overburdened grids) with the right policies in place. They also provide cleaner and cheaper alternatives of energy, which could transform the lives of millions of people living in darkness.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 75% of the world’s population with no access to renewable energy solutions and electricity. Countries like South Sudan, Burundi, Chad, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Tanzania are among some of the least electrified countries in the world, and could benefit from clean energy from solar or wind.

“For off-grid communities, where diesel generation is the default source of electricity, the savings to our customers are significant. Businesses can expect about a 30% reduction in their monthly energy costs by switching from diesel to solar mini-grid electricity,” said Sinha.

Husk has to date raised $40 million from investors, including the Shell energy company and the Dutch Development bank FMO. The startup, which also provides financing for household and commercial appliances, was recognized last year by the 2021 Renewables Global Status Report as the only mini-grid developer with over 100 community sites in operation.

Source: Tech

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Baidu’s electric car brand Jidu closes $400M Series A round

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Once an industry with long development cycles, the automotive space is being upended by China’s tech giants. One can hardly keep up with all the new electric vehicle brands that come out of the country nowadays. Jidu, an electric carmaking company founded by Baidu and its Chinese auto partner Geely only a year ago, said Wednesday it has banked nearly $400 million in a Series A funding round.

The new injection, bankrolled by Baidu and Geely, which owns Volvo, is a boost to the $300 million initiation capital that Jidu closed last March. The proceeds will speed up Jidu’s R&D and mass production process and allow it to showcase its first concept “robocar” — which it classifies as an automotive robot rather than a car — at the Beijing auto show in April. The mass-produced version of the robocar will launch in 2023.

Jidu’s chief executive Xia Yiping previously headed the connected car unit of Fiat Chrysler in the APAC region and co-founded Mobike, the Chinese bike-sharing pioneer acquired by Meituan in 2018.

The rate at which Jidu has moved forward is remarkable but could easily attract skeptics who question its tech’s viability. The speedy cycle, the carmaker explained, is thanks to its strategy of using a simulated prototype car to develop its smart cockpit and autonomous driving systems, rather than testing individual hardware parts in a mass-produced vehicle.

The carmaker said in as short as nine months, it has “tested and proven” the safety and reliability of its Level 4 (autonomous driving without human interaction in most circumstances) capabilities for urban and highway roads.

The EV startup is also putting a big emphasis on branding and fan community, something its competitor Nio is known for. In December, it started recruiting car lovers to join its “Jidu Union” to geek out about cars at online and offline events.

Moving forward, Jidu will be hiring and training talent specializing in autonomous driving, smart cockpits, smart manufacturing and other related technologies.

Source: Tech

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Resilience raises $45 million for its cancer care startup

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French startup Resilience announced yesterday that it has raised a $45 million (€40 million) Series A round led by Cathay Innovation. The startup wants to improve the treatment journey when you’re diagnosed with cancer so that you live a healthier and longer life.

In addition to Cathay Innovation, existing investor Singular is also participating. Other funds are joining the round, such as Exor Seeds, Picus Capital and Seaya Ventures. Finally some healthcare investors are rounding up the round — Fondation Santé Service, MACSF, Ramsay Santé and Vivalto Ventures.

I already profiled Resilience in March 2021 so I encourage you to read my previous article to learn more about the company. Co-founded by two serial entrepreneurs, Céline Lazorthes and Jonathan Benhamou, the company wants to help both patients and caregivers when it comes to cancer care.

On the patient side, Resilience helps you measure, understand and deal with the effects and side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. Users can track various data points in the app and find content and information about their illness.

But Resilience isn’t just an app that you use at home. It is also a software-as-a-service solution for hospitals so that they can better personalize their treatments. Resilience has been founded in partnership with Gustave Roussy, one of the leading cancer research institutes in the world.

Practitioners will be able to take advantage of all the data that patients have gathered from the app. This way, cancer treatment facilities understand the patient better and can adapt their care more quickly. Resilience has acquired Betterise to gain a head start when it comes to data-driven cancer care.

The long-term vision is even more ambitious than that. If you talk with a caregiver working for a cancer treatment facility, they’ll tell you they never have enough time.

And it’s even more difficult to keep track of new treatments that are becoming more and more specialized. Resilience doesn’t want to replace doctors. But it wants to help them overcome blindspots.

The result should be better care for patients, as well as more support through the Resilience app. Cancer care is a long and painful process, so anything that can improve this process is a good thing.

Source: Tech

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