Best of the Week – CW 8

Feb 22, 2019

Here’s a short summary of what happened in the world of mobility, logistics & transportation this week:

The First Private Moon Landing

On Thursday night, a privately developed moon lander launched aboard a privately built rocket, organised by a private launch coordinator. With this, the Israeli mission makes history and stands to do so again if the lander makes it to the Moon’s surface as planned on April 11.

The Beresheet (“Genesis”) program developed out of the ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful Google Lunar Xprize in 2010, where if teams achieved a lunar landing, they would be awarded $30 million in prize money. Ultimately, no team was successful.

SpaceX successfully launched all three spacecraft it had on board into their intended orbits: together with the Israeli lander the Falcon 9 rocket was carrying an Indonesian communications satellite and a small experimental satellite for the Air Force. Watch the launch below:

Electric Eyes for Autonomous Vehicles

Just as the human eye struggles with bad driving conditions, so does the tech in AVs. Now MIT researchers have developed a sub-terahertz-radiation receiving system that could help steer driverless cars when traditional methods fail. The on-chip system uses sub-terahertz wavelengths that can be detected through fog and dust clouds, compared to the infrared-based LiDAR imaging systems that would struggle with these conditions.

AVs 2: An AV Vision System That Watches How Pedestrians Walk

In an effort to predict what a person does next, the University of Michigan has been working on an improved algorithm for predicting the movements of pedestrians that sepcifically looks at their body language.

AVs need to be able to understand where people are and how they are moving in order to operate safely. And while many systems can see and label people at varying ranges and different conditions, not many can predict gestures and posture.

At the moment the data is just data, but perceiving and cataloguing it is the first step to making it an integral part of an AV’s vision system. You can read the full paper describing the new system in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters or at Arxiv.

The most successful EV model to date is not from the US or China

When one thinks of EVs, it is Tesla or its Chinese competitor NIO that comes to mind. One would think these are also top of the leaderboard when it comes to sales. It is, however, a different company that produces the most popular EV model to date: Japan’s Nissan Leaf.

As of 2018, 360.000 Leaves (Leafs?) have been sold, with the first one rolling out of the factory nearly a decade ago. According to data released last week from Germany-based Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW), Tesla’s Model S came in at second place, selling more than 240.000 units, while Chinese state-owned firm BAIC’s EC series was the third most popular EV model as of last year.

The Nissan LEAF e+ 3.ZERO
The Nissan LEAF e+ 3.ZERO

Investments of the Week: Rivian, Ola, and German Autolabs 

Amazon led a $700 million round of funding in Rivian, a Michigan-based electric vehicle startup, which the startup is planing to use to launch an electric pickup and electric SUV in the U.S. in 2020.

“This investment is an important milestone for Rivian and the shift to sustainable mobility,” said RJ Scaringe, Rivian Founder and CEO, in their press release. “Beyond simply eliminating compromises that exist around performance, capability and efficiency, we are working to drive innovation across the entire customer experience. Delivering on this vision requires the right partners, and we are excited to have Amazon with us on our journey to create products, technology and experiences that reset expectations of what is possible.”

Additionally, Ola has secured Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal as a new investor in its ongoing financing round. Bansal invested 650 crore INR (around $92 million) into the Indian ride-hailing business.

Lastly, the Berlin-based startup German Autolabs has raised €7 million for Chris. Chris is the world’s first voice AI enabled digital assistant for in-car usage.

Image Source: Rivian