All posts in “transport”

Watch Blue Origin’s most critical rocket launch right here

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The launch is scheduled for 11:00 am EDT on July 18, 2018.

Blue Origin is about to preform a critical rocket test. For the first time Jeff Bezos’ rocket company will send send its New Shepard rocket to its red line at the edge of space and then fire the escape motor on the capsule that will carry passengers. If this test goes well, Blue Origin’s New Shepard program could become operational as early as this year.

This is the ninth mission for the New Shepard program and the third time this reusable rocket was used.

About 20 seconds (and 100 feet) after the New Shepard booster and the crew capsule separates, the motor on the capsule will fire with 70k foot pounds of thrust, sending the capsule 50,000 km higher than it has gone before. After the motor fires, parachutes will hopefully deploy allowing the capsule to return safely to solid ground. Separately, the booster will hopefully return to Earth and land so it can be reused again.

Inside the capsule is a crash dummy loaded with instruments to measure the forces of the rocket launch. Bezos dubbed the dummy “Mannequin Skywalker” because even the richest man in modern history is a nerd. Mannequin Skywalker will experience around 3Gs during the launch, a Blue Origin representative said.

Tesla adds autonomous parking mode to Model 3

The Model 3 can now park itself. Called Summon, the feature is now available on the company’s new sedan.

It’s a clever feature that takes advantage of the vehicle’s connectivity and autonomous driving capabilities. With Summon owners can command their Model 3 to pull into a parking spot and power down. It can even control garage doors — all without a driver behind the wheel or controlling the vehicle remotely. Tesla added the feature to Model S and Model X vehicles last year.

This is the latest feature Tesla added to the Model 3 after its launch. The company is in a frenzy to keep up with production goals and the nature of the Model 3’s connected platform allows the company to added features to already-built vehicles.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 accepted into YC, raises $1.2 million

When Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 interviewed for Y Combinator’s 2018 cohort, a question stood out to founder Obi Ozor. “What’s holding you back from becoming a unicorn?,” they asked. “My answer was simple,” said Ozor. “Working capital.”

Kobo360 was accepted into YC’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment announced recently. Lagos-based Verod Capital Management also joined to support Kobo360.

The startup — with an Uber -like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

Ozor said Kobo360 created the platform because of limited vehicle finance options for truckers in Nigeria. “We hope KoboWIN…will inject 20,000…[additional] trucks on the Kobo platform,” he told TechCrunch.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” said Ozor. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever and DHL.

Ozor previously headed Uber Nigeria, before teaming up with Ife Oyodeli to co-found Kobo360. They initially targeted 3PL for Nigeria’s e-commerce boom — namely Jumia (now Africa’s first unicorn) and Konga (recently purchased in a distressed acquisition).

“We started doing last-mile delivery…but the volume just wasn’t there for us, so we decided to pivot…to an asset-free model around long-haul trucking,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 was accepted into YC’s Summer ’18 batch — receiving $120,000 for 7 percent equity — and will present at an August Demo Day in front of YC investors. “We were impressed by both Obi and Ife as founders. They were growing quickly and had a strong vision for the company,” YC partner Tim Brady told TechCrunch.

Kobo360’s app currently coordinates 5,000 trips a month, according to Ozor. He thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Owning trucks is just too difficult to manage. The best scalable model is to aggregate trucks,” he said. “We now have more trucks than providers like TSL and they’ve been here….years. By the end of this year we plan to have 20,000 trucks on our app — probably more than anyone on this continent.”

On price, Ozor named the ability of the Kobo360 app to more accurately and consistently coordinate return freight trips once truckers have dropped off first loads.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 is profitable, according to Ozor. Though he wouldn’t provide exact figures, he said reviewing the company’s financial performance was part of YC’s vetting process.

Logistics has become an active space in Africa’s tech sector with startup entrepreneurs connecting digital to delivery models. In Nigeria, Jumia founder Tunde Kehinde departed and founded Africa Courier Express. Startup Max.ng is wrapping an app around motorcycles as an e-delivery platform. Nairobi-based Lori Systems has moved into digital coordination of trucking in East Africa. And U.S.-based Zipline is working with the government of Rwanda and partner UPS to master commercial drone delivery of medical supplies on the continent.

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal. “We’ll be in Ghana this year and next year the other countries,” said Ozor.

In addition to KoboWIN, it will also add more driver training and safety programs.

“We are driver focused. Drivers are the key to our success. Even our app is driver focused,” said Ozor. Kobo360 will launch a new version of its app in Hausa and Pidgin this August, both local languages common to drivers.

“Execution is the key thing in logistics. It has to be reliable, affordable and it has to be execution focused,” said Ozor. “If drivers are treated well, they are going to deliver things on time.”

Elon Musk’s ultra-high-speed hyperloop will cost just $1 to ride

Elon Musk is sick of Los Angeles traffic.

The Boring Company, Tesla and SpaceX CEO said he was late to his own tunnel company’s information session at a synagogue in Los Angeles on Thursday night because of traffic on a major freeway. He called the congested highway “the seventh or eighth level” of hell.

To tackle “soul-destroying traffic” plaguing most major U.S. cities, Musk said, “There’s a few ways to skin this cat.” Instead of building more roads and highways or heading into the sky, as Uber envisions with its flying cars, Musk wants to go below ground — like 30 to 100 feet below ground — with an autonomous highway-like high-speed tunnel hyperloop system.

Best bit? Musk says city hyperloop trips will only cost $1.

The Boring Company has been working on test tunnels in LA, and at the info session Musk laid out what this will look like. It’s not certain exactly when this is happening, but Musk likes things to come together quickly. State, city, and county officials not so much. LA city officials recently gave the OK for 2.7 miles of test track, which Musk revealed in a video last week. Just before Thursday’s info session Musk said the LA Metro system had agreed to work with the tunnel company.

Musk laid out what would eventually be miles of underground track all over LA with small mini stations, approximately the size of a parking spot, that take passengers from street level to the underground tunnel system in high-speed pods. He promised eight-minute trips from downtown LA to the airport and Dodger Stadium — all for $1 a trip.

Musk talks about tunnels and high-speed travel with The Boring Company's mascot, Gary the snail.

Musk talks about tunnels and high-speed travel with The Boring Company’s mascot, Gary the snail.

Musk also highlighted a vast system of small stations that would take about 16 passengers at a time, a weatherproof system (it’s all the same this far down), and minimal impact on neighborhoods and communities since no divisive highways or roads will pave over areas.

“For tunnels you can have hundreds of lanes, there’s no real limit,” he said. The tunnel system could also continue deeper and deeper with more demand. Here, Musk made sure to include a dig directed at UberAir, the ambitious electric passenger drone system dreamed up by the ride-hailing app. Uber plans to demo flights in LA by 2020. 

“You can’t fly the quietest helicopters through neighborhoods without bothering people,” Musk said. He promised that all the digging and boring required to build the hyperloop will go undetected because it’s so far down. 

“It’s quite difficult to detect when a tunnel is being dug,” he said. “We’re invisible.”

The LAX hyperloop station will be bigger than the stations all over the city.

The LAX hyperloop station will be bigger than the stations all over the city.

Image: the boring company

Eventually Musk wants the hyperloop to connect cities — San Francisco to LA, New York to Baltimore — and for those trips he’s tapping into his SpaceX rocket techniques to build vacuum tunnels that go 300 mph. 

For more urban experiences, for example, commutes throughout LA, Musk envisions 150 mph trips. And yes, it’ll apparently only cost you that dollar.

Musk spent a hefty portion of the info session explaining the boring process itself using electric motors and battery packs, and what he plans to do with the massive amounts of dirt, including building seismically sound bricks and life-size Lego kits.

For all those patiently waiting for your “not-flamethrowers” from the Boring Company — Musk said the company would start personally delivering the highly flammable devices in two weeks. 

With Musk everything’s at hyper-speed.

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Watch SpaceX launch NASA’s latest exoplanet-hunting satellite

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket today during a 30 second window at 6:32pm EDT. Onboard is NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) designed to find exoplanets. SpaceX said this morning there’s an 80 percent chance of launching today. Following the launch, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 rocket and nose cone by landing the rocket on a drone ship and using parachutes to slow down fairings before they hit Atlantic. SpaceX’s high-speed net boat Mr. Stevens is still in the Pacific.

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The livestream is set to begin at 6:00pm EDT.

The satellite onboard uses four cameras to hunt for exoplanets around stars. They measure tiny dips in a star’s brightness that could indicate a planetary body passing in front of the camera’s line of sight. This is called a transit. Mission officials have said that this satellite will likely find thousands of worlds during its two-year mission.

The Falcon 9 used in today’s mission has never been launched before though if it lands successfully, it will be reportedly used in a future mission. This rocket is also the final block 4 version before Tesla starts using block 5 versions with upgraded engines and improvements to increase the reusability of the rocket.