All posts in “transport”

Lies, damn lies, and HQ2

There are few things certain in our world except for the uplifting tendencies of technology. I’ve spent the past few years trying to prove this to myself, at least, by interviewing hundreds of thinkers on the topic. I’ve come to a singular conclusion: when tech moves into a city, be it an iOS dev shop or a robotic facility for making widgets, things change primarily for the better. Given the recent rush to gain 25,000 or so jobs from Amazon’s HQ2 and the subsequent grumbling by cities passed over, it is difficult to refute this, but I’d like explore it.

Many cities have gained from tech, both historically and recently. Pittsburgh, for example, had a plan to become a tech city back in the early 1990s after seeing the value coming out of Carnegie Mellon and the other universities in town. Anecdotally, Pittsburgh remained a fairly depressed steel town until at least 2000. I recall walking on CMU’s campus one weekend, long after my graduation in 1997, and marveling at how the small school had blossomed thanks to an influx of tech money. Next to halls named after dead and gone thinkers and makers was the Gates building, built with the largesse of the biggest tech maker in recent history. Then Uber moved in and all hell broke loose. In 19997 the Lawrenceville neighborhood was a rundown riverfront redoubt full of brown fields and finely-made hovels. Then Uber landed there. Now it’s become the hub for multiple research and tech companies and the neighborhood has blossomed, even rating it’s own corporation and team of boosters who invite you to dine in a spot once associated with dive bars and non-ironic pierogi. A few weeks ago I enjoyed Nashville hot chicken and Manhattans in what was once a funeral home for steel workers.

In short, having tech brings about what Richard Florida called the “creative class.” This group of makers, be they chefs, artists, coders, or engineers, all come to a place and almost inevitably improve it. In some cases this creative class is disparate, spreading throughout a city like a symbiotic fungus. In other places they are centered in a single neighborhood, working their magic from the core out. I’ve seen this in many places but none more clearly than in Toledo, Ohio or Flint, Michigan where a small core of artists are working mightily to turn a city in ruin into a place to live.

And I understand that all is not rosy in the world urban growth. Uber drivers in creative-classed cities are usually people displaced from their cheap rents by rich hipsters. As a friend noted, when you gentrify a place where to those who cannot afford artisanal kombucha, let alone the rent, go? They are either thrust into the suburbs – an irony that should give cities like Grosse-Point-ringed Detroit pause – or they vanish from view even though they exist in plain sight. Nowhere is this clearer then in the refuse-strewn streets of San Francisco.

Yet cities with deep, systemic problems still debase themselves to get tech jobs. They offer tax abatements, $1 land leases, and produce cloying videos to prove that they, alone, are the hardest working of the bunch. The first and most galling effort appeared when Foxconn, a massive manufacturing company, promised to land like an alien invasion force in rural Wisconsin. The idea there was simple: Foxconn wanted tax cuts in exchange for “creating” “jobs” – scare quotes in both cases necessary. As it had in Brazil before, Foxconn promised more than it could ever deliver. From a previous report:

Foxconn has created only a small fraction of the 100,000 jobs that the government projected, and most of the work is in low-skill assembly. There is little sign that it has catalyzed Brazil’s technology sector or created much of a local supply chain.

Manufacturing jobs are not tech jobs. In the end these true manufacturing jobs will end up going to countries with historically cheap labor pools and Foxconn will use its tax breaks to build a facilities in the US to help it abate future cross-border taxes. The jobs that it will create will be done by robots and only the smartest in these rural counties will get jobs… watching robot arms lift flatscreens off of an assembly line for years. Gone are the days of ubiquitous middle class manufacturing jobs and they will never come back. The sooner the heartland accepts this the better.

So cities turn to true tech. Cities know that tech helps and they bow to its captains of industry. But why won’t tech help cities?

Tech companies reduce inefficiencies. Self-driving car companies are aimed at reducing the number of inefficient truckers on the road. Drone companies are aimed at reducing the number of inefficient postal carriers on the sidewalk. And always-on audio assistants and smart devices are there to reduce our dependence on nearly every facet of a local ecosystem including the local weatherperson, the chef with an empty restaurant but hundreds of Seamless orders, and the local cinema. They know that when they land in a place they take over, much like Wal-Mart did in its early heyday. The benefits of this takeover are myriad but the erosion of culture they bring is catastrophic. Yet mayors still don silly hats and dance a merry jig to get them to move to their blighted areas. After all, it’s far easier than actually doing something.

The answer for cities, then, is to build from within. Pittsburgh didn’t get Uber because it prayed for that rude beast to stalk its shores. It got Uber because it built one of the best robotics programs in the country. Denver and Boulder aren’t tech hubs because they gave anyone a massive abatement. They became tech hubs because they became places that techies wanted to congregate and they built networks of technologists who left their cubicles on a weekly basis and met for lunch. That’s right: in many cases, all it takes for a tech scene to thrive is for the CTOs of all the major organizations to meet over curry. The network effects created by this are manifold. In fact, some of the biggest complaints I heard in many cities was that the CTOs of corporations who called those cities home – Chase Bank, GrubHub, etc. – rarely stepped out of their carefully manicured cubicle farms. An ecosystem cannot thrive if its most successful hide. Just ask Detroit.

Cities must subsidize creative districts, not creative destruction. Cities must woo technologists with a network of rich angels, not bribery. Cities must prepare for a future that doesn’t yet exist and hope that some behemoth will find a home there. Otherwise they’re sunk.

This sort of forward thinking is done in dribs and drabs across the country. Every city has its accelerators full of potential failure. These companies quickly discover that without seed capital, St. Louis or Chicago might as well be the Death Valley. Detroit has worked hard to create a startup culture and it seems to be working but in many cases these startups are folded, Borg-like into Quicken Loans and cannot stand on their own. The south is stuck in energy production and invests little in things that would draw technologists to the beautiful cities along the coast.

Maybe this is because startups make no money. Maybe this is because innovation is expensive. And maybe the lack of long-term strategy exists because mayoral staffs turn over so quickly in these convoluted times. These are valid excuses but woe betide the city that clings to them.

New York and Virginia got HQ2 because their cultures are mercenary at worst and transient at best. They already knew the hard bargain of technology versus culture and were willing to make the deal. The tens of thousands of folks who will walk through Amazon’s doors on the first day will change Long Island City for the better and no other city will claim those benefits (and detriments.) Tech is a business. It doesn’t care where it lands as long as there are enough college-educated behinds to sit on blue inflatable desk balls and enough mouths to drink free nitro coffee. It bypasses places that are seemingly entrenched in political infighting and failed innovation and it will continue to do so until cities do for themselves what Amazon will never do: future-proof their place in the world and create a place for generations to grow and change.

Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

BoxLock secures your booty against porch pirates

This clever – if expensive – product is called the BoxLock and it is a keyless padlock that lets your package delivery person scan and drop off your packages into a locked box. The system essentially watches for a shipping event and then waits for the right barcode before opening. Once the delivery person scans the package, the lock opens, the delivery person sticks the package in a box or shed (not included) and locks it back up. You then go and grab your package at your leisure.

The lock costs $129.

The company appeared on everyone’s favorite show, Shark Tank, where they demonstrated the system with a fake door and fake UPS dude.

The internal battery lasts 30 days on one charge and it connects to your phone and house via Wi-Fi. While the system does require a box – it’s called BoxLock, after all, not LockBox – it’s a clever solution to those pesky porch pirates who endlessly steal my YorkieLoversBox deliveries.

Taxify is entering the e-scooter game

Estonian ride-hailing company Taxify will compete with Bird and Lime in Europe with its new brand of e-scooters, called Bolt, launching in Paris on Thursday.

The company has rolled the scooter sharing service into its mobile app, which has attracted 10 million users in 25 countries since it launched in August 2013.

A spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch it plans to release scooters in several other European and Australian cities where their app is already established, but will also launch in new markets where they’ve been unable to offer ride-hailing services because of regulatory roadblocks, including Germany and Spain.

As of now, Taxify has no plans to scoot into the US market.

“One in five Taxify rides are less than 3 km, which is the perfect distance to cover with an electric scooter,” Taxify CEO and co-founder Markus Villig said in a statement. “It’s likely that some of our ride-hailing customers will now opt for scooters for shorter distances, but we’ll also attract a whole new group of customers with different needs. This means we’ll be able to help more people with their daily transportation problems.”

A Bolt scooter ride will cost 15 cents a minute, with a minimum fare of €1. Just like other e-scooter startups, you unlock the GPS tracked scooters by scanning the QR-code on the scooter using the Taxify app. Taxify will collect the scooters in the evenings for recharging.

Lime e-scooters went live in Paris at the end of June. About a month later, Bird’s fleet did the same, rolling into Paris and Tel Aviv as part of its international launch. GoBee Bike, Obike, Ofo and Mobike — all dockless bike providers — have also launched in Paris. GoBee has since exited after failing to compete with heavyweights like Mobike, which is owned by the multi-billion dollar Chinese company Meituan.

Taxify, for its part, is a favorite among private investors. In May, the company brought in $175 million from Daimler, Didi Chuxing and others. The financing brought the company to the $1 billion valuation mark, where it joined fellow ride-hailing giants Lyft, Uber, Careem and more in the unicorn club.

Whether e-scooters will be as popular in Europe as they’ve been in the US remains to be seen. It’s likely they’ll run into the same regulatory headaches they faced in several US cities as they continue to crop up in new markets.

Taxify, as a European company battling a pair of US-based mobility startups, may have the upper hand.

SpaceX lands Falcon 9 booster on Just Read The Instructions drone ship

SpaceX confirmed on Twitter this morning that it recovered the booster from the latest Falcon 9 launch. Shortly after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California at 7:39AM ET this morning, the booster stage landed on the Just Read The Instructions drone ship. The company will now try to catch the rocket’s fairing with a giant net attached to the ship Mr. Stevens.

SpaceX has become more adept at landing its booster rockets but it’s still a spectacle every time it happens. This landing is extra special as the winds were gusting around the time of the launch.

The rocket company has so far been less successful with catching the payload shrouds. SpaceX’s high-speed recovery boat Mr. Steven took to the seas this time around with a larger net in the hopes of recovering the fairings. Reusing as much as possible is critical to SpaceX’s mission to lower the cost of space flight.

Today’s launch was SpaceX’s seventh mission for the company’s client Iridium who contracted with SpaceX to launch 75 satellites into orbit. According to SpaceX, today’s payload of Iridium satellites so far deployed without an issue. SpaceX is contracted for one more launch with Iridium.

Developing…

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.