All posts in “Transportation”

First look: Inside SureFly’s two-person octocopter

In Manhattan’s Flatiron Plaza on Monday, children gawked and construction workers tiptoed in curiosity around transportation company Workhorse’s product showcase of two futuristic vehicles: the first electric pickup truck, and the Surefly octocopter drone.

Workhorse is a midwestern transportation company that specializes in electric trucks, particularly for commercial (not personal) use. It gained attention this past May when it achieved manned flight of its SureFly hybrid helicopter. With eight propellers that provide balance, it’s designed more like a drone than a traditional helicopter — so it’s better described as a personal drone octocopter. Also, octocopter is pretty fun to say, so that’s what we’re going with, OK?!

Mashable attended Workhorse’s first look preview event for the SureFly octocopter and the W-15 electric pickup truck in Manhattan on Monday. The W-15 is slated for release in 2019, and Workhorse plans to bring the SureFly to market some time in the next two years. 

Image: LILY KARTIGANER/MASHABLE

Image: LILY KARTIGANER/MASHABLE

Both products feature lean construction, designed to be both lightweight and fuel-efficient. For the W-15, that means its carbon fiber body can handle everything a traditional pickup truck can, with an unheard of 80-mile all-electric — and unlimited hybrid — range. 

Workhorse says the W-15 electric pickup truck can do anything a gas pickup can.

Workhorse says the W-15 electric pickup truck can do anything a gas pickup can.

Image: lily kartiganer/mashable

The octocopter also has a light, nimble design. And, most importantly, it’s easy to use.

“If you can fly a drone, you can fly this,” Workhorse CEO Steve Burns said. “Even if you can’t fly a drone, you can probably still fly this.”

Burns showed Mashable around the cockpit. It’s got a pretty spare but spacious design. Artificial Intelligence guides takeoff and landing, displayed on a large tablet. A joystick allows a flyer to steer. And an up and down switch makes the octocopter airborne, or guides it back to earth.

“A helicopter requires both feet, both arms, a lot of 3D thinking,” Burns explained. “Here, the computer’s flying you.”

A tablet, joystick, and up and down buttons are all flyers need to man the octocopter.

A tablet, joystick, and up and down buttons are all flyers need to man the octocopter.

Image: lily kartiganer/mashable

Staying true to Workhorse’s roots, Burns sees the first applications for the octocopter as fleet-based; for example, for paramedics and first responders, agriculture, or the military. But Workhorse specifically designed the drone so that it could be integrated as a product for personal use.

“We really want to go fleet-centric first,” Burns said. “But in the end, we’re getting a lot of excitement from people who just want to avoid traffic. So I think in the end that’s the most volume, but we’re going to cut our teeth on fleets.”

In the creation of the octocopter, Workhorse questioned what has kept helicopters from more widespread personal use. The answer was mainly difficulty of use, and affordability. So it’s easy to fly, will be offered at an affordable price (under $200,000, which is cheaper than most helicopters), and the propeller arms fold in, so it can fit in a garage. It’s slightly smaller than a helicopter, and will eventually come in either one-seater, two-seater, and four-seater options.

Image: lily kartiganer/mashable

Image: LILY KARTIGANER/MASHABLE

And the SureFly is now graduating beyond its experimental stage. It has been operating under an experimental license from the FAA. But Workhorse has now applied for a full license, and thinks it will be the first fully FAA-licensed Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicle. 

Despite an intensive regulatory process, Burns doesn’t see that as Workhorse’s biggest challenge. Instead, it’s disrupting the gasoline-reliant ground and air vehicle market. But that opportunity to disrupt is also an asset.

“For a little company it’s a huge, huge opportunity,” Burns said. “In both road vehicles and air vehicles, changing the status quo is tough. I don’t think there’s anything more interwoven into America than gasoline driven transportation. We’re an American company, we’re in the midwest, where cars and trucks are made, and we’re trying to innovate and move the needle a little bit. And the good news is, it’s such a giant market, you don’t have to move the needle much to have a big impact.”

You can pre-order the SureFly and the W-15 on Workhorse’s website now. 

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Owl raises $10 million for two-way car dashboard camera

Owl, the two-way dash cam founded by a team of ex-Apple and Dropcam executives, has secured a $10 million Series A1 round led by Canvas Ventures. This brings Owl’s total funding to $28 million.

“We’ve seen a lot of pent-up demand for car security, and Owl is tapping into that demand with a product that’s easy to install and use,” Canvas Ventures General Partner Rebecca Lynn said in a statement. “This is a testament to the team’s decades of experience building mega-hits like the iPod, iPhone, and Dropcam, and gives them a huge leg up in creating a device and service people feel excited to use every day.”

The Owl camera is designed to monitor your car for break-ins, collisions and police stops. Owl also can be used to capture fun moments (see above) on the road or beautiful scenery, simply by saying, “OK, presto.”

Owl launched back in February to offer an always-on, LTE security camera for your car. Because Owl is always on, it’s able to capture car crashes, break-ins and people dinging your car in the parking lot. If Owl detects a car accident, it automatically saves the video to your phone, including the 10 seconds before and after the accident. At the time of launch, it was only available for iOS, but Owl is now making it available for people with Android phones.

The two-way camera plugs into your car’s on-board diagnostics port (every car built after 1996 has one), and takes just a few minutes to set up. The camera tucks right in between the dashboard and windshield. Once it’s hooked up, you can access your car’s camera anytime via the Owl mobile app.

Another competitor in the market is Raven. While its first priority is security, the camera also is designed to keep you connected to your loved ones and provide peace of mind. Raven retails for $299 and includes three months of connectivity. Owl costs $349, which includes one year of instant video via LTE.

You can learn more about Owl in my review below.

San Francisco has no idea what to do about ‘goofball’ e-scooters, email records show

San Francisco has been scooter-less for months. 

Other cities, meanwhile, have slowly been filling with electric scooters. But earlier this year, San Francisco cracked down on three companies — Bird, Lime, and Spin — that had been renting e-scooters to riders without any go-ahead from the city. After an initial period of letting them ride wild, the city decided the scooters had to be regulated, and a permit process implemented. Until that happens, all scooter-shares were banned. 

That was June. It’s now August. The permitting is taking forever. And San Francisco transit officials seem way over their heads.

A public records request of scooter-related emails from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, or SFMTA, from March through late July, shows that the city’s scooter triage was in full throttle within weeks of the battery-powered vehicles hitting city streets. 

One transit planner emailed over this Jalopnik article (“I Tried San Francisco’s Electric Scooter Share And It Was A Nightmare”), saying, “Having not tried it yet myself, I found this one illuminating, if not unsurprising.” Another transit official made his thoughts clear with a quip about efforts to “further regulate this emerging goofball mode.”

Thousands of pages of emails over the past four months discuss scooter fee structures; different interest groups’ takes on the scooters for pedestrians, cyclists, neighborhood groups, residents with disabilities, those with impaired eyesight and more; and public comment over why scooters are great or terrible (one email in July said, “I loved having access to this alternative and am anxious to see them back”). And then there were pleas from various companies vying for a spot in San Francisco’s elusive permit program, which will eventually allow 2,500 scooters to be rented from five companies.

One scooter company, Getzigo, tried to guilt the city about allowing competitors to operate for a short period. “But, unlike the other companies, we HAVE NOT placed any scooters in the city of San Francisco, nor any other city for that matter, without permission first,” CEO Astor Birri wrote in April.

Officials seem conflicted. A June presentation from a cross-departmental meeting first praises scooters as “convenient alternatives to driving” and then switches to problems, like sidewalk riding and parking issues.

An SFMTA meeting about scooters reviews what's up with the electric vehicles.

An SFMTA meeting about scooters reviews what’s up with the electric vehicles.

Image: SFMTA

Image: SFMTA

Image: sfmta

Research requests keep coming in from other metro areas, like Portland, Oregon; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco; and Minneapolis, where a city parking services manager asked the city for guidance about Bird scooters arriving in July. “I was hoping to use some existing language from you all as a starting point,” he wrote. Transit officials from Los Angeles; Santa Monica, California; and San Francisco had a mind-meld at one point to figure out how to proceed with the vehicles. 

It’s great that cities are talking and checking in on best practices. But San Francisco still doesn’t seem to have a strong grasp on how to handle everything. A working draft on city-wide scooter policies seems to lean too heavily upon bike-share rules. Bikes may be similar, but they use a completely different system for unlocking and riding through an app, aren’t motorized or shaped like scooters, and don’t behave in the same ways scooters do. A scooter simply isn’t used the same way a bicycle is for travel or commuter needs.

A section of a working draft of city guidelines and rules for scooters

A section of a working draft of city guidelines and rules for scooters

Image: sfmta

One email about how police should handle “transgressive scooterboards” admits that the regulations are not in place and “the existing regulatory framework will have to suffice.” Police “aren’t interested in gathering up and storing (scooters)” says the transit official, and the transportation agency “doesn’t have a barn to stash ’em.” In a later email, the same official learns that the city’s Department of Public Works has been impounding scooters found blocking sidewalks or resting against a building and charging the companies $125 a pop. “It looks like the system works after all …” he wrote.

Early emails talk about the San Francisco scooter process wrapping up by the end of June. But by July, city officials were responding to timeline inquiries like this: “My best guess right now is that we announce the companies that will receive permits in late July, and actually issue the permits (including data specification) in mid-August. Scooters would be on the street shortly after that.”

Maybe it’s because applications from 12 different companies came in at hundreds of pages apiece, in some cases. We get it, it’s a lot to sift through. Just figuring out how to deny seven of the companies a permit is a process. An early July email shows a transportation planner emailing the city attorney’s office, asking to have “some sort of quick check-in call to discuss the best way of documenting reasons for permit denial.”

In late June the transit official leading up the scooter permit program wrote in response to a canceled meeting: “=( Don’t you think we should have some scooter check-ins still?” 

SFMTA included photos of scooters in public spaces before the scooters were banned in San Francisco.

SFMTA included photos of scooters in public spaces before the scooters were banned in San Francisco.

Image: SFMTA

On Monday an SFMTA spokesperson didn’t have much to add about scooters. “We are still in the decision-making process,” she wrote in an email.

It’s clear this is a fluid situation. Companies including Lime, Skip, and Jump wanted to amend their applications, and officials had to decide if those new materials could be included in their review. (They weren’t.) When Lime announced its Uber partnership that will let riders rent a scooter through the Uber app, the agency was thrown for another loop, with the director of transportation at SFMTA receiving emails “clarifying” what Uber’s involvement in the company meant. 

When a scooter charging startup reached out, the transit agency didn’t even know if that fell under their jurisdiction. “I just got this inquiry about scooter charging stations. Who is the right person to pass this along to? Is it even an SFMTA thing or would it be PW [Public Works]?” the transit official emailed.

On Monday, Lime kicked off an online and phone campaign for its community-based network of chargers (known as “juicers”) to lobby city officials to allow Lime to operate its scooters. It was holding a midday meeting at Lime’s new SF headquarters to give an “update” on the permit process.

Here’s the pre-made tweet Lime is urging chargers to post:

A market research Qualtrics study released Tuesday about scooters found that 50 percent of respondents think scooter-sharing saves them money. Two-thirds of people surveyed said that scooters are good for the environment. 

With all the pleading and prodding, you’d think San Francisco would be hustling. But it’s mid-August and there’s still no definitive word on when the scooters will return. Might be time for an LA road trip to get your scooter action. This could take a while.

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The spotlight is back on the iCar as Tesla’s vehicle engineering chief returns to Apple

Doug Field, former Apple VP of Mac hardware, and also former Tesla VP of engineering, is now back at Apple and working on the company’s secretive Project Titan, Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber has found out. 

Field worked at Apple as VP of Product Design and VP of Mac hardware from 2008 to 2013 before moving to Tesla. But after the company was initially unable to ramp up Model 3 production quickly enough, Tesla CEO Elon Musk overtook Field’s duties in April 2018, and Field left the company shortly afterwards. 

Now that Field’s back at Apple, does it mean the company is serious about building a car again? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  

We knew that Project Titan (which is rumored to have started in 2014) was about car tech. But it was never quite clear whether Apple is really building the mythical iCar. As time went on, it became more and more apparent that Apple is building autonomous driving tech instead of an actual vehicle. Coupled with reports that hundreds of employees left Project Titan over the years, it appeared that the project will culminate with something far less exciting than Apple Car: The launch of an autonomous shuttle for Apple employees.

Apple confirmed to Gruber that Field is back at the company, but wouldn’t say which division. If he’s really working on Project Titan, that would mean he has reunited with Bob Mansfield, who’s leading the project. The two worked together on Mac hardware for years, so now that Field has Tesla experience under his belt, his re-hiring perhaps means that Apple is serious about making a car again. 

One hire does not a car make, though. If Apple is really ramping up Project Titan again, I’m sure we’ll hear more about it in the near future.

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Elon Musk says he wants to take Tesla private. Unless he’s trolling us.

Elon Musk keeps tweeting about taking Tesla private.
Elon Musk keeps tweeting about taking Tesla private.

Image: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, in true Elon Musk fashion, took to Twitter to think out loud about his electric car business. Or possibly troll us all.

On the social media platform he noted the possibility of taking Tesla — a publicly traded company since 2010 — private. 

Upon the news, Tesla stock quickly shot up to $365, climbing toward $420 — the amount Musk noted would be the trigger price. Which could very well be a stoner joke. He seemed to find the number very amusing.

No matter if he was joking or not, as soon as Musk tweeted about this, the stock spiked. In other words, his tweet had real market implications.

Elon Musk says he wants to take Tesla private. Unless he's trolling us.

The stock had already been heading upwards after news about a Saudi Arabian fund with a large (about 3 to 5 percent) stake in the electric car company. 

Additionally Musk added “funding secured” — which raises legal issues about blasting that information out in a tweet. Intentions to buy out public shareholders usually need to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC.  

The SEC has a social media policy, but it appears he would still need to properly file notices.

The SEC website explains that “Form 8-K is the ‘current report’ companies must file with the SEC to announce major events that shareholders should know about.”

Taking Tesla private would certainly qualify.

Paul Huettner, an associate at a financial advisory firm that specializes in restructuring and bankruptcy, said in a call that announcements like this are normally done after markets close. But Musk isn’t one to follow norms.

Huettner called it one of the weirdest tweets ever — at least in the financial world. And if the information in the tweet isn’t true, Musk could be looking at some stock price manipulation allegations.

We reached out to Tesla to find out what this all means and will update when we hear more.

This story is developing…

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