India’s Exponent Energy may have found the secret to 15 min rapid EV charging

Bangalore-based Exponent Energy might have come up with a way to deliver 15-minute rapid charging for electric vehicles. The startup, which just raised a $13 million Series A, relies on a combination of its proprietary battery pack and charging infrastructure to achieve such a feat.

Exponent Energy’s business model is geared towards OEMs building commercial EVs for fleet purposes. Ideally, the company works with the OEM to integrate its battery pack, or e^pack, that can then be charged quickly via Exponent’s network of chargers, or e^pumps. Earlier this month, Exponent announced its first partnership with Altigreen, an Indian electric cargo vehicle manufacturer, launching the Exponent-enabled Altigreen neEV HD, a three-wheeler that both companies say can be fully charged, from 0% to 100%, in 15 minutes.

The rub is that the battery pack only charges that quickly when it’s being charged on Exponent’s charging infrastructure — if the e^pack is being charged at a standard charging station, it’ll take about 60 minutes, according to the company. Likewise, the e^pumps don’t deliver the same rapid charge to all EVs, so the two must be scaled side-by-side. This is how Exponent hopes to monetize its energy offerings. It will earn revenue from both the sale of the battery pack to OEMs and the charging on a recurring basis, according to Arun Vinayak, Exponent’s co-founder and CEO.

For comparison, Exponent’s business model is a somewhat similar model to Gogoro, the Taiwanese company that works with OEMs to integrate its swappable batteries into their electric two-wheelers while simultaneously building out swapping stations around the country.

Aside from the monetization logic of including the battery pack and charging infrastructure as a package deal, Vinayak says it just makes sense to do so from a technology perspective.

“15-min rapid charging is a two-sided problem,” said Vinayak. “It’s not just the battery but also the charger. The e^pump delivers 600A of current to the e^pack (15x industry standard) while managing individual cell characteristics including thermals to ensure safety, long battery life and performance consistency even at 50 degrees Celsius. Since our technology is present on both sides, we’re able to manage the flow of energy far more efficiently, safely and rapidly.”

Building out such a network will require funds, which is where Exponent’s Series A comes in. The round, which was led by Lightspeed with participation from YourNest VC, 3one4 Capital and AdvantEdge VC, will be used to scale up the e^pump network to 100 location points in each city Exponent expands into, starting with Bengaluru and eventually making its way to New Delhi, according to Vinayak. The company also aims to deploy 2,000 Exponent-enabled vehicles as part of its partnership with Altigreen.

Vinayak said the e^pack is scalable across multiple form factors, and Exponent Energy is currently in the engineering phase for partnerships in other segments, specifically three-wheeled passenger vehicles and four-wheeled cargo vehicles.

“Our primary focus is commercial vehicles and our primary customer is anyone running a fleet, from a single vehicle owner to an aggregator of 1000s of vehicles,” Vinayak told …read more

Eat Just bags $25M, gets Alibaba’s help to sell alternative protein in China

China is a notoriously difficult market for international startups to crack, but one company seems to have found the recipe for wooing the country’s picky consumers. Three years after Eat Just launched in China, the San Francisco-based company is ready to put more alternative protein products on Chinese people’s plates.

Formerly Hampton Creek, Eat Just has secured $25 million and a strategic partnership from C2 Capital Partners, a private equity firm with Alibaba as its anchor investor. The tie-up with C2, according to Eat Just’s co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick, will help the firm’s go-to-market strategies, sales, branding, consumer insights, hiring, and regulatory approach in China.

Specifically, the Californian company will benefit from Alibaba’s reservoir of consumer insight and its experience in building a team in China from the ground up, Tetrick told TechCrunch.

Eat Just has been around since 2011 and raised over $400 million from investors including Khosla Ventures and Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing’s Horizon Ventures. After establishing a foothold for its plant-based eggs in the U.S. market, Eat Just ventured into China, the world’s biggest meat consumer.

“We will never be able to accomplish the goal of changing the world without China,” said Tetrick.

Getting the regulatory greenlight is key for any company entering a new market. Eat Just’s signature mung bean-based eggs are already available through Alibaba’s e-commerce platform. And it’s poised to file with Chinese regulators for its cultivated meat, which is made from real animal cells grown in a lab, “sometime this year,” according to the CEO.

The timing is ripe. China has set food security as a critical priority for its agricultural production. In its five-year economic plan for 2021-2025, the government encourages R&D on “cell-cultivated meat, synthesized egg cream, recombinant proteins” and other food production technologies.

Eat Just obtained permission to sell lab-grown meat in Singapore in late 2020 and the result there has been “wonderful” so far, said the founder.

China is a harder market to conquer. So far, Eat Just’s customers are mostly young, well-educated Chinese from affluent cities like Shanghai. They are harsh on taste and flavor — in a good way, which pushes the company to keep innovating, Tetrick said.

“It is widely accepted that the alternative protein sector can play an important role in achieving China’s goal of carbon peaking and neutralization,” said Steve Lin, C2’s managing partner. “These ESG [environmental, social, and governance] benefits resonate strongly with young Chinese consumers who are interested in trying innovative food with a good nutrition profile and align with their values.”

“As the plant-based market is still in an early stage of development, local and foreign companies are focused on consumer education and building awareness to scale the market opportunity,” he added.

China remains a minor contributor to Eat Just’s income, making up just 5% of its global sales. The American company is also confronting a raft of local alternative protein makers that have cropped up in China over the past …read more

Faraday Future seeks to raise capital after massive Q2 loss

Faraday Future, maker of the long-delayed FF91 EV, re-upped its commitment to raising funds while reporting Tuesday that its second-quarter operating losses more than quadrupled.

The company posted an operating loss of $137 million for the second quarter compared with $28 million for the year-ago period. Overall, its second-quarter financial report paints a grim picture.

With still no vehicle to sell and little near-term prospect for generating revenue, the company has warned several times this year that it is running out of money.

The perennially cash-strapped company now has even less cash on hand, reporting roughly $121 million at the end of the second quarter versus the $505 million it reported at the beginning of the year.

Faraday said in a statement that it “projects that it will require additional funds by early September 2022 in order to continue operations and will also need to raise additional financing during the remainder of 2022 and beyond 2022 to support the ramp-up of production of the FF 91 to generate revenues to put the Company on a path to cash flow break-even.”

Lack of funding has been just one of the impediments that have delayed the launch of the beleaguered automaker’s first vehicle. Faraday’s future has been in jeopardy repeatedly since its founding in 2014, but the company has been tenacious in its vision and launched as a public company in July 2021 through a SPAC merger with Property Solutions Acquisition Group.

During the second quarter, the company removed founder and former CEO Yueting Jia as an executive officer, began proceedings to force the former Lieutenant Governor of Nevada from its board, and fell under the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Justice, stemming from an SEC probe into whether Faraday misled investors.

It also narrowly avoided being delisted from Nasdaq by filing its overdue 2021 annual report and 2022 first-quarter financial results in May. That Faraday filed its second-quarter results should encourage investors.

“Importantly, we also became current with our financial statements and regained compliance with NASDAQ listing requirements,” CEO Carsten Breitfeld said in a statement Tuesday. “Fundraising efforts are underway, and we currently expect to deliver the FF 91 to customers in the third or fourth quarter of 2022.”

The company said it had 399 “fully refundable, non-binding, paid deposits” for the FF91 as of June 30. The new start of production and first deliveries of the FF91 have been pushed to the third or fourth quarter of 2022.

Despite the tumult, Faraday has big plans for the future, including a target to open a factory in China mid-decade to build two more models: an FF 81 sedan and FF 71 smart last-mile delivery vehicle.

…read more

Getting power from poop, with Levidian’s Loop

The U.K. water processing industry produces a godawful amount of biogas annually. The gasses are primarily used to generate operational heat and power on-site, or they can be turned into biomethane and injected back into the national gas grid. New research funding is going to see if United Utilities can use Levidian’s Loop system to turn these waste gases into carbon-negative hydrogen (which can be easily stored for later use) along with graphene, which has a number of interesting use cases, including medicine, electronics and energy.

“This is an exciting project that will lead the way to utilize Loop to decarbonize biogas at scale,” comments Levidian CEO John Hartley. “The consortium has a vast amount of knowledge and experience, which we are leveraging to produce carbon-negative hydrogen — there is no better goal to be working on right now.”

The U.K. government’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has awarded the project around $250,000 (£212,000, to be exact) through the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio for the first phase of a project. The hope is that the project will turn out to be commercially viable as well as an environmental win.

The phase one feasibility study will allow the consortium to assess the performance of various biogas samples in a small-scale Loop system located at the Levidian Technology Centre in Cambridge. Although the primary goal of the work is to produce hydrogen, the Levidian Loop doubles as a carbon capture technology. The carbon extracted from the biogas is locked permanently into high-quality graphene, which can then go on to decarbonize a wide variety of other products.

The company claims that the hydrogen produced by Loop will be carbon negative — if the system is powered by renewable electricity, that is.

Founded in 2012, Levidian is a British climate-tech business whose Loop technology cracks methane into hydrogen and carbon, locking the carbon into high-quality green graphene. The device uses a low-temperature, low-pressure process to crack methane into its constituent atoms, hydrogen and carbon, without needing catalysts or additives.

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Walmart’s last-mile delivery service, Walmart GoLocal, tops 1M deliveries in year one

Walmart’s last-mile delivery service business, Walmart GoLocal, has topped 1 million deliveries in its first year, the retailer today revealed. The company offered a brief update on the state of its newer delivery business during its Q2 earnings call on Tuesday, where it noted that GoLocal had been growing its support of local merchants’ delivery operations and was also now on track to reach 5,000 pickup locations by the end of the year.

Announced in August 2021, GoLocal is Walmart’s attempt to leverage its own delivery platform to service the needs of other merchants, both large and small. Merchants can use the service for a variety of deliveries, including scheduled and unscheduled deliveries, and even same-day. The service itself is powered by those Walmart had developed for its own delivery needs, including its in-house Express Delivery service, which promises delivery in two hours or less. GoLocal deliveries, however, aren’t handled by Walmart’s own staff but rather gig workers sourced through Walmart’s Spark Driver program — the same program that supports Walmart’s same-day delivery operations.

Over time, the retail giant aims to grow GoLocal into a larger business as more merchants shift to e-commerce. It’s also one of multiple initiatives underway designed to help Walmart generate additional revenue by meeting the needs of other retailers. Last year, for instance, Walmart announced it would sell its own e-commerce technologies to other retailers.

“We continue to sign up larger-scale customers, and we’re making strides on the bigger unlock, which are small and medium-sized businesses,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told investors, speaking about GoLocal’s growth. “Our technology and expertise will help so many of these businesses grow while contributing to our operating margins over time,” he said.

Little more was shared about the operation, like its contributions to Walmart’s bottom line, for example. But the exec did say the service was receiving “strong” client satisfaction scores and was continuing to sign up larger-scale businesses.

The update follows recent news that Walmart entered into a deal with EV startup Canoo to buy 4,500 all-electric delivery vehicles to help it deliver online orders initially in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as help serve the retailer’s GoLocal delivery service business, it said at the time. In addition to helping Walmart achieve its own business goals, the deal also helped the retailer from a competitive standpoint as it could stop Canoo from selling its electric vans to Walmart rival Amazon. 

Walmart beat analysts’ expectations in its fiscal second quarter, driving shares up by over 5%. Driven by demand for groceries and other daily essentials as well as higher prices due to inflation and support from higher-income shoppers, Walmart pulled in $152.86 billion in revenue versus the $150.81 billion Wall Street had forecast.

Earnings per share were $1.77 versus $1.62 expected. Net income also grew to $5.15 billion, up from $4.28 billion in the year-ago quarter.

YC grad QuotaBook raises $11M to scale its equity management platform

QuotaBook claims that it has more than 3,500 startups and investor users on its platform, largely based in South Korea, where the company started. About 40% of startups in Korea use QuotaBook’s service that provides cap table management, according to Choi. In June, it launched a restricted stock units (RSU) management service.

Its SaaS-based platform offers two services

QuotaBook, a Seoul-based equity management platform, has raised $11 million in funding led by Elefund, with participation from Access Ventures, Hana Securities and South Korean fintech company Viva Republica. Some of its previous backers, including Draper Associates and Capstone Partners, joined the round.

The Korean startup, which graduated from Y Combinator (YC)’s Winter 21 batch, was founded by former venture capitalists Andy Choi, Dan Hong and Pilseon Jun, in 2019. Choi, the company’s CEO, said in an interview with TechCrunch that in their capacity as investors, the three noticed that in Korea and many other Asian countries, startups were still relying on Excel when managing their cap tables, stock options, stakeholder and other related information.

That meant the startups’ backers were forced to make sense of these spreadsheets, too. “VCs were stuck with Excel sheets or very old enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, so old that they are not web-based and can be installed only on Windows machines,” Choi said. “It created a very annoying and error-prone process where startups and investors were regularly exchanging crucial equity data and corporate info via document attachments or text messages.”

Everyone was typing in the data manually because investors and startups had different formats and had to run double checks from each side again, Choi told TechCrunch.

“I had a case where the startup didn’t provide their most up-to-date cap table Excel sheet for more than two months, which made it hard for us to update our investment valuations and returns that were needed to be reported to our LPs,” Choi said.

QuotaBook will use the latest funding — which brings its total raised to approximately $20 million — to digitize the equity/fund management process, providing a common standard for security-related data, and making it possible to safely host shareholder and board meetings online. Additionally, the startup plans to scale out its product team, enter Southeast Asia and launch its service for investors in the Middle East, Choi noted. “The [Asian] market is still very young, so we also want to set up local offices or teams in the regions like Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan.”

Currently, the outfit employs 45 people, Choi added.

Image Credits: QuotaBook

QuotaBook claims that it has more than 3,500 startups and investor users on its platform, largely based in South Korea, where the company started. About 40% of startups in Korea use QuotaBook’s service that provides cap table management, according to Choi. In June, it launched a restricted stock units (RSU) management service.

Its SaaS-based platform offers two servicesan equity management service for startups, which includes cap table management, stock option management, investor reporting, investor consents, shareholder and board meetings, and a fund management platform for investors, which provides fund info, investment and returns management, portfolio management, LP commitment and returns management, LP reporting and fund activity analytics.

Its startup users start with a freemium plan. If they upgrade to a plan with more …read more

The venture slowdown finally hit early-stage valuations, PitchBook data shows

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Ever since technology stocks began getting repriced in late 2021, we kept hearing that the correction would eventually trickle down to private startups.

Each quarter brought its share of answers on how the venture capital slowdown would shape up. Would it impact late-stage deals first? Yes. Would it ever reach the angel and seed stage? Maybe not.

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It didn’t take long for a trend to emerge: Last quarter, we reported that the venture slowdown was impacting fundraising for startups of every size and sector. And we also noted that round sizes from the Series A to C stages in the United States were in decline.

Our conclusions were based on early data from Carta on Q1 2022 activity through its ownership management platform. As such, it was a good proxy for overall investing into startups in the first three months of the year — and the tendency was confirmed when the platform released a fuller roundup that we analyzed a couple of weeks later.

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American Airlines to buy 20 jets from Boom Supersonic

American Airlines will buy up to 20 jets from Boom Supersonic, an aircraft maker that aims to commercialize supersonic, and super-fast, flight.

Boom’s Overture four-engine jets promise speeds of up to Mach 1.7 over water, which is twice the speed of today’s fastest commercial aircraft — meaning the jet can fly from Miami to London in just under five hours, rather than the standard nine hours.

About a year ago, United Airlines also agreed to purchase some 15 Boom jets, and in 2016, Virgin Atlantic partnered with Boom to build and test planes in an attempt to make the historically expensive flights more affordable.

With the American Airlines deal in hand, Boom has an order of 130 planes to fill, including options — American has an option to purchase 40 more of the jets — valued at about $26 billion, Reuters reports. Boom’s Overture jets, which can carry 65 to 80 passengers, are expected to start coming off Boom’s Greensboro, North Carolina, production line in 2025, followed by test flights in 2026. Boom expects its jets to carry their first passengers in 2029, but Boom has already been delayed in conducting test flights for its other jet, the XB-1, so delivery for the Overture might also be delayed.

Boom’s jets, while incredibly fast, are not as fast as the legendary Concorde’s, which flew at a speed of Mach 2.04. The Concorde, which made its first supersonic flight in 1976 from New York City to London in three hours, was in the skies until 2003, when the Concorde made its last commercial flight, due to a number of issues with the jets. For one, the flights were expensive to operate and used too much fuel, meaning they would cost thousands of dollars for a ticket. Concorde jets were also incredibly loud due to their “sonic booms” — so loud, in fact, that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned overland supersonic commercial flights.

Boom’s Overture will fly over land at a rate that’s about 20% faster than subsonic flights, but not as fast as it will on the over 600 mostly transoceanic routes to which Overture will be best suited.

In January last year, the FAA issued new final rules to pave the way for reintroduction of supersonic commercial flight. Besides Boom, other companies are exploring ways to bring this tech back to life. Virgin Galactic teamed up with Rolls-Royce in 2020 to develop a supersonic jet, and NASA and Lockheed Martin are also looking to design a jet that could break the sound barrier with a quieter sonic boom.

Boom told TechCrunch the Overture has noise-reducing features like engine updates and an automated noise-reduction system that will ensure supersonic takeoff is no louder than today’s subsonic jets and that meets the noise levels required by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

American Airlines and Boom haven’t come out with a ballpark for ticket prices yet, …read more

The Roku Channel adds 14 linear channels, expanding its local news offering

Roku announced today that it added 14 new linear channels through its Live TV Guide on its free streaming hub, The Roku Channel, including several new local news streams. Viewers can now access three NBC local news channels, San Diego, Boston and San Francisco Bay Area, as well as LX News, a news network by NBCUniversal Local that is targeted toward adults aged 18 to 45.

According to TVREV, news is a top category that attracts viewers in the free ad-supporting streaming landscape. After experiencing slow growth in active accounts in the first and second quarters of 2022, Roku has been eager to prove its worth to investors and consumers.

“We’re thrilled to further expand our NBCUniversal Local news channels lineup to provide streamers across the country with access to valuable local news coverage through The Roku Channel,” Ashley Hovey, head of The Roku Channel advertising-based video on demand (AVOD), said in a statement. “Since launching our local news category earlier this summer, we have seen users come to The Roku Channel to engage with this programming category in a meaningful way. We’re proud to offer a convenient way for millions of streamers to stay informed on important local topics and current events.”

In June, Roku launched eight NBC Local news channels, the first time that local news appeared on The Roku Channel. In addition to the news channels that Roku added today, other NBC local news channels available on the streaming service include NBC New York News, NBC Los Angeles News, NBC Chicago News, NBC Philadelphia News, NBC Dallas/Fort Worth News, NBC Washington, D.C. News, NBC South Florida News and NBC Connecticut News.

Other than news, The Roku Channel also added new channels in various genres like Westerns, Spanish-language entertainment, true crime and more. The remaining lineup of new linear channels includes the Ion Channel, which will feature episodes from “NCIS,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Law & Order: SVU” and other well-known series; Roku Channel Westerns, which will give viewers classic Western titles like “Apache Junction,” “The Westerner,” and “The Rebel;” Cine EstrellaTV, a new Spanish-language channel available through The Roku Channel’s dedicated Espacio Latino hub; other channels inluce BBC Kids, BOUNCE XL, Cheaters, Court TV, Grit Xtra, Ion Mystery and Ion Plus.

…read more

Google makes robots smarter by teaching them about their limitations

Robot playing table tennis

If you’ve used a smart voice assistant such as Alexa, Siri and whatever-Google’s-smart-assistant-is-called, you’ll probably have noticed that the tech is getting smarter every day. Google can wait on hold for you, Siri can speak in a gender-neutral voice and Alexa can read you bedtime stories in your dead grandmother’s voice. Robotics is evolving in leaps and bounds as well, as we explored in our Robotics event last month. The gap between the two — voice commands and autonomous robotics — has been vast, for a number of reasons. Last week, we went to Google’s robotics labs in Mountain View to see how that’s set to change in the near future.

Teaching robots what to do for repetitive tasks in controlled spaces where humans aren’t allowed isn’t easy, but it’s more or less a solved problem. Rivian’s recent factory tour was a great reminder of that, but the use of industrial robotics is everywhere in manufacturing.

General-purpose robots that are able to solve lots of different tasks based on voice commands in spaces where humans also exist, is a lot harder. You might say, “But what about Roomba,” but everyone’s favorite robo-vacuum is generally programmed to avoid touching things other than the floor, and whatever’s on the floor — much to some owners’ chagrin.

Table tennis is a game where the robot can easily self-determine whether a task was successful and learn from its mistakes. Here, one of the robotics researchers at Google is taking a break, showing the robot what’s what. Image Credits: Haje Kamps (opens in a new window) / TechCrunch(opens in a new window)

“You may wonder why ping-pong. One of the big challenges in robotics today is this intersection of being fast, precise and adaptive. You can be fast and not adaptive at all; that’s not a problem. That’s fine in an industrial setting. But being fast and adaptive and precise is a really big challenge. Ping-pong is a really nice microcosm of the problem. It requires precision and speed. You can learn from people playing: it’s a skill that people develop by practicing,” Vincent Vanhoucke, Distinguished Scientist and head of robotics at Google Research told me. “It’s not a skill where you can read the rules and become a champion overnight. You have to really practice it.”

Speed and precision is one thing, but the nut Google is really trying to crack in its robotic labs, is the intersection between human language and robotics. It is making some impressive leaps in the level of robotic understanding natural language that a human might use. “When you have a minute, could you grab me a drink from the counter?” is a pretty straightforward request that you might ask a human. To a machine, however, that statement wraps a lot of knowledge and understanding into a seemingly single question. Let’s break it down: “When you have a minute” could mean nothing at all, just meant …read more