Bestmile raises $16.5 million to manage human and AI-driven fleets – gpgmail


Bestmile, a transportation software startup, has raised $16.5 million in a Series B round led by Blue Lagoon Capital and TransLink Capital.

Existing investors Road Ventures, Partech, Groupe ADP, Airbus Ventures, Serena and others also participated in the round. The company, which launched in 2014, has raised $31 million to date.

Bestmile has developed fleet management software that orchestrates the delicate balance between demand for, and supply of transportation. Managing fleets isn’t new. However, the emergence of new and varied ways for people and packages to move within cities has created new opportunities for software companies.

Bestmile is aiming to become the preferred platform for public transit operators, automakers and taxi companies that offer ride-hailing, microtransit, autonomous shuttle services and even robotaxis. While Bestmile emphasizes the ability of the platform to manage more futuristic means of travel, namely autonomous shuttles, fleet management software is designed to be agnostic. This means it will work for human-driven fleets like traditional taxi cabs as well as autonomous shuttles and, someday, robotaxis.

The startup’s investors also see opportunities for the platform that extend beyond microtransit, ride-hailing and autonomous shuttles. For instance, Airbus Ventures sees Bestmile as a key enabler for urban air mobility, according to Thomas d’Halluin, a managing partner at the Airbus’ venture arm.

The platform works by collecting real-time data such as weather, traffic, demand and vehicle telemetry. It then uses the data to squeeze the most out of the fleet. That means balancing demand from customers with the cost of operations.

The startup, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland and has an office in San Francisco, already has a number of customers, including autonomous shuttle operators. The company’s software is managing 15 deployments globally. Bestmile announced earlier this week that it has partnered with Beep, an autonomous shuttle company in Orlando, Fla.

Blue Lagoon partners Rodney Rogers and Kevin Reid have joined Bestmile’s board. Rogers is now board chairman. The pair, which have first-hand experience as co-founders, should be able to provide the kind of insight needed to scale a company. Rogers and Reid co-founded enterprise cloud services company Virtustream, which was acquired by EMC Corporation in 2015 for $1.2 billion. The business is now part of Dell Technologies.


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SpaceX Starhopper ‘hops’ to around 500 feet and flies for just under a minute in new test flight – gpgmail


SpaceX has completed a second low-altitude test flight of its ‘Starhopper’ demonstration prototype, which is being used to test technologies that will be used to build the full-scale next-generation SpaceX ‘Starship’ spacecraft. This test involved ‘hopping’ the Starhopper (hence the name, get it?) to a height of around 150m (or a little under 500 feet), the highest it’s flown so far, at a SpaceX test facility in Texas. After the hop, which lasted around 50 seconds (the GIF above is sped up 2X) it successfully navigated itself to a target landing pad a short distance away.

This is the second untethered test trip for the Starhopper, and will is intended to be its last, as SpaceX moves forward with construction of its Starship Mk I and Mk II prototypes, which is taking place currently and simultaneously at sites in Florida and Texas. Today’s attempt was the second try after a planned test yesterday was aborted at the last second, with SpaceX resetting and ensuring everything was in place for this longer hop, which lasted just under a minute.

In July, SpaceX ran its first untethered hop, which is designed to test the operation of the Raptor engine SpaceX is developing for Starship, along with other subsystems for use in the production Starship. That flew only for around 22 seconds, and attained a height of just 20 meters (a little over 65 feet).

Construction is currently in progress at both SpaceX’s Texas and Florida facilities on its full-scale Starship prototypes, which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is ambitious will begin their own flight testing later this year, in perhaps as little as a few months. The larger prototypes, which should be closer to what will actually launch, will test more Raptor engines working together and aim to fly to higher altitudes, another key step as the company works towards a true first orbital test flight.

Ultimately, SpaceX is hoping to replace both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy entirely with different configurations of Starship, which will help the company in terms of cost efficiency thanks to its fully reusable nature, and streamlining all of its rocket construction efforts around one type of vehicle.


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Watch a Waymo self-driving car test its sensors in a haboob – gpgmail


Waymo, the self-driving car company under Alphabet, has been testing in the suburbs of Phoenix for several years now. And while the sunny metropolis might seem like the ideal and easiest location to test autonomous vehicle technology, there are times when the desert becomes a dangerous place for any driver — human or computer.

The two big safety concerns in this desert region are sudden downpours that cause flash floods and haboobs, giant walls of dust between 1,500 and 3,000 feet high that can cover up to 100 square miles. One record-breaking haboob in July 2011 covered the entire Phoenix valley, an area of more than 517 square miles.

Waymo released Friday a blog post that included two videos showing how the sensors on its self-driving vehicles detect and recognize objects while navigating through a haboob in Phoenix and fog in San Francisco. The vehicle in Phoenix was manually driven, while the one in the fog video was in autonomous mode.

The point of the videos, Waymo says, is to show how, and if, the vehicles recognize objects during these extreme low visibility moments. And they do. The haboob video shows how its sensors work to identify a pedestrian crossing a street with little to no visibility.

Waymo uses a combination of lidar, radar and cameras to detect and identify objects. Fog, rain or dust can limit visibility in all or some of these sensors.

Waymo doesn’t silo the sensors affected by a particular weather event. Instead, it continues to take in data from all the sensors, even those that don’t function as well in fog or dust, and uses that collective information to better identify objects.

The potential is for autonomous vehicles to improve on visibility, one of the greatest performance limitations of humans, Debbie Hersman, Waymo’s chief safety officer wrote in the blog post. If Waymo or other AV companies are successful, they could help reduce one of the leading contributors to crashes. The Department of Transportation estimates that weather contributes to 21% of the annual U.S. crashes.

Still, there are times when even an autonomous vehicle doesn’t belong on the road. It’s critical for any company planning to deploy AVs to have a system that can not only identify, but also take the safest action if conditions worsen.

Waymo vehicles are designed to automatically detect sudden extreme weather changes, such as a snowstorm, that could impact the ability of a human or an AV to drive safely, according to Hersman.

The question is what happens next. Humans are supposed to pull over off the road during a haboob and turn off the vehicle, a similar action when one encounters heavy fog.  Waymo’s self-driving vehicles will do the same if weather conditions deteriorate to the point that the company believes it would affect the safe operation of its cars, Hersman wrote.

The videos and blog post are the latest effort by Waymo to showcase how and where it’s testing. The company announced August 20 that it has started testing how its sensors handle heavy rain in Florida. The move to Florida will focus on data collection and testing sensors; the vehicles will be manually driven for now.

Waymo also tests (or has tested) its technology in and around Mountain View, Calif., Novi, Mich., Kirkland, Wash. and San Francisco. The bulk of the company’s activities have been in suburbs of Phoenix  and around Mountain View.


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Waymo self-driving cars head to Florida for rainy season – gpgmail


Waymo is taking some of its autonomous vehicles to Florida just in time for hurricane season to begin testing in heavy rain.

The move to Florida will focus on testing how its myriad of sensors hold up during the region’s rainy season as well as to collect data. All of the vehicles will be manually driven by trained drivers.

Waymo will bring both of its autonomous vehicles, the Chrysler Pacificas and a Jaguar I-Pace, to Naples and Miami, Florida for testing, according to a blog posted Tuesday. Miami is one of the wettest cities in the U.S., averaging 61.9 inches of rain annually.

The self-driving car company, which is a business under Alphabet, began testing its autonomous vehicles in and around Mountain View, Calif., before branching out to other cities and weather, including Novi, Michigan, Kirkland, Washington and San Francisco. But the bulk of the company’s activities have been in suburbs of Phoenix and around Mountain View — two places with lots of sun, and even blowing dust, in the case of Phoenix.

Waymo opened a technical center Chandler, Ariz. and started testing there in 2016. Since then the company has ramped up its testing and launched an early rider program in April 2017 as a step toward commercial deployment.

The company will spend the next several weeks driving on a closed course in Naples to test its sensor suite , which includes lidar, cameras and radar . Later in the month, Waymo plans to bring its vehicles to public roads in Miami. A few Waymo vehicles will be collecting data on highways between Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers and Miami.

Waymo is hardly the only autonomous vehicle company to take advantage of Florida’s AV friendly regulations. Ford and Argo AI, the self-driving company it backs, have had a presence in the Miami since early 2018. Argo AI began collecting data and mapping and has since expanded to testing in autonomous mode last summer.

Last year, Ford partnered with Walmart and Postmates to test the business of delivering goods like groceries and pet food using self-driving vehicles. The pilot project is focused on Miami-Dade County.

Self-driving trucks startup Starsky Robotics also is testing in Florida.


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NASA and SpaceX practice Crew Dragon evacuation procedure with astronaut recovery vessel – gpgmail


NASA and SpaceX continue their joint preparations for the eventually astronaut crew missions that SpaceX will fly for the agency, with a test of the emergency evacuation procedure for SpaceX’s GO Searcher seaborne ship. The ship is intended to be used to recover spacecraft and astronauts in an actual mission scenario, and the rehearsals this week are a key part of ensuring mission readiness before an actual crewed SpaceX mission.

Photos from the dress rehearsal, which is the first coordinated end-to-end practice run involving the full NASA and SpaceX mission teams working in concert, saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken don SpaceX’s fancy new crew suits and mimic a situation where they needed to be removed from the returned Crew Dragon spacecraft and taken to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the GO Searcher by helicopter.

By all accounts, this was a successful exercise and seems to have left parties on both sides happy with the results. Check out photos released by NASA of the dry run below.

SpaceX and NASA continue to work towards a goal of launching Crew Dragon’s first actual crewed flight this year, though they’ve encountered setbacks that make that potentially impossible, including the explosion of a Crew Dragon test vehicle during a static test fire in April.


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Northrop Grumman to build its OmegA rocket at NASA’s VAB as first commercial tenant – gpgmail


NASA is celebrating alongside Northrop Grumman at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the latter becomes the first commercial partner to make use of the Vehicle Assembly Building on-site at the base. The VAB, as its more commonly known, is a cavernous building that’s used to build and test rockets ahead of rolling them out to nearby launch pads, which was originally constructed by NASA to support the Apollo program.

Northrop Grumman will be using the VAB to build and prep its OmegA launch vehicle, a new rocket the company is building to transport intermediate and heavy payloads to orbit. It’s a fully expendable rocket, which Northrop is positioning as a lower-risk alternative to reusable models flown by competitors (cough SpaceX cough) and it’s also build as an ‘affordable’ option for those seeking launch services. OmegA is designed to help Northrop Grumman compete for future national security launch contracts, as well as support commercial customer missions.

NASA will also continue to use the VAB for the assembly of its own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will be supporting missions in the Artemis program and transporting the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew craft to space, and eventually to the Moon.

Kennedy also already plays host to rocket assembly and launch facilities for both SpaceX and Blue Origin, making it a hot spot for public-private space business activity.


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ULA successfully launches fifth US Air Force-protected communications satellite – gpgmail


The United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint-effort commercial launch service provider set up by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, succeeded in launching a U.S. Air Force communications satellite to orbit today, the fifth in a series of launches to form a constellation. The satellite, code-named AEHF-5 (for the fifth “Advanced Extremely High Frequency” spacecraft) is already communicating with USAF on the ground, indicating full mission success.

For ULA, this is another win in an unbroken streak – it’s the 90th Atlas V launch to date, with 100% success across all those launches. The launch took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 6:13 AM ET this morning, marking the second successful launch from the Cape this week (SpaceX launched the AMOS-17 satellite earlier this week).

The Atlas V for this mission was flying in what ULA terms “551” configuration, which means that it’s equipped with five solid rocket boosters surrounding its liquid-fueled center core booster. This is the configuration that provides Atlas V with the most lift and payload capacity, which was necessary in this case because of the weight of the AEHF-5 satellite at nearly 14,000 lbs., combined with its target orbit.

Lockheed Martin built the AEHF-5 for the Air Force, and confirmed via email this afternoon that it not only achieved geostationary transfer orbit but is responding as planned to the USAF’s 4th Space Operations Squadron. The company has built all five current active AEHF satellites in operation, and is currently working on the sixth, which should launch sometime next year if all goes to plan.


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SpaceX launches ISS mission using twice-flown Dragon for the first time – TechCrunch


SpaceX has launched CRS-18, the 18th commercial resupply mission it has flown for NASA to deliver experiment, research and supply materials to the International Space Station. This mission’s cargo included IDA-3, the second automated docking ring set to be installed on the ISS, which will enable autonomous docking capabilities for future commercial spacecraft visiting the station with both crew and cargo on board. CRS-18 took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 6:01 PM ET (3:01 PM PT) on Thursday, after an attempt Wednesday was scrubbed due to weather.

There are around 5,000 lbs of cargo on board the Dragon launched for this mission. CRS-18 also carried a research mission into engineering organic tissue for use in 3D bioprinting from a company called Techshot, as well as experiments in tire material manufacturing from Goodyear. There’s even Nickelodeon’s signature green slime (yes, the slime you’re thinking of), which is being sent up care of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory to help astronauts educate students on how fluid operates in microgravity environments.

SpaceX previously flew the Falcon 9 first-stage rocket booster used on this mission just two months ago for the last ISS resupply mission, CRS-17. That’s a quick turnaround for one of its refurbished rockets, and another sign that it’s making good progress in its goal of achieving fully reusable launch capabilities. The Dragon cargo capsule used for this mission also flew before — twice, including for CRS-6 in April, 2015 and once again in December 2017 for CRS-13.

The landing of the Falcon 9 from CRS-18, sped up 2X.

This launch included a recovery attempt for the Falcon 9, too, and it returned and landed as planned at the company’s LZ-1 landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force base. The first-stage booster separated from the second-stage and Dragon craft as planned, and then returned to Earth, landing successfully after a controlled descent. This was SpaceX’s 44th successful recovery of a Falcon 9 first-stage after launch.

Next up for the Dragon capsule is for it to dock with the ISS, which is set to happen on Saturday. It’ll then have its cargo unloaded by the astronauts on board the station, and receive 3,300 lbs of return cargo, which it’ll bring back to Earth with a return trip that’ll conclude with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.



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Watch SpaceX launch a twice-flown Dragon capsule for its 18th ISS mission live – gpgmail


Let’s try this again: SpaceX is looking to launch its 18th International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission on Thursday at 6:01 PM ET (3:01 PM PT), a day after it tried to do so a first time. The initial attempt was scrubbed at the last minute due to weather conditions on the launch range in Florida at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but there’s a backup window today, so Elon’s rocket company will try again. The stream above will begin about 15 minutes beforehand.

CRS-18 will send to the ISS a Dragon cargo capsule with 5,000 lbs of experiment materials, supplies and other cargo including a new automated docking sleeve. This mission is one of the last in SpaceX’s current ISS resupply contract, which covers 20 total engagements — but NASA and SpaceX essentially re-upped for a second batch through 2024 as part of a new contract signed in 2016.

The Dragon cargo craft used on this mission has actually flown two previous ISS resupply missions, and will be the first to manage a third should this trip go as planned. It’ll rendezvous with the ISS in a few days, and be unloaded by astronauts and re-loaded with return cargo before detaching from the ISS and returning to Earth to splash down in the Pacific Ocean for recovery. Dragon will launch aboard a Falcon 9 first-stage booster that was used just a couple of months ago for the most recent CRS mission.


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