Voyage raises $31 million to bring driverless taxis to communities – gpgmail


Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, announced Thursday it has raised $31 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton.

Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated in the round. The company, which operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised a total of $52 million since launching in 2017. The new funding includes a $3 million convertible note.

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron has big plans for the fresh injection of capital, including hiring and expanding its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which always have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the expanded G2 fleet and staff are just the means toward Cameron’s grander mission to turn Voyage into a truly driverless and profitable ride-hailing company.

“It’s not just about solving self-driving technology,” Cameron told gpgmail in a recent interview, explaining that a cost-effective vehicle designed to be driverless is the essential piece required to make this a profitable business.

The company is in the midst of a hiring campaign that Cameron hopes will take its 55-person staff to more than 150 over the next year. Voyage has had some success attracting high-profile people to fill executive-level positions, including CTO Drew Gray, who previously worked at Uber ATG, Otto, Cruise and Tesla, as well as former NIO and Tesla employee Davide Bacchet as director of autonomy.

Funds will also be used to increase its fleet of second-generation self-driving cars (called G2) that are currently being used in a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida. Voyage’s G2 fleet has 12 vehicles. Cameron didn’t provide details on how many vehicles it will add to its G2 fleet, only describing it as a “nice jump that will allow us to serve consumers.”

Voyage used the G2 vehicles to create a template of sorts for its eventual driverless vehicle. This driverless product — a term Cameron has used in a previous post on Medium — will initially be limited to 25 miles per hour, which is the driving speed within the two retirement communities in which Voyage currently tests and operates. The vehicle might operate at a low speed, but they are capable of handling complex traffic interactions, he wrote.

“It won’t be the most cost-effective vehicle ever made because the industry still is in its infancy, but it will be a huge, huge, huge improvement over our G2 vehicle in terms of being be able to scale out a commercial service and make money on each ride,” Cameron said. 

Voyage initially used modified Ford Fusion vehicles to test its autonomous vehicle technology, then introduced in July 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, its second generation of autonomous vehicles. But the end goal has always been a driverless product.

gpgmail previously reported that the company has partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle that has been designed specifically for autonomous driving. Cameron wouldn’t name the automaker. The vehicle will be electric and it won’t be a retrofit like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vehicles Voyage currently uses or its first-generation vehicle, a Ford Fusion.

Most importantly, and a detail Cameron did share with gpgmail, is that the vehicle it uses for its driverless service will have redundancies and safety-critical applications built into it.

Voyage also has deals in place with Enterprise rental cars and Intact insurance company to help it scale.

“You can imagine leasing is much more optimal than purchasing and owning vehicles on your balance sheet,” Cameron said. “We have those deals in place that will allow us to not only get the vehicle costs down, but other aspects of the vehicle into the right place as well.”


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Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun is coming to Disrupt SF – gpgmail


Sebastian Thrun can’t be described easily.

He’s a serial entrepreneur and educator, a computer scientist and inventor. He helped bring self-driving cars out of academia through X, the Google moonshot factory he founded. (That little project is now known as Waymo.) Thrun went on to co-found Udacity, the $1 billion online education startup where he is executive chairman.

Now, Thrun is pushing the “future of transportation” idea beyond self-driving cars. As CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation, Thrun is working on bringing two aircraft to market — the one-person Flyer and a two-person autonomous taxi called Cora. Boeing and Kitty Hawk recently formed a strategic partnership with Boeing on Cora and more broadly on urban air mobility, particularly around safety and how autonomous and piloted vehicles will co-exist.

We’re excited to announce that Thrun will be joining us onstage at gpgmail Disrupt SF to give a behind the scenes look at Kitty Hawk and what the future of flight might look like.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.

Thrun’s visits to Disrupt SF always deliver something new. Who can forget the puppy? This year, we’re focused on flying cars, what they’ll look like, and how Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Google’s Larry Page, will deliver on this promise of the future. 

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all gpgmail event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email extracrunch@Gpgmail.com to get your 20% off discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.




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Anthony Levandowski, former Google engineer at center of Waymo-Uber case charged with stealing trade secrets – gpgmail


Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer and serial entrepreneur who was at the center of a trade secrets lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on theft of trade secrets.

The indictment, which is posted below, charges Levandowski with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets while working at Google, where he was an engineer and one of the founding members of the group that worked on Google’s self-driving car project. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on August 27 at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael M. Cousins.

If convicted, Levandowski faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution, for each violation.

gpgmail has reached out to Pronto AI, Levandowksi’s new startup, for comment. We will update the story once the company, Levandowksi or his attorneys respond.

The charges stem from Levandowski’s time at Google’s self-driving project, where he led its light detecting and ranging (lidar) engineering team, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges that in the months before his departure, Levandowski downloaded from secure Google repositories numerous engineering, manufacturing, and business files related to Google’s custom lidar and self-driving car technology. Levandowski worked on the project from 2009 until he resigned from Google without notice on January 27, 2016.

Levandowski left Google and started Otto, a self-driving trucking company that was then bought by Uber. Waymo later sued Uber for trade secret theft.

Waymo alleged in the suit, which went to trial, that Levandowski stole trade secrets, which were then used by Uber.  The case went to trial, but was settled in February 2018. Under the settlement, Uber has agreed to not incorporate Waymo’s confidential information into their hardware and software. Uber also agreed to pay a financial settlement which included 0.34% of Uber equity, per its Series G-1 round $72 billion valuation. That calculated at the time to about  $244.8 million in Uber equity.

“We have always believed competition should be fueled by innovation, and we appreciate the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI on this case,” a A Waymo spokesperson said in a statement provided to gpgmail.

The prosecution is being handled by the Office of the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of California’s new Corporate Fraud Strike Force and is the result of an investigation by the FBI.

“All of us have the right to change jobs,” said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson, “none of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door.  Theft is not innovation.”

This is a developing story.

Levandowski Indictment by gpgmail on Scribd


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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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Researchers look into keeping autonomous vehicles from becoming mobile vomitoriums – gpgmail


If you’re like me, and I’m just going to assume most of you are, motion sickness is a serious consideration on any car trip where you’re not driving. So what are we supposed to do in self-driving vehicles? Researchers are finally looking into this question with an experiment designed to see just what makes people like us so sick.

The study, at the University of Michigan, was undertaken because the researchers realized that if millions of people can’t read or do work in autonomous vehicles, that massively reduces the draw of using them in the first place. And it turns out there has been almost no investigation of why certain people get motion sickness in this context, what makes it better or worse, and so on.

“Very few studies have been conducted in cars; instead, a lot of the work has been done for sea and air transportation modes, performed in driving simulators or on motion platforms,” explained lead investigator for the project, Monica Jones, in a university news release. “A lot of scales that exist in the literature are based on nausea. If we design to a vomiting response, we have really missed the mark on autonomous vehicles.”

Basically the cars should be designed around making people actually comfortable, not stopping just short of losing their lunch. What does that even consist of? That’s what these initial experiments are meant to explore.

The team collected 52 people from a variety of demographics and had them sit in the car while it navigated the university’s Mcity Test Facility, a sort of mock urban environment meant for exactly this kind of work. The drive involved the usual turns, stops and accelerations you would experience being driven around a city, and participants were asked to perform some basic tasks on an iPad and answer questions posed by a researcher in the car. I can tell you I’m feeling queasy just thinking about taking part.

They were observed for indications of discomfort and were told to report any such feelings — and of course let the researchers know if they needed to stop. Sensors watched for changes in temperature or perspiration, among other things.

The early findings (PDF) are not exactly surprising, but they’re a start. It may not be front page news that people using a gadget while in a self-driving car tended to feel more sick. But no one has ever actually studied this, so if we’re going to treat it seriously one way or the other, it needs to be directly observed. And indeed there were other factors that cropped up as well. Younger people reported higher motion sickness levels, for instance. Why? When?

“Passenger responses are complicated and have many dimensions,” said Jones. And to measure those responses the team built up a database of thousands of measurements and observations that extend beyond a simple “misery scale,” but include context and other types of pain or discomfort.

This is just the beginning of what is sure to be a longer-term study of how to make self-driving vehicles as inclusive — and popular — as possible. Certainly if they get to the bottom of it, I (and all of you out there like me) will be much more likely to use an AV for my daily commute.


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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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UPS takes minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple – gpgmail


UPS said Thursday it has taken a minority stake in self-driving truck startup, TuSimple, just months after the two companies began testing the use of autonomous trucks in Arizona.

The size of minority investment, which was made by the company’s venture arm UPS Ventures, was not disclosed. The investment and the testing comes as UPS looks for new ways to remain competitive, cut costs and boost its bottom line.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, believes it can deliver. The startup says it can cut average purchased transportation costs by 30%.

TuSimple, which is backed by Nvidia, ZP Capital and Sina Corp., is working on a “full-stack solution,” a wonky industry term that means developing and bringing together all of the technological pieces required for autonomous driving. TuSimple is developing a Level 4 system, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.

An important piece of TuSimple’s approach is its camera-centric perception solution. The system has a vision range of 1,000 meters, the company says.

The days of when highways will be filled with autonomous trucks are years away. But UPS believes it’s worth jumping in at an early stage to take advantage of some of the automated driving such as advanced braking technology that TuSimple can offer today.

“UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently,” Scott Price, chief strategy officer at UPS said in a statement. “While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering. All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition — and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet.”

UPS initially tapped TuSimple to help it better understand how Level 4 autonomous trucking might function within its network. That relationship expanded in May when the companies began using self-driving tractor trailers to carry freight on a freight route between Tucson and Phoenix to test if service and efficiency in the UPS network can be improved. This testing is ongoing. All of TuSimple’s self-driving trucks operating in the U.S. have a safety driver and an engineer in the cab.

TuSimple and UPS monitor all aspects of these trips, including safety data, transport time and the distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, the companies said Thursday.

UPS isn’t the only company that TuSimple is hauling freight for as part of its testing. TuSimple has said its hauling loads for for several customers in Arizona.  The startup has a post-money valuation of $1.095 billion (aka unicorn status).


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Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future – gpgmail


In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.

Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)

This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land-Rover.

Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.

The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.

Voyage wants to unlock both.

Crowded field


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Self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics begin deliveries in Texas – gpgmail


A year after coming out of stealth mode with $40 million, self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics will begin making its first commercial deliveries in Texas.

Kodiak will open a new facility in North Texas to support it freight operations along with increased testing in the state. The commercial route

There are some caveats to the milestone. Kodiak’s self-driving trucks will have a human safety driver behind the wheel. And it’s unclear how significant this initial launch is; the company didn’t provide details on who its customers are or what it will be hauling.

Kodiak has eight autonomous trucks in its fleet, and according to the company it’s “growing quickly.”

Still, it does mark progress for such a young company, which co-founders Don Burnette and Paz Eshel say is due to its talented and experienced workforce. 

Burnette, who is CEO of Kodiak, was part of the Google self-driving project before leaving and co-founding Otto in early 2016, along with Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron and Claire Delaunay. Uber would acquire Otto (and its co-founders). Burnette left Uber to launch Kodiak in April 2018 with Eshel, a former venture capitalist and now the startup’s COO.

In August 2018, the company announced it had raised $40 million in Series A financing led by Battery Ventures . CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Tusk Ventures also participated in the round. Itzik Parnafes, a general partner at Battery Ventures, joined Kodiak’s board.

Kodiak is the latest autonomous vehicle company to test its technology in Texas. The state has become a magnet for autonomous vehicle startups, particularly those working on self-driving trucks. That’s largely due to the combination of a friendly regulatory environment and the state’s position as a logistics and transportation hub.

“As a region adding more than 1 million new residents each decade, it is important to develop a comprehensive strategy for the safe and reliable movement of people and goods,” Thomas Bamonte, senior program manager of Automated Vehicles for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said in a statement. “Our policy officials on the Regional Transportation Council have been very forward-thinking in their recognition of technology as part of the answer, which is positioning our region as a leader in the automated vehicle industry.”

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple was awarded a contract this spring to complete five round trips, for a two-week pilot, hauling USPS trailers more than 1,000 miles between the postal service’s Phoenix and Dallas distribution centers. A safety engineer and driver will be on board throughout the pilot.

Other companies developing autonomous vehicle technology for trucks such as Embark and Starsky Robotics have also tested on Texas roads.


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Didi Chuxing’s autonomous driving unit is now an independent company – gpgmail


Didi Chuxing’s autonomous driving unit is now an independent company, the Chinese ride-sharing and transportation giant said today. Didi’s autonomous driving team was created in 2016 and now has more than 200 employees in China and the United States. Didi’s announcement comes about a month after The Information reported that Didi was in talks with investors including SoftBank, its largest shareholder, to raise money for the unit.

In its announcement, Didi said the new company “will integrate the resources and technological advantages of Didi’s platform, continue to increase investment in R&D of core innovative technologies, and deepen collaboration with upstream and downstream auto industry partners” and also promote self-driving technology to transportation authorities.

The Financial Times reported last year that Didi had been approved to test self-driving vehicles in California, where it has a research facility in Mountain View. But Didi has to catch up with other companies that have been testing autonomous cars both in the U.S. and China. In California, it was the 53rd company to get a permit to test self-driving vehicles, behind technology rivals like Uber and Waymo.

Didi has already been testing autonomous vehicles, developed in partnership with car manufacturers and suppliers, in China, but its testing lagged far behind Baidu last year, which registered 140,000 kilometers in Beijing, or about 91 percent of the 153,600 miles test-driven by autonomous fleets owned by eight companies, including Didi, Pony.ai, Tencent and automakers NIO, Audi, Daimler AG and BAIC Group.

Aside from being able to license its technology to other transportation and vehicle companies, the launch of robo-taxis may help Didi’s ride-sharing service make up for a shortage in drivers. Stricter screening criteria was put into place after two female passengers were murdered by drivers on Didi’s ride-sharing platform and Didi said last month that it had removed more than 300,000 drivers who didn’t meet its standards since its safety overhaul began last year.

The CEO of the new autonomous driving company will be Zhang Bo, who is also the CTO of Didi. Meng Xing, former executive director of Shunwei China Internet Fund, is its COO, while software engineers Jia Zhaoyin, the head of its technical efforts for Didi’s smart-driving project, and Zheng Jianqiang will head its research and development teams in the U.S. and China.


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