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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Udacity names former LendingTree executive to CEO post – gpgmail


Online education startup Udacity has hired former LendingTree executive Gabriel Dalporto as its new CEO, an appointment that follows months of layoffs and a restructuring directed by the company’s co-founder and executive chairman Sebastian Thrun.

Dalporto comes to Udacity after seven years at LendingTree, where he served in numerous positions, including chief marketing officer and chief financial officer. Dalporto stepped down as CFO in 2017 to join the company’s board and become executive advisor to the CEO. Dalporto left the executive advisor job in 2018, but remains on the board.

Thrun, who stepped in as CEO after Vishal Makhijani left the top post in October 2018, will stay on as executive chairman.

“He’s extremely strategic and pragmatic,” Thrun said in a recent interview, describing Dalporto.

Dalporto is known for his turnaround skills. But the new CEO says his focus at Udacity won’t be slashing costs and other activities often associated with that skill set.

“I was hired as a growth executive; I was not hired to be a turnaround executive,” Dalporto told gpgmail.

Dalporto isn’t ready to provide details of his plans as CEO. Monday is his first day at the startup. But he will likely focus on growth areas such as the startup’s enterprise and government programs, as well as retaining and recapturing students into the Udacity ecosystem. Udacity’s enterprise clients include AT&T, Airbus, Audi, BMW, Capital One, Cisco and the Royal Bank of Scotland. It also has government relationships with Australia, the MENA region and New Zealand.

Dalporto is coming into a startup that is leaner and more productive, in terms of launching new nanodegrees, than it was a year ago.  It’s also cash-flow positive, according to Thrun, who has spent 2019 revamping the company.

When Thrun took over the CEO post, he found a company that had grown too quickly and was burdened by its own bureaucracy. Udacity, which specializes in “nanodegrees” on a range of technical subjects that include AI, deep learning, digital marketing, VR and computer vision, was struggling because of runaway costs and other inefficiencies. Its nanodegree programs, which had grown in 2017, became sluggish in 2018. 

Staff reductions soon followed as Thrun sought to get a handle on costs. About 130 people were laid off and other open positions were left vacant. Thrun then cut further in April. About 20% of the staff was laid off and operations were restructured in an effort to bring costs in line with revenue without curbing growth. The company streamlined its marketing efforts and downsized and consolidated office space. As of April, the startup employs 300 full-time equivalent employees and about 60 contractors.

Other changes included the launch of a global technical mentoring program, switching its direct-to-student business from fixed to monthly subscription pricing to incentivize individuals to move through courses faster. Lalit Singh, who joined Udacity in February as chief operating officer, has been critical to the turnaround, according to Thrun.

Its productivity has also improved. In first six months of 2019, Udacity launched 12 new nanodegree programs compared to just 8 in all of 2018.

“In the three months since we’ve initiated these changes, the consumer business has grown by more than 60%,” Thrun wrote in a blog post Monday announcing the changes.

Udacity’s enterprise and government programs have also grown, with bookings increasing by more than 100% year over year.


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