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Fisker enters into dumpster fire territory and Tesla chases FSD revenue

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TechCrunch Mobility is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click TechCrunch Mobility — to receive the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. Subscribe for free.

Welcome back to TechCrunch Mobility — your central hub for news and insights on the future of transportation. Remember in the last edition of TechCrunch Mobility, when I wrote that the wheels were starting to come off the Fisker bus? Sheesh. Did they.

To catch you up: Fisker issued a warning on March 18 that it was pausing production for six weeks and had just $121 million in cash and cash equivalents, $32 million of which was restricted or not immediately accessible. The company was counting on a $150 million influx of capital via convertible notes and a potential partnership with another automaker. Those hopes incinerated as fast as a gasoline-soaked rag when negotiations between Fisker and the large automaker — reported to be Nissan — fell apart and put that convertible note deal in jeopardy.

Shares plummeted 28%, trading was halted, and in a final blow, the New York Stock Exchange said it was taking steps to remove Fisker from the exchange.

Those are all symptoms of a bigger problem within the company, including one particularly embarrassing one that TC reporter Sean O’Kane uncovered. The tl;dr: Fisker temporarily lost track of millions of dollars in customer payments as it scaled up deliveries, leading to an internal audit that started in December and took months to complete.

Alrighty, let’s jump into the rest of it, including where bankrupt EV startup Arrival’s assets ended up, a profile on startup Ionobell hoping to increase EV range through recycled silicon battery materials, and a $1 billion boost for Lucid.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

Founders, investors, engineers, policy wonks and others tell us things. And we’re here to pass along the verifiable information that those little birds have shared with us.

Got a tip for us? Email Kirsten Korosec at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com or Sean O’Kane sean.okane@techcrunch.com. If you prefer to remain anonymousclick here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.

Deal of the week

money the station

It ain’t easy being an executive at an EV startup these days. Just ask the folks at Fisker. (Sorry, too soon?)

Amid all of the EV startup bankruptcies and other bleak goings-on, there was a bit of positive news. Lucid, which has had its own struggles, raised another $1 billion from its biggest financial backer, Saudi Arabia. Ayar Third Investment, an affiliate of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, agreed to buy $1 billion worth of Lucid’s stock, which will add to the Kingdom’s current stake of around 60% ownership.

The $1 billion boost is a lot of money, but it doesn’t last long if you’re trying to design, manufacture, sell and service vehicles. This gives Lucid an important capital buffer; however, it does not end it’s existential crisis. The company must successfully bring its next vehicle, the Gravity SUV, to market and drum up fresh business for its existing Air sedan if it hopes to survive and scale.

Other deals that got my attention …

Cyvl.ai, a Boston-area startup that helps municipalities and civil engineering firms track the conditions of transportation infrastructure, raised $6 million in a round led by Companyon Ventures with participation from Argon Ventures, Aero X Ventures and Alumni Ventures. Existing investors MassVentures, Launch Capital and RiverPark Ventures also participated.

Ember, a Scottish startup building one of the U.K.’s first all-electric intercity bus networks, raised $14 million in a Series A round led by Inven Capital. Investors 2150 and AENU also participated.

Ionobell, a seed-stage startup that says its silicon material will be cheaper than the established competition and help boost range in EV batteries, closed an unpriced $3.9 million seed extension, TechCrunch exclusively learned. Dynamo Ventures and Trucks VC led the round.

Iron Sheepdog, a startup that developed trucking software for brokers and contractors, raised $10 million in a Series B round led by SJF Ventures with participation from Grand Ventures, Supply Chain Ventures, and other strategic partners in the construction industry.

Notable reads and other tidbits

ADAS

Tesla is going to give every customer in the U.S. a free one-month trial of its $12,000 Full Self-Driving Beta driver-assistance system, provided they have a car with the compatible hardware. The company is also reportedly mandating, at CEO Elon Musk’s request, that prospective buyers are given a demo of the software before they purchase a new Tesla. It seems that Tesla is turning to FSD as another financial lever to pull as profits on automotive sales shrink.

Electric vehicles, charging & batteries

Arrival sold some of its assets, including advanced manufacturing equipment, to Canoo, another struggling startup trying to build and sell electric vehicles. You can’t make this stuff up, folks!

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles sold in the U.S. from 2027 to 2032, a regulation that will increasingly limit the amount of pollution emitted by new heavy trucks. The regulations technically don’t mandate that these non-polluting heavy trucks are electric and instead let manufacturers decide how to meet the standards, whether its through hydrogen-powered fuel cells, better fuel efficiency or another alternative fuel. However, many believe it will mean a boost in battery-electric heavy-duty trucks. Consider the potential effect for this rule: The heavy-trucks category applies to more than 100 vehicle types, including vocational vehicles such as delivery trucks, garbage haulers, public utility trucks, transit, shuttle and school buses, as well as tractor-trailer trucks.

In-car tech

GM has lost another executive who was part of the company’s software and digital services effort. You might recall that former Apple executive Mike Abbott, who was executive vice president of GM’s software and services, stepped down earlier this month due to health issues. Now Edward Kummer, a former president of Nordstrom Rack’s online business who joined GM in 2021 to head up its new digital business team, is gone, the Detroit News reported.

This week’s wheels

land rover defender 110-x

Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

I rarely test out internal combustion engine vehicles, but I made an exception this week when I had the chance to spend a few hundred miles behind the wheel of a 2024 Land Rover Defender 110 X-Dynamic SE. And technically, folks, this has a six-cylinder Mild-Hybrid Electric Vehicle powertrain, so that still qualifies, right?

My experience with Land Rover Defender has been solely in body-on-frame models that are decades old. So I was looking forward to finally getting in the modern version, which Land Rover officially brought back in 2020. The spec I drove, which was priced at just under $88,000 and included some pricey upgrades and 22-inch wheels, is probably suited for the well-heeled urban customer. But with different tires, this aluminum monocoque-structure Defender could absolutely handle off-road conditions. I played around on dirt roads — no rock crawling — and it handled just fine with no squeaks, rattles or clunks, even on washboard terrain.

I didn’t love the advanced driver-assistance system, notably how the driver engages the adaptive cruise control. But there were lots of features I did like, including the very quiet ride, adaptive air suspension, the white paint-on-black gloss details, a functional rear door and easy-to-reach spare tire, the air-chilled cubby to keep snacks cool and an interior design that marries utilitarian function with robust, high-quality materials.

A final word on that interior — you won’t find a massive screen here. But there are tech-related details mixed in with the buttons and knobs. My version had a wireless charger and plenty of charger ports, including one on the dash of the passenger side. And the user interface was actually fairly decent.

One feature I liked was a drop-down menu on the media toggle that allowed me to quickly swap between Apple CarPlay and the native infotainment system that included Sirius XM radio or local stations. That might seem inconsequential, but I have been in a number of EVs lately that make it far too complicated to switch between CarPlay and the native system.

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The Paris Olympics’ One Sure Thing: Cyberattacks

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In his office on one of the upper floors of the headquarters of the Paris Olympic organizing committee, Franz Regul has no doubt what is coming.

“We will be attacked,” said Mr. Regul, who leads the team responsible for warding off cyberthreats against this year’s Summer Games in Paris.

Companies and governments around the world now all have teams like Mr. Regul’s that operate in spartan rooms equipped with banks of computer servers and screens with indicator lights that warn of incoming hacking attacks. In the Paris operations center, there is even a red light to alert the staff to the most severe danger.

So far, Mr. Regul said, there have been no serious disruptions. But as the months until the Olympics tick down to weeks and then days and hours, he knows the number of hacking attempts and the level of risk will rise exponentially. Unlike companies and governments, though, who plan for the possibility of an attack, Mr. Regul said he knew exactly when to expect the worst.

“Not many organizations can tell you they will be attacked in July and August,” he said.

Worries over security at major events like the Olympics have usually focused on physical threats, like terrorist attacks. But as technology plays a growing role in the Games rollout, Olympic organizers increasingly view cyberattacks as a more constant danger.

The threats are manifold. Experts say hacking groups and countries like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran now have sophisticated operations capable of disabling not just computer and Wi-Fi networks but also digital ticketing systems, credential scanners and even the timing systems for events.

Fears about hacking attacks are not just hypothetical. At the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, a successful attack nearly derailed the Games before they could begin.

That cyberattack started on a frigid night as fans arrived for the opening ceremony. Signs that something was amiss came all at once. The Wi-Fi network, an essential tool to transmit photographs and news coverage, suddenly went down. Simultaneously, the official Olympics smartphone app — the one that held fans’ tickets and essential transport information — stopped functioning, preventing some fans from entering the stadium. Broadcast drones were grounded and internet-linked televisions meant to show images of the ceremony across venues went blank.

But the ceremony went ahead, and so did the Games. Dozens of cybersecurity officials worked through the night to repel the attack and to fix the glitches, and by the next morning there was little sign that a catastrophe had been averted when the first events got underway.

Since then, the threat to the Olympics has only grown. The cybersecurity team at the last Summer Games, in Tokyo in 2021, reported that it faced 450 million attempted “security events.” Paris expects to face eight to 12 times that number, Mr. Regul said.

Perhaps to demonstrate the scale of the threat, Paris 2024 cybersecurity officials use military terminology freely. They describe “war games” meant to test specialists and systems, and refer to feedback from “veterans of Korea” that has been integrated into their evolving defenses.

Experts say a variety of actors are behind most cyberattacks, including criminals trying to hold data in exchange for a lucrative ransom and protesters who want to highlight a specific cause. But most experts agree that only nation states have the ability to carry out the biggest attacks.

The 2018 attack in Pyeongchang was initially blamed on North Korea, South Korea’s antagonistic neighbor. But experts, including agencies in the U.S. and Britain, later concluded that the true culprit — now widely accepted to be Russia — deliberately used techniques designed to pin the blame on someone else.

This year, Russia is once again the biggest focus.

Russia’s team has been barred from the Olympics following the country’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, although a small group of individual Russians will be permitted to compete as neutral athletes. France’s relationship with Russia has soured so much that President Emmanuel Macron recently accused Moscow of attempting to undermine the Olympics through a disinformation campaign.

The International Olympic Committee has also pointed the finger at attempts by Russian groups to damage the Games. In November, the I.O.C. issued an unusual statement saying it had been targeted by defamatory “fake news posts” after a documentary featuring an A.I.-generated voice-over purporting to be the actor Tom Cruise appeared on YouTube.

Later, a separate post on Telegram — the encrypted messaging and content platform — mimicked a fake news item broadcast by the French network Canal Plus and aired false information that the I.O.C. was planning to bar Israeli and Palestinian teams from the Paris Olympics.

Earlier this year, Russian pranksters — impersonating a senior African official — managed to get Thomas Bach, the I.O.C. president, on the phone. The call was recorded and released earlier this month. Russia seized on Mr. Bach’s remarks to accuse Olympic officials of engaging in a “conspiracy” to keep its team out of the Games.

In 2019, according to Microsoft, Russian state hackers attacked the computer networks of at least 16 national and international sports and antidoping organizations, including the World Anti-Doping Agency, which at the time was poised to announce punishments against Russia related to its state-backed doping program.

Three years earlier, Russia had targeted antidoping officials at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. According to indictments of several Russian military intelligence officers filed by the United States Department of Justice, operatives in that incident spoofed hotel Wi-Fi networks used by antidoping officials in Brazil to successfully penetrate their organization’s email networks and databases.

Ciaran Martin, who served as the first chief executive of Britain’s national cybersecurity center, said Russia’s past behavior made it “the most obvious disruptive threat” at the Paris Games. He said areas that might be targeted included event scheduling, public broadcasts and ticketing systems.

“Imagine if all athletes are there on time, but the system scanning iPhones at the gate has gone down,” said Mr. Martin, who is now a professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.

“Do you go through with a half-empty stadium, or do we delay?” he added. “Even being put in that position where you either have to delay it or have world-class athletes in the biggest event of their lives performing in front of a half-empty stadium — that’s absolutely a failure.”

Mr. Regul, the Paris cybersecurity head, declined to speculate about any specific nation that might target this summer’s Games. But he said organizers were preparing to counter methods specific to countries that represent a “strong cyberthreat.”

This year, Paris organizers have been conducting what they called “war games” in conjunction with the I.O.C. and partners like Atos, the Games’ official technology partner, to prepare for attacks. In those exercises, so-called ethical hackers are hired to attack systems in place for the Games, and “bug bounties” are offered to those who discover vulnerabilities.

Hackers have previously targeted sports organizations with malicious emails, fictional personas, stolen passwords and malware. Since last year, new hires at the Paris organizing committee have undergone training to spot phishing scams.

“Not everyone is good,” Mr. Regul said.

In at least one case, a Games staff member paid an invoice to an account after receiving an email impersonating another committee official. Cybersecurity staff members also discovered an email account that had attempted to impersonate the one assigned to the Paris 2024 chief, Tony Estanguet.

Millions more attempts are coming. Cyberattacks have typically been “weapons of mass irritation rather than weapons of mass destruction,” said Mr. Martin, the former British cybersecurity official.

“At their worst,” he said, “they’ve been weapons of mass disruption.”

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'Bad at almost everything': AI wearable panned by reviewers

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A new AI-fuelled gadget has fallen foul of the tech world’s expectations.

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Microsoft Makes High-Stakes Play in Tech Cold War With Emirati A.I. Deal

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Microsoft on Tuesday plans to announce a $1.5 billion investment in G42, an artificial intelligence giant in the United Arab Emirates, in a deal largely orchestrated by the Biden administration to box out China as Washington and Beijing battle over who will exercise technological influence in the Gulf region and beyond.

Under the partnership, Microsoft will give G42 permission to sell Microsoft services that use powerful A.I. chips, which are used to train and fine-tune generative A.I. models. In return, G42, which has been under scrutiny by Washington for its ties to China, will use Microsoft’s cloud services and accede to a security arrangement negotiated in detailed conversations with the U.S. government. It places a series of protections on the A.I. products shared with G42 and includes an agreement to strip Chinese gear out of G42’s operations, among other steps.

“When it comes to emerging technology, you cannot be both in China’s camp and our camp,” said Gina Raimondo, the Commerce Secretary, who traveled twice to the U.A.E. to talk about security arrangements for this and other partnerships.

The accord is highly unusual, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, said in an interview, reflecting the U.S. government’s extraordinary concern about protecting the intellectual property behind A.I. programs.

“The U.S. is quite naturally concerned that the most important technology is guarded by a trusted U.S. company,” said Mr. Smith, who will take a seat on G42’s board.

The investment could help the United States push back against China’s rising influence in the Gulf region. If the moves succeed, G42 would be brought into the U.S. fold and pare back its ties with China. The deal could also become a model for how U.S. firms leverage their technological leadership in A.I. to lure countries away from Chinese tech, while reaping huge financial awards.

But the matter is sensitive, as U.S. officials have raised questions about G42. This year, a congressional committee wrote a letter urging the Commerce Department to look into whether G42 should be put under trade restrictions for its ties to China, which include partnerships with Chinese firms and employees who came from government-connected companies.

In an interview, Ms. Raimondo, who has been at the center of an effort to prevent China from obtaining the most advanced semiconductors and the equipment to make them, said the agreement “does not authorize the transfer of artificial intelligence, or A.I. models, or GPUs” — the processors needed to develop A.I. applications — and “assures those technologies can be safely developed, protected and deployed.”

While the U.A.E. and United States did not sign a separate accord, Ms. Raimondo said, “We have been extensively briefed and we are comfortable that this agreement is consistent with our values.”

In a statement, Peng Xiao, the group chief executive of G42, said that “through Microsoft’s strategic investment, we are advancing our mission to deliver cutting-edge A.I. technologies at scale.”

The United States and China have been racing to exert technological influence in the Gulf, where hundreds of billions of dollars are up for grabs and major investors, including Saudi Arabia, are expected to spend billions on the technology. In the rush to diversify away from oil, many leaders in the region have set their sights on A.I. — and have been happy to play the United States and China off each other.

Although the U.A.E. is an important U.S. diplomatic and intelligence partner, and one of the largest buyers of American weapons, it has increasingly expanded its military and economic ties with China. A portion of its domestic surveillance system is built on Chinese technology and its telecommunications work on hardware from Huawei, a Chinese supplier. That has fed the worries of U.S. officials, who often visit the Persian Gulf nation to discuss security issues.

But U.S. officials are also concerned that the spread of powerful A.I. technology critical to national security could eventually be used by China or by Chinese government-linked engineers, if not sufficiently guarded. Last month, a U.S. cybersecurity review board sharply criticized Microsoft over a hack in which Chinese attackers gained access to data from top officials. Any major leak — for instance, by G42 selling Microsoft A.I. solutions to companies set up in the region by China — would go against Biden administration policies that have sought to limit China’s access to the cutting-edge technology.

“This is among the most advanced technology that the U.S. possesses,” said Gregory Allen, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former U.S. defense official who worked on A.I. “There should be very strategic rationale for offshoring it anywhere.”

For Microsoft, a deal with G42 offers potential access to huge Emirati wealth. The company, whose chairman is Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the Emirates’ national security adviser and the younger brother of the country’s ruler, is a core part of the U.A.E.’s efforts to become a major A.I. player.

Despite a name whimsically drawn from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in which the answer to the “ultimate question of life” is 42, G42 is deeply embedded in the Emirati security state. It specializes in A.I. and recently worked to build an Arabic chatbot, called Jais.

G42 is also focused on biotechnology and surveillance. Several of its executives, including Mr. Xiao, were associated with a company called DarkMatter, an Emirati cyber-intelligence and hacking firm that employs former spies.

In its letter this year, the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party said Mr. Xiao was connected to an expansive network of companies that “materially support” the Chinese military’s technological advancement.

The origins of Tuesday’s accord go back to White House meetings last year, when top national security aides raised the question with tech executives of how to encourage business arrangements that would deepen U.S. ties to firms around the world, especially those China is also interested in.

Under the agreement, G42 will cease using Huawei telecom equipment, which the United States fears could provide a backdoor for the Chinese intelligence agencies. The accord further commits G42 to seeking permission before it shares its technologies with other governments or militaries and prohibits it from using the technology for surveillance. Microsoft will also have the power to audit G42’s use of its technology.

G42 would get use of A.I. computing power in Microsoft’s data center in the U.A.E., sensitive technology that cannot be sold in the country without an export license. Access to the computing power would likely give G42 a competitive edge in the region. A second phase of the deal, which could prove even more controversial and has not yet been negotiated, could transfer some of Microsoft’s A.I. technology to G42.

American intelligence officials have raised concerns about G42’s relationship to China in a series of classified assessments, The New York Times previously reported. Biden administration officials have also pushed their Emirati counterparts to cut the company’s ties to China. Some officials believe the U.S. pressure campaign has yielded some results, but remain concerned about less overt ties between G42 and China.

One G42 executive previously worked at the Chinese A.I. surveillance company Yitu, which has extensive ties to China’s security services and runs facial-recognition powered monitoring across the country. The company has also had ties to a Chinese genetics giant, BGI, whose subsidiaries were placed on a blacklist by the Biden administration last year. Mr. Xiao also led a firm that was involved in 2019 in starting and operating a social media app, ToTok, that U.S. intelligence agencies said was an Emirati spy tool used to harvest user data.

In recent months, G42 has agreed to walk back some of its China ties, including divesting a stake it took in TikTok owner ByteDance and pulling out Huawei technology from its operations, according to U.S. officials.

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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