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Today’s Pickup: Mobility companies tout commitment to equity; Refraction launches three-wheeled delivery robot

Good day,

To their chagrin, mobility companies aren’t necessarily known for their civic mindedness. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that equity was a central theme at a TechCrunch mobility conference held earlier this week in San Jose, California. TC Editor Matthew Panzarino set the tone with his introduction, saying: “We wanted to do a show on the future of mobility – micro-mobility to autonomy – but we also wanted to talk about squishier things: like ethics and building out companies responsibly.” 

From there panelists like Ford Motor Co.’s CTO Ken Washington touted the company’s community-oriented vision for smart vehicles at the Corktown neighborhood in Detroit and in Miami. ”History has taught us when you bring in a new technology it changes the fabric of a neighborhood, and it can either be good or bad,” Washington said. “We’re trying very hard to make it good.” 

‘How can we make transportation easier for everybody?” asked Alisyn Malek, COO and co-founder ofMay Mobility, a startup that is developing a wheelchair accessible autonomous vehicle. “Part of that is we really have to think about ‘everybody.’”

And in an occasionally awkward conversation between two self-described “dudes from Silicon Valley,” Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron and Uber ATG tech lead Galen Clark Haynes weighed in on race, “algorithmic bias” and bringing ethics to self-driving vehicles. 

“We have a research and development office that is entirely female led,” noted Haynes. “They are not in that job because they are women. They are in that job because they are awesome at what they do.”

For his part, Cameron said: “We are definitely leading on being accepting of different backgrounds. We assume there are great minds all over the world.” Nevertheless, Voyage has a long way to go. “The team is not diverse enough,” acknowledged Cameron. “I would not put us up as a shining beacon of amazingness.” 

Did you know?

The global last mile delivery market was valued at close to $2 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $7.69 billion by 2027 with a CAGR growth rate of 16.7 percent in the forecast period from 2019 to 2026.

Source: Big Market Research

Quotable

“There is no consumer more ‘predictably irrational’ than the scooter consumer.”

Michael Granoff, ManivMobility, during a panel discussion held at TechCrunch Mobility sessions this week

In other news

Amazon plans its tallest tower ever, marking the company’s growing presence in Bellevue, across Lake Washington from Seattle

The e-retailer has begun the formal permitting process for the proposed building, referred to as Bellevue 600 (SeattleTimes)

Cheap lidar could accelerate autonomy

Luminar has developed a production-ready lidar that will cost as little as $500. (Wired)

Hawaii governor vetoes inter-island transport of medical marijuana

But the state removed the threat of jail as a punishment for low-level marijuana possession. (Weedmaps)

Automakers exaggerated promise of EVs and self-driving vehicles

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi now says it will take more than 50 years for all Uber cars to be driverless. (FastCompany)

Final thoughts

Yet another robotic delivery company has entered the fray. Refraction came out of stealth mode yesterday to launch a lightweight autonomous delivery robot that can operate in both the bike lane and on the roadway. Approximately the size of an electric bicycle, the robot has three wheels and stands 5 feet tall, 4.5 feet long and 30 inches wide. The inside of the vehicle holds 16 cubic feet or approximately four or five grocery bags. When a delivery arrives at its destination, a text with a keypad code lets the recipient retrieve their goods. The founders, University of Michigan professors Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan, call their model the “Goldilocks of autonomous vehicles.”

Hammer down, everyone!


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Linda Baker, Staff Writer

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves staff reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes early-stage VC, freight-tech, mobility and West Coast emissions regulations.

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