Udacity, Mercedes-Benz create sensor fusion nanodegree as demand for self-driving car engineers rises

Udacity and Mercedes-Benz’s North American R&D lab have developed curriculum for a sensor fusion nanodegree, the latest effort by the online education startup to meet high demand for skills related to autonomous vehicles and to duplicate the success it has had with its self-driving car engineer program.

Enrollment for the sensor fusion degree opened up Tuesday.

Udacity specializes in “nanodegrees” on a range of technical subjects that include AI, deep learning, digital marketing, VR and computer vision.

The new sensor fusion nanodegree is one of the recent additions and changes enacted by Udacity’s co-founder Sebastian Thrun as part of a larger turnaround plan aimed at bring costs in line with revenue without hurting growth.

The sensor fusion program is made up of four courses and is intended to take about four months to complete. Students will learn about lidar obstacle detection, radar obstacle detection, camera and lidar data fusion, and Kalman Filters. Those who finish the degree should be able to work with lidar, radar, and cameras — sensors that are used on the vast majority of autonomous vehicles.

A group of MBRDNA employees are enrolled in the self-driving car program as part of an Enterprise training pilot.

“There’s no such thing as self-driving car generalists,” Thrun told TechCrunch. “Companies are looking for something specific. And the hottest thing around right now is sensor fusion.”

And despite the AV industry dipping into the “trough of disillusionment” Thrun said there is still a lot of demand for skilled workers.

“It’s easier to get a job right now than raise money from investors,” Thrun said. “All of these companies like Zoox and Aurora, Waymo, Cruise and Tesla are hiring like crazy.”

For instance, GM’s self-driving car unit Cruise announced in March plans to hire hundreds of employees through the … Read the rest

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple will haul mail for USPS in two-week pilot

TuSimple, the self-driving truck startup that reached unicorn status earlier this year with a $1 billion valuation, is getting two weeks to prove its tech to the United States Postal Service.

The company announced Tuesday that it was awarded a contract 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.

TuSimple will run a series of its self-driving trucks for 22 hours each, which includes overnight driving, along Interstates 10, 20 and 30 corridors to make the trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The pilot is an important milestone for TuSimple. It marks the company’s first foray into Texas; it’s also a chance for TuSimple to validate its system with the U.S. government.

The USPS is just one of many (ahem Amazon) in the logistics and shipping business interested in using autonomous vehicle technology to cuts costs, improve safety and operations.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, has been running daily routes for customers in Arizona. The company recently raised $95 million in a Series D funding round led by Sina Corp. The company is preparing to scale up its commercial autonomous fleet to more than 50 trucks by June.

TuSimple has raised $178 million to date in rounds that have included backers such as Nvidia and ZP Capital. Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, is one of TuSimple’s earliest investors.

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In-car commerce startup Cargo extends Uber partnership to Brazil

Cargo, the startup that brings the convenience store into ride-hailing vehicles, is making its first international expansion through an exclusive partnership with Uber in Brazil.

Uber drivers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will now be able to sign up for Cargo and potentially earn additional income by selling products to passengers during their ride.

Cargo, which launched in 2017, provides qualified ridesharing drivers with free boxes filled with the kinds of goods you might find in a convenience store, including snacks and phone chargers. Riders can use Cargo’s mobile web menu on their smartphones (without downloading an app) to buy what they need.

The expansion into Brazil includes a relationship with am/pm convenience stores. In Brazil, about 2,500 am/pm stores are operated and located in Ipiranga gas stations. Uber drivers that sign up with Cargo will collect their boxes of products at these stores.

The announcement is an extension of a partnership with Uber that began last July in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Cargo and Uber have added more U.S. cities to the partnership, including Boston, Miami, New York and Washington, D.C.

The move will give Cargo access to the more than 600,000 Uber drivers in Brazil. It also signals the beginning of what will be a broader global expansion for the company. Some 20,000 U.S. drivers have used the Cargo service. 

In October, Cargo announced it had raised $22 million in a Series A round led by Founders Fund. The Series A round included additional investment from Aquiline Technology Growth, Coatue Management and a number of high-profile entertainment, gaming and technology executives such as Zynga founder Mark Pincus, Twitch’s former CSO Colin Carrier, media investor Vivi Nevo, former NBA commissioner David Stern, Def Jam Records CEO Paul Rosenberg, Steve Aoki, Maria Shriver and Patrick and Christina … Read the rest

Ford CTO Ken Washington at TC Sessions: Mobility on July 10

A conference dedicated to transportation and mobility wouldn’t be complete without hearing from Ford, the U.S. automaker with a storied 116-year history.

We’re excited to announce that Ford CTO Ken Washington will participate in TechCrunch’s inaugural TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day event on July 10, 2019 in San Jose, Calif., that’s bringing the best and brightest minds — founders, investors and technologists — who are determined to invent a future Henry Ford might never have imagined. Or maybe he did.

If there’s a person at Ford who can provide insight into where the company is headed, it’s Washington.

As CTO and vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering, Washington leads Ford’s worldwide research organization, oversees the development and implementation of the company’s technology strategy and plans and plays a key role in its expansion into emerging mobility opportunities.

Prior to joining Ford, he was vice president of the Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, where he led a team of scientists and engineers in performing research and development in space science and related R&D.

TC Sessions: Mobility has a jam-packed agenda, overflowing with some of the biggest names and most exciting startups in the transportation industry. With early-bird ticket sales ending soon, you’ll want to be sure to grab your tickets after checking out this agenda.

Throughout the day, you can expect to hear from and partake in discussions about the future of transportation, the promise and problems of autonomous vehicles, the potential for bikes and scooters, investing in early-stage startups and more.

We’ll be joined by some of the most esteemed and prescient people in the space, including Dmitri Dolgov  at WaymoArgo AI Chief Safety Officer Summer Craze Fowler, Nuro co-founder Dave FergusonKarl Iagnemma of Aptiv, Voyage CEO … Read the rest

Ford will slash 7,000 salaried jobs by August

Ford Motor is laying off 7,000 salaried employees as part of CEO Jim Hackett’s restructuring plan to reduce bureaucracy, cut costs and turn the automaker into a more agile company prepared for a future that extends beyond its traditional business of producing and selling cars and trucks.

The cuts represent about 10% of the automaker’s salaried employees. Some buyouts and layoffs have already occurred, according to an email sent to employees by Hackett. The contents of the email were initially reported by the WSJ. TechCrunch has since reviewed the email.

Some 1,500 employees opted for voluntary buyouts, which occurred in November 2018, according to a spokesperson. Ford expects to complete the restructuring efforts by August globally. Cuts affecting Ford’s North American workforce will be complete by June, a Ford spokesperson told TechCrunch.

This cuts will result in annual savings of about $600 million, Hackett said in the email. “We also made significant progress in eliminating bureaucracy, speeding up decision making and driving empowerment as part of this redesign,” he wrote.

The layoffs were anticipated by employees. Ford informed employees last October that it would be restructuring the company, a move that would likely result in layoffs and voluntary buyouts.

The reorganization is part of a broader strategy to prepare for a future with autonomous vehicle technology, electrification and unconventional ownership models.

The restructuring plan is focused on making the company more agile and less bureaucratic. Each business went through a “Smart Redesign” process, according to Hackett’s email, which notes that 1,000 employees were involved in this activity.

Ford previously announced it would spend $11 billion to add 16 all-electric vehicles within its global portfolio of 40 electrified vehicles through 2022. At the heart of the company’s electrification effort is its Corktown project, a massive 1.2 million-square-foot space dedicated … Read the rest