From electric delivery vans to grocery carts, GM has it covered

General Motors is getting into the business of grocery store carts, but not the usual kind with that one squeaky, wobbly wheel.

GM’s BrightDrop unit has signed Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, to be the first customer for its new temperature-controlled Trace Grocery “eCart” for online order fulfillment starting later this year.

BrightDrop, which GM formed in 2021 to make electric delivery vans, conducted a pilot with Kroger in Kentucky, where it said the grocer experienced “a noticeable improvement in the customer and associate experience.”

“COVID has driven a dramatic increase in online grocery shopping, and fulfilling these orders profitably has become a major challenge for retailers of all sizes. With the Trace Grocery, we saw an opportunity to help companies like Kroger tackle these challenges head on,” BrightDrop CEO Travis Katz said in a statement. “As online shopping continues to grow, BrightDrop is committed to developing innovative solutions to help our customers keep pace. The Trace Grocery is a perfect example of this.”

The unit, built on BrightDrop’s Trace platform for last-mile delivery, allows employees to put items directly into its nine compartments and park it at the curb outside for customers to access their order. It digitally verifies a customer’s identity, so an employee does not need to be involved in the pickup process.

BrightDrop says the Trace Grocery keeps items at food-safe temperatures for up to four hours, has an electric motor that moves the unit at up to 3 mph to match an operator’s walking speed, can hold up to 350 pounds of groceries and is weatherproof. It plans to deploy the unit on a larger scale in 2024.

Bollinger Motors, Wabash join forces to bring electrified refrigerated truck to commercial customers

Electric vehicle startup Bollinger Motors said it’s developing an electrified refrigerated truck with trailer and truck body manufacturer Wabash.

The companies announced Wednesday that Wabash’s lightweight composite technology, called EcoNex Technology, will be combined with Bollinger’s electric chassis cab to create a Class 4 refrigerated truck. EcoNex reduces the amount of electricity needed to maintain cool temperatures, according to the statement.

“The all-electric truck we’re developing with Bollinger Motors will be highly efficient with more uptime and less charging compared to conventional construction,” Mark Ehrlich, Wabash’s vice president of new business development, said in a statement.

The joint effort offers customers weight savings and fleet electrification, according to the statement.

The refrigerated EV will act as last-mile transportation for consumer delivery, said Robert Bollinger, founder of Bollinger Motors.

A production time line was not given.

This is Bollinger’s second announcement this month after Mullen Automotive Inc. became its majority owner Sept. 7. Mullen spent $148.2 million on its 60 percent stake in Bollinger, of which Robert Bollinger remains CEO.

The suburban Detroit startup has focused on the electrification of trucks over the last seven years, according to CEO Bollinger. An electrified crossover and pickup dubbed B1 and B2, respectively, were put on hold earlier this year to focus on commercial EV fleet development.

Mullen’s multimillion-dollar investment will help Bollinger get its commercial EVs to production, Bollinger said.

Wabash was not available for comment.

Update: Tech provider’s auto design pipeline reaches $30 billion

NEW YORK — Qualcomm’s automotive design-win pipeline has surged to $30 billion, up from about $19 billion only two months ago, the company said Thursday.

The fast-growing figure reflects Qualcomm’s efforts to become a prominent automotive presence, CEO Cristiano Amon said during the company’s first automotive investor day.

At the core of Qualcomm’s automotive business is its Snapdragon Digital Chassis, the company’s set of computing platforms for use in connectivity, digital cockpits, vehicle-to-cloud services and advanced driver-assistance systems.

Mercedes-Benz is the latest automaker that Qualcomm will supply. Mercedes plans to power its vehicles’ digital cockpits and telematics systems using Snapdragon by the end of the year, Amon said, though he declined to say which nameplates will receive the platform.

Qualcomm’s rapidly growing automotive business and the deal with Mercedes are a reflection of how well-positioned the company is to grow as vehicles become more high-tech and connected, Amon said.

“What we have done for many of our customers is to provide confidence that they have a platform where they have the ability to innovate,” he said.

Mercedes joins automakers such as Stellantis, Hyundai, Renault, Volvo, BMW and Volkswagen Group in utilizing Qualcomm’s Snapdragon technology. Qualcomm has invested in its automotive offerings in recent years, expanding Snapdragon and acquiring tech supplier Veoneer’s Arriver software stack in April for about $4.5 billion.

Mercedes will use the Snapdragon cockpit platform to enhance in-vehicle virtual assistance. It will also utilize Qualcomm’s automotive connectivity platform, enabling “ultra-fast connectivity” and “quick network response times” needed for advanced safety systems, according to the tech giant.

Qualcomm CFO Akash Palkhiwala said the company was on track to deliver $1.3 billion in automotive revenue during the current fiscal year, up from about $975 million a year earlier. It expects automotive revenue to jump to more than $4 billion by the 2026 fiscal year and more than $9 billion by 2031.

Some of that growth is being driven by companies turning to Qualcomm for its Snapdragon Ride platform, which is for use in advanced driver-assistance and autonomous driving systems. As automakers roll out increasingly automated vehicles in the coming years, Qualcomm expects sales to rise.

“As we look forward over the next two years, we expect several OEMs to make decisions on platform choices, and we think we have a great platform for them,” Palkhiwala said.

Much of the surge in Qualcomm’s automotive business is being driven by automakers such as Mercedes looking to use its Snapdragon platform in their advanced digital cockpits.

Automakers want to utilize large screens to provide new services to customers, opening up revenue streams for them, Amon said. Qualcomm’s technology enables that, he said.

“I think there’s a general understanding within all the OEMs that digital services in the car is going to be the difference between the successful companies and the not-so successful companies in the future,” Amon said. “For the first time, car companies have an opportunity to have a direct relationship with the car owner in real time.”

Qualcomm is also looking into providing Snapdragon to automated last-mile delivery solution companies and to makers of e-bikes and other two-wheeled vehicles, said Nakul Duggal, Qualcomm’s automotive chief.

“There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity in that space because these platforms also require connectivity, intelligence and safety,” he said. “We’re designing the chassis to be miniaturized for different form factors.”

The Mercedes deal comes days after Nvidia showcased its latest high-performance computer intended for automotive purposes.

Qualcomm is looking to differentiate itself from competitors such as Nvidia and Mobileye by providing “capabilities across domains” and “complete scalability” for customers, Amon said.

“Instead of providing a chip, we’re providing a full module, with everything in a board that can be integrated,” he said. “That’s one way to accelerate the adoption of some of these technologies.”

Separately, Qualcomm said it was working with open-source provider Red Hat to bring Linux-based operating systems to next-generation vehicles that use the Snapdragon Digital Chassis.

The partnership will help automakers conduct “simpler and more efficient vehicle” updates, speed the deployment of new digital services and bolster connectivity, Qualcomm said. Combining Snapdragon platforms with Red Hat’s operating system is expected to allow automakers to “address higher levels of cybersecurity requirements” and privacy certifications.

Qualcomm intends to offer versions of its Snapdragon platforms for the digital cockpit and driver-assistance systems integrated with Red Hat’s in-vehicle operating system starting in the second half of 2023.

“Software-defined vehicles bring an exciting opportunity for the entire automotive ecosystem to go beyond the current functions of the vehicle,” said Bill Pinnell, Qualcomm vice president of automotive product management.

Kittyhawk, the flying-car company, is closing

Kittyhawk, the air-taxi company backed by billionaire Google co-founder Larry Page, will be closing down, dealing a setback to the long-elusive dream of developing flying cars.

“We have made the decision to wind down Kittyhawk,” the company said on Twitter. “We’re still working on the details of what’s next.”

The company’s technology is expected to live on in the form of its Wisk Aero joint venture with Boeing. Wisk’s operations won’t be affected by Kittyhawk’s shutdown, Boeing said Wednesday.

Kittyhawk was founded in 2010 to pioneer the market for so-called eVTOLs — electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft — with the lofty goal of democratizing the skies. The secretive company was run by Sebastian Thrun, a Google veteran who worked on self-driving cars, augmented-reality glasses and other projects.

The business was one of several startups working on the concept, which has proven to be a greater challenge than some expected. Air taxis have suffered crashes during testing in recent months, raising concerns about their safety.

Insider previously reported on Kittyhawk’s plans to close.

Kittyhawk formed its Wisk venture with Boeing Co. in 2019, and the airplane manufacturer went on to invest $450 million in the partnership. Earlier this week, Boeing and Wisk presented their vision for a world where eVTOLs can coexist with larger commercial aircraft.

“Kittyhawk’s decision to cease operations does not change Boeing’s commitment to Wisk,” a spokeswoman for the plane manufacturer said in an email. “We are proud to be a founding member of Wisk Aero and are excited to see the work they are doing to drive innovation and sustainability through the future of electric air travel.”

The aviation titan helped showcase Wisk’s rotor-powered Cora aircraft at the Farnborough International Airshow in July. Along with financing the business, Boeing has been providing engineering resources for a larger, electric four-seater aircraft that Wisk intends to eventually certify with U.S. regulators.

The air-taxi market still has numerous competitors, including Joby Aviation Inc., Archer Aviation Inc., Germany’s Lilium NV and Brazil’s Eve, but they face uncertain prospects for these futuristic vehicles. Aviation regulators haven’t yet certified the new generation of flying machines to transport humans.

Kittyhawk’s goal was to make an air taxi that could be remotely piloted, was smaller and lighter than other eVTOLs, and could take off from nearly anywhere. The company was targeting a cost of less than $1 a mile, which would have made the taxis cheaper than ride-sharing services.

Now Kittyhawk’s shutdown closes a chapter for one of the highest-profile eVTOL pioneers — and shows how hard the market is to crack. As of Wednesday, the company still had this message on its home page: “If anyone can do this, we can.”

Automakers tackle patent hurdle in quest for in-car tech

STOCKHOLM/BERLIN — More than a dozen automakers including Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. have signed up with a platform for patent licences from 51 tech companies, aiming to simplify access to wireless technology and avoid costly legal battles.

Conflicts have stemmed in part from different views among carmakers, suppliers and tech firms over who should shoulder the cost of licensing.

Through independent licensing marketplace Avanci, carmakers gain access to patents for 2G, 3G and 4G technology from the likes of Finland’s Nokia, Sweden’s Ericcson and Taiwan’s Acer for everything from navigation systems to sensors for automated driving.

Avanci charges a flat fee of $20 per car, increased this month from $15 previously, with the money distributed among patent holders.

The new signings — which also include Renault, Stellantis and Honda Motor Co. — mean 80-85 percent of cars with 2G technology or higher are licensed through the platform, Avanci vice president Mark Durrant said in an interview.

The model allows carmakers to avoid the battles over royalties that took place between smartphone makers such as Apple and Samsung and telecoms companies, who negotiate one-on-one for licences.

“The auto market is just too splintered for it to be worth it for patent owners to negotiate with each individual player,” said an industry source, who declined to be named because of contractual agreements. “It’s a matter of efficiency.

Mercedes-Benz, then Daimler, ended a years-long dispute over its patent use last year with Nokia after being eventually forced to pay.

Volkswagen was sued by Acer for using its 4G technology without the appropriate licence. The carmaker in March signed with Avanci, which covers Acer’s patents, in order to settle.

While suppliers have historically paid for patent licences in areas like engine design, tech firms would rather deal directly with carmakers over telecoms patents, according to an auto industry source with experience of licensing negotiations.

“Usually suppliers handle patents in the development process – telecoms is the one area where they don’t,” the person, who declined to be named, said.

Avanci is also working with companies on a new contract to cover 5G patents, which would likely be more expensive than the current patent portfolio.

U.S. lawmaker forming congressional caucus on vehicle data access

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Earl Carter is forming a congressional caucus on vehicle data access that could lead to federal legislation.

The Georgia Republican has sent a letter to colleagues in the House and Senate, inviting them to join the caucus and address policy issues related to access to and control of data generated by vehicles.

Carter expects the group to hold its first meeting this fall and plans to move forward with preparing draft legislation on vehicle data access in the coming months, according to the letter.

“I know many of us have heard from a wide variety of stakeholders — consumers, insurers, fleets, independent repair shops and automotive recyclers, telematics and technology companies, vehicle manufacturers, auto dealers, agriculture groups, and others — on the subject of vehicle data access,” Carter said in the letter.

Through the caucus, he hopes to “work collaboratively and on a bipartisan basis to weigh the positions of these stakeholders and come up with draft vehicle data access legislation that will be supported through regular order.”

The American Alliance for Vehicle Owners’ Rights applauded Carter’s efforts, adding that “congressional attention on protecting vehicle owners’ right to access vehicle-generated data is overdue.”

The group’s members include consumer advocates, fleet owners, auto repairers, insurers and telematics providers.

“As motor vehicles become more technologically complex and reliant on vehicle-generated data to operate, it is essential that vehicle owners have the ability to access and control their vehicle’s data,” Sandy Blalock, executive director of the Automotive Recyclers Association, said in a statement. “By having the ability to access and control vehicle-generated data, vehicle owners will maintain their existing right to choose how to repair their vehicles.”

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents most major U.S. automakers as well as some suppliers and tech companies, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2014, the auto industry committed to privacy principles aimed at protecting personal information collected through in-vehicle technologies.

Automakers represented by the alliance have been battling with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey over a voter-approved initiative that revised the state’s right to repair law by requiring vehicle owners and independent repair facilities be given expanded access to mechanical data related to vehicle maintenance and repair.

The revised law — referred to as the Data Access Law in the lawsuit — requires makers of vehicles sold in Massachusetts to equip vehicles that use telematics systems with a standardized, open-access data platform beginning with the 2022 model year. It also gives vehicle owners and independent repair shops access to real-time information from the telematics, such as crash notifications, remote diagnostics and navigation.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation has argued the state’s amended law conflicts with several federal laws, poses cybersecurity and vehicle safety risks and sets an impossible timeline for compliance.

Since January, the judge has postponed a decision on the nearly two-year-old court case multiple times.