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Daimler invests in lidar company Luminar in push to bring autonomous trucks to highways

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Daimler’s trucks division has invested in lidar developer Luminar as part of a broader partnership to produce autonomous trucks capable of navigating highways without a human driver behind the wheel.

The deal, which comes just days after Daimler and Waymo announced plans to work together to build an autonomous version of the Freightliner Cascadia truck, is the latest action by the German manufacturer to move away from robotaxis and shared mobility and instead focus on how automated vehicle technology can be applied to freight.

The undisclosed investment by Daimler is in addition to the $170 million that Luminar raised as part of its merger with special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos Inc. Luminar will become a publicly traded company through its merger with Gores, which is expected to close in late 2020.

Daimler is taking two tracks on its mission to commercialize autonomous trucks. The company has been working internally to develop a truck capable of Level 4 automation — an industry term that means the system can handle all aspects of driving without human intervention in certain conditions and environments such as highways. That work has accelerated since spring 2019 when Daimler took a majority stake in Torc Robotics, an autonomous trucking startup that had been working with Luminar the past two years. Lidar, the light detection and ranging radar that measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world around the car, is considered a critical piece of hardware to deploy automated vehicle technology safely and at scale.

The plan is to integrate Torc’s self-driving system, along with Luminar’s sensors, into a Freightliner Cascadia truck as well as build out an operations and network center to run automated trucks. Daimler Trucks’ and Torc’s integrated self-driving product will be designed for on-highway hub-to-hub applications, especially for long-distance, monotonous transport between distribution centers, according to Daimler.

Meanwhile, Daimler Trucks is developing a customized Freightliner Cascadia truck chassis with redundant systems to allow Waymo to integrate its self-driving system. In this case, the software development stays in house at Waymo; Daimler is just concentrating on the chassis development.

This dual approach puts Daimler’s ambitions at center stage, which is to have series-production L4 trucks on highways globally. The deal also provides a clearer view of Luminar’s strategy of focusing on what its founder Austin Russell believes are the most likely and shortest paths to commercialized automated vehicles, and in turn, a profitable company.

“Our focus has really been always centered around highway autonomy use cases, which are specifically applicable to passenger vehicles as well as trucks,” Russell said in a recent interview, adding that the aim is to have a product that you can put into series production in a cost-effective capacity.

Luminar has already publicly announced one deal with an automaker to pursue the passenger vehicle use case. Volvo said in May it will start producing vehicles in 2022 that are equipped with lidar and a perception stack developed by Luminar that the automaker will use to deploy an automated driving system for highways. This deal with Daimler locks in the second use case.

“I absolutely do believe that autonomous trucking is an incredibly valuable business model that’s going to be larger than robotaxis and probably closer to being on par with consumer vehicles for the foreseeable future,” Russell said.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Neuroglee gets $2.3 million to develop digital therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases

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There are now about 50 million people with dementia globally, a number the World Health Organization expects to triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and caregivers are often overwhelmed, without enough support.

Neuroglee, a Singapore-based health tech startup, wants to help with a digital therapeutic platform created to treat patients in the early stages of the disease. Founded this year to focus on neurodegenerative diseases, Neuroglee announced today it has raised $2.3 million in pre-seed funding.

The round was led by Eisai Co., one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and Kuldeep Singh Rajput, the founder and chief executive officer of predictive healthcare startup Biofourmis.

Neuroglee’s prescription digital therapy software for Alzheimer’s, called NG-001, is its main product. The company plans to start clinical trials next year. NG-001 is meant to complement medication and other treatments, and once it is prescribed by a clinician, patients can access its cognitive exercises and tasks through a tablet.

Neuroglee founder and CEO Aniket Singh Rajput (brother of Kuldeep) told TechCrunch that its first target markets for NG-001 are the United States and Singapore, followed by Japan. NG-001 needs to gain regulatory approval in each country, and it will start by seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.

Once it launches, clinicians will have two ways to prescribe NG-001, through their healthcare provider platform or an electronic prescription tool. A platform called Neuroglee Connect will give clinicians, caregivers and patients access to support and features for reimbursement and coverage.

The software tracks patients’ progress, such as the speed of their fingers and the time it takes to complete an exercise, and delivers personalized treatment programs. It also has features to address the mental health of patients, including one that shows images that can bring up positive memories, which in turn can help alleviate depression and anxiety when used in tandem with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

For caregivers and clinicians, NG-001 helps them track patient progress and their compliance with other treatments, like medications. This means that healthcare providers can work closely with patients even remotely, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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Govtech intelligence platform, The Atlas for Cities, bought by Government Executive Media Group

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The Atlas for Cities, the 500 Startups-backed market intelligence platform connecting tech companies with state and local governments, has been acquired by the Growth Catalyst Partners-backed publishing and market intelligence company Government Executive Media Group.

The San Diego-based company will become the latest addition to a stable of publications and services that include the Route Fifty, publication for local government and the defense-oriented intelligence service, DefenseOne.

The Atlas provides peer-to-peer networks for state and local government officials to share best practices and is a marketing channel for the startups that want to sell services to those government employees. Through The Atlas, government officials can talk to each other, find case studies for best practices around tech implementations, and post questions to crowdsource ideas.

Government contractors can use the site to network with leadership and receive buyer intent data to inform their strategy in the sector, all while getting intelligence about the problems and solutions that matter to state and local jurisdictions across the nation. 

The Atlas delivers on GEMG’s promise to look for companies that complement and supplement the full suite of offerings that we provide to our partners to reach decision makers across all facets of the public sector,” said Tim Hartman, CEO of Government Executive Media Group, said in a statement.

Led by Ellory Monks and Elle Hempen, The Atlas for Cities launched in 2019 and is backed by financing from individual investors and the 500 Startups accelerator program. It now counts 21,000 government officials across 3,400 cities on its platform.

“State and local governments in the United States spend $3.7 trillion per year. That’s almost 20% of GDP,” said Elle Hempen, co-founder of The Atlas. “Our mission to increase transparency and access for local leaders has the opportunity to transform this enormous, inefficient market and enable tangible progress on the most important issues of our times.”

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Google shutting down Poly 3D content platform

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Google is almost running out of AR/VR projects to kill off.

The company announced today in an email to Poly users that they will be shutting 3D-object creation and library platform “forever” next year. The service will shut down on June 30, 2021 and users won’t be able to upload 3D models to the site on April 30, 2021.

Poly was introduced as a 3D creation tool optimized for virtual reality. Users could easily create low-poly objects with in-VR tools. The software was designed to serve as a lightweight way to create and view 3D assets that could in turn end up in games and experiences, compared to more art and sculpting-focused VR tools like Google’s Tilt Brush and Facebook’s (now Adobe’s) Medium software.

Google has already discontinued most of the company’s AR/VR plays, including most notably their Daydream mobile VR platform.

The AR/VR industry’s initial rise prompted plenty of 3D-centric startups to bet big on creating or hosting a library of digital objects. As investor enthusiasm has largely faded and tech platforms hosting AR/VR content have shuttered those products, it’s less clear where the market is for this 3D content for the time being.

Users that have uploaded objects to Poly will be able to download their data and models ahead of the shutdown.

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