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Gatik’s self-driving box trucks to shuttle groceries for Loblaw in Canada

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Gatik, the autonomous vehicle startup focused on the “middle mile,” is already using its self-driving box trucks to deliver customer online grocery orders for Walmart. Now, the company — freshly stocked with $25 million in Series A funding — is expanding up into Canada with a partnership with retail giant Loblaw.

Gatik said Monday that five autonomous box trucks in Toronto will be used to deliver goods for Loblaw starting in January 2021. The fleet will be used seven days a week on five routes along public roads. All vehicles will have a safety driver as a co-pilot. This deployment, which follows 10-month pilot in the Toronto area, marks the first autonomous delivery fleet in Canada.

“As more Canadians turn to online grocery shopping, we’ve looked at ways to make our supply chain more efficient. Middle-mile autonomous delivery is a great example,”Loblaw Digital senior vice president Lauren Steinberg said in a statement. “With this initial rollout in Toronto, we are able to move goods from our automated picking facility multiple times a day to keep pace with PC Express online grocery orders in stores around the city.”

Unlike other autonomous delivery companies, Gatik isn’t targeting consumers. Instead, the startup is using its autonomous trucks to shuttle groceries and other goods from large distribution centers to retail locations. For Loblaw, the company will equip Ford Transit 350 box trucks with refrigeration units, lift gates and its autonomous self-driving software.

“Retailers know the biggest inefficiencies in their logistics operations often exist in the middle-mile, typically between automated picking facilities and retail locations,” Gatik CEO and co-founder Gautam Narang said in a statement. “This is where Gatik lives and succeeds, and is the reason we’re able to offer immediate value to our customers. We are delighted to partner with Loblaw in addressing this critical piece of their supply chain.”

Gatik’s ‘middle mile’ B2B focus has attracted customers like Walmart as well as investors, including Wittington Ventures and Innovation Endeavors, which co-led the company’s Series A round. FM Capital and Intact Ventures along with existing investors lDynamo Ventures, Fontinalis Partners, AngelPad also participated in the round that was announced alongside the Loblaw partnership. Gatik has raised $29.5 million to date.

The company said it plans to use the funding to build out operations across North America and hire more employees at its Palo Alto, California and Toronto facilities. Narang said Gatik is also pushing to expand its retail partnerships and fleet deployments.

“Throughout the year we saw an increase of 30% to 35% in orders from our customer base, and we expect this trend to continue,” Narang said. “We will continue to bring autonomous delivery into the mainstream, driving substantial efficiencies in supply chain logistics for retailers across North America and beyond.”

Gatik said it has completed more than 30,000 revenue-generating autonomous orders for multiple customers across North America.

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What Musk’s $100 million carbon capture prize could mean

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk, now the world’s richest person with a net worth north of $180 billion, announced on Twitter that he plans to give away $100 million of it as a prize for the “best carbon capture technology.”

He added in a subsequent tweet that he’ll provide more details next week, so it’s not yet clear how such a contest will work or even what technologies might qualify. Carbon capture can refer to methods that prevent greenhouse gas pollution escaping from power plants and factories, or various ways of pulling it out of the atmosphere.

Some startups are developing so called direct-air capture machines that pluck carbon dioxide molecules from the air; these can then be stored underground or used to create carbon-neutral fuels. Other groups are exploring ways of using minerals, trees, plants and soil to pull down the greenhouse gas.

Neither on-site carbon capture or air removal are happening on large scales today, however, principally because they’re highly expensive and there’s limited value for the captured gas right now. But more money and attention is flowing into both areas as the dangers of climate change grow.

Climate models show that vast amounts of carbon removal will be necessary to prevent really dangerous levels of global warming, given how much we’ve emitted and how slowly we’re moving away from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, on-site carbon capture tools may offer promising ways of cleaning up certain tricky sectors, like cement and steel production, or to provide carbon-free electricity from natural gas plants when intermittent solar and wind sources flag.

The number of nations and corporations banking on some level of carbon capture removal is rising sharply as they plan to zero out emissions in the coming decades, creating a growing reliance on expensive or unproven approaches—and thus an imperative to accelerate progress in these spaces.

Musk is far from the first to offer up funds to the field, either as an award or a more direct investment. A year ago, Microsoft announced plans to create a $1 billion fund for “carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies,” as it looks to cancel out its entire historic emissions. Direct-air capture startups such as Climeworks, Carbon Engineering and Global Thermostat have all raised at tens of millions of dollars of investment. And the CarbonX prize has offered $20 million to companies developing ways to incorporate carbon dioxide into products, in an effort to create bigger markets and greater value for the gas.

Another $100 million could certainly help whatever venture, or ventures, clinch Musk’s prize. But it will also only go so far. Carbon Engineering, for instance, has previously said just one full-scale direct-air capture plant could cost between $300 and $500 million.

Money aside, however, one thing Musk is particularly talented at is drawing attention. And this is a space in need of it.

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Elon Musk is donating $100M to find the best carbon capture technology

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Elon Musk said Thursday via a tweet that he will donate $100 million toward a prize for the best carbon capture technology.

Musk, who recently surpassed Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person, didn’t provide any more details except to add in an accompanying tweet the “details will come next week.” It’s unclear if this is a contribution to another organization that is putting together a prize such as the Xprize or if this is another Musk-led production.

The broad definition of carbon capture and storage is as the name implies. Waste carbon dioxide emitted at a refinery or factory is captured at the source and then stored in an aim to remove the potential harmful byproduct from the environment and mitigate climate change. It’s not a new pursuit and numerous companies have popped up over the past two decades with varying means of achieving the same end goal.

The high upfront cost to carbon capture and storage or sequestration (CCS) has been a primary hurdle for the technology. However, there are companies that have found promise in carbon capture and utilization — a cousin to CCS in which the collected emissions are then converted to other more valuable uses.

For instance, LanzaTech has developed technology that captures waste gas emissions and uses bacteria to turn it into useable ethanol fuel. A bioreactor is used to convert into liquids captured and compressed waste emissions from a steel mill or factory or any other emissions-producing enterprises. The core technology of LanzaTech is a bacteria that likes to eat these dirty gas streams. As the bacteria eats the emissions it essentially ferments them and emits ethanol. The ethanol can then be turned into various products. LanzaTech is spinning off businesses that specialize in a different product. The company has created a spin-off called LanzaJet and is working on other possible products such as converting ethanol to ethylene, which is used to make polyethylene for bottles and PEP for fibers used to make clothes.

Other examples include Climeworks and Carbon Engineering.

Climeworks, a Swiss startup, specializes in direct air capture. Direct air capture uses filters to grab carbon dioxide from the air. The emissions are then either stored or sold for other uses, including fertilizer or even to add bubbles found in soda-type drinks. Carbon Engineering is a Canadian company that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and processes it for use in enhanced oil recovery or even to create new synthetic fuels.

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Chinese esports player VSPN closes $60M Series B+ round to boost its international strategy

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eSports “total solutions provider” VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has closed a $60 million Series B+ funding round, joined by Prospect Avenue Capital (PAC), Guotai Junan International, and Nan Fung Group.

VSPN facilitates esports competitions in China, which is a massive industry and has expanded into related areas such as esports venues. It is the principal tournament organizer and broadcaster for a number of top competitions, partnering with more than 70% of China’s eSports tournaments.

The “B+” funding round comes only three months after the company raised around $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings.

This funding round will, among other things, be used to branch out VSPN’s overseas esports services.

Dino Ying, Founder, and CEO of VSPN said in a statement: “The esports industry is through its nascent phase and is entering a new era. In this coming year, we at VSPN look forward to showcasing diversified esports products and content… and we are counting the days until the pandemic is over.”

Ming Liao, the co-founder of PAC, commented: “As a one-of-its-kind company in the capital market, VSPN is renowned for its financial management; these credentials will be strong foundations for VSPN’s future development.”

Xuan Zhao, Head of Private Equity at Guotai Junan International said: “We at Guotai Junan International are very optimistic of VSPN’s sharp market insight as well as their team’s exceptional business model.”

Meng Gao, Managing Director at Nan Fung Group’s CEO’s Office said: “Nan Fung is honored to be a part of this round of investment for VSPN in strengthening their current business model and promoting the rapid development of emerging services and the esports streaming ecosystem.”

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