Connect with us

Uncategorized

With $5 million in hand, The Routing Company is giving public transit authorities a ride-sharing service

Published

on

James Cox spent much of his professional career at Uber trying to crack the problem of how to reduce congestion through ride-sharing.

As one of the architects of the Uber Pool service and a longtime proponent of ride-sharing as a means to slash vehicle emissions, Cox leapt at the chance to harness technology developed at MIT that purported to perfect a dynamic routing and vehicle management system for transit authorities.

That technology is at the heart of The Routing Company, the startup that Cox now leads. It’s based on sofrware developed by Routing Company co-founder and chief technology officer, Alex Wallar, when he was a doctoral student at MIT focused on optimizing vehicle distributions. Working with collaborators including Daniela Rus, the director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and post-doc researcher Javier Alonso Mora, Wallar developed a platform that could apply real-time optimization to public transit.

In April, Wallar took the research to Menno van der Zee, and the two men developed the underlying platform that would become The Routing Company.

Cox came on board as an advisor to the company initially, but decided to join the ride full-time after seeing the technology that Wallar and van der Zee had developed.

Now, with $5 million in new financing led by the MIT deeptech investment fund, The Engine, and $6.5 million in total financing, the company is taking its tech to transit authorities around the world.

“We are thrilled to support The Routing Company. They have cracked the code for dynamic shared rides at scale.” said Reed Sturtevant, general partner of The Engine. “Smart ride sharing solutions for cities will have a ripple effect. Innovation in transit could quickly reduce congestion, shorten commute times for those who can’t afford to live in the city where they work, and help the environment.”

The idea is to take the services that private companies had been trying to offer to consumers, and bring the benefits to everyone.

The startup landscape is littered with failed private commuter services, and The Routing Company hopes to circumvent the issues they faced by working with, instead of competing against, public urban transit.

In the US alone, public transportation is a $74 billion business… and during the COVID-19 pandemic it’s a business that’s suffering greatly.

“When we and all the other ridesharing companies were building shared rides algorithms in the past.. The complexity in solving the shared rides problem had not been solved in real time,” said Cox of his time at Uber. “My understanding was that it was not possible to solve it in real time. We are really making transit a customer. If you look at transit they are very good at working with high capacity routes and demand. Where they’re weaker is in low and medium density areas. This is where there’s really an opportunity to help them.”

Cox sees his new company as solving a problem that specifically impacts low-income, low density communities. These areas typically aren’t serviced as well or as frequently by traditional public transit, and the tools on offer from the Routing Company give transit authorities a way to spin up a new fleet to service those areas.

The Routing Company sells a package that includes an app for riders, an app for drivers, and a fleet management platform for the transit agency. While it experiments with different pricing options, Cox declined to disclose how much the company is charging its initial customers, but the revenue model is based on either a per vehicle, per-month fee or on a percentage of the revenue generated per vehicle, he said.

Each driver receives a link to download an app. The riders are capable of accessing the app in a push a button shuttle way. We have built tools to allow people to make a phone call and make an appointment with an operator,” he said. 

The algorithms that had been developed for ride sharing in the past used an individual’s geolocation and destination to set the parameters of who would pick them up. The Routing Company flips that model by focusing on the position of an entire fleet of vehicles first and their already established routes to determine which vehicle is the best suited to pick up a passenger for a ride.

Wait times depend on the city and the number of vehicles deployed through The Routing Company, but Cox said the goal was to have passengers wait no more than 10 minutes for a pick up.  Already, one city in Scotland is using the service and The Routing Company has signed contracts with four undisclosed cities in the US an done in Australia.

“Plenty of people who have tried to make shuttle startups. The issue with a number of those is that the unit economics don’t work. Our approach definitely has the right technology and if we can augment public transit rather than compete with it,” Cox said. 

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

Continue Reading
Comments

Uncategorized

Elon Musk says Tesla Semi is ready for production, but limited by battery cell output

Published

on

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on the company’s 2020 Q4 earnings call that all engineering work is now complete on the Tesla Semi, the freight-hauling semi truck that the company is building with an all-electric powertrain. The company expects to begin deliveries of Tesla Semi this year, the company said in its Q4 earnings release, and Musk said the only thing limiting their ability to produce them now is the availability of battery cells.

“The main reason we have not accelerated new products – like for example Tesla Semi – is that we simply don’t have enough cells for it,” Musk said. “If we were to make the Semi right now, and we could easily go into production with the Semi right now, but we would not have enough cells for it.”

Musk added that the company does expect to have sufficient cell volume to meet its needs once it goes into production on its 4680 battery pack, which is a new custom cell design it created with a so-called ‘tables’ design that allows for greater energy density and therefore range.

“A Semi would use typically five times the number of cells that a car would use, but it would not sell for five times what a car would sell for, so it kind of would not make sense for us to do the Semi right now,” Musk said. “But it will absolutely make sense for us to do it as soon as we can address the cell production constraint.”

That constraint points to the same conclusion for the possibility of Tesla developing a van, Musk added, and the lifting of the constraint will likewise make it possible for Tesla to pursue the development of that category of vehicle, he said.

Tesla has big plans for “exponentially” ramping cell production, with a goal of having production capacity infrastructure in place for a Toal of 200 gigawatt hours per year by 2022, and a target of being able to actually produce around 40% of that by that year (with future process improvements generating additional gigawatt hours of cell capacity  in gradual improvements thereafter).

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Pro-Trump Twitter figure arrested for spreading vote-by-text disinformation in 2016

Published

on

The man behind a once-influential pro-Trump account is facing charges of election interference for allegedly disseminating voting disinformation on Twitter in 2016.

Federal prosecutors allege that Douglass Mackey, who used the name “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, encouraged people to cast their ballot via text or on social media, effectively tricking others into throwing away those votes.

According to the Justice Department, 4,900 unique phone numbers texted a phone number Mackey promoted in order to “vote by text.” BuzzFeed reported the vote-by-text scam at the time, noting that many of the images were photoshopped to look like official graphics from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Some of those images appeared to specifically target Black and Spanish-speaking Clinton supporters, a motive that tracks with the account’s track record of white supremacist and anti-Semitic content. The account was suspended in November 2016.

At the time, the mysterious account quickly gained traction in the political disinformation ecosystem. HuffPost revealed that the account was run by Mackey, the son of a lobbyist, two years later.

“… His talent for blending far-right propaganda with conservative messages on Twitter made him a key disseminator of extremist views to Republican voters and a central figure in the alt-right’ white supremacist movement that attached itself to Trump’s coattails,” HuffPost’s Luke O’Brien reported.

Mackey, a West Palm Beach resident, was taken into custody Wednesday in Florida.

“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth D. DuCharme said.

“With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes.”

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Tesla is willing to license Autopilot and has already had “preliminary discussions” about it with other automakers

Published

on

Tesla is open to licensing its software, including its Autopilot highly-automated driving technology, and the neural network training it has built to improve its autonomous driving technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed those considerations on the company’s Q4 earnings call on Wednesday, adding that the company has in fact already “had some preliminary discussions about licensing Autopilot to other OEMs.”

The company began rolling out its beta version of the so-called ‘full self-driving’ or FSD version of Autopilot late last year. The standard Autopilot features available in general release provide advanced driver assistance (ADAS) which provide essentially advanced cruise control capabilities designed primarily for use in highway commutes. Musk said on the call that he expects the company will seek to prove out its FSD capabilities before entering into any licensing agreements, if it does end up pursuing that path.

Musk noted that Tesla’s “philosophy is definitely not to create walled gardens” overall, and pointed out that the company is planning to allow other automakers to use its Supercharger networks, as well as its autonomy software. He characterized Tesla as “more than happy to license” those autonomous technologies to “other car companies,” in fact.

One key technical hurdle required to get to a point where Tesla’s technology is able to demonstrate true reliability far surpassing that of a standard human driver is transition the neural networks operating in the cars and providing them with the analysis that powers their perception engines is to transition those to video. That’s a full-stack transition across the system away from basing it around neural nets trained on single cameras and single frames.

To this end, the company has developed video labelling software that has had “a huge effect on the efficiency of labeling,” with the ultimate aim being enabling automatic labeling. Musk (who isn’t known for modesty around his company’s achievements, it should be said) noted that Tesla believes “it may be the best neural net training computer in the world by possibly an order of magnitude,” adding that it’s also “something we can offer potentially as a service.”

Training huge quantities of video data will help Tesla push the reliability of its software from 100% that of a human driver, to 200% and eventually to “2,000% better than the average human,” Musk said, while again suggesting that it won’t be a technological achievement the company is interested into keeping to themselves.

Continue Reading

Trending