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Aurora sends offers to majority of Uber ATG employees, but not the R&D lab

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Autonomous vehicle company Aurora Innovation sent offers Thursday to more than 75% of employees at Uber Advanced Technologies Group, just a week after announcing plans to acquire the self-driving subsidiary, according to a source familiar with the post-merger integration plans.

Uber ATG Toronto, which employs about 50 people where the subsidiary conducted its research and development work, did not not made the cut, according to a source. Nor has Uber ATG’s chief scientist Raquel Urtasun, who led the Uber ATG R&D team. It was previously confirmed that Uber ATG CEO Eric Meyhofer would not join Aurora once the deal closed. Until today, it was unclear if Urtasun, a leading expert in machine perception for self-driving cars and the co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI, would be moving over to Aurora.

Of the 1,200 people who work at Uber ATG, more than 850 received emailed offers from Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson. In the email, an excerpt of which TechCrunch has viewed, Urmson said the decision of who to pick was difficult. He noted that the decisions were based on Aurora’s specific business needs such as areas of overlaps, relative impact and management reporting.

Aurora wouldn’t comment on the offers, but did confirm that Uber’s Toronto office was not being integrated into the newly combined company. An Uber spokesperson also confirmed that the Toronto R&D lab would not be integrated into the joint organization.

“As an independent company focused on our long-term growth and success, we must be thoughtful about where and how we spend resources. To deliver on our mission, we weave research into our development process and engineering work, rather than having a separate research and development team,” an Aurora spokesperson wrote in an email statement. “We have immense respect for Raquel Urtasun and her team. The impact they have made on both the ATG team, and the industry in general, is incredible. While she and her team will not be continuing on with Aurora, we wish them tremendous success.”

If every Uber ATG employee who received an offer accepts, it would more than double Aurora’s size. Before the acquisition was announced, Aurora had about 600 employees working out of its offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Texas. Uber ATG had offices in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

Aurora and Uber had been in talks for months before reaching a complex deal that will value the combined company at $10 billion. Aurora is not paying cash for Uber ATG, a company that was valued at $7.25 billion following a $1 billion investment last year from Toyota, DENSO and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Instead, Uber is handing over its equity in ATG and investing $400 million into Aurora, which will give it a 26% stake in the combined company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Shareholders in Uber ATG will now become minority shareholders of Aurora.

At the time the deal was announced, Urmson told TechCrunch that the next 60 days would be spent bringing the two teams together and “dispassionately looking at what is the technology that accelerates our first product to market and then amplifying that.”

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Qualcomm veteran to replace Alain Crozier as Microsoft Greater China boss

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Microsoft gets a new leader for its Greater China business. Yang Hou, a former executive at Qualcomm, will take over Alain Crozier as the chairman and chief executive officer for Microsoft Greater China Region, according to a company announcement released Monday.

More to come…

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Autonomous drone maker Skydio raises $170M led by Andreessen Horowitz

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Skydio has raised $170 million in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Growth Fund. That pushes it into unicorn territory, with $340 million in total funding and a post-money valuation north of $1 billion. Skydio’s fresh capital comes on the heels of its expansion last year into the enterprise market, and it intends to use the considerable pile of cash to help it expand globally and accelerate product development.

In July of last year, Skydio announced its $100 million Series C financing, and also debuted the X2, its first dedicated enterprise drone. The company also launched a suite of software for commercial and enterprise customers, its first departure from the consumer drone market where it had been focused prior to that raise since its founding in 2014.

Skydio’s debut drone, the R1, received a lot of accolades and praise for its autonomous capabilities. Unlike other consumer drones at the time, including from recreational drone maker DJI, the R1 could track a target and film them while avoiding obstacles without any human intervention required. Skydio then released the Skydio 2 in 2019, its second drone, cutting off more than half the price while improving on it its autonomous tracking and video capabilities.

Late last year, Skydio brought on additional senior talent to help it address enterprise and government customers, including a software development lead who had experience at Tesla and 3D printing company Carbon. Skydio also hired two Samsara executives at the same time to work on product and engineering. Samsara provides a platform for managing cloud-based fleet operations for large enterprises.

The applications of Skydio’s technology for commercial, public sector and enterprise organizations are many and varied. Already, the company works with public utilities, fire departments, construction firms and more to do work including remote inspection, emergency response, urban planning and more. Skydio’s U.S. pedigree also puts it in prime position to capitalize on the growing interest in applications from the defense sector.

a16z previously led Skydio’s Series A round. Other investors who participated in this Series D include Lines Capital, Next47, IVP and UP.Partners.

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Space startup Gitai raises $17.1M to help build the robotic workforce of commercial space

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Japanese space startup Gitai has raised a $17.1 million funding round, a Series B financing for the robotics startup. This new funding will be used for hiring, as well as funding the development and execution of an on-orbit demonstration mission for the company’s robotic technology, which will show its efficacy in performing in-space satellite servicing work. That mission is currently set to take place in 2023.

Gitai will also be staffing up in the U.S., specifically, as it seeks to expand its stateside presence in a bid to attract more business from that market.

“We are proceeding well in the Japanese market, and we’ve already contracted missions from Japanese companies, but we haven’t expanded to the U.S. market yet,” explained Gitai founder and CEO Sho Nakanose in an interview. So we would like to get missions from U.S. commercial space companies, as a subcontractor first. We’re especially interested in on-orbit servicing, and we would like to provide general-purpose robotic solutions for an orbital service provider in the U.S.”

Nakanose told me that Gitai has plenty of experience under its belt developing robots which are specifically able to install hardware on satellites on-orbit, which could potentially be useful for upgrading existing satellites and constellations with new capabilities, for changing out batteries to keep satellites operational beyond their service life, or for repairing satellites if they should malfunction.

Gitai’s focus isn’t exclusively on extra-vehicular activity in the vacuum of space, however. It’s also performing a demonstration mission of its technical capabilities in partnership with Nanoracks using the Bishop Airlock, which is the first permanent commercial addition to the International Space Station. Gitai’s robot, codenamed S1, is an arm–style robot not unlike industrial robots here on Earth, and it’ll be showing off a number of its capabilities, including operating a control panel and changing out cables.

Long-term, Gitai’s goal is to create a robotic workforce that can assist with establishing bases and colonies on the Moon and Mars, as well as in orbit. With NASA’s plans to build a more permanent research presence on orbit at the Moon, as well as on the surface, with the eventual goal of reaching Mars, and private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin looking ahead to more permanent colonies on Mars, as well as large in-space habitats hosting humans as well as commercial activity, Nakanose suggests that there’s going to be ample need for low-cost, efficient robotic labor – particularly in environments that are inhospitable to human life.

Nakanose told me that he actually got started with Gitai after the loss of his mother – an unfortunate passing he said he firmly believes could have been avoided with the aid of robotic intervention. He began developing robots that could expand and augment human capability, and then researched what was likely the most useful and needed application of this technology from a commercial perspective. That research led Nakanose to conclude that space was the best long-term opportunity for a new robotics startup, and Gitai was born.

This funding was led by SPARX Innovation for the Future Co. Ltd, and includes funding form DcI Venture Growth Fund, the Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, and EP-GB (Epson’s venture investment arm).

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