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6 Copenhagen investors share their outlook on investing in 2021

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While Denmark and Copenhagen don’t often come up as a destination for European startups, it has a thriving local tech scene that’s home to some of the better startup conferences. After all, who doesn’t want to visit Copenhagen?

A highly educated population, great universities, excellent healthcare and great transport links to Europe make the city as good a place as any to start up a company.

Amongst our investors, we found the trends they were most interested in included sustainable supply chain logistics, esports and gaming, enterprise SaaS, climate tech, deep tech hardware, agritech and edtech. And many said they are interested in the future of work and the transition to different ways of working.

Companies they are excited by included: Afresh Technologies, Seaborg Technologies (nuclear reactors), Labster (virtual science labs), Normative.io (social and environmental impact measurement) and DEMI (connecting with chefs).

In general, investors said they are focused on their home ground but are also spreading their wings to the “New Nordics” (Nordic and Baltic) region. Some are also investing in large European and North American hub cities.

The “green shoots” of recovery they see are appearing in anything digital that comes with a community, as well as among startups that are able to leverage the pandemic to generate new business models that are faster than incumbents.


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We surveyed:


Sara Rywe, associate, byFounders

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Software and tech (I’m personally extra excited about the “future of work,” fintech, and “future of food”).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Digitail (a veterinary software provider solving the gap between the ever-growing expectations of millennial pet parents and the experience offered by veterinarians with their current tools).

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I would like to see more founders with global ambitions in the “uniquely transformative” software category (the same way Airbnb transformed the hotel industry and Uber transformed the taxi industry). Many startups we see today are building a feature instead of a full solution and their vision is about making industries incrementally better. So, here’s a callout to all of you Nordic or Baltic visionary founders out there: Write me!

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We always look for competent, visionary and passionate founders building products that people love. As an industry-agnostic VC, we keep our eyes open for a range of different opportunities.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Some of the current trends that I see include:
Fintech: salary advances, factoring, sustainability reporting and measurements.
Food tech: alternative protein, pet food, food waste.
Future of work: virtual offices, collaboration, productivity tools.
If you decide to enter any of the above-mentioned industries, I therefore encourage you to really be thoughtful in how you differentiate yourself and/or how your team is better suited to execute on the mission.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
<50%. We invest across the Nordics and Baltics and I’m covering Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Denmark is very well positioned to succeed in sustainability and energy (many good talents coming from e.g., Vestas and DTU), consumer goods (there’s a large history in the country around building brands such as Lego, Carlsberg, etc.), and biotech (Novo Nordisk among others playing a big part). Moreover, software scaleups such as Peakon, Pleo, and Templafy are really leading the way for a new generation of tech startups to thrive in Denmark. When looking at Danish founder particularly, I’m very excited to see companies such as Qvin revolutionizing healthcare for women by using period blood as an opportunity for a noninvasive blood test.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
They should be very excited! Just look at what we’ve seen in 2021 so far:
Exits: Peakon $700 million exit and Humio $400 million exit.
Large rounds: Public.com raising $220 million, Vivino raising $115 million and Labster raising $60 million led by Andreessen Horowitz

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Somewhat. We already see a lot of innovation outside of Copenhagen in cities such as Aarhus and Odense.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
One industry that has been hit hard by COVID-19 is of course travel and hospitality. The flipside of this is that we see a lot of innovation due to that. Examples from our own portfolio include:
AeroGuest — a platform that allows for a “touch-free” travel experience (skipping lines and reception desks, direct online room booking, etc.).
BobW — a new type of sustainable travel accommodation bringing the best of both worlds: “home meets hotel.”

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 has not impacted our investment strategy massively and we have the same focus as before (investing in software and tech). With that said, we are happy to see some industries getting an uplift in these difficult times, such as sustainability and impact.
The biggest worries of our portfolio company founders have been around volatility and uncertainty. Since the first lockdown our advice has been simple: You can’t control the outcome. We’ve therefore worked together to ensure that they have some proper scenario planning in place and that we think creatively of how to mitigate eventual negative effects on their business.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Tame — one of our portfolio companies — expanded their event platform to also include virtual events, which made it really take off in COVID times.
Corti — another portfolio company of ours — could in less than four weeks build a product for helping fight COVID-19 with artificial intelligence.
Both of these companies are good examples of how “adapting their products” due to the pandemic led to great results.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The sudden rise of awareness around impact and ESG among VCs! Several great conversations have been held on how to improve our ways of working.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Some of the extraordinary founders that I look up to from Denmark include:
Jakob Jønck (Simple Feast), Andreas Cleve and Lars Maaløe (Corti), Sara Naseri and Søren Therkelsen (Qvin), Niels Martin Brochner, Jarek Owczarek and Viktor Heide (Contractbook), Jacob Hansen, Esben Friis-Jensen, Jakob Storm and Christian Hansen (Cobalt) among others.
There’s also a range of great investors in Denmark including Helle Uth, Christel Piron, Alexander Viterbo-Horten and Anders Kjær amongst others at PreSeed Ventures and Daniel Nyvang Mariussen with his team at Bumble Ventures. Also, the Danish tech ecosystem would not be what it is without all the work that Vækstfonden does.

Mads Hørlyck, associate, Maersk Growth

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Supply chain/logistics including sustainable supply chains.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Afresh Technologies.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
In general there are still plenty of opportunities across various parts of the supply chain. We have no particular specific preferences as such at the moment.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Digital solution to drive efficiencies across one or more subparts of the supply chain, both upstream and downstream focus.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Freight forwarding has been maturing in Europe and North America with several large startups in both regions. However, the market is still large but it requires a strong new model as it’s also low margins.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Less/little focus on Denmark. Main priority in large European/North American hubs.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Startups with the medical and supporting functions tech are doing well. We are excited about Onomondo in the Danish scene — also a portfolio company of ours.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
As an upcoming opportunity. Several tech hubs have been created and there is a general good environment including state-backed loans/pre-seed investments and fairly many angels to get going.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
We don’t expect any significant changes to the founder-environment in Denmark (too little country).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We see an increased focus on our investment area: Supply chain/logistics as people throughout the pandemic have been much more exposed to and dependent on flexible and reliable supply chains. All the way from supply resilience, supply chain visibility, fulfillment and to last-mile delivery. Consumers have the power to drive changes in supply chains.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Sales conversion rates decreasing/pipelines drying out. Advice is, like everyone else, to minimize cost and extend runway by getting as close to profitability as model allows. Based on this funding needs can be discussed.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, we have seen some startups being able to leverage the pandemic over incumbents due to their more flexible and digital structure.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
We have yet to see a default wave both globally within our investment area but also in general in Denmark.

Henrik Møller Kristensen, associate, Bumble Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Some of the trends we’re excited about are (1) the growing market of digital media and entertainment, in particular esports and gaming, (2) enterprise SaaS, e.g., related to the future of work, (3) climate change solutions, e.g., deep tech hardware and software, and (4) e-commerce businesses, in particular digital native vertical brands and direct-to-consumer cases.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Products and services to satisfy the needs of the aging population. The number of elderly people will be growing significantly over the next decades, establishing a growing market for products and services to satisfy the needs from this demographic change and reduce the pressure on societies.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We highly value team and traction. We are looking for exceptional founders with strong competencies in engineering, product and commercial, preferably with years of experience from the industry they are entering with a new solution. We prefer some indication of product-market fit. We like methodical revenue growth driven by paying customers, rich cohort grids and controllable funnels that proves a robust core business. We don’t like products that are still 2-3 years away from monetization. This means that we will miss the next Facebook, but we are okay with that.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Traditional social media and apps that require millions of users before being able to turn on the business model. SaaS marketing tools also seem crowded.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Next week we will announce our first investment outside Denmark. This is our first step toward being present not only in Denmark, but in the Nordics.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Well-positioned industries in Denmark are medtech, fintech, gaming and clean tech. We’re excited about GamerzClass, Pie Systems, LeadFamly, Omnigame, Organic Basics, Cap desk, Roccamore, Too Good To Go, Pleo, Tradeshift, SYBO, Unity and more. Exceptional founders are Victor Folmann from GamerzClass, Sunny Long from Pie Systems, Frederikke Antonie Schmidt from Roccamore and Christian Gabriel from Capdesk.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Historically, there has been a need for more capital and talent to keep successful growth-stage startups in Denmark and not have to move to foreign countries to attract talent and capital. However, the investment climate is getting better. Greater access to capital and talent go hand in hand, and what is really changing the investment climate for the better is founders of successful Danish startups turning back to Denmark and reinvesting in the startup community.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I think we’ll see more attraction to remote work in the future. However, I believe it is important for startups to be close to other great like-minded startups, founders, advisors and investors, not only virtually but in real life. Establishing a great network and personal relationships are very important factors to succeed and remote is not suited very well for that in my opinion.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
The travel and hospitality industry look weaker and we’ll see a shift toward lower demand due to remote work and sustainability issues. On the other side, gaming, e-commerce and digital products and services are growing as you will have more people online behind the screens.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
We are still happy to invest despite COVID-19. Gaming has, for example, been positively affected by COVID-19, however, many startups are also struggling due to COVID-19. The best a startup can do is to manage the runway, have close dialogue with their investors, cut costs and try to pivot to the changes. Look for opportunities, not boundaries.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Not yet. Only a few of our portfolio companies are negatively affected by COVID-19.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Investors are willing to make new investments and help out struggling portfolio companies. Founders are keeping their heads high and making the best out of the new circumstances. In some cases it actually stimulates new innovations.

Benjamin Ratz, partner, Nordic Makers

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Energy and the transition to a fossil fuel society, data as governance and the changing role of education.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Seaborg — building modular, small and safe nuclear reactors.
Labster — virtual science labs that help students all over the world immerse in science and STEM.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Improving the public sector.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Views on how and if the world has permanently changed in behavior due to the pandemic.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Micromobility, teledocs.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100%.

What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Willa. Corti.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
A lot of founders leaving success stories of the region.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come?
No but we expect the cities to produce more.

Mark Emil Hermansen, associate, Astanor

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Food and agrotech.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
DEMI.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I’d love to see more food tech companies that “get food” — the human element of it that is. Too many startups focus only on the technology, less on the fact that it should be deeply human centered. This is so prevalent that I instinctively stay away from startups dubbing themselves as “food tech” — food is not tech and tech is not food and therein lies the challenge and the prize. Here’s a read that kind of sums it up.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Anything that reminds me of these first lines from “On The Road”: “They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn …”.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
DNVB.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
25% local (DK is still immature from a startup standout — yet the opportunity is that the VC footprint is small and relatively unsophisticated).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Companies: Online communities such as DEMI.
Founder: Erez Galonska of Infarm.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Tons of opportunity if you have access to the right deal flow/pedigree.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Communities that transcend digital (like Tonsser and DEMI).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Worries: Uncertainty and recruitment strategy.
Advice: Survive and prepare.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Anything physical that has retail footprint. Anything digital that has a community footprint.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
That everyone’s pumped for what’s about to come (post-COVID) and the realization (or hope?) that nothing will be as before.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally?
Kasper Ottesen, Highbridge (legal).
Kasper Hulthin (entrepreneur and investor).
Christian Tang-Jespersen (investor).

Eric Lagier, managing partner, byFounders

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Future of work, productivity improvement platforms.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Normative.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Future of recruiting.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Passionate founders, solving big problems to build a better tomorrow.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We are focused on the New Nordics (Nordic and Baltic) region having shown the biggest growth potential in Europe.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Climate tech, health tech, fintech. Normative, Corti, Lucinity.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Copenhagen is booming and there is now a strong foundation of experienced founders building really transformative companies.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
No — but I expect to see much more diverse teams with a priority on remote first.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
An acceleration of online, remote, e-commerce and general faster pace of transactions.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COvid-19 is a giant accelerator of future trends. Those founders that have adapted best will be the winners of tomorrow.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Absolutely.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
How founders persevere in these times of massive change.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally?
Jakob Jønck, founder, SimpleFeast; Kristian Rönn, founder, Normative; Andreas Cleve and Lars Maaløe, founders, Corti.

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

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Oxbotica raises $13.8M from Ocado to build autonomous vehicle tech for the online grocer’s logistics network

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Ocado, the UK online grocer that has been making strides reselling its technology to other grocery companies to help them build and run their own online ordering-and-delivery operations, is making an investment today into what it believes will be the next chapter of how that business will grow: it is taking a £10 million ($13.8 million) stake in Oxbotica, a UK startup that develops autonomous driving systems.

Ocado is treating this as a strategic investment to develop AI-powered, self-driving systems that will work across its operations, from vehicles within and around its packing warehouses through to the last-mile vehicles that deliver grocery orders to people’s homes. It says it expects the first products to come out of this deal — most likely in closed environments like warehouses rather than open streets — to be online in two years.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Oxbotica to develop a wide range of autonomous solutions that truly have the potential to transform both our and our partners’ CFC [customer fulfillment centers] and service delivery operations, while also giving all end customers the widest range of options and flexibility,” said Alex Harvey, chief of advanced technology at Ocado, in a statement.

The investment is coming as an extension to Oxbotica’s Series B that it announced in January, bringing the total size of the round — which was led by bp ventures, the investing arm of oil and gas giant bp, and also included BGF, safety equipment maker Halma, pension fund HostPlus, IP Group, Tencent, Venture Science and funds advised by Doxa Partners — to over $60 million.

The timing of the news is very interesting. It comes just one day (less than 24 hours in fact) after Walmart in the US took a stake in Cruise, another autonomous tech company, as part of recent $2.75B monster round.

Walmart owns one of Ocado’s big competitors in the UK, ASDA; and Ocado has made its first forays into the US, by way of its deal to power Kroger’s online grocery business, which went live this week, too. So it seems that competition between these two is heating up on the food front.

More generally, there has been a huge surge in the world of online grocery order and delivery services in the last year. Earlier movers like online-only Ocado, Tesco in the UK (which owns both physical stores and online networks), and Instacart in the US have seen record demand, but they have also been joined by a lot of competition from well-capitalized newer entrants also keen to seize that opportunity, and bringing different approaches (next-hour delivery, smaller baskets, specific products) to do so.

In Ocado’s home patch of Europe, other big names looking to extend outside of their home turfs include Oda (formerly Kolonial); Rohlik out of the Czech Republic (which in March bagged $230 million in funding); Everli out of Italy (formerly called Supermercato24, it raised $100 million); Picnic out of the Netherlands (which has yet to announce any recent funding but it feels like it’s only a matter of time given it too has publicly laid out international ambitions). Even Ocado has raised huge amounts of money to pursue its own international ambitions. And that’s before you consider the nearly dozens of next-hour, smaller bag grocery delivery plays.

A lot of these companies will have had a big year last year, not least because of the pandemic and how it drove many people to stay at home, and stay away from places where they might catch and spread the Covid-19 virus.

But now, the big question will be how that market will look in the future as peoples go back to “normal” life.

As we pointed out earlier this week, Ocado has already laid out how demand is lower, although still higher than pre-pandemic times. And indeed, the new-new normal (if we can call it that) may well see the competitive landscape tighten some more.

That  could also be one reason why companies like Ocado are putting more money into working on what might be the next generation of services: one more efficient and run purely (or at least mostly) on technology.

The rationale of forking out big for autonomous tech, which is still largely untested and very, very expensive technology, to save money is a long-term play. Logistics today accounts for some 10% of the total cost of a grocery delivery operation. But that figure goes up when there is peak demand or anything that disrupts regularly scheduled services.

My guess is also that with all of the subsidized services that are flying about right now, where you see free deliveries or discounts on groceries to encourage new business — a result of the market getting so competitive — those logistics have bled into being an even bigger cost.

So it’s no surprise to see the biggest players in this space looking at ways that it might leverage advances in technology to cut those costs and speed up how those operations work, even if it’s just a promise of discounts in years, not weeks. Of course investors might see it otherwise if that doesn’t go to plan.

In addition to this collaboration with Oxbotica, Ocado continues to seek further investments and/or partnerships as it grows and develops its autonomous vehicle capabilities.

Notably, Oxbotica and Ocado are not strangers. They started to work together on a delivery pilot back in 2017. You can see a video of how that delivery service looks here:

 

“This is an excellent opportunity for Oxbotica and Ocado to strengthen our partnership, sharing our vision for the future of autonomy,” said Paul Newman, co-founder and CTO of Oxbotica, in a statement. “By combining both companies’ cutting-edge knowledge and resources, we hope to bring our Universal Autonomy vision to life and continue to solve some of the world’s most complex autonomy challenges.”

But as with all self-driving technology — incredibly complex and full of regulatory and safety hurdles — we are still fairly far from full commercial systems that actually remove people from the equation completely.

“For both regulatory and complexity reasons, Ocado expects that the development of vehicles that operate in low-speed urban areas or in restricted access areas, such as inside its CFC buildings or within its CFC yards, may become a reality sooner than fully-autonomous deliveries to consumers’ homes,” Ocado notes in its statement on the deal. “However, all aspects of autonomous vehicle development will be within the scope of this collaboration. Ocado expects to see the first prototypes of some early use cases for autonomous vehicles within two years.”

We’re speaking to Ocado and Oxbotica shortly and will update this post with more from that.

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All the tech crammed into the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS

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Mercedes-Benz lifted the final veil Thursday on its flagship EQS sedan after weeks of teasers, announcements and even a pre-production drive that TechCrunch participated in. The company peeled off the camouflage of the EQS — the electric counterpart to the Mercedes S Class — and revealed an ultra-luxury and tech-centric sedan.

The exterior is getting much of the attention today; but it’s all of the tech that got ours from the microsleep warning system and 56-inch hyperscreen to the monster HEPA air filter and the software that intuitively learns the driver’s wants and needs. There is even a new fragrance called No.6 MOOD Linen and is described as “carried by the green note of a fig and linen.”

“There is not one thing because this car is 100 things,” Ola Kaellenius, the chairman of the board of management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz, told TechCrunch in an interview the morning of the EQS launch. “And it’s those 100 little things that make the difference and that makes a Mercedes, a Mercedes.”

Mercedes is betting that the tech coupled with performance and design will attract buyers. This is a high-stakes game for Mercedes. The German automaker is banking on a successful rollout of the EQS in North America that will erase any memory of its troubled — and now nixed — launch of the EQC crossover in the United States.

Quick nuts and bolts

Before diving into the all the techy bells and whistles, here are the basics. The EQS is the first all-electric luxury sedan under the automaker’s new EQ brand. The first models being introduced to the U.S. market will be the EQS 450+ with 329 hp and the EQS 580 4MATIC with 516 hp. Mercedes didn’t share the price of these models. It did provide a bevy of other details on its performance, design and range.

The EQS that will be available in the U.S. has a length that is a skosh over 17 feet, precisely 205.4 inches long, which is the Goldilocks equivalent to the Mercedes S Class variants.

Mercedes-EQS

Mercedes EQS 580 4MATIC

The vehicle has a co-efficient drag of 0.202, which sneaks below Tesla’s Model S and the upcoming Lucid Motors Air, making its the most aerodynamic production car in the world. All EQS models have an electric powertrain at the rear axle. The EQS 580 4MATIC also has an electric powertrain at the front axle, giving it that all-wheel drive capability. The EQS generates between 329 hp and 516 hp, depending on the variant. Mercedes said a performance version is being planned that will have up to 630 hp. Both the EQS 450+ and the EQS 580 4MATIC have a top speed of 130 miles per hour. The EQS 450+ will have a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds while its more powerful sibling will be able to achieve that speed in 4.1 seconds.

The EQS will have two possible batteries to choose from, although Mercedes has only released details of one. The heftiest configuration of the EQS has a battery with 107.8 kWh of usable energy content that can travel up 478 miles on a single charge under the European WLTP estimates. The EPA estimates, which tend to be stricter, will likely fall below that figure.

The vehicle can be charged with up to 200 kW at fast charging stations with direct current, according to Mercedes. At home or at public charging stations, the EQS can be charged with AC using the on-board charger.

Now onto some of the technological highlights within the vehicle.

ADAS

There are loads of driver assistance features in the EQS, which are supported by a variety of sensors such as ultrasound, camera, radar and lidar that are integrated into the vehicle. Adaptive cruise, the ability to adjust the acceleration behavior, lane detection and automatic lane changes as well as steering assist helps the driver to follow the driving lane at speeds up to 130 mph are some of the ADAS features. The system also recognizes signposted speed limits, overhead frameworks and signs at construction zones and includes warnings about running a stop sign and a red light.

Another new feature is the micro-sleep warning function, which becomes active once the vehicle reaches speeds over 12 mph. This feature works by analyzing the driver’s eyelid movements through a camera on the driver’s display, which is only available with MBUX Hyperscreen.

There are several active assist features that will intervene if needed. An active blind spot assist can give a visual warning of potential lateral collisions in a speed range from around 6 mph to 124 mph. However, if the driver ignores the warnings and still initiates a lane-change, the system can take corrective action by one-sided braking intervention at the last moment if the speed exceeds 19 mph, Mercedes said. The feature remains active even while parked and will warn against exiting if a vehicle or cyclist is passing nearby.

There is also an active emergency stop assist feature that will brake the vehicle to a standstill in its own lane if the sensors and software recognizes that the driver is no longer responding to the traffic situation for a longer period. The brakes are not suddenly applied. If the driver is unresponsive, it begins with an acoustic warning and a visual warning appears in the instrument cluster. Those warnings continue as the vehicle starts to slowly decelerate. Hazard lights are activated and the driver’s seatbelt is briefly tensioned as a haptic warning. The final step is what Mercedes describes as a “short, strong brake jolt” as an additional warning followed by the car decelerating to a standstill, with an optional single lane change if necessary.

Mercedes is also offering the option of DRIVE PILOT, which is an SAE Level 3 conditional automated driving system feature. This would allow hands free driving. Regulations in Europe prevent that level of automation to be deployed in production vehicles on public roads. However,  Kallenius told media in Germany on Thursday that the company is on “on the verge of trying to certify the first volume production car Level 3 system in Germany in the second half of this year,” Automotive News Europe reported.

The car that learns

Many of the technological gee-whiz doodads in the EQS tie back to an underlying AI that is designed to learn the driver’s behavior. That is achieved through software and a dizzying number of sensors. Mercedes said that depending on the equipment, the EQS will have up to 350 sensors that are used to record distances, speeds and accelerations, lighting conditions, precipitation and temperatures, the occupancy of seats as well as the driver’s blink of an eye or the passengers’ speech.

The sensors capture information, which is then processed by electronic control units (computers) and software algorithms then take over to make decisions. TechCrunch automotive reviewer Tamara Warren noticed the vehicle’s ability to learn her preference during a half day with the EQS.

Mercedes ran through a number of examples of how these sensors and software might work together, including an optional driving sound that is interactive and reacts to different parameters such as position of the accelerator pedal, speed or recuperation.

The intuitive learning is mostly apparent through interactions with the MBUX infotainment system, which will proactively show the right functions for the user at the right time. Sensors pick up on change in the surroundings and user behavior and will react accordingly. Mercedes learned from data collected from the first-generation MBUX, which debuted in the 2019 Mercedes A Class, and found most of the use cases fall in the Navigation, Radio/Media and Telephone categories.

That user data informed how the second-generation MBUZ, and specifically the one in the EQS, is laid out. For instance, the navigation app is always in the center of the visual display unit.

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Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

The MBUX uses a natural language processing and so drivers can always use their voice to launch a radio station or control the climate. But Mercedes is really pushing the EQS’ intuitive learning capabilities. This means that as a driver uses the vehicle, items that might be typically buried in the menu will appear up front, or offered up depending on the time or even location of the vehicle.

“The car gets to know you as a person and your preferences and what you do,” said Kaellenius. “It’s almost like it serves up the option that you want to do next, before you even think about it you get.”

“You get a pizza delivered before you even get hungry,” Kaellenius said, jokingly. “That phenomenal in terms of intuition.”

According to Mercedes there are more than 20 other functions such as birthday reminders that are automatically offered with the help of artificial intelligence when they are relevant to the customer. These suggestion modules, which are displayed on the zero-layer interface, are called “Magic Modules.” Here is how it might work: if the driver always calls a particular friend ore relative on the way home on certain evenings, the vehicle will deliver a suggestion regarding this particular call on this day of the week and at this time. A business card will appear with their contact information and – if this is stored – their photo, Mercedes said. All the suggestions from MBUX are coupled with the logged-in profile of the user. This means that if someone else drives the EQS on that same evening, with their own profile logged-in, this recommendation is not displayed.

If a driver always listens to a specific radio program on their commute home, this suggestion will be displayed or if they regularly use the hot stone massage, the system will automatically suggest the comfort function in colder temperatures.

This also applies to the vehicle’s driving functions. For example, the MBUX will remember if the driver has a steep driveway or passes over the same set of speed bumps entering their neighborhood. If the vehicle approaches that GPS position, the MBUX will suggest raising the chassis to offer more ground clearance.

Health and wellness

Remember those sensors? There’s a way for drivers to take it a step further and link their smartwatch — Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3, the Mercedes-Benz Venu or another compatible Garmin — to the vehicle’s so-called energizing coach. This coach responds to the user’s behavior and will offer up one of several programs such as “freshness,” “warmth,” “vitality,” or “joy” depending on the individual. Via the Mercedes me App, the smartwatch sends vital data of the wearer to the coach, including pulse rate, stress level and sleep quality. The pulse rate recorded by the integrated Garmin wearable is shown in the central display.

What does this all mean in practice? Depending on the user’s wants and the AI system’s understanding of what he or she wants, the lighting, climate, sound and seating might change. This is, of course, all integrated with the voice assistant ‘Hey Mercedes’ so drivers can simply make a statement to trigger the program they want.

If the driver says “I am stressed,” the Joy program will be launched. If the driver says “I’m tired,” they are then prompted to take a break the Vitality program.

Mercedes S Class owners might already be familiar with these options, although the automaker notes that EQS builds on the system. There are now three new energizing nature programs called forest glade, sounds of the sea and summer rain as well as training and tips options. Each program launches different and immersive sounds, which created in consultation with the acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. For instance, “forest glade” will deliver a combination of birdsong, rustling leaves and a gentle breeze. The program is rounded off by warm music soundscapes and subtle fragrance.

Sounds of the Sea will produce soft music soundscapes, wave sounds and seagull sounds. Blasts of air from the air conditioning system completes the effect. Meanwhile “summer rain” offers up sounds of raindrops on leafy canopies, distant thunder, pattering rain and ambient music soundscapes.

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Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

For those long drives which require a break, Mercedes added a power nap feature. Once power nap is selected (and no never when driving), the program runs through three phases: falling asleep, sleeping, and waking up. The driver’s seat moves into a rest position, the side windows and panorama roof sunshade are close and the air ionization is activated. Soothing sounds and the depiction of a starry sky on the central display support falling asleep, according to Mercedes. Once it is time to wake up, a soundscape is activated, a fragrance is deployed and a brief active massage and seat ventilation begins. The seat raises and the sunshade in the roof liner opens.

Voice

As mentioned before the “Hey Mercedes” voice assistant uses natural language processing and can handle an array of requests. Mercedes said the assistant can now do more and certain actions such as accepting a phone call can be made without the activation keyword “Hey Mercedes.” The assistant can now explain vehicle functions.

The assistant can also recognize vehicle occupants by their voices. There is in fact individual microphones placed at each seating area within the vehicle. Once they have been learned, the assistant can access personal data and functions for that specific user.

The voice assistant in the EQS can also be operated from the rear, according to Mercedes.

These personal profiles are stored in the Cloud as part of “Mercedes me.” That means  the profiles can also be used in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles with the new MBUX generation. Security is built in and includes a PIN and then combines face and voice recognition to authenticate. This allows access to individual settings or verification of digital payment processes from the vehicle, the automaker said.

Screens and entertainment

Finally, yes the screens. All of the screens. The 56-inch hyperscreen gets the most attention, but there are screens throughout the EQS. What is important about them is how they communicate with each other.

The hyperscreen is actually three screens that sit under a common bonded glass cover and visually merge into one display. The driver display is 12.3 inches, the central display is 17.7 inches and front passenger display is 12.3 inches. The MBUX Hyperscreen is a touchscreen and also throws in haptic feedback and force feedback.

“Sometimes when I think about the first design and what we’ve actually done here, it’s like, ‘Are we mad to try to create a one meter 41 centimeters curved bonded glass, one piece in the car,” said Kaellenius. “The physical piece in its own right — It’s a piece of technological art.”

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Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

A lot of attention was paid to the backseat because the EQS, like its S Class counterpart, are often used to chauffeur the owner. Mercedes won’t call this a rear-seat entertainment system and instead refers to it as multi seat entertainment system because everything is connected to each other.

Kaellenius explained that if a driver wants the two rear passengers to watch a different movie, a simple drag and swipe motion on the main screen will throw that new programming back to the rear. The passengers can also throw movies from left to right.

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Twitter bans James O’Keefe of Project Veritas over fake account policy

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Twitter has banned right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe, creator of political gotcha video producer Project Veritas, for violating its “platform manipulation and spam policy,” suggesting he was operating multiple accounts in an unsanctioned way. O’Keefe has already announced that he will sue the company for defamation.

The ban, or “permanent suspension” as Twitter calls it, occurred Thursday afternoon. A Twitter representative said the action followed the violation of rules prohibiting “operating fake accounts” and attempting to “artificially amplify or disrupt conversations through the use of multiple accounts,” as noted here.

This suggests O’Keefe was banned for operating multiple accounts, outside the laissez-faire policy that lets people have a professional and a personal account, and that sort of thing.

But sharp-eyed users noticed that O’Keefe’s last tweet unironically accused reporter Jesse Hicks of impersonation, including an image showing an unredacted phone number supposedly belonging to Hicks. This too may have run afoul of Twitter’s rules about posting personal information, but Twitter declined to comment on this when I asked.

Supporters of O’Keefe say that the company removed his account as retribution for his most recent “exposé” involving surreptitious recordings of a CNN employee admitting the news organization has a political bias. (The person he was talking to had, impersonating a nurse, matched with him on Tinder.)

For his part O’Keefe said he would be suing Twitter for defamation over the allegation that he operated fake accounts. I’ve contacted Project Veritas for more information.

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