Category: Elon Musk

Elon Musk says Starship SN8 prototype will have a nosecone and attempt a 60,000-foot return flight

Elon Musk has shared some details about future testing of Starship, the SpaceX launch vehicle currently being developed by the company at its Boca Chica, Texas facility. Recently, SpaceX has completed short, 150 meter (just under 500 feet) test flights of two earlier Starship prototypes, SN5 and SN6 – and SN8, which is currently set to be done construction “in about a week” according to Musk will have “flaps & nosecone” and ultimately is intended for a much higher altitude test launch.

The prototypes that SpaceX has flown and landed for its so-called ‘short-hop’ tests over the past few weeks have been full-sized, but with a simulated weight installed on the top in place of the actual domed nosecone that will perch atop the final production Starship and protect any cargo on board. SN5 and SN6, which are often compared to grain silos, are also lacking the large control flaps on either side of the nosecone that will help control its flight. SN8 will have both, according to Musk.

This version of the prototype will also undergo the same early testing and its precursors, including a static fire and other ground checkouts, followed by another static fire before ultimately attempting to fly to an altitude of 60,000 feet – and then returning back to the ground for a controlled landing.

SpaceX is off pace when it comes to Starship development relative to Musk’s earliest, rosiest projections – but the CEO is known for overly optimistic estimates when it comes to timeframes, something he’s repeatedly copped to himself.

Rocket development is also notoriously difficult, so this first high-altitude flight attempt could just as easily go very poorly. SpaceX in particular has a development program that focuses on rapid iteration, and learning from earlier mistakes while building simultaneous development prototypes incorporating different lessons gleaned from various generations. And while it may not have made Musk’s crazy timelines, it is moving very quickly, especially now that the most recent prototypes have survived pressure testing and made it up into the air.

The Station: Luminar takes the SPAC path and Voyage lifts the hood on its next-gen robotaxi

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

I’ll skip the typical wind up and get right to things this week. We’ve got SPACs, venture deals and micromobility news along with a peek at one AV company’s newest vehicle.

I wanted to mention one item before we launch because it speaks to a larger issue of safety and how some shared mobility startups are turning to tech in an attempt to improve it.

Shared electric moped startup Revel resumed operations in New York City a month after shutting down its service following several deaths. The startup’s blue mopeds (3,000 of them) that had become a familiar sight in New York City are back, but with a number of new protocols and features aimed at boosting safety and assuaging city officials. Revel is leaning heavily on tech, and specifically its app, to improve safety, including training videos and tests, a helmet selfie feature that requires photographic evidence the user is wearing a helmet and a community reporting tool. The question is, will this effort be sufficient?

Revel moped

Image credits: Getty

Alright, let’s go!

Email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Remember last week when I told y’all about California Assembly Bill 1286? Here’s a quick refresher: the bill passed the Assembly in 2019 and moved over to committee within the Senate. It sat untouched until this month, when it popped up and passed a committee vote, an action that sent it to the full Senate.

To say the micromobility industry was caught off guard, might be an understatement. The action set off alarm bells and a coalition of micromobility companies, advocacy groups and bike share operators sent a letter to Senate leadership arguing that the bill was an existential threat to shared micromobility in the state. The group was specifically concerned with a line in the bill that would prohibit companies from putting a liability waiver in the user agreement.

That language was removed this week, prompting at least a few emails with comments like “micromobility in California has been saved.”


The National Association of Transportation Officials released its annual report on the growth and use of shared micromobility such as bike share, e-bike share and scooter share in the United States. This report focuses on 2019 ridership data, however, NACTO also weighs in a bit on the first half of 2020.

The study found that people in the U.S. took 136 million trips on bikes and scooters in 2019 — a 60% increase from the previous year. Of those trips, 40 million were on station-based bike share systems. The remaining 96 million trips were on dockless systems with 10 million on ebikes and 86 million on scooters.

That doesn’t mean it was a balanced picture. NACTO reported that scooter expansion was in some cases unstable as companies exited markets at the end of the year (prior to the pandemic), possibly due to over-competition and other market pressures.

NACTO report micromobility

Image Credits: NACTO

Shared micromobility trips were on average 11 to 12 minutes long and for a distance of 1 to 1.5 miles. Short trips are important, NACTO said in its report, noting that 35% of all U.S. car trips are under 2 miles.

Adam Kovacevich, Lime’s head of North America and APAC Government Affairs, called the numbers “eye popping” in an emailed statement, adding that “People are voting with their feet, and they clearly want more scooters and dockless bikes in their cities.”


We’re not finished yet; one more item of note. Jump returned to the Sacramento region on Saturday. Through an agreement with SACOG, Lime said it is now the “exclusive” regional bikeshare operator for the region.

Deal of the week

money the station

Luminar, the lidar startup founded in 2012 by whiz kid and Thiel fellow Austin Russell, has taken the SPAC path to the public markets. SUMMER OF THE SPAC CONTINUES!

The lidar startup announced it was merging with special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos Inc., with a post-deal market valuation of $3.4 billion. The SPAC merger comes just three months after Luminar hit a critical milestone and announced that Volvo would start producing vehicles in 2022 equipped with its lidar and a perception stack. Volvo plans to use the Luminar technology to deploy an automated driving system for highways in its production vehicles.

Image Credits: Luminar

Russell told me in a recent interview that they wanted to go public at some point, but the momentum from the Volvo deal along with interest within public markets led the company to take the SPAC route.

Luminar is the latest startup — and second lidar company — to turn to SPACs this summer in lieu of a traditional IPO process. In June, Velodyne Lidar struck a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. Four electric vehicle startups have also skipped the traditional IPO path in recent months, opting instead to go public through a merger agreement with a SPAC, which are also known as blank check companies. Canoo, Fisker Inc., Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp. have gone public via a SPAC merger this spring and summer. Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace, also used a SPAC to go public.


xpeng

Image Credits: Xpeng via Weibo

Meanwhile, Chinese electric automaker Xpeng Inc. made its public market debut the old-fashioned way. Although this traditional IPO path still packed in some unexpected financial thrills. Despite escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, the company raised more than it expected in its initial public offering.

Xpeng, which began trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol XPEV, said in a filing that it sold 99.7 million shares for $15 each, raising about $1.5 billion through its initial public offering. The automaker had originally planned to sell 85 million shares with a price guidance of between $11 and $13.

Xpeng will need the capital. The company faces an increasingly crowded pool of electric automakers in China, including Tesla, Li Auto and Nio. Shares of Xpeng closed up at $22.79 on Friday.

Other deals that got my attention …

CoPilot, a mobile app for buying and owning vehicles, raised $10 million in a new Series A funding round led by Next Coast Ventures, with participation from Max Levchin’s SciFi Ventures and Arthur Patterson, co-founder of Accel Partners, along with existing investors Chicago Ventures. The investment brings the company’s total outside funding to $17 million.

curbFlow, a curb management startup that uses a network of computer vision devices to detect available parking spots, raised $8 million in seed stage funding led by General Catalyst and Initialized Capital. Doordash is its first paying customer. Keep an eye out for a longer piece on curbFlow; I interviewed the founder Ali Vahabzadeh about the startup and where he sees it evolving. If the name Ali Vahabzadeh sounds familiar, it should. He is the co-founder and former CEO of Chariot, the on-demand shuttle service that Ford acquired and then killed off.

Delivery Hero, the Berlin-based restaurant delivery company that operates mainly in emerging markets, acquired Dubai-based grocery delivery platform InstaShop. The acquisition values the company at $360 million, $270 million upfront plus an additional $90 million based on InstaShop meeting certain growth targets, according to the company. Investors in InstaShop are surely celebrating right now. The five year-old startup had raised just $7 million before being acquired.

Firefly, which offers Uber and Lyft drivers a digital display to make extra money by running ads, acquired Strong Outdoor. The company said it has also become the advertising partner for fleet operator Sally.

Fox Robotics, the Austin-based startup that builds automated forklifts, raised $9 million in a Series A round led by Menlo Ventures. The latest round brings its total funding to date up to $13 million, with support from previous investors Eniac, Famiglia, SignalFire, Congruent, AME and Joe.

Motiv Power Systems, a company that builds all-electric chassis and software systems for the electrification of medium-duty trucks and buses, said it has secured $15 million in additional funding from GMAG Holdings Corp. The company that the funding will be made by means of convertible notes that are expected to be converted into a Series C funding round, which Motiv is in the process of raising.

Shopmonkey, a San Jose, Calif.-based SaaS startup that serves auto repair shops, raised $25 million in a Series B funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from Index Ventures, e.ventures and I2BF.

Zoomo, a three-year-old electric bike platform marketed to gig economy delivery workers, raised $11 million from a Series A funding round led by Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Zoomo was actually Bolt Bikes until this past week. The company announced its new name along with its funding round. The round also included equity from Hana Ventures and existing investors Maniv Mobility and Contrarian Ventures, together with venture debt from OneVentures and Viola Credit.

People: layoffs, hiring and moves

It’s been a minute since I wrote about hirings and firings and such. Two bits of hiring news got my attention this week.

Rivian electric vehicles

Image credit: Rivian

First up, Bloomberg reported that Rivian hired former Tesla executive Nick Kalayjian to lead its engineering. Kalayjian is replacing Mark Vinnels, a former executive a McLaren Automotive.

You might recall that relations between Rivian and Tesla are a bit prickly at the moment. Tesla filed a lawsuit in July against Rivian and four former employers on claims of poaching talent and stealing trade secrets. Specifically, Tesla claimed that Rivian instructed a recently departed Tesla employee about the types of confidential information it needed.

Rivian recently fired back. Rivian filed motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that two of the three claims in the case fail to state sufficient allegations of trade-secret theft and poaching talent and instead was an attempt to malign its reputation and hurt its own recruiting efforts.

It should be noted that Kalayjian didn’t come directly from Tesla; he had a brief stint at San Francisco-based Plenty Inc., according to his Linkedin profile. Still, Kalayjian spent a decade at Tesla, and his move to Rivian likely got the attention of his former employer.


Convoy, the digital freight network that connects truckers with shippers, has hired former Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom as the company’s president and Chief Operating Officer, effective August 31, 2020. Okerstrom will be responsible for Convoy’s finance, operations, sales, marketing, supply, and marketplace growth teams. Okerstrom wrote a blog about what prompted to leave Expedia after a decade.

Convoy is only five years old, but it’s become a giant in the nascent digital freight business. The company has managed to attract a slew of high-profile investors such as Jeff Bezos, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Greylock Partners, Y Combinator, Cascade Investment (the private investment vehicle of Bill Gates) and Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi. Even U2’s Bono and the Edge have invested in Convoy.

Last November, Convoy announced it had raised $400 million in a Series D funding round, funding that would be used to scale its business amid an increasingly competitive market. Convoy said at the time that its post-money valuation to $2.75 billion.

AV Spotlight: Voyage

Voyage G3 robotaxi

Image Credits: Voyage

Autonomous vehicle startup Voyage is a smaller enterprise than its industry peers, in terms of capital raised and number of employees. But that doesn’t mean Voyage isn’t making moves — and progress.

The three-year-old startup tests and operates a self-driving vehicle service (with human safety operators) in retirement communities in California and Florida. They started by modifying Ford Fusion vehicles and later retrofitted FCA’s Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans with its autonomous vehicle technology. Last year, Voyage partnered with FCA to provide next-generation purpose-built Pacifica Hybrid vehicles that have been developed for integration of automated technology. These vehicles come with customizations such as redundant braking and steering that are necessary to safely deploy driverless vehicles. (The partnership wasn’t announced until this spring).

Now, Voyage is lifting the veil on its third-generation robotaxi, called G3. CEO Oliver Cameron tells me G3 is designed to drive without the need of a human safety operator, equipped with COVID killing U-VC hardware and half the cost of its previous second-generation (G2) vehicle.

It might seem odd for the CEO of an AV company to exclaim that its vehicle is designed to be driverless. What Cameron means is that the vehicle generation has progressed to a point where it has all of the necessary redundancies and automotive grade hardware to move beyond testing and into commercial driverless operations. Voyage points to three technologies that get it there.

First, there’s the brain of the G3 — internally called Commander — that is powered by its perception, prediction and behavioral modules. Commander runs atop a safety-certified middleware and monitored by self-diagnostic systems. Then there’s the collision mitigation system called Shield that acts as a backup system to bring the vehicle to a safe stop if necessary. And then finally, a remote operations feature called Telessist. When the brain, or Commander, faces a novel or chaotic traffic situation it has the capability to ask for assistance.

Voyage has talked about these elements before, but it has never really dug into the compute side of things. As Cameron noted to me, “it used to be you had to choose between automotive grade and performance. Now, we have both.”

Voyage worked with Nvidia on the compute. It also involved another company, which took the Nvidia boards and made them automotive grade. “So think ruggedized aluminum, think safety certified, think liquid cooling — all the things you need to do this safely and in a vehicle,” Cameron said.

Also of note, Voyage is using Blackberry’s QNX operating system in the G3. This generation also has a number of features aimed at its senior citizen customers, including two-way voice, extra steps to help mobility-challenged riders get in and out of the vehicle, extra lighting, and an in-cabin user interface that caters to vision-impaired riders.

Image Credits: Voyage

Inside the vehicle, Voyage has added U-VC hardware to kill COVID and other airborne diseases. Cameron said they knew it would be critical to find some cost-effective way of cleaning the vehicles. A friend suggested that he look into ambulances.

“Ambulances have really figured out how to prevent contamination from one person to another after each trip,” Cameron said. “It turns out they primarily use UV-C and it turns out in multiple studies and publications that UV-C at a certain intensity, kills COVID.”

The UV-C lights, provided by a company called GHSP, are placed in each row of the vehicle.

Despite the extra cost of the UV-C lighting and other features, Cameron said the G3 is still 50% cheaper than its previous generation.

“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen our sensor costs decrease by 65% and our compute costs decrease by 25%, resulting in a vehicle that is about 50% cheaper than the prior generation. And that’s puts us on a viable path to make money.”

The G3 isn’t quite ready for prime time. Beta versions of the G3 are being tested on the road in San Jose. Production vehicles and commercial driverless are expected to follow next year.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Loads of other mobility news went down this week. Let’s check it out.

Bentley’s Bentayga packed in a series of surprises for TechCrunch’s Matt Burns. Here’s what he discovered over 24 hours with the $177,000 sport utility vehicle.

Blackberry is pushing into China. The company announced it will be powering the Level 3 driving domain controller of Xpeng, one of the most-funded electric vehicle startups in China, and Tesla’s local challenger.

Bollinger Motors, the Michigan-based startup known for its rugged electric SUV and pickup truck, unveiled a delivery van concept called the DELIVER-E that it plans to start producing in 2022. This shouldn’t be confused with the E-Chassis, now called Chass-E, that the company designed for Class 3 commercial vehicles.

Elon Musk called an attempted cyberattack against Tesla “serious,” a comment that confirmed the company was the target of a foiled ransomware attempt at its massive factory near Reno, Nevada. The Justice Department released a complaint that described a thwarted malware attack against an unnamed company in Sparks, Nevada. It wasn’t clear if the company was Tesla until Musk publicly commented on it. Russian national Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, allegedly attempted to recruit and bribe a Tesla employee to introduce malware in the company’s network, according to the complaint.

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock are demonstrating automated valet parking in downtown Detroit. This system is designed to allow drivers to exit a vehicle and the vehicle would park itself in the parking structure. You might recall that Bedrock also has a pilot with automated shuttle startup May Mobility.

Image Credits: Ford

GM is moving the engineering team responsible for the mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette to the company’s electric and autonomous vehicle programs to “push the boundaries” on what its future EV battery systems and components can deliver, according to an internal memo from Doug Parks.

Monet, a joint venture between SoftBank Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled two adapted vans. One of the vans pumps fresh air through the vehicle to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure, Reuters reported.

Pony.ai, the self-driving startup Pony.ai, and Bosch reached an agreement to explore the future of automotive maintenance and repair for autonomous fleets. The companies started in July a pilot of the robotaxi fleet maintenance at an undisclosed Bosch Car Service location in the San Francisco Bay area.

Scout Campers unveiled its new Kenai unit, a camper that packs a massive amount of equipment into its small footprint, including a 160-watt solar panel, CNET’s Roadshow reports.

Xwing, the autonomous aviation startup, revealed its go-to-market strategy, a plan that includes focusing on regional 500-mile distance cargo flights.

Tesla sues Alameda County to force California factory reopening

Tesla filed a lawsuit Saturday against Alameda County in an effort to invalidate orders that have prevented the automaker from reopening its factory in Fremont, California.

The lawsuit, which seeks injunctive and declaratory relief against Alameda County, was first reported by CNBC. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for California’s Northern District.

Earlier Saturday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he was filing a lawsuit against Alameda County and threatened to move its headquarters and future programs to Texas or Nevada immediately.

Tesla had planned to bring back about 30% of its factory workers Friday as part of its reopening plan, defying Alameda County’s stay-at-home order. Musk was basing the reopening on new guidance issued Thursday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom that allows manufacturers to resume operations. The guidance won praise from Musk, who later sent an internal email to employees about plans to reopen based on the governor’s revised order. However, the governor’s guidance included a warning that local governments could keep more restrictive rules in place. Alameda County, along with several other Bay Area counties and cities, last week extended the stay-at-home orders through the end of May. The orders were revised and did ease some of the restrictions. However, it did not lift the order for manufacturing.

The lawsuit argues that by preventing Tesla from opening, the Alameda County is going against its own guidance.

“Alameda County has expressly recognized and publicized that “businesses may . . . operate to manufacture” batteries and electric vehicles,” the complaint reads. “Inexplicably, however, the Third Order as well as County officials have simultaneously insisted that Tesla must remain shuttered, thereby further compounding the ambiguity, confusion and irrationality surrounding Alameda County’s position as to whether Tesla may resume manufacturing activities at its Fremont Factory and elsewhere in the County.”

The term “third order” is a reference to a revised stay-in-place order issued by Alameda County.

On Friday, the Alameda County Health Department said Tesla had not been given “the green light” to reopen and said if the company did, it would be out of compliance with the order.

Read the full complaint here.

Tesla v Alameda County Comp… by TechCrunch on Scribd

Tesla to reduce price of standard range Model 3 in China

Tesla said it will reduce the price of its standard range Model 3 vehicle in China to meet the government’s new eligibility requirements for subsidies.

This marks the second time this year that the automaker has reduced the price. Several months ago, the base version of China-made Model 3 was lowered by 9%.

Tesla has to cut the price of the vehicle to continue to qualify for government rebates on electric vehicles. The Chinese government instituted new regulations that require prices below 300,000 yuan for electric vehicles to qualify for subsidies.

The base price of the standard range Model 3 made in China is 323,800 yuan, or $45,754 before subsidies.

The price reduction will go into effect tomorrow in China, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a earnings call Wednesday. Musk, who didn’t provide a specific figure, said he is confident the vehicle will deliver a gross margin despite the reduction in price.

Tesla chief financial officer Zachary Kirkhorn added that the cost of vehicles produced at its Shanghai factory in the first quarter is already lower than the cost to produce the Model 3 in the United States. That margin should improve as the company improves its local supply chain in China. Tesla still ships some parts from the U.S. to build cars at its Shanghai factory.

Smart telescope startups vie to fix astronomy’s satellite challenge

Starlink, the satellite branch of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, has come under fire in recent months from astronomers over concerns about the negative impact that its planned satellite clusters have reportedly had — and may continue to have — on nighttime observation.

According to a preliminary report released last month by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the satellite clusters will interfere with the ability of telescopes to peer deep into space, and will limit the amount of observable hours, as well as the quality of images taken, by observatories.

The stakes involved are high, with projects like Starlink potentially being central to the future of global internet coverage, especially as new infrastructure implements 5G and edge computing. At the same time, satellite clusters — whether from Starlink or national militaries — could threaten the foundations of astronomical research.

Musk himself has been inconsistent in his response. Some days, he promises collaboration with scientists to solve the issue; on others, such as two weeks ago at the Satellite 2020 conference, he declared himself “confident that we will not cause any impact whatsoever in astronomical discoveries.” 

Critics have pointed fingers in many directions in search of a solution to the issue. Some astronomers demand that spacefaring companies like Musk’s look after the interests of science (Amazon and Facebook have also been developing satellite projects similar to SpaceX’s) . Others ask national or international governing bodies to step in and create regulations to manage the problem. But there’s another sphere altogether that may provide a solution: startups looking to develop “smart telescopes” capable of compensating for cluster interference.

Should they deliver on their promise, smart telescopes and shutter units will save observatories time and money by protecting images that are incredibly complicated to generate.

Tesla ramps up solar tile roof installations in US, eyes China and Europe expansion

Tesla appears to be ramping up installations of its solar tile roofs in the San Francisco Bay area and will eventually roll out to Europe and China, according to CEO Elon Musk, who, in a series of tweets, provided the first substantial update since the company launched the third iteration of its product in October.

The solar tile roof, which Tesla calls Solarglass, is being produced at the company’s factory in Buffalo, N.Y. Musk announced in one of the tweets plans to host a “company talk” in April at the Buffalo factory, an event that will include media and customer tours of the facility.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment seeking more information about Solarglass, including how many installations have been made to date. We will update the article if Tesla responds.

Four months ago, Musk said the company would begin installations in the “coming weeks” and that it hopes to ramp production to as many as 1,000 new roofs per week.

Tesla’s solar roof tiles are designed to look like normal roof tiles when installed on a house, while doubling as solar panels to generate power. The company first unveiled the solar tiles in 2016 and has been tinkering with them ever since. Tesla has conducted trial installations with the first two generations of the solar tiles and opened up pre-orders in 2017.

In an earnings call last October, Musk suggested that the tiles were ready for a widespread deployment, noting that “version three is finally ready for the big time.”

The solar tile roof will initially be offered in textured black, but Musk reiterated Monday plans to offer other color and finish variants “hopefully later this year.”

A pricing estimator on the Tesla website says a solar tile roof with 10 kW of solar on an average 2,000 square-foot home costs $42,500 before federal tax incentives. It also lists $33,950 as the price after an $8,550 federal tax incentive.

Max Q: SpaceX and Rocket Lab launch rockets and X-Wings take flight

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This week saw a ton of activity in the space industry, with multiple launches, key preparations for commercial crew missions, robots and much more.

Besides all the real space news, there’s also some extreme fan service for Star Wars lovers, courtesy of Disney and Boeing. Now I’m one day closer to my lifelong dream of becoming a real X-Wing starfighter pilot.

Rocket Lab completes key step towards reusable rockets

Launch startup Rocket Lab has been successfully delivering payloads to orbit for a while now, but earlier this year they announced they’d be moving to a launch system in which the booster they use to propel their spacecraft to orbit is reusable.

An Electron rocket launching during a previous test.

During their 10th mission with their Electron rocket, they took a crucial first step – testing the re-entry systems to bring the booster back to Earth’s atmosphere. Rocket Lab says the test went better than expected, which bodes well from moving to an actual test of properly recovering and refurbishing the thing.

SpaceX launches 19th Space Station resupply mission

The other big launch this week was SpaceX’s CRS-19 launch, which delivered 5,200 lbs of experiments and supplies to the ISS. This launch used a brand new Falcon 9, which SpaceX recovered with a landing at sea, and it also employed a Dragon cargo capsule that the company has flown twice before. On board, there’s a load of amazing new equipment for the ISS, like a ‘robot hotel.’

Emotionally intelligent IBM-powered assistant robot is heading to space

You may not have heard, but there’s an advanced Alexa for astronauts called CIMON, and after a successful first test, it’s headed back to the ISS aboard the above SpaceX launch with improvements. One of its key improvements is a new ability to detect and respond to human emotions, which is, you know, HAL territory.

SpaceX completes 7th parachute test

SpaceX is getting closer to a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to its ability to launch astronauts on its commercial crew spacecraft. The company needs to do at least 10 parachute tests in a row to get ship-shape for its crew launch, and it’s now pretty close to getting that done before year’s end.

Boeing completes dress rehearsal of crew launch

Boeing is also getting closer to its own commercial crew launch, and in fact completed an entire rehearsal of how the mission will go on on launch day when it does its uncrewed launch. This rehearsal including fully feeling the rocket, and next time that happens, it’ll be taking off.

Real X-Wings fly for real (really)

X-Wing starfighters ascended through the night sky over Orlando, Florida this week as Disney celebrated the opening of its new ‘Rise of the Resistance’ attraction at Disney World. The X-Wings (2 of them!) were modified versions of a large cargo drone that Boeing has been developing, but both companies are keeping mum on any further details right now.

Here’s what’s up in the world of space startups and investing

What’s going on with space tech, and why is it having a moment? What’s coming next, and where is the smart money going? The answers to those questions and more lie in Starburst founder and aerospace investor François Chopard’s informative deck about space and defense, available exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers.

Elon Musk found not liable in case brought against him by British diver

After a three-day trial, Elon Musk was found not liable for defamation in a federal court today in Los Angeles, where Musk reportedly owns a cluster of six homes as well as oversees the operations of both SpaceX and Tesla.

British diver Vernon Unsworth had brought the suit against Musk in the fall of 2018 after Musk tweeted that Unsworth was a “pedo guy,” meaning a pedophile. Why: after Musk and his employees developed what they called a mini-submarine or escape pod to save a children’s soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand in July of 2018, Unsworth — a stranger to Musk and an experienced diver with knowledge of the cave — called the production a “PR stunt” when asked about the effort in an interview with CNN.

Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts,” Unsworth told the reporter.

Soon after, Musk hit the “tweet” button, publishing the now-infamous insult.

Unsworth brought the suit after Musk doubled down on his accusation, describing Unsworth as a “child rapist” in August 2018 emails to BuzzFeed. He claimed in court this week that since “being branded a pedophile” by Musk, he has felt “vulnerable and sometimes, when I’m in the U.K., I feel isolated.”

Unsworth — who in addition to being a diver is a financial consultant who divides his time between England and Thailand — was seeking damages from Musk to the tune of $190 million, including actual, assumed and punitive damages. Indeed, this week, his team tried to make the point that what he was seeking is a pittance for Musk, who was told to estimate his own net worth during the trial and guessed it to be roughly $20 billion, based on his Tesla and SpaceX holdings.

During the trial, Musk apologized repeatedly for the “pedo guy” tweet, saying that what he’d really meant was “creepy old man.” Musk’s attorney also defended Musk’s temper, telling Unworth at one point: “Do you believe Mr. Musk is so cold-hearted that he was sending over this sub with no regard for the children’s lives? . . . Are you willing to apologize to Mr. Musk for saying that it was just a PR stunt?”

Unsworth declined, saying his insult was “to the tube and not Mr. Musk personally.”

In the end, the court decided Musk’s outburst wasn’t meant as a statement of fact.

CNBC notes in a separate report that the verdict could “set a precedent where free speech online, libel and slander are concerned” as among the first court cases brought by a private individual over a tweet.

Whether it emboldens Musk is another question. Musk is an avid user of Twitter and this isn’t the first time tweets have landed him in hot water.

A tweet-related battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year ultimately cost Musk $20 million and his role as chairman of Tesla for at least three years.

As part of the settlement, Musk also agreed to a condition stipulating that he get pre-approval before sending social media posts containing information that is “material” to Tesla investors. In April of this year, the two sides struck an updated deal that narrowed the scope of what Musk can’t tweet about without first receiving outside approval.

Unsworth had reportedly fought not to cry during the trial, saying he was “effectively given a life sentence with no parole.” He said, “It feels very raw. I feel humiliated, ashamed, dirtied.”

Unsworth was among the rescuers who ultimately led the young soccer team to safety. He received an honorable mention from the Thai government along with 186 other people. Among them: Elon Musk.

Tesla Cybertruck reservations hit 146,000

Tesla has received 146,000 reservations to order the Tesla Cybertruck, pulling in some $14.6 million in deposits just two days after the company’s CEO Elon Musk unveiled the futuristic and angled vehicle.

Reservations require a $100 refundable deposit. How many of those deposits will convert to actual orders for the truck, which is currently priced between $39,900 and $69,900, is impossible to predict. And there will likely be plenty of speculation over the next two years. Production of the tri-motor variant of the cybertruck is expected to begin in late 2022, Tesla said.

Musk tweeted Saturday that 146,000 Cybertruck orders have been made so far. Of those, 41% picked the most expensive tri-motor option and 42% of future customers chose the dual motor version. The remaining 17% picked the cheapest single-motor model.

The Tesla Cybertruck, which Musk unveiled in dramatic fashion at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., has been polarizing with skeptics heaping on the criticism and supporters pushing back in kind. Even Tesla fans at the Cybertruck event, which TechCrunch attended, seemed torn with some praising it and others wishing Musk had created something a bit more conventional.

The vehicle made of cold-rolled steel and features armored glass that cracked in one demonstration and an adaptive air suspension.

Tesla said it will offer three variants of the cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.

The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.