Spain’s delivery platform Glovo fined again for breaching labor laws

Another penalty for Spain’s homegrown on-demand delivery app and dark store operator, Glovo — which has been fined close to €57 million (~$62M) for breaching local labor laws by falsely classifying 7,800+ of its delivery couriers in Madrid as self-employed, per local newspaper El Diario.

Citing sources familiar with the Labor department’s investigation of Glovo, the newspaper reports that the penalty breaks down into a €32.9M fine for breaking labor laws; €19M in unpaid social security contributions for the riders it had falsely claimed as self-employed; and €5.2M for visa violations as the inspectors found Glovo to be employing a number of foreigners without a work permit.

The penalty is just the latest in a string for the 2015-founded Barcelona-based delivery platform. The newspaper puts the running tally at over €200M.

Most recently Glovo was fined $79M last September — also for misclassifying delivery workers as self-employed (so called falsos autónomos) — in that case for a total of more than 10,000 riders operating across two cities: Its home city and Valencia.

It has also previously racked up smaller fines for labor infractions in other regions, including Tarragona, Girona, Lleida and Seville.

Glovo confirmed the latest sanction. However the delivery platform continues to dispute all penalties for labor law breaches — and a spokeswoman told TechCrunch it will file an appeal against the latest “penalty proposal”, as she couched it.

As has been the general rule for gig economy delivery platforms, Glovo scaled usage of a speedy urban delivery service on the sweat of thousands of couriers it did not classify as employees — seeking to sprint ahead of laws that were drafted long before the rise of digital platforms and the tight algorithmic management of dispersed workforces that mobile technology enables.

However, as legal challenges by workers and unions have proliferated — striking a series of blows against a model critics liken to a sweatshop — lawmakers in Europe have been waking up to tech-fuelled efforts to ‘platformatize’ the circumvention of labor laws intended to protect workers from exploitation and pushing back.

Back in 2020, for instance, Spain’s supreme court delivered a major blow by ruling against its classification of riders as self employed. And that was followed, in 2021, by the country’s lawmakers agreeing a labor law reform intended to force delivery platforms to employ couriers — the so-called ‘Riders Law’.

Spain’s coalition government has also recently proposed further reforms — which could see the bosses of unruly gig economy platforms that flout the law and carry on exploiting workers via self-serving employment misclassifications facing up to six years in jail.

All the sanctions Glovo has so far faced over the falsos autónomos issue relate to the employment model it claimed to be operating prior to the Riders Law entering into force.

Its response since August 2021, when the Rider reform came into force, has not been to end the practice of claiming delivery couriers are self-employed. Rather it says it’s adapted its model — claiming to be compliant despite continuing to operate with scores of ‘self-employed’ riders doing the hard graft of delivering customers’ stuff. (It also appears to use some riders who are sub-contracted and employed by third parties).

This rebooting of the model has led to criticism that Spain’s Riders Law isn’t working as intended — along with calls for greater clarity to prevent platforms from using operational tweaks as a tactic to reset legal challenges back to ground zero, leaving workers in the same rights limbo.

Glovo’s claims of compliance with the reformed labor rules have yet to be concretely tested. But in comments reported by El Diario Spain’s labor minister, Yolanda Díaz, is talking tough on the sector — warning last fall thaty she will ask the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate any “rebellious” multinationals which seek to evade the requirement to hire delivery workers.

The newspaper also reports that the government is looking at how it might prosecute Glovo under the new penal code. 

Zooming out, EU lawmakers have also been dialling up their attention on the sector in recent years, following a 2021 proposal by the European Commission to introduce a rebuttable presumption of employment for gig workers across the EU. However the legislative plan continues to divide the bloc’s lawmakers and it remains unclear when (or even whether) these disagreements may be resolved (also given there’s relatively limited time left for this current Commission) — a necessary step if the proposal (howsoever it might be amended) is to make it into pan-EU law.

That said, with a number of Member States increasingly active on gig worker rights issues it’s clear that pressure on EU lawmakers to find a way to agree harmomized rules — and prevent further fragmentation of the single market over workers rights — is unlikely to let up.

Spain’s delivery platform Glovo fined again for breaching labor laws by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

Niantic tries its hand at sports with NBA All-World

Niantic, the company behind the mega-hit Pokémon GO, has reached an inflection point.

Whether because of pandemic fatigue or frustration over the limitations of today’s AR tech, the Google-spawned startup has struggled mightily to replicate the success of GO, which became one of the fastest-growing games in history shortly after it launched in July 2016. Niantic shut down Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, its first high-profile title after GO, just two years post-debut, while another tentpole project — Pikmin Bloom — has generated only a fraction of the downloads that GO attained over the same time frame.

Last June, Niantic laid off 8% of its staff — about 85 to 90 people — and canceled four of its projects, including a Transformers game that had already entered beta testing.

Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on NBA All-World, Niantic’s latest attempt to again achieve iOS and Android virality. Revealed last summer in a joint announcement with the NBA and National Basketball Players Association, All-World — which is visually quite similar to GO — is chock full of merchandise, nods to basketball culture, minigames and opportunities to meet avatars of real-world NBA players like Jordan Poole, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not All-World’s core demographic. The only team I’ve ever followed is the Cleveland Cavaliers, and that’s simply because I grew up near Cleveland (and, well, LeBron’s stardom didn’t hurt). Being that I’m not much of a sports person — my preferred type of game involves controllers and screens — I hadn’t given All-World much thought until Darrell Etherington, TechCrunch’s managing editor, assigned me to write a first impressions piece.

So I went in blind to my All-World demo, which took place on a gray and gloomy, rainy afternoon at the Compound near Red Hook in Brooklyn. The Compound, I was informed by the PR folks who arranged the affair, was founded by hip-hop DJ Set Free Richardson of AND1 fame. Neat. In any case, the loft-like space was nicely appointed, with checkerboard-patterned rugs, Picasso-esque prints and a pool table racked and ready for play.

Image Credits: Kyle Wiggers / TechCrunch

But I wasn’t there for pool. After arriving and pouring myself a cup of coffee, I plopped down on a thick leather couch next to Glenn Chin, head of global marketing at Niantic, and Marcus Matthews, a senior producer for All-World, to walk through All-World a day ahead of its release on the Play Store and App Store.

I started with the obvious question: why basketball, now, for Niantic? Why’d the studio choose this sport for its next AR venture? Answering candidly, Chin pointed out that licensing deals are far easier to strike with an international organization like the NBA as opposed to, say, disparate soccer confederations. But he and Matthews — who grew up playing basketball in Downtown Jacksonville, Florida — repeatedly emphasized basketball’s communal aspect, too, particularly in cities with public courts where kids and teens gather (so I’m told) to casually shoot some hoops.

In emphasizing social, the dev team behind All-World followed in the footsteps of GO, which — beyond Pokémon sheer brand strength — resonated because of the compelling mix of shared and competitive experiences it delivered. (Think gym battles with strangers and mad dashes for rare Pokémon.) It’s the fine-tuning of a familiar formula, albeit with a few twists and adaptations to meet the expectations of today’s game-playing audience.

Image Credits: Niantic

As with GO, All-World players can explore their own neighborhoods for collectibles, power-ups and other items of varying intruige. Exploring requires physically walking to a place — this is a Niantic game, after all — and navigating menus by tap- and swipe-based gestures. In-app, you’re represented by an avatar.

All-World is built on Niantic’s Lightship platform, which leverages the Unity game engine to power graphics and gameplay. Orlando-based HypGames co-developed the experience with Niantic; HypGames CEO Mike Taramykin served as VP and GM over EA’s Tiger Woods franchise until 2013.

On top of a real-world map of a player’s surroundings, All-World layers things like power-ups, challenges, gear, boosts and in-game currency. There wasn’t much near the Compound when Matthews demoed the game to me, but he managed to pick up some moolah that could be put toward apparel for his NBA player avatars.

A central mechanic in All-World is recruiting those players, who can then be “leveled up” to become the “rulers” of local basketball courts. (The game has over 100,000 courts at present.) Players can challenge each other to three-point shootouts and other timing-based minigames in recreations of real-world courts, which not only increase the level of a player’s recruits but also their overall team level.

The team level serves as a merit-based stand-in for real-world salary caps — the higher the level, the stronger the NBA players an All-World player can recruit.

Image Credits: Kyle Wiggers / TechCrunch

Adjacent to this, All-World has a robust merchandising component. Players can search for “drops” of jerseys and more (a la Supreme) from brands such as Adidas and Nike that mirror real-world SKUs. Their in-game team members don this merch, some of which improves their game stats. Chin says that the plan is to work with additional brands to create and recreate accessories, balls, clothing and sneakers and even time drops with real-world product launches.

The merch mechanic was built to reflect — and respect — the basketball fan frenzy around collectibles, Chin and Matthews say. I don’t doubt that fact. But there’s an obvious profit motive, too. All-World might be free-to-play, but it certainly isn’t a charity.

As another case in point, Niantic also plans to make money by selling “boosts” for player stats like offense and defense, which improve performance in the minigames. Chin and Matthews don’t deny players who shell out can advance through certain aspects of All-World faster. But Matthews stressed that players don’t need to fork over cash if they play relatively often.

Image Credits: Niantic

That remains to be seen. I was only treated to glimpses of the game — which, unfortunately, experienced some freezing issues during the demo. (Matthews blamed the Compound building’s poor reception, which isn’t unlikely — it wasn’t good.) The bigger-picture question is whether All-World has staying power — and indeed, whether it can make enough noise to stand out in the ultra-crowded mobile market.

With All-World, Niantic is placing bets both on the strength of the NBA brand and the appeal of AR. As a sports ignoramus, I can’t speak on the former point. But on the latter, I wouldn’t write a eulogy for AR just yet. The tech’s just getting started, I’d argue — especially if rumors of an Apple headset someday come to pass.

If Niantic can keep All-World fresh and interesting with compelling AR-focused gameplay, it might just have a fighting chance. (My impression is that it’s a bit light on content at the moment, but to be fair, it’s early.) On the other hand, if All-World devolves into a pay-to-win collect-a-thon down the line, I can’t see it topping the download charts for very long — if ever.

As for what All-World’s success or failure might spell for Niantic, it wouldn’t tank or make the company necessarily. Niantic sells its Lightship platform to developers as a paid service. And GO is still going (pun intended) strong, with revenue estimated to be north of $1 billion. Besides, Niantic raised $300 million at a $9 billion valuation in November 2021 — more than doubling its valuation from 2018.

But after years in development, it’d no doubt be a disappointment for the studio — and for the NBA head honchos who evidently have faith in Niantic’s ability to spin viral magic.

Niantic tries its hand at sports with NBA All-World by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Zillow introduces Calendly-like instant booking for rental property tours

Real estate marketplace Zillow has introduced an instant tour booking feature for renters on its platform. The company now allows users to book an in-person tour directly at a suitable time without having to contact an agent or a property manager.

Until now, when someone had to look at a rental property, either they had to rely on a virtual tour on the platform or request a tour, which put them in touch with a property manager, making the process cumbersome. Now, users can instantly book an appointment — it works just like the meeting booking platform Calendly.

The company said that an instant tour booking feature is available on 2,600 rental properties with more being added at regular intervals. The proptech startup said that it is also planning to add a feature that will allow users to choose the type of tour they want — in-person, self-guided, or a live virtual tour — while scheduling.

According to a survey conducted by Zillow last year, 71% of users had up to four visits to properties before deciding to rent one. So the platform thinks there is merit in making the scheduling process easier by eliminating the intermediary like an agent.

“Touring is a major milestone in the journey of finding a rental, and it’s due for innovation,” Michael Sherman, vice president of Zillow Rentals said in a written statement.

“Allowing renters to instantly book a tour removes barriers and delivers a more seamless and convenient experience for renters and property managers. Freeing up the time it takes to coordinate schedules allows renters to focus on finding their perfect place without worrying about when they’ll get a chance to see it, and gives property managers valuable time back for other important tasks.”

Zillow laid off 300 employees last October impacting teams like Zillow Offer advisors, sales and back-end staff at Zillow Home Loans and Zillow Closing Services.

Zillow introduces Calendly-like instant booking for rental property tours by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch

Plum launches its money management app in five more countries

Fintech startup Plum is doubling the number of countries where it operates. The company is launching its product in five new European countries — Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Greece and Cyprus.

Originally from the U.K., Plum is a money management app that helps you automatically set some money aside. This way, users can save money without any manual input. It can be particularly useful for people who earn enough money to save money every month, but also tend to spend everything they have on their main bank account. In addition to its home country, Plum currently operates in France, Spain, Ireland and Belgium.

There are several ways to save with Plum. The app can connect to your bank account and round up all your transactions in the past week and transfer everything over to a Plum-managed pocket of money. You can also decide to set some money aside every week or whenever you get paid. If you want to go one step further and let Plum think about savings for you, the service can also automatically decide how much it should set aside based on your income and expenses.

Users can create different pockets with separate goals. For instance, you could save for your next vacation or for a new bike. Whenever you want to spend money in your Plum account, you can either withdraw money to your bank account or pay with a Plum debit card — but you have to pay a subscription fee to get a card.

While users earn interest on their savings in the U.K., that’s not the case in other markets. This is a bit unfortunate as interest rates are currently rising around Europe. Basic savings accounts seem like an attractive product for people who don’t like to think too much about money.

Plum users can also use the service to buy and sell shares. In Europe, the startup has partnered with Bitpanda to offer cryptocurrency trading. It works a lot like Bitpanda integrations in N26 and in Lydia. You don’t have to download another app to start buying crypto assets.

“We’re delighted to bring Plum to five new European countries and help people manage their finances there. This is a challenging economic period as people are experiencing levels of inflation not seen in decades, leading to cost of living challenges. The need for long-term financial resilience has arguably never been clearer and we created Plum precisely to help people tackle this, helping ensure that your money management is automated and wealth looked after for the future,” Plum co-founder and CEO Victor Trokoudes said in a statement.

Creating a Plum account is free. Users can pay €2 per month to create more sub-accounts, unlock more savings rules and get a card. People who choose to pay €9.99 per month can access more stocks and create recurring stock investment rules. There is also a 2.5% conversion fee on crypto transactions.

Over the long run, Plum could become a financial hub that lets you access several features and services. Unlike many consumer fintech startups, it doesn’t try to replace your bank account. It acts as a companion app and a sort of mini marketplace. That strategy could turn Plum into a mainstream product with less tech-savvy people.

Plum launches its money management app in five more countries by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon launches RxPass, a $5/month Prime add-on for all-you-need generic drugs covering 80 conditions

More than two years since announcing Amazon Pharmacy to take some of the prescription drugs business away from big (and smaller) drug stores, Amazon is launching a new product to expand its reach in the space. Today, it’s taking the wraps off RxPass, a service where Prime users in the U.S. can pay a monthly flat fee of $5 to get as many generic versions of medications as they need. Amazon said that initially the service will cover generic drugs for 80 common ailments — they include, for example, Losartan (the generic for the hypertension drug Cozaar) and Sertraline (the generic for antidepressant Zoloft) and hair growth pills — and it would not comment on its plans to expand the list.

The 80 conditions were selected, so to speak, to make it an offer attractive to a wide base of potential customers. Dr. Vin Gupta, the chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy, said that more than 150 million people in the U.S. already take one or more of the medications in the RxPass offering.

In addition to RxPass (not to be confused with another healthcare service for B2B called RxPass) only being available to U.S. Prime users — one more sweetener for Amazon’s membership tier that started with free shipping but now nets services like entertainment, grocery shopping services, etc. to attract repeat purchasing — RxPass is not open to people on government medical plans like Medicare or Medicaid (Amazon Pharmacy is a provider for these and thus cannot offer direct). One pays the $5 out of pocket, not on insurance. You sign up for it in your app as a Prime user, under Pharmacy.

This is a big and pretty bold move for Amazon. $5/month is the fee regardless of the amount a customer orders, meaning the service is aimed at those who are currently already paying more than this per month for their meds for these 80 conditions, or think that they might over time need to pay more, or are looking for one-stop services with a predictable cost each month.

Indeed, as with a lot of other services on Amazon’s platform, it’s balanced that promise of convenience carefully against pricing, playing in this case also on a shortcoming in the market and specifically in healthcare.

On one hand are the basic predicaments and pitfalls of systems like those in the U.S. that rely on health insurance to operate, and generally are very expensive regardless for users even with those plans, leading many to forego getting what they need. (This is not the only problem with health in the U.S. of course, but a big component of preventative and chronic care.)

“Navigating insurance can be a maze and getting to the pharmacy a burden,” Gupta writes. “Sometimes that has led to poor outcomes: new medications don’t get filled, refills don’t get picked up, and patients suffer.”

On the other hand are the conveniences and cost benefits of the Prime service being put to work to fill that gap.

“Prime members already get fast, free delivery on prescription medications, and RxPass is one more way to save with Amazon Pharmacy. Any customer who pays more than $10 a month for their eligible medications will see their prescription costs drop by 50% or more, plus they save time by skipping a trip to the pharmacy,” said John Love, vice president of Amazon Pharmacy, in a statement. “We are excited to offer our customers surprisingly simple, low pricing on the eligible medications they need each month.”

Amazon would not disclose how it arrived at $5 and whether that’s a subsidized figure to attract more users, but data published last year by health policy researchers KFF, citing figures from the OECD, noted that in the U.S. in 2019, annual per-capita. out-of-pocket payments for prescribed medicines annually averaged $164. This is not a direct comparison, as this is not a figure that covers 80 conditions, but it is the average, giving an idea of what is spent around the most common conditions that Amazon is also targeting.

Its aim also is to net in users for Amazon Pharmacy, which will provide meds for all of the other conditions. The bigger service also provides discounts on generic and non-generic meds (up to 80% and 40% respectively, Amazon says).

Amazon has been eyeing up the opportunity to do more in healthcare for many years, buying startups and launching new services and products in aid of that. These have included acquisitions of online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 and primary care tech platform OneMedical for $3.9 billion in 2022. And in addition to the launch of Amazon Pharmacy in 2020, last year it launched a telehealth service called Amazon Clinic. This was the company’s second attempt at telehealth after mothballing Amazon Care (a service for its own employees). The OneMedical deal is still making its way through regulatory approvals, but in the meantime this latest launch of RxPass underscores the company’s intent to keep at this, despite the wider restructuring and 18,000 layoffs at the business that are currently underway.

Amazon launches RxPass, a $5/month Prime add-on for all-you-need generic drugs covering 80 conditions by Ingrid Lunden originally published on TechCrunch

Strava acquires Fatmap, a 3D mapping platform for the great outdoors

Strava, the activity tracking and social community platform used by more than 100 million people globally, has acquired Fatmap, a European company that’s building a high-resolution 3D global map platform for the great outdoors. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 2009, Strava has emerged as one of the preeminent activity tracking services, proving particularly popular in the cycling and running fraternities which use the Strava app to plot routes, converse with fellow athletes, and record all their action for posterity via GPS. The company has increasingly been targeting hikers too, and last year it launched a new trail sports and routes option aimed at walkers, mountain bikers, and trail runners.

Fatmap, for its part, was founded a decade ago, with an initial focus on providing ski resorts with high-resolution digital maps. In the intervening years, the company has worked with various satellite and aerospace companies to bolster its platform with detailed maps incorporating summits, rivers, passes, paths, huts, and more, arming anyone venturing into mountainous terrain the information they need to know exactly what they’ll encounter before they arrive.

Fatmap in action Image Credits: Fatmap / Strava

With 1.6 million registered users, Fatmap’s mission, ultimately, is to be the Google Maps of the great outdoors, with a premium subscription ($30 / year) unlocking access to extra features such as downloadable maps and route planning in the mobile app.


The ultimate long-term goal for Strava is to integrate Fatmap’s core platform into Strava itself, but that will be a resource-intensive endeavor that won’t happen overnight. And that is why Strava is working to create a single sign-on (SSO) integration in the near-term, meaning that subscribers will be able to access the full Fatmap feature-set by logging into the Fatmap app with their Strava credentials.

While Strava and Fatmap will remain separate products for now, Strava said that it will decide in the future whether Fatmap will live on as a standalone product once the technical integration has taken place.

CEO and cofounder Michael Horvath, who stepped down in 2013 before returning as head honcho six years later, said that the Fatmap acquisition is part of Strava’s “ongoing investment to provide a best-in-class digital experience” for those seeking an active lifestyle.

“Where other map platforms have been designed for navigating streets and cities, Fatmap built a map designed specifically to help people explore the outdoors,” Horvath told TechCrunch in a Q&A. “We will enable Fatmap technology in all of Strava’s services, empowering anyone to discover and plan an outdoor experience with curated local guides, points of interest and safety information.”

In terms of timescales, Strava said that it has set up a dedicated team tasked with integrating Fatmap, and it anticipates this to start showing up inside Strava from around mid-2023. The company was also quick to stress that Fatmap’s tech will be available to both free and paid-for Strava members, though certain features relating to maps, discovery, and route-planning will be reserved for paying subscribers.

Strava provided TechCrunch with the following mockup to give an idea of what Fatmap might look like inside a future incarnation of Strava.

Strava / Fatmap integration mockup

Strava has raised north of $150 million in funding since its inception, with big-name backers including esteemed Silicon Valley investor Sequoia Capital, but the company hasn’t engaged in much acquisition activity in its 14 year history. Strava did acquire injury prevention app Recover Athletics last May for an undisclosed figure though, and today we’ve learned that Strava also bought online athlete community Prokit in 2021, something that Strava didn’t officially announce at the time.

It’s clear that the proprietary 3D mapping technology Fatmap had developed would have taken too much time and resources for Strava to replicate itself from scratch, which is why buying Fatmap outright likely made more sense in this instance.

“Strava’s primary goal is to be the digital experience at the center of active people’s lives — that includes offering people a holistic view of their active lifestyle, no matter where they live, which sport they love or what device they use,” Horvath said. “This concept fuels much of our strategic thinking and product roadmap. For acquisitions specifically, we explore those that can accelerate our strategic vision to create the best subscription service for active people serving the largest active community in the world.”

While Fatmap is incorporated in the U.K. and has part of its workforce based there, the bulk of its 50 employees are spread across offices in France, Germany and Lithuania. Strava said that it’s keeping the Fatmap team in tact, and each will continue to report to Fatmap founder and CEO Misha Gopaul, who will now serve as VP of Product at Strava and report to Strava’s chief product and technology officer Steve Lloyd.

While Strava isn’t revealing how much it paid for Fatmap, the startup had only raised around $8 million so the deal is unlikely to break the bank for Strava. What it will do, though, alongside its other two recent acquisitions, is make Strava a stickier proposition for a greater number of people — not just cycling and running for which Strava is better known.

Strava acquires Fatmap, a 3D mapping platform for the great outdoors by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

Pasqal raises $100M to build a neutral atom-based quantum computer

Pasqal, a Paris-based quantum computing startup, today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series B funding round let by Singapore’s Temasek. In addition to Temasek, existing investors Quantonation, the Defense Innovation Fund, Daphni and Eni Next, as well as new investors European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund, Wa’ed Ventures and Bpifrance (through its Large Venture Fund) also participated in this round.

What makes Pasqal, which was founded in early 2019, stand out in an increasingly crowded field of quantum computing startups is that the company is betting on neutral atoms quantum computing. This is a relatively new and potentially game-changing approach to building quantum processors. Instead of trapped ions (like IonQ) or superconducting quantum computers (like IBM), neutral atom quantum processors use lasers to hold atoms in place with what is essentially an optical tweezer.

As you can imagine, building the technology to hold a single atom — and only a single atom — in this trap created its own challenges, but that’s mostly a solved problem now. The advantage here is that once you can do this with hundreds of atoms at the same time, you can create both a very dense matrix of qubits and one that, using holographic methods, you can reshuffle in 3D space as needed for a given algorithm. And all of this happens at room temperature. That almost makes these machines more akin to Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) than more traditional quantum processors. You can find a Pasqal’s paper about this process with more details here and it’s also worth noting that Alain Aspect, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on quantum entanglement in 2022, is one of Pasqal’s co-founders.

Image Credits: Pasqal

As Pasqal co-founder and CEO Georges-Olivier Reymond told me, the company has already demonstrated that it can control more than 300 atoms at a time. “It’s very hard to have only one atom in a laser beam and to monitor it and to control it,” he explained. “But once you achieve that, you can almost easily scale that and you can create arrays in any shape you want.” He noted that the qubits are similar to ion-based qubits in terms of their coherence time and fidelity, yet this flexibility and ability to pack these atoms in a very dense array, with only a couple of microns between the qubits, could give this technology an advantage.

Reymond noted that with some of these basic capabilities now in place, the team is working on building the quantum control system so it can start implementing quantum algorithms. And while there are startups that focus on building quantum control hardware, none of them are optimized for neutral atoms, he noted, so the company decided to build its own system.

Clearly, the Pasqal team is quite optimistic about its system and Reymond believes that the team will be able to show its potential customers “quantum business advantage” in 2024. He believes that this will take a system with 200 to 300 qubits.

At this point, most researchers believe that we won’t see the industry trend toward a single technology for solving every algorithm. Instead, different quantum technologies will find their sweet spots for solving different problems. For Pasqal, the team believes that its system will work especially well for graph-centric problems. “There are a lot of computational challenges that you can reframe in the shape of a graph,” he explained. “What we can do with atoms, is we can represent the shape of this graph and embed the complexity of the algorithm in this geometry. In the end, instead of using thousands of quantum gates, just by implementing a couple of them, you can run your algorithm and then you are resilient to errors.”

The company is currently working with the likes of Crédit Agricole CIB, BASF, BMW, Siemens, Airbus, Johnson & Johnson and Thales to help them understand where its technology can solve their business needs.

“We are very proud of this new milestone in PASQAL’s development that will make the company a world leader,” said Christophe Jurczak, managing partner at Quantonation. “Quantonation has supported the company since its spin-off from Institut d’Optique. It is the first scale-up within Quantonation’s portfolio, and it truly illustrates the excellence of French research and the competitiveness of the French quantum ecosystem.”

Pasqal raises $100M to build a neutral atom-based quantum computer by Frederic Lardinois originally published on TechCrunch

Lightyear stops production on €250,000 solar-powered EV

Solar-powered electric vehicle maker Lightyear said it’s halting production on its flagship Lightyear 0, its premium EV with a sticker price of €250,000. Despite only starting production on the vehicle three months ago, Lightyear is restructuring to focus on building a more affordable model, the Lightyear 2 for around €40,000, reports Electrek.

The news comes as many electric vehicle makers push back production and delivery dates due to a range of macroeconomic factors like semiconductor shortages, battery supply issues and rising costs of materials due to inflation. At the same time, with recession fears hanging over consumers like a dark cloud and EV startups struggling to get vehicles off the assembly line, throwing money into an extremely expensive model just doesn’t make good business sense.

The Lightyear 0 was always intended as a technology demonstrator to be produced in limited quantities. In a press release, Lightyear said it has had to overcome “many challenges” in order to make its vehicles a reality. The company didn’t specify what challenges, but said in order to safeguard its vision, the Lightyear 0 needed to die so the Lightyear 2 could thrive.

“We are now redirecting all our energy towards building Lightyear 2 in order to make it available to clients on schedule,” said Lightyear’s CEO and co-founder Lex Hoefsloot in a statement.

Lightyear opened the waitlist for Lightyear 2, a five-seater hatchback with a promised range of 500 miles per charge, earlier this month at CES. The company hasn’t shared many details on the car, but already the Lightyear 2 has over 40,000 reservations from individual buyers and about 20,000 pre-orders from fleet owners like international leasing and car-sharing companies Leaseplan, MyWheels, Arval and Athlon, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The Lightyear 2 is scheduled to start production in mass-market volumes at the end of 2025. It’s not clear if the company intends to push up that production date now that it won’t be building the Lightyear 0, for which it has already pre-sold 150 units. Earlier this month, a Lightyear spokesperson told TechCrunch the first Lightyear 0 has been produced and shown to the company’s first customer. The company said it had been building one car per week since November and expected to ramp up weekly production later this year.

Lightyear did not respond in time to TechCrunch to comment on production date of the 2s or whether it will make good on its 0 sales.

However, Lightyear did say in a press release that it submitted a request to “the court to open suspension of payment proceedings in relation to Atlas Technologies B.V., our operating company responsible for the production of the Lightyear 0.” The company didn’t stipulate to which court it submitted a suspension request, but according to the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, companies can request to have their debts frozen for 18 months, giving them time to reorganize.

Lightyear will likely try to raise more money to stay afloat. The company raised $81 million in September as it prepared to start production on Lightyear 0, but Hoefsloot noted that the company hopes to “conclude some key investments in the coming weeks in order to scale up” the car for a wider audience.

Lightyear stops production on €250,000 solar-powered EV by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Musk said he could have funded a Tesla buyout with SpaceX shares

Elon Musk testified Monday that he was not only certain he’d have the backing from Saudi financiers to take Tesla private in 2018, but also that he could have sold enough shares of his rocket company SpaceX to fund a buyout.

Musk defended himself as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the CEO for allegedly defrauding investors by tweeting on August 7, 2018 that he had secured funding to take Tesla private at $420 per share and that “investor support is confirmed.” Tesla’s stock price surged after Musk’s tweets and later dropped when it became clear the buyout wouldn’t happen. Investors say they lost millions as a result of Musk’s tweets.

While Musk does stand to lose billions of dollars in damages if he loses the case, what’s really at stake for the world’s richest man is his reputation for being truthful and for looking after his investors.

In a San Francisco federal court, Musk doubled down on his belief that he had a verbal confirmation from the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) to take Tesla private. Musk testified that the fund “backpedaled” on its commitment. He also acknowledged that no takeover price had been discussed with representatives of the PIF.

Even without the PIF money, he “felt funding was secured” with SpaceX stock alone. Musk nodded toward his sales of Tesla stock to buy Twitter, and said he would have considered doing the same thing to make the deal to take Tesla private go through.

The plaintiff’s lawyers countered that since Musk’s deposition from last year didn’t include any reference to selling SpaceX stock, today’s inclusion of that point was constructed in hindsight.

Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, also pointed to Musk’s ability to raise “more money than anyone in history,” according to Musk, which would have also backed the executive’s claims that funding was secured.

A jury of nine will decide whether the CEO artificially inflated the company’s share price with his tweets about the buyout, and if so, by how much. U.S. Judge Edward Chen ruled last year that Musk’s post was untruthful and reckless, which might affect the jury’s opinion.

Musk says he tries to do what’s best for investors

Musk and his attorney also argued that he wasn’t trying to defraud investors, but actually wanted to bring some of them along. Tesla’s hardcore base of retail investors — like the plaintiffs in this case — is important to the company. But the SEC doesn’t allow retail investors to invest in private companies.

“So the concerns would be if Musk took this company private, could the person who owns two shares of Tesla and has a low-paying job remain an investor? Because the company’s got a very loyal retail investor fan base of people who buy Tesla’s products and believe in Musk,” Josh White, an assistant professor of finance at Vanderbilt University and former financial economist for the SEC, told TechCrunch.

During the trial on Monday, Musk provided details about certain special purpose vehicles that are available to SpaceX investors — SpaceX being a private company — that Musk supposedly wanted to replicate with his take-private deal with Tesla.

“Musk was trying to say they could invest in a sort of special purpose vehicle which would perhaps allow retail investors to come together in something that looks like a fund, then that fund actually invests in a private Tesla,” said White.

White noted that these types of vehicles aren’t always good for investors because it leaves them with less liquidity.

Regardless, the plaintiff’s lawyers demonstrated through exhibits from Goldman Sachs and other investors that there were limitations on keeping retail investors involved in a private Tesla.

While on the stand, Musk also framed his tweets about an incomplete deal as an attempt to include shareholders in his considerations to take the company private. He said he was concerned the Financial Times knew about the Saudi’s potential investment in Tesla and Tesla’s take-private deal, and would leak the info before Musk himself got the chance to tell shareholders.

“I was worried that shareholders would think that I was trying to exclude them,” Musk said. “And I want it to be clear that I was trying to support them”

“The $420 price was not a joke.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also investigated Musk’s tweets, which lead to a combined $40 million settlement from him and Tesla, and a requirement that a Tesla lawyer review Tesla-related tweets in advance, something Musk tried to appeal later.

The SEC alleged that Musk had rounded the buyout offer to $420 per share from $419 as a reference to weed culture, which the agency said Musk’s girlfriend would find funny.

Musk denied this, and said it was a coincidence that $420 is also a reference to Weed Day, which is on April 20.

“It was chosen because it was a 20% premium over the stock price,” said Musk. “The $420 price was not a joke.”

Musk also testified briefly last Friday, telling jurors he didn’t believe his tweets affected Tesla stock.

“Just because I tweet something does not mean people believe it or will act accordingly,” Musk said.

Musk said he could have funded a Tesla buyout with SpaceX shares by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Bluedot’s debit card for EV owners offers cheaper charging, cash back

Electric vehicles accounted for nearly 6% of all new cars sold in the U.S. in 2022, an increase from 3.1% the year before, and that number will continue to grow over the coming years. While it’s still a young industry, the ecosystem surrounding EVs — from EV charging and installation to insurance products and parking — is shaping up to be one that’s disconnected and somewhat complicated.

So say the founders of Bluedot, a banking and rewards platform for EV owners that aims to enhance the after-sales experience. Here’s how it works: Individual owners or fleet managers sign up for Bluedot’s debit card, which they’ll use for all auto-related purchases, but predominantly for EV charging. Bluedot is currently offering customers a flat fee of $0.30 per kilowatt hour of charging with participating EV charging stations, and 20% cash back on charges with nonparticipating charging networks. Customers find stations and pay directly for charges with partner charging companies on Bluedot’s app, saving them the need to download multiple apps.

Bluedot users also get 5% cash back on all automotive expenses, plus another 2% cash back for all other expenses. In addition, the company provides users with rewards in nearby shopping and dining locations. So while waiting for their car to charge, a customer can walk over to the local Starbucks for a coffee and get 10% cash back on that purchase, or do some shopping at Whole Foods and score another 15% cash back, for example.

The startup, which will join Y Combinator’s winter 2023 cohort and recently closed a $2 million pre-seed, is initially focusing on charging stations, in part because it’s an industry that’s about to blow up with federal and state funding. The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in August 2022, gives all states access to over $1.5 billion in funding to facilitate EV charging projects. That might end up looking like a big push to install infrastructure without much cohesion.

Bluedot’s app aggregates nearby EV charging stations and offers rewards for charging. Image Credits: Bluedot

Bluedot wouldn’t say which charging companies it works with to offer its flat fee, but the startup said customers could initiate charging through the Bluedot app at around 60% of all charging stations across the U.S. To grow its partner network, Bluedot is targeting smaller and newer charging companies that might not have the resources to create their own app and payments platform.

“New EV charging companies are seeking solutions like ours to increase visibility and accessibility for drivers, optimize payment processes, and improve utilization rate of charging stations,” Selinay Filiz Parlak, Bluedot’s co-founder and chief operating officer, told TechCrunch. “Bluedot is working on integrating financial technology to help these companies make their charging stations more viable and accessible to drivers.”

“Currently, utilization in most of the charging station networks ranges from 5% to 8%. Bluedot aims to raise this rate above 15%. We began with small charging station companies, but our goal is to bring all brands together with financial technology for users,” continued Parlak.

Bluedot’s main customers today are individual drivers who found the startup through partnerships with auto dealers and ride-share companies. Parlak says Bluedot’s next target is fleets to help them manage expenses and charging processes and get better deals.

“For example, one of our partners is a leasing company that rents cars out to a bunch of delivery drivers who are managed by a fleet manager,” said Parlak. “They want to offer a larger charging station ecosystem, which is easier to bill and then reimburse, which we offer. And they also want to get better deals around electrification.”

Bluedot is also manually pulling data for customers on their charging habits, how much they spend, how much power they use, their top charging locations, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions they’ve prevented by using an EV, and so on. In the future, the company wants to automate that task to make it smarter and more scalable.

During YC, Bluedot wants to focus on growth and product development.

“Our goal is to establish partnerships and make deals leading up to demo day,” Ferhat Babacan, Bluedot’s CEO and co-founder, told TechCrunch. “Specifically, we aim to secure partnerships in the areas of auto dealership, charging networks, and auto-related expenses. Additionally, we plan to initiate pilot tests for the Bluedot Fleet Card.”

Bluedot’s debit card for EV owners offers cheaper charging, cash back by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

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