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These leaders are coming to Robotics + AI on March 3. Why aren’t you?

TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics + AI brings together a wide group of the ecosystem’s leading minds on March 3 at UC Berkeley. Over 1,000+ attendees are expected from all facets of the robotics and artificial intelligence space — investors, students, engineers, C-levels, technologists and researchers. We’ve compiled a small list of highlights of attendees’ companies and job titles attending this year’s event:

ATTENDEE HIGHLIGHTS

  • ABB Technology Ventures, Vice President
  • Amazon, Head, re:MARS Product Marketing
  • Amazon Web Services, Principal Business Development Manager
  • Autodesk, Director, Robotics
  • AWS, Principal Technologist
  • BMW, R&D Engineer
  • Bosch Venture Capital, Investment Principal
  • Capital One, President of Critical Stack
  • Ceres Robotics Inc, CEO
  • Deloitte, Managing Director
  • Facebook AI Research, Research Lead
  • Ford X, Strategy & Operations
  • Goldman Sachs, Technology Investor
  • Google, Vice President
  • Google X, Director, Robotics
  • Greylock, EIR
  • Hasbro, Principal Engineer
  • Honda R&D Americas Inc., Data Engineer
  • HSBC, Global Relationship Manager
  • Huawei Technologies, Principal System Architect of Corporate Technology Strategy
  • Hyundai CRADLE, Industrial Design
  • Intel, Hardware Engineer
  • Intuit, Inc., Software Engineer
  • iRobot, CTO
  • John Deere, Director, Precision Ag Marketing and Innovation
  • Kaiser Permanente, Director
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries (USA), Inc., Technical Director
  • LG Electronics, Head of Engineering
  • LockHeed Martin, Engineering Manager
  • Moody’s Analytics, Managing Director
  • Morgan Stanley, Executive Director
  • NASA, Senior Systems Architect
  • Nestle, Innovation Manager
  • NVIDIA, Senior Systems Software Engineer
  • Qualcomm Ventures, Investment Director
  • Samsung, Director, Open Innovations & Tech Partnership
  • Samsung Ventures, Managing Director
  • Shasta Ventures, Investor
  • Softbank Ventures Asia, Investor
  • Surgical Theater, SVP Engineering
  • Takenaka Corporation, Senior Manager, Technology Planning
  • Techstars, Managing Director
  • Tesla, Sr. Machine Learning Engineer
  • Toyota Research Institute, Manager, Prototyping & Robotics Operations
  • Uber, Engineering Manager
  • UPS, Director of Research and Development

STUDENTS & RESEARCHERS FROM:

  • Columbia University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Harvard University
  • Northwestern University
  • Santa Clara University
  • Stanford University
  • Texas A&M University
  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UCLA
  • USC
  • Yale University

Did you know that TechCrunch provides a white-glove networking app at all our events called CrunchMatch? You can connect and match with people who meet your specific requirements, message them, and connect right at the conference. How cool is that!?

Want to get in on networking with this caliber of people? Book your $345 General Admission ticket today and save $50 before prices go up at the door. But no one likes going to events alone. Why not bring the whole team? Groups of four or more save 15% on tickets when you book here.


Daimler pulls the plug on electric smart car sales in US, Canada

Daimler is ending sales of its diminutive all-electric smart fortwo cars in the U.S. and Canada, officially pulling the plug on a vehicle that has struggled to gain ground in North America as the German automaker prepares to bring the brand to China, TechCrunch has learned.

Smart won’t be sold in the U.S. and Canada after the 2019 model year, Daimler AG confirmed after two sources familiar with the decision shared the information with TechCrunch.

“After much careful consideration, smart will discontinue its battery-electric smart EQ fortwo model in the U.S. and Canadian markets at the conclusion of MY2019,” a Daimler AG spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. “A number of factors, including a declining micro-car market in the U.S. and Canada, combined with high homologation costs for a low volume model are central to this decision.”

MBUSA and Mercedes-Benz Canada will continue to provide owners of gasoline-powered and electric smart fortwo models with access to service and replacement parts via smart and authorized Mercedes-Benz dealers, the company told TechCrunch.

Model years begin and end mid-year, suggesting that June will be the final month of production. Sales of the vehicles will continue through end the of the year.

Daimler isn’t killing off the smart vehicle altogether. Daimler announced in March it was forming a joint venture with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group to transform smart into an all-electric brand based in China. Under the agreement, the quirky vehicles will be assembled at a new factory in China. Global sales are expected to begin in 2022, Daimler said at the time.

The company’s Mercedes-Benz brand will carry forward its electric strategy in the U.S. and Canada with the arrival of the new EQC in 2020, the company spokesperson said.

The German automaker has for some time been signaling that smart could leave the U.S. market. Daimler has invested heavily in the urban dweller brand — a departure from its sleek and stout luxury Mercedes-Benz vehicles. And yet despite several model variants and a switch from gas to electric, the vehicle never met Daimler’s annual sales goals in North America. The company stopped selling the gas version of smart in the U.S. and Canada after the 2017 model year.

Other recent moves provided hints that smart’s time in the U.S. was limited.

Smart CEO Annette Winkler left last fall and was replaced by Katrin Adt, a human resources executive focused on reshaping the brand’s future. Daimler announced Monday that Adt was taking over management of a new unit, Mercedes-Benz Cars Own Retail Europe, as of July 2019.

Adt will report to Britta Seeger, a member of Daimler’s board of management who is responsible for Mercedes-Benz cars sales.

The vehicle, which was born out of a partnership with Daimler and Swatch watch makers SMH, started with a gas engine. It launched in 1998 in Europe, before heading to Canada six years later. It didn’t make it to the U.S. until 2008.

Smart was the only vehicle available under Daimler’s Car2go car-sharing brand. However, Car2go, which was recently rebranded as Share Now, has expanded its lineup to include Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA models. Some remaining smarts may remain with Car2go, which is an independent entity from MBUSA.

Sila Nano’s battery tech is now worth over $1 billion with Daimler partnership and $170 million investment

Sila Nanotechnologies and its battery materials manufacturing technology are now worth more than $1 billion.

The company, which announced a $170 million funding led by Daimler and a partnership with the famed German automaker, started building out its first production lines for its battery materials last year. That first line is capable of producing the material to supply the equivalent of 50 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries, according to Sila Nano’s chief executive officer Gene Berdichevsky.

That construction, made on the heels of a $70 million investment round, is now going to be expanded with the new cash from Daimler and 8VC along with previous investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Chengwei Capital, Matrix Partners, Siemens Next47 and Sutter Hill Ventures.

Berdichevsky would not comment on how much production capacity would increase, but did say that the company’s battery materials would find their way into consumer devices before the end of 2020. That means the potential for longer-lasting batteries in smart watches, earbuds and health trackers, initially.

From its headquarters in Alameda, Calif., Sila Nanotechnologies has developed a silicon-based anode to replace graphite in lithium-ion batteries. The company claims that its materials can improve the energy density of batteries by 20 percent.

“If you can increase energy density by 20 percent… you can use 20 percent fewer cells and each pack can cost 20 percent less,” says Berdichevsky. “The subtext of it is that it is the way to drive price of energy storage down. And that’s the way for the electric vehicle market to sand more and more on its own.”

That kind of cost reduction is what brought BMW and Daimler to partner with the company — and what led to the massive funding round and the company’s newfound unicorn status.

Our valuation is over $1 billion dollars now,” Berdichevsky says. 

Sila Nanotechnologies

Image courtesy of Sila Nanotechnologies

For Daimler, the materials that Sila Nanotechnologies are developing will give the company’s commitment to electrification a much needed boost.

Mercedes-Benz has plans to electrify its entire product suite by 2022, the company has said. That means Daimler has to accelerate its production of electrified alternatives to its fuel-powered fleet — everything from its 48-volt electrical system (the EQ Boost), to its plug-in hybrids (EQ-Power) and the more than 10 fully electric vehicles powered by batteries or fuel cells. The company is projecting that between 15 percent and 25 percent of its total sales will be electric by 2025 — depending on customer preferences, infrastructure development and the regulatory environment in each of the markets in which it sells vehicles, the company said.

In all, Mercedes-Benz cars has committed to investing €10 billion ($11.3 billion) in the production of vehicles and another $1.3 billion into a global battery production network. The global battery production network of Mercedes-Benz Cars will in the future consist of nine factories on three continents.

“We are on our way to a carbon free future mobility. While our all-new EQC model enters the markets this year we are already preparing the way for the next generation of powerful battery electric vehicles,” said Sajjad Khan, executive vice president for Connected, Autonomous, Shared & Electric Mobility, Daimler AG in a statement.

Still, consumers shouldn’t expect to see vehicles with Sila Nano’s technology until at least the mid 2020s, as automakers look to prove that the company’s battery technology meets their quality assurance standards. “The qualification time means there’s many years of work to make sure it is reliable for next 10 to 20 years,” says Berdichevsky. “Our partnership is geared towards mid-2020s production targets, but the qualification is something that takes quite a while.”

The company’s latest round brings its total financing to just under $300 million since its launch in 2011. And as a result of the latest funding, former General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt will take a seat on the company’s board of directors.

“Advancements in lithium-ion batteries have become increasingly limited, and we are fighting for incremental improvements,” said Immelt. “I’ve seen first-hand that this is a huge opportunity that is also incredibly hard to solve. The team at Sila Nano has not only created a breakthrough chemistry, but solved it in a way that is commercially viable at scale.”