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Autonomous trucking startup Ike raises $52 million



Ike said its funding round will help the company expand beyond its 30-person team as it drives forward with its mission to build a commercial product at scale. (Courtesy: IKE)

SAN FRANCISCO — Autonomous trucking startup Ike said Tuesday it had completed a series A round of $52 million, led by Bain Capital Ventures. Redpoint Ventures, Fontinalis Partners, Basis Set Ventures, and Neo also invested in the round.

Ike was founded by veterans of Apple, Google and Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s self-driving truck program.

Bain’s website says the company partners with B2B founders to accelerate the bringing of the founders’ ideas to market. Its investments range from $1 million of seed capital through $100 million of growth equity.

An Ike spokesperson said the company is building “cutting edge” automation technology for the trucking industry.”

“And despite their importance, truck drivers are often overlooked, overworked, and put in harm’s way. Ike believes self-driving technology for long-haul trucking can be part of the solution,” the spokesperson said.

Ike said its funding round will help the company expand beyond its 30-person team as it drives forward with its mission to build a commercial product at scale.

“Trucks are the secret backbone of our economy. They are a part of all of our lives  —  delivering groceries to the local market, transporting lumber and steel to build our homes, bringing us supplies in a disaster,” said a signed by Nancy Sun, Jur van den Berg, Alden Woodrow, and the entire Ike team. “Yet trucks are hidden in plain sight, often around back at the loading dock or out on rural highways moving through the night.”

The Ike team said trucking had never been at a more critical moment.

“A shortage of drivers, new regulations, growing accident rates, the rise of ecommerce  —  these issues are rapidly changing an industry at the core of American society,” the blog said. “We think self-driving trucks can help solve these issues. We’ve spent our careers building new technologies, from electric motorcycles to wind turbines to self-driving cars. We came together over a passion for trucking, and created Ike with a mission to make trucks safer, truckers more valuable, and trucking more efficient.”

Ike is named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the U.S. interstate system he helped create when he signed the Federal Aid Highway Act June 29, 1956.

The Ike spokesperson said the prototype would be produced within the next few months.

“However, it’s important to keep in mind that Ike is making progress without needing to have trucks on the road and will be going through a very rigorous testing process including private track operation before they put an activated vehicle on the road,” the spokesperson said.






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Pilot Flying J’s new mobile app hits the road



The new Pilot Flying J app provides professional truck drivers with improved location listings. (Courtesy: PILOT FLYING J)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pilot Flying J has launched its new mobile app.

With features specifically geared toward the professional driver as well as the auto traveler and RV customer, the app is designed to make travel easier for everyone on the road, according to Mike Rodgers, senior vice president and chief strategy and information officer.

Developed with drivers in mind, Rodgers said the new Pilot Flying J app saves users time and money with a more personalized experience tailored to drivers’ type of travel, location, preferences and needs.

“By focusing on the moments that matter most to our guests, we designed our new mobile app to meet the needs of the driver, whoever and wherever they are on their journey,” Rodgers said. “We know drivers are always looking for convenient and reliable platforms that make their lives easier while on the road. Delivering an intelligent interface with expanded capabilities, our new app allows us to personalize, simplify and improve the guest experience while navigating the highways.”

The updated Pilot Flying J app features a streamlined onboarding that allows users to self-select their driver profile, such as professional driver, auto traveler or RVer.

Based on that selection, the home screen and features are then customized to meet the drivers’ needs based upon geographic location, preferred stops and amenities.

Rodgers said these features include:

  • Pros of the road. While on the road, professional drivers can call Pilot Flying J Truck Care at the push of a button, easily plan their routes with improved location listings and saved preferences and also reduce time searching for parking with Prime Parking reservations. Recognizing when professional drivers arrive on property, the modified home screen delivers time-saving features like mobile fueling, shower reservations and viewing saved offers. Additionally, the new message inbox and transaction history simplifies doing business from the road.
  • Auto travelers. The enhanced trip planner makes planning a road trip easy, helping to find and receive directions to Pilot and Flying J locations, view amenities, fuel prices and more. Guests can also save money with the app, including a 3-cent gas or auto diesel discount and exclusive offers on favorite food items and drinks when the app is used at the time of purchase.
  • RVers. Finding locations with RV amenities is a breeze with the new RV home screen that provides recommended stops with RV fueling lanes, dump stations and propane refills. Good Sam Club members receive exclusive promotions and deals to save on fuel, dumping fees, propane and more. To learn more about RV services, visit /.

Pilot Flying J is celebrating its new app with free drink deals every day in April.




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Minnesota governor signs bill requiring drivers to use hands-free phones



The law signed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz bars motorists from holding and using cellphones or other wireless devices while driving. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Motorists will be required to use hands-free devices to talk on the phone while driving on Minnesota roads starting Aug. 1 under a bill that Gov. Tim Walz signed Friday to crack down on the growing problem of distracted driving.

Walz paid tribute to dozens of people surrounding him at the ceremony who held pictures of loved ones they lost in crashes caused by distracted drivers. He said he knows their pain will never leave, but that lives will be saved because of their years of sharing heartbreaking stories to pass the law. Minnesota is joining 16 other states and the District of Columbia with similar laws.

“We will reduce deaths,” Walz said. “Sons will come home. Mothers will come home. Our children and grandchildren will come home because of the work that you did.”

The new law marks an important bipartisan success for the Democratic governor and a Legislature divided between a Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate. More diplomacy will critical for resolving the big partisan differences that remain on taxes and spending if lawmakers are going to complete their work by the May 20 deadline.

Vijay Dixit, of Eden Prairie, whose daughter, Shreya, died in a crash caused by a distracted driver in 2007, was there to see 12 years of his campaigning become law.

“I hope that distracted driving, which was a tongue-twister in 2007, will disappear from the face of this earth over the next few years that we have this law in place,” he said.

The chief author in the House, Democrat Frank Hornstein, of Minneapolis, said the “courage, perseverance and dignity” of the survivors changed hearts and minds at the Capitol. The converts included the chief Senate author, Republican Scott Newman, of Hutchinson, who said he didn’t support the proposal four years ago but came to realize after hearing the families’ stories that he was in a position to make a difference.

The law bars motorists from holding and using cellphones or other wireless devices while driving. Built-in Bluetooth systems meet the legal requirements that systems be voice-activated, but so do cheap hands-free mounts sold by many stores and online retailers. There’s an exception for emergency calls. Drivers can still use GPS navigation apps, stream music and listen to podcasts if they’re voice activated or if they start them up while they’re still parked.

The penalty for a first offense will be a $50 fine, rising to $275 for additional violations. Minnesota already bans texting and emailing while driving.

Separate legislation has already passed the Senate to stiffen existing penalties for texting while driving. That bill would also treat drivers who kill or injure someone while texting or talking on a non-hands-free phone more like drunken drivers with felony-level penalties. But the measure is still in committee in the House, where it’s unclear if it will pass this year.

According to the Department of Public Safety, at least 27 of Minnesota’s approximately 380 traffic deaths last year were related to distractions of all kinds, and officials consider cellphones the fastest-growing distraction. Col. Matt Langer, chief of the State Patrol, said the real toll from distracted driving is likely higher.

Langer called on Minnesotans to start complying with the law now rather than waiting for it to take effect Aug. 1. The department will now launch a public education campaign using $700,000 in federal funds so that all Minnesota drivers learn what they need to do to comply with the law.




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Traffic stops by metro Phoenix deputies plunge amid overhaul



Sheriff Paul Penzone said with his agency still under court supervision, deputies worry their reasons for pulling over motorists will be unfairly scrutinized or they'll face internal affairs investigations. (Courtesy: YOUTUBE)

PHOENIX — Traffic stops by sheriff’s deputies in metropolitan Phoenix have dropped by more than half since a federal judge found the department was racially profiling Latinos in then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration crackdowns, and ordered a massive overhaul to rid it of biased policing.

With the agency still under court supervision, deputies worry their reasons for pulling over motorists will be unfairly scrutinized or they’ll face internal affairs investigations, according to Arpaio’s successor, Sheriff Paul Penzone, and several other people interviewed.

“It all stems from this fear and mentality that the court orders were intended to do harm to the office, instead of improving the quality of the office,” Penzone told The Associated Press.

Traffic stops by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies have fallen 52% from 2015 to 2018, according to figures provided to the AP by the department. The dramatic decline — from 31,700 stops in 2015 to 15,200 in 2018 — raises questions about whether officers are missing evidence of illegal drugs, burglaries and other crimes that are sometimes discovered when pulling over motorists.

Penzone conceded officers may be missing criminal activity but emphasized it’s unacceptable for them to back away from their bread-and-butter duties.

The latest publicly available traffic-stop analysis for the agency by Arizona State University criminal justice researchers found deputies have made improvements but are still more likely to search and arrest Hispanic drivers than white drivers.

Brad Ruehle, president of a group representing the sheriff’s deputies, declined to comment on the decrease in traffic stop. Others said it’s normal for enforcement numbers to decline after a major ruling involving law enforcement.

The agency has been under court supervision since a judge concluded in 2013 that sheriff’s deputies racially profiled Latinos in Arpaio’s traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. The traffic stop figures go back only to 2015 because the agency adopted a new record-keeping system, and earlier figures don’t contain enough detail to make a comparison.

The overhaul includes retraining officers on making constitutional stops, establishing an alert system to spot problematic behavior by officers, equipping deputies with body cameras and holding interventions with officers flagged for having statistical differences from their peers in how they treated Latinos.

The judge in the profiling case also ordered an extensive overhaul of the agency’s internal affairs operations, which under Arpaio’s leadership had been criticized for biased decision-making that allowed sheriff’s officials to escape accountability.

While the agency is improving its compliance with the overhaul, the traffic-stop analysis covering encounters with motorists from July 2016 through June 2017 still found Hispanic drivers are more likely to be searched and arrested by deputies than white drivers. The average length of stops for Hispanic drivers is three minutes longer than for white drivers.

John Shjarback, a criminal justice professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said it’s normal to see a drop in enforcement numbers after a major court decision or a major event involving a police agency, such as a high-profile shooting involving officers.

New York saw a decline in stops after a judge ruled in 2013 that the city’s practice of stopping and frisking people without justification violated the civil rights of minorities. The number of stop-and-frisk encounters in the city fell from 685,000 in 2011 to 11,000 in 2018.

Shjarback said it’s an open question among researchers about whether such drops in enforcement lead to increases in crime.

David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies racial profiling and wrote a book on the subject, said such decreases are the result of agencies moving away from blanket-enforcement approaches that emphasize the volume of arrests, not the quality of arrests.

Harris said officers are being forced to do better work. “Now, they actually have to think about whether that’s a good idea, and I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all,” Harris said.

Joe Clure, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, which advocates on issues affecting officers, said Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies have complained to him for years about the court supervision.

Clure said deputies’ self-preservation instincts kick in when they think they are being unfairly scrutinized. “It’s just human nature,” Clure said. “You don’t want to do anything to get caught under the microscope.”

The hundreds of internal affairs investigations that have been launched also are discouraging the sheriff’s patrol deputies and jail officers from taking the initiative in their work, Clure said.

Detention officers, for instance, are doing fewer searches of inmates and cells because they fear being targeted in protracted internal investigations that could make it harder for them to find work at other police agencies, Clure said.

“The reality is that Judge (Murray) Snow is the actual sheriff in Maricopa County right now,” Clure said, referring to the federal judge who delivered the racial profiling verdict and ordered the agency overhaul.

State Sen. John Kavanagh, a former police officer who is an ally of Arpaio, said the traffic stop decrease means taxpayers aren’t getting everything they paid for.

Kavanagh doesn’t blame officers for making fewer stops but rather an oversight system that he said accuses deputies of being racist. He said it was easy to predict the result of officers facing what they see as unfair scrutiny: “You get less work.”

Kathy Brody, one of the American Civil Liberties Union attorneys leading the profiling case against the sheriff’s office, said she wasn’t advocating for the sheriff’s office to make more traffic stops but said the trend is a poor reflection on the agency.

In the past, immigrant rights advocates had argued that the agency under Arpaio pulled over Latinos for minor traffic violations, such as having a broken tail light.

“Our view is that they should be pulling people over for things that can cause a danger to the community,” Brody said.





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