Texas is one step closer to seeing a Houston-to-Dallas driverless truck route on I-45. Photo courtesy of Aurora

Houston is emerging as a major player in the evolution of self-driving freight trucks.

In October, Aurora Innovation opened a more than 90,000-square-foot terminal at a Fallbrook Drive logistics hub in northwest Houston to support the launch of its first “lane” for driverless trucks — a Houston-to-Dallas route on I-45. Aurora opened its Dallas-area terminal in April.

Close to half of truck freight in Texas moves along I-45 between Houston and Dallas.

“With this corridor’s launch, we’ve defined, refined, and validated the framework for the expansion of our network with the largest partner ecosystem in the autonomous trucking industry,” Sterling Anderson, co-founder and chief product officer at Pittsburgh-based Aurora, says in a news release.

Aurora produces software that controls autonomous vehicles. The software is installed in trucks from Paccar, whose brands include Kenworth and Peterbilt, and Volvo.

Anderson says its Houston and Dallas terminals came online well ahead of its scheduled launch of driverless trucks between the two cities. The terminals house, maintain, and inspect autonomous trucks.

Aurora currently hauls more than 75 loads per week (under the supervision of vehicle operators) from Houston to Dallas and Fort Worth to El Paso. The company’s customers in its pilot project include FedEx, Uber Freight, and Werner.

“We are on track to launch commercial operations at the end of 2024, with Dallas to Houston serving as our first commercial route,” the company says.

In July, Aurora said it raised $820 million in capital to fuel its growth — growth that’s being accompanied by scrutiny. Self-driving taxi service, Cruise, which recently launched in Houston, has put it in park for the time being.

In light of recent controversies surrounding self-driving vehicles, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, whose union members include over-the-road truckers, recently sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calling for a ban on autonomous vehicles in Texas.

“The Teamsters believe that a human operator is needed in every vehicle — and that goes beyond partisan politics,” the letter states. “State legislators have a solemn duty in this matter to keep dangerous autonomous vehicles off our streets and keep Texans safe. Autonomous vehicles are not ready for prime time, and we urge you to act before someone in our community gets killed.”

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Chevron, TotalEnergies back energy storage startup's $15.8M series A

money moves

A California startup that's revolutionizing polymer cathode battery technology has announced its series A round of funding with support from Houston-based energy transition leaders.

LiNova Energy Inc. closed a $15.8 million series A round led by Catalus Capital. Saft, a subsidiary of TotalEnergies, which has its US HQ in Houston, and Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures, also participated in the round with a coalition of other investors.

LiNova will use the funds with its polymer cathode battery to advance the energy storage landscape, according to the company. The company uses a high-energy polymer battery technology that is designed to allow material replacement of the traditional cathode that is made up of cobalt, nickel, and other materials.

The joint development agreement with Saft will have them collaborate to develop the battery technology for commercialization in Saft's key markets.

“We are proud to collaborate with LiNova in scaling up its technology, leveraging the extensive experience of Saft's research teams, our newest prototype lines, and our industrial expertise in battery cell production," Cedric Duclos, CEO of Saft, says in a news release.

CTV recently announced its $500 million Future Energy Fund III, which aims to lead on emerging mobility, energy decentralization, industrial decarbonization, and the growing circular economy. Chevron has promised to spend $10 billion on lower carbon energy investments and projects by 2028.

Houston innovation leaders secure SBA funding to start equitability-focused energy lab

trying for DEI

A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

global greenlight

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”