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Futures Slump In Ugly Start To Ugliest Month Of The Year

Futures Slump In Ugly Start To Ugliest Month Of The Year

With September already historically the ugliest month for markets of the entire…



Futures Slump In Ugly Start To Ugliest Month Of The Year

With September already historically the ugliest month for markets of the entire year...

... an underperformance which this year will likely be on steroids thanks to the Fed's doubling of QT to $95BN starting today...

... especially with stocks having gone from overbought to oversold in two weeks as bullish sentiment imploded...

... it's not like stocks needed an additional impetus to dump, yet they got just that overnight when first China announced that it would put 21 million citizens living in its megacity of Chengdu on lockdown (as part of Beijing's "Zero Covid" policy of blaming China's slowdown on 1 or 2 cases of covid per city and promptly locking down whole swaths of the economy, you know, for the kids), and second in a major escalation, Taiwan shot down an unidentified drone off the Chinese coast; the news sent S&P 500 futures sharply lower on the first of the month, dropping as much as 0.9%, with Nasdaq futures down as much as 1.3% after another sales warning from Nvidia sent chipmakers in retreat on new China export rules.

The US 10-year Treasury yield rose to 3.20% and threatening to break above the previous level, a move which would be seen as especially bearish. The dollar gained and oil tumbled for a 3rd day amid fears about Chinese demand, even as OPEC+ is preparing to announce some sort of price stabilization intervention. Industrial metals fell after China locked down Chengdu’s 21 million residents, while oil and natural gas retreated as Europe considers various measures to intervene in the energy market. Commodity-linked and Group-of-10 currencies weakened, while the yen dropped to a 24-year low.

The market jitters come after August’s losses, reflecting fears of an economic downturn alongside restrictive monetary policy to choke inflation. A global bond rout saw the two-year Treasury yield touch 3.50% for the first time since 2007.

In premarket trading, US chipmakers fell in premarket trading after Nvidia warned that new rules governing the export of artificial-intelligence chips to China may affect hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Nvidia fell 6%, AMD -3.5%, Intel -1.2%, Micron -2.3%. Bank stocks were lower as investors await the release of jobs data. Here are other notable premarket movers:

  • Okta shares slumped as much as 15% in premarket trading after results, which analysts said were “muted” and spurred worries over billings growth and demand.
  • MongoDB shares fell 17% in premarket trading, after the database software company gave a “conservative” full-year forecast.
  • shares were down 14% in premarket trading after the application software company cut its full-year revenue forecast amid an uncertain macro environment.
  • Bed Bath & Beyond shares slid as much as 6.3% in premarket trading, with other meme stocks also down, as investors continue to assess the home-goods retailer’s turnaround plan.
  • Five Below reported second-quarter results that failed to meet estimates. While disappointed, analysts said they weren’t surprised. The stock rose 3.2% in thin premarket trading.

“The Fed effect is now melding with other global factors such as China’s growth slowdown and Europe’s stagflation to create a more fraught global macro environment with higher rates and lower growth,” said Alvin Tan, strategist at RBC Capital Markets in Singapore. “It is this combination of hawkish central banks led by the Fed, China’s slowdown and Europe’s stagflation that is now driving volatility across global markets.”

European stocks also declined, Euro Stoxx 50 slumps 1.6%. IBEX outperforms, dropping 0.9%, CAC 40 lags, dropping 1.7%. Miners, real estate and consumer products are the worst-performing sectors.  Miners led declines in Europe as commodities dropped amid concerns that aggressive tightening and China’s slowdown will lower demand.  Among individual moves, Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc’s shares fell on news that Chief Executive Officer Laxman Narasimhan will step down at the end of the month to pursue a new opportunity in the US. Here are the other notable European movers today:

  • Jet2 shares rise as much as 4.2% with HSBC saying the tour operator’s AGM statement was reassuring for the short- term
  • EuroAPI gains as much as 6.1%, the most since June, after the company presented its 1H earnings. Oddo BHF says the strong report shows EuroAPI’s strategy is “beginning to bear fruit.”
  • Chrysalis Investments climbs as much as 5.7% as the Telegraph newspaper’s Questor column says now is “the best time to buy” shares in the investment firm
  • Basic Resource stocks fall the most in seven weeks, the sector’s longest losing streak since mid-June, as a slide in metal prices accelerated amid demand concerns over fresh Covid lockdowns in China
  • The European real estate sector is among the day’s worst performers on the regional equity benchmark, weighed down by concerns around hawkish central banks
  • Luxury-goods stocks slide in Europe after a new Covid lockdown in the key market of China and as HSBC downgraded a bunch of the sector’s biggest firms
  • Reckitt Benckiser drops as much as 5.7%, the most since July 2021, after the unexpected news that CEO Laxman Narasimhan will step down
  • Zur Rose slumps as much as 11% after an offering of shares priced at CHF39 apiece, representing a 15% discount to the last close
  • Warsaw’s WIG20 index continues its retreat, widening this year’s drop to 34% as appetite for commodity stocks wanes amid growth fears and a decline in energy prices in Europe

Some of Wall Street’s biggest banks now expect the European Central Bank to hike rates by 75 basis points at next week’s meeting, while the latest economic data underlined a parlous outlook for China. Meanwhile, Russia said it is considering a plan to buy as much as $70 billion in yuan and other “friendly” currencies this year to slow the ruble’s surge, before shifting to a longer-term strategy of selling its holdings of the Chinese currency to fund investment.

Earlier in the session Asian stocks traded mostly lower following the weak handover from global counterparts amid the higher yield environment and following a surprise contraction in Chinese Caixin Manufacturing PMI data. Hang Seng and Shanghai Comp were subdued after weak factory activity data from China and with Meituan among the worst performers in Hong Kong after reports its shareholder Tencent is planning about USD 14.5bln of divestments from its equity portfolio including a partial divestment of its stake in Meituan, while the mainland was cushioned after further policy support pledges by China’s cabinet. 

Japanese stocks closed lower ahead of a raft of US data that may back the case for the Federal Reserve to continue raising interest rates. The Topix index fell 1.4% to 1,935.49 at the 3 p.m. market close in Tokyo, while the Nikkei 225 declined 1.5% to 27,661.47,  closing beneath the 28k alongside the broader risk aversion with further currency weakness and an upgrade to Japanese PMI data doing little to inspire a turnaround. Toyota contributed the most to the Topix’s decline, decreasing 2.3%. Out of 2,169 stocks in the index, 226 rose and 1,879 fell, while 64 were unchanged. Shares also slid as parts of China went back into lockdown.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 index fell 2%, the most since June 14, to close at 6,845.60, dragged by losses in banks and mining shares.  The materials sub-gauge was the worst performer, slumping to the lowest since July 27, as commodity prices tumbled and as BHP, the benchmark’s heaviest-weighted stock, trades ex-dividend. In New Zealand, the S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed at 11,609.83.

In FX, the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index advanced as the greenback strengthened against all of its Group-of-10 peers apart from the Swiss Franc. The euro slumped but managed to hold above parity against the dollar after Germany July retail sales rose 1.9% m/m vs estimated 0.1% decline. Italian bonds and bunds slid for a fifth day, lifting Italy’s 10-year yield above 4% for the first time since June 15 as money markets continued to raise ECB tightening bets ahead of next week’s policy outcome. The Swiss Franc snapped a four-day loss against the dollar. A report showed that Swiss prices increased by 3.5% in August, above July’s reading of 3.4% -- already the highest in three decades. The pound extended declines, dropping to a 2 1/2-year low against a broadly stronger US dollar. Sterling was set for its fifth- straight day of declines, after August saw its worst month versus the greenback since 2016. The yen dropped to 139.68 per dollar, its lowest since 1998 as surge in Treasury yields heaped more pressure on the currency, prompting a warning from a Japanese government official that did little to stem the tide. Australian and New Zealand dollars fell as a stronger greenback boosted by rising Treasury yields and a drop in iron ore prices weighed.

The offshore yuan fleetingly extended gains against the dollar on reports that Russia is considering buying as much as $70 billion in yuan and other “friendly” currencies. The yen pares some declines to trade at 139.24/USD after falling to weakest level since 1998 as US-Japan yield spread keeps widening. Bloomberg dollar spot index rises 0.2%, while CHF outperforms G-10 peers.

In rates, Treasuries were narrowly mixed as US trading gets under way Thursday with the yield curve steeper after the 2-year failed to sustain its first breach of 3.5% since 2007. 2-year yields are lower by 1.4bp at 3.479% after rising as much as 1.8bp to 3.511%; 30-year higher by 2.2bp near day’s high; inverted 2s10s spread steeper by 1.6bp at -29bp, 5s30s by nearly 4bp at -2.2bp. Wednesday’s month-end close entailed bear-flattening that continued until 5pm New York time, an hour after the Bloomberg Treasury index rebalancing, and was especially pronounced in TIPS. The US 10-year trails steeper yield increases for UK and most euro-zone counterparts. Treasuries’ 2.5% August loss was the market’s biggest since April; paced by UK and euro-zone yields, it was driven by more hawkish expectations for Fed policy that lifted 2- and 5-year yields by more than 60bp. Gilts push lower, with the yield on 10-years up 7 bps to 2.87%, while European bonds extend declines. Italian 10-year yield went briefly above 4% for the first time since June 15. Bunds also slipped, leaving the two-year rate within a whisker of its June peak.

In commodities, WTI crude fell to around $88; gold loses ~$5 to near $1,705. European natural gas declines for a fourth day. Spot gold is meandering just north of USD 1,700/oz after testing the figure to the downside. Base metals are lower across the board following the downbeat Chinese manufacturing PMI overnight alongside news of stricter Chinese lockdowns in some regions. US Treasury Secretary Yellen and UK Chancellor Zahawi discussed efforts regarding a price cap on Russian oil to lower global energy prices and restrict Russia's revenue, according to the US Treasury Department. It was separately reported that US and allies are to set out a plan on Friday to limit the price of Russian oil with a strategy that aims to cut Russian energy revenues without increasing global oil prices, according to WSJ. OPEC+ JTC acknowledges the relevance of the Saudi Energy Minister's comments on volatility and thin liquidity of crude markets, via Reuters citing a document.

Bitcoin remains under pressure and below the USD 20k mark, fairly in-fitting with its Ethereum peer in residing at the bottom-end of very narrow ranges.

To the day ahead now, data releases include the global manufacturing PMIs for August and the ISM manufacturing reading from the US. Otherwise, there’s also the US weekly initial jobless claims, the Euro Area unemployment rate for July, and German retail sales for July. Central bank speakers include the ECB’s Centeno and the Fed’s Bostic. Finally, earnings releases include Broadcom and Lululemon.

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures down 0.8% to 3,924.25
  • STOXX Europe 600 down 1.6% to 408.48
  • MXAP down 1.9% to 155.53
  • MXAPJ down 1.9% to 510.07
  • Nikkei down 1.5% to 27,661.47
  • Topix down 1.4% to 1,935.49
  • Hang Seng Index down 1.8% to 19,597.31
  • Shanghai Composite down 0.5% to 3,184.98
  • Sensex down 1.6% to 58,581.55
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 down 2.0% to 6,845.60
  • Kospi down 2.3% to 2,415.61
  • German 10Y yield little changed at 1.63%
  • Euro down 0.2% to $1.0032
  • Brent Futures down 1.8% to $93.88/bbl
  • Brent Futures down 1.9% to $93.87/bbl
  • Gold spot down 0.6% to $1,701.34
  • U.S. Dollar Index up 0.19% to 108.91

Top Overnight News from Bloomberg

  • The hotly anticipated US jobs report has the potential to tip the scales toward a third jumbo-sized hike in interest rates later this month after a wave of data that point to a resilient consumer and high labor demand
  • The Chinese metropolis of Chengdu will lock down its 21 million residents to contain a Covid-19 outbreak, a seismic move in the country’s vast Western region that has largely been untouched by the virus
  • Europe is considering various measures to intervene in the energy market, including price caps, reducing power demand and windfall taxes on energy companies as surging prices threaten the economy and push households toward poverty
  • PMIs for the 19-nation euro zone slipped to 49.6 in August from 49.8 in July, according to S&P Global -- a reflection of dwindling demand as consumers face surging costs for energy and a broadening range of goods and services. Germany and Italy both saw the worst readings in 26 months
  • Russia is considering a plan to buy as much as $70 billion in yuan and other “friendly” currencies this year to slow the ruble’s surge, before shifting to a longer-term strategy of selling its holdings of the Chinese currency to fund investment
  • Japanese workers’ share of company earnings fell for the first time in four years, suggesting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s call for companies to pay more to employees is running into resistance

A more detailed summary of global markets courtesy of Newsquawk

Asia-Pac stocks traded mostly lower following the weak handover from global counterparts amid the higher yield environment and following a surprise contraction in Chinese Caixin Manufacturing PMI data. ASX 200 was dragged lower by the mining-related sectors after recent declines in underlying commodity prices. Nikkei 225 retreated beneath the 28k alongside the broader risk aversion with further currency weakness and an upgrade to Japanese PMI data doing little to inspire a turnaround. Hang Seng and Shanghai Comp were subdued after weak factory activity data from China and with Meituan among the worst performers in Hong Kong after reports its shareholder Tencent is planning about USD 14.5bln of divestments from its equity portfolio including a partial divestment of its stake in Meituan, while the mainland was cushioned after further policy support pledges by China’s cabinet.

Top Asian News

  • China's city of Chengdu will conduct mass COVID testing from September 1st-4th and the city government said all residents will stay at home from this evening, according to Reuters.
  • Hong Kong will push ahead with a proposal that will allow more residents to travel to mainland China after completing a quarantine period locally, according to SCMP citing sources.
  • UN Human Rights Office issued its assessment of human rights concerns in Xinjiang in which it stated that China's government has committed serious human rights violations in Xinjiang and recommended China take prompt steps to release all those detained in training centres, prisons or detention facilities, according to Reuters and AFP.
  • Chinese mission in Geneva said it expresses strong dissatisfaction regarding the UN report on Xinjiang and firmly opposes the report, while it added that the so-called assessment was a farce planned by the US, western nations and anti-China forces, according to Reuters.
  • Hong Kong officials are targeting a conclusion to hotel COVID quarantines in November.
  • Macau gov't intends to gradually reopen the city to foreign travellers, via Reuters.

European bourses are underpressure amid continued hawkish pricing, but off lows as yields ease from highs, Euro Stoxx 50 -1.4%. Stateside, a similar picture to fixed with action in-fitting directionally but steadier in terms of magnitudes ahead of data, ES -07%; NQ -1.1% lags given elevated yields.

Top European News

  • Russia is said to be mulling as much as USD 70bln in "friendly" currencies, according to Bloomberg sources; this is in order to slow the RUB surge "before shifting to a longer-term strategy of selling its holdings of the Chinese currency".
  • Lufthansa Pilot Union Calls for One-Day Strike on Friday
  • Zur Rose Slumps Amid Offering at Discount, Convertibles Sale
  • Russia Mulls Buying $70 Billion in Yuan, ‘Friendly’ Currencies
  • Factory Slowdown in Europe and Asia Is Warning for Global Trade

Central Banks

  • Fed's Logan (2023 voter) said the number one priority is to restore price stability, according to Reuters.
  • Japan's Chief Secretary Matsuno provides no comment on every day-to-day FX moves, watching moves with a high sense of urgency; desirable for currencies to move stably, reflecting economic fundamentals.


  • DXY sits around USD 109.00 after seeing fresh lows amid Yuan appreciation.
  • EUR, GBP AUD, NZD, JPY are all softer vs the USD to similar magnitudes.
  • CAD and CHF are the G10 outliers, with the latter supported after Swiss CPI and the former hit by softer oil prices.

Fixed Income

  • Core benchmarks are under pronounced pressure once more with yields across the board at fresh near-term peaks
  • Pressure occurring despite geopolitical tensions as hawkish ECB pricing continues to increase, ~85% chance of a 75bp hike.
  • Though, following the passing of hefty European/UK issuance, the magnitude of this downside has eased.
  • USTs are directionally in-fitting but more contained overall awaiting ISM Manufacturing today and then NFP on Friday.


  • WTI and Brent futures have resumed downward action following an APAC session of consolidation.
  • Spot gold is meandering just north of USD 1,700/oz after testing the figure to the downside.
  • Base metals are lower across the board following the downbeat Chinese manufacturing PMI overnight alongside news of stricter Chinese lockdowns in some regions
  • US Treasury Secretary Yellen and UK Chancellor Zahawi discussed efforts regarding a price cap on Russian oil to lower global energy prices and restrict Russia's revenue, according to the US Treasury Department. It was separately reported that US and allies are to set out a plan on Friday to limit the price of Russian oil with a strategy that aims to cut Russian energy revenues without increasing global oil prices, according to WSJ.
  • OPEC+ JTC acknowledges the relevance of the Saudi Energy Minister's comments on volatility and thin liquidity of crude markets, via Reuters citing a document.
  • EU Commission President von der Leyen will outline ideas on an energy price cap in more detail in a speech on September 14th.
  • Four people killed in overnight clashes in Iraq's Basra, according to security officials cited by Reuters.

US Event Calendar

  • Aug. Wards Total Vehicle Sales, est. 13.3m, prior 13.4m
  • 07:30: Aug. Challenger Job Cuts YoY, prior 36.3%
  • 08:30: 2Q Unit Labor Costs, est. 10.5%, prior 10.8%
    • 2Q Nonfarm Productivity, est. -4.3%, prior -4.6%
  • 08:30: Aug. Initial Jobless Claims, est. 248,000, prior 243,000
    • Continuing Claims, est. 1.44m, prior 1.42m
  • 10:00: July Construction Spending MoM, est. -0.2%, prior -1.1%
  • 10:00: Aug. ISM Manufacturing, est. 51.9, prior 52.8
    • ISM Employment, est. 49.5, prior 49.9
    • ISM New Orders, est. 48.0, prior 48.0
    • ISM Prices Paid, est. 55.2, prior 60.0

DB's Henry Allen concludes the overnight wrap

Welcome to September. Given it’s the start of the month, we’ll shortly be publishing our regular monthly review of financial assets across for the month just gone. August was very much a month of two halves when it came to risk assets, with most ending the month in negative territory. There were still plenty of headlines though, and in Europe we saw some of the largest rises in short-term yields in decades. For instance, yields on 2yr German debt haven’t risen this much in a month since 1981, and for their UK counterparts you also have to go back to 1986. The full report will be in your inboxes shortly.

When it comes to the last 24 hours, markets have been playing a familiar theme, with risk assets losing further ground as investors price in more rate hikes over the coming months. The big driver behind that yesterday was another stronger-than-expected inflation print from the Euro Area, where the flash CPI reading rose to a record +9.1%. We haven’t seen inflation that strong since the formation of the single currency, and it was also above the +9.0% reading expected by the consensus. The details didn’t look much better either, with core inflation rising to a record +4.3% too (vs. +4.1% expected). So a disappointment for those hoping we might have seen the worst of inflation by now, and another demonstration of how the energy shock is sending European inflation increasingly above that in the US.

Unsurprisingly, the high inflation bolstered the arguments of the hawks on the ECB’s Governing Council, and Bundesbank President Nagel said yesterday that “We need a strong rise in interest rates in September.” In addition, Austria’s Holzmann further said that he saw “no reason to show any kind of leniency in our positioning and our wish to reduce inflation”. That’s more voices bolstering the speakers we’ve heard from in recent days who’ve put a 75bps hike on the table, and investors themselves moved to price in a more aggressive ECB response too. Indeed, overnight index swaps are now pricing in a 69.0bps hike for the next meeting, which is noticeably closer to 75 than 50 now. And for the September and October meetings as a whole, 130.7bps worth of hikes are priced in, which is equivalent to at least one of them being a 75bps move and the other at 50bps.

In light of these developments, our own European economists at DB have changed their call and now expect that the ECB will hike by 75bps at the next meeting (link here for the full details). Their view is that the upside inflation surprise and the more vocal support from Governing Council members to have 75bps on the table has tipped the balance in favour of a larger hike. Remember that we’re just a week away from the next policy decision now, so not long until we find out, and it was only at the last meeting in July when the ECB went against their own forward guidance in June and hiked by 50bps rather than the 25bps they’d indicated.

For markets, the prospect of additional rate hikes knocked European sovereign bonds once again, meaning that for many country’s government bonds (including Germany and the UK) it’s been their worst monthly performance on a total returns basis for the 21st century so far. Yields rose across the continent, with those on 10yr bunds (+2.8bps), OATs (+1.9bps) and BTPs (+6.7bps) all moving higher. Gilts underperformed in particular with a +9.6bps move, whilst US Treasuries also lost ground as the 10yr yield rose +9.0bps to 3.19%. The move in Treasuries came as Cleveland President Mester said that her view was the “move the fed funds rate up to somewhat above 4% by early next year and hold it there”, saying in addition that she did “not anticipate the Fed cutting the fed funds rate target next year.”

For equities it wasn’t a great day either, with the S&P 500 (-0.78%) in negative territory for a 4th consecutive session, and leaving the index down by -4.08% over the month in total return terms. That came in spite of a decent performance at the open yesterday, when it had been up +0.73% at one point, but it couldn’t sustain those gains by the close. In Europe there was an even worse performance as the inflation data hurt risk appetite, and the STOXX 600 (-1.12%) fell to a six-week low. That said, in a contrast with recent days, megacap tech stocks were an outperformer, and the FANG+ index advanced +0.32%.

One brighter piece of news for the ECB yesterday was the latest decline in energy prices, which have continued to fall back from their recent highs. European natural gas futures shed -5.15%, bringing their declines since the start of the week to more than -29%, and German power prices for next year fell -5.61%, bringing their own declines since the start of the week to more than -40%. Oil lost ground too, with Brent Crude down -2.84% as it capped off its worst monthly performance since last November, with a -12.29% decline over August as a whole.

Those negative moves in the US and European equities are continuing in Asia this morning with many of the major indices seeing sharp losses. The Kospi (-1.89%) is the biggest underperformer followed by the Nikkei (-1.77%) and the Hang Seng (-1.52%) whilst the CSI (+0.09%) and the Shanghai Comp (+0.24%) have made modest gains. An important factor affecting sentiment this morning has been a new lockdown in the Chinese city of Chengdu, making it the largest city to be locked down since Shanghai earlier in the year. 157 cases were reported in the city yesterday.

We also got the latest manufacturing PMIs for August overnight, which painted a mixed picture across the region’s main economies. In China, the Caixin PMI showed the sector falling into contraction for the first time in three months with a 49.5 reading (vs. 50.0 expected), and in South Korea the reading fell to 47.6 (vs. 49.8 previously), which is its lowest level since July 2020. Meanwhile in Japan, the 51.5 reading was the lowest since September 2021, and the Yen has hit a 24-year low of 139.52 against the US Dollar overnight.

Elsewhere on the data side, we had the ADP’s report of private payrolls from the US ahead of tomorrow’s jobs report. That came in at +132k (vs. +300k expected) and marked the first release that uses an updated methodology. They also updated their previous data, and on the same basis the job growth in August was the slowest since January 2021.

Otherwise in the UK, there was a significant piece of news from the Office for National Statistics, as they said that the government’s £400 discount for energy customers this winter would not affect the Consumer Price Index. As our UK economist has written, that decision was an important one because if it had been counted as part of inflation, then the October RPI projections would have been affected by around 2.7 percentage points.

To the day ahead now, and data releases include the global manufacturing PMIs for August and the ISM manufacturing reading from the US. Otherwise, there’s also the US weekly initial jobless claims, the Euro Area unemployment rate for July, and German retail sales for July. Central bank speakers include the ECB’s Centeno and the Fed’s Bostic. Finally, earnings releases include Broadcom and Lululemon.

Tyler Durden Thu, 09/01/2022 - 08:13

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Infosys Recognized as the Top Service Provider Across Nordics in the Whitelane Research and PA Consulting IT Sourcing Study 2023

Infosys Recognized as the Top Service Provider Across Nordics in the Whitelane Research and PA Consulting IT Sourcing Study 2023
PR Newswire
STOCKHOLM, March 31, 2023

Infosys achieves a notable rise in overall ranking in the Nordics with a customer…



Infosys Recognized as the Top Service Provider Across Nordics in the Whitelane Research and PA Consulting IT Sourcing Study 2023

PR Newswire

Infosys achieves a notable rise in overall ranking in the Nordics with a customer satisfaction score of 81 percent as compared to the industry average of 73 percent

STOCKHOLM, March 31, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- Infosys (NSE: INFY) (BSE: INFY) (NYSE: INFY), a global leader in next-generation digital services and consulting, today announced that it has been recognized as one of the top service providers in the Nordics, achieving the highest awarded score in Whitelane Research and PA Consulting's 2023 IT Sourcing Study. The report ranked Infosys as the number one service provider and an 'Exceptional Performer' in the categories of Digital Transformation, Application Services, and Cloud & Infrastructure Hosting Services. Infosys also ranked number one in overall General Satisfaction and Service Delivery.

For the report, Whitelane Research and PA Consulting, the innovation and transformation consultancy, surveyed nearly 400 CXOs and key decision-makers from top IT spending organizations in the Nordics and evaluated over 750 unique IT sourcing relationships and more than 1,400 cloud sourcing relationships. These service providers were assessed based on their service delivery, client relationships, commercial leverage, and transformation capabilities.

Some of Infosys' key differentiating factors highlighted in the report are:

  • Infosys ranked as a top provider in the Nordics across key performance indicators on service delivery quality, account management quality, price level and transformative innovation.
  • Infosys' ranked above the industry average by 8 percent year-on-year, making it one of the top system integrators in the Nordics.
  • Infosys is positioned as a "Strong Performer" in Security Services and scored significantly above average on account management.

Arne Erik Berntzen, Group CIO of Posten Norge, said: "Infosys has been integral in helping Posten Norge transform its IT Service Management capabilities. As Posten's partner since 2021, Infosys picked up the IT Service Management function from the incumbent, successfully transforming it through a brand-new implementation of ServiceNow, redesigning IT service management to suit the next-generation development processes and resulting in a significant improvement of the overall customer experience. I congratulate Infosys for achieving the top ranking in the 2023 Nordic IT Sourcing Study."

Antti Koskelin, SVP & CIO at KONE, said: "Infosys has been our trusted partner in our digitalization journey since 2017 and have helped us in establishing best-in-class services blueprint and rolling-in our enterprise IT landscape over the last few years. Digital transformations need partners to constantly learn, give ideas that work and be flexible to share risks and rewards with us, and Infosys has done just that. I am delighted that Infosys has been positioned No. 1 in Whitelane's 2023 Nordic Survey. This is definitely a reflection of their capabilities."

Jef Loos, Head of Research Europe, Whitelane Research, said, "In today's dynamic IT market, client demand is ever evolving, and staying ahead of the curve requires a strategic blend of optimized offerings and trusted client relationships. Infosys' impressive ranking in Whitelane's Nordic IT Sourcing Study is a testament to their unwavering commitment to fulfilling client demands effectively. Through their innovative solutions and exceptional customer service, Infosys has established itself as a leader in the industry, paving the way for a brighter and more successful future for all."

Hemant Lamba, Executive Vice President & Global Head – Strategic Sales, Infosys said, "Our ranking as one of the top service providers across the Nordics in the Whitelane Research and PA Consulting 2023 IT Sourcing Study, endorses our commitment to this important market. This is a significant milestone in our regional strategy, and the recognition revalidates our commitment towards driving customer success and excellence in delivering innovative IT services. Through our geographical presence in the Nordics, we will continue to drive business innovation and IT transformation in the region, backed by a strong partner network. We look forward to continuing investing in this market to foster client confidence and further enhance delivery."

About Infosys

Infosys is a global leader in next-generation digital services and consulting. Over 300,000 of our people work to amplify human potential and create the next opportunity for people, businesses and communities. With over four decades of experience in managing the systems and workings of global enterprises, we expertly steer clients, in more than 50 countries, as they navigate their digital transformation powered by the cloud. We enable them with an AI-powered core, empower the business with agile digital at scale and drive continuous improvement with always-on learning through the transfer of digital skills, expertise, and ideas from our innovation ecosystem. We are deeply committed to being a well-governed, environmentally sustainable organization where diverse talent thrives in an inclusive workplace.

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Asking the right dumb questions

You’ll have to forgive the truncated newsletter this week. Turns out I brought more back from Chicago than a couple of robot stress balls (the one piece…



You’ll have to forgive the truncated newsletter this week. Turns out I brought more back from Chicago than a couple of robot stress balls (the one piece of swag I will gladly accept). I was telling someone ahead of the ProMat trip that I’ve returned to 2019 travel levels this year. One bit I’d forgotten was the frequency and severity of convention colds — “con crud,” as my comics friends used to call it.

I’ve been mostly housebound for the last few days, dealing with this special brand of Chicago-style deep-dish viral infection. The past three years have no doubt hobbled my immune system, but after catching COVID-19 three times, it’s frankly refreshing to have a classic, good old-fashioned head cold. Sometimes you want the band you see live to play the hits, you know? I’m rediscovering the transformative properties of honey in a cup of tea.

The good news for me is that (and, hopefully, you) is I’ve got a trio of interviews from ProMat that I’ve been wanting to share in Actuator. As I said last week, the trip was really insightful. At one of the after-show events, someone asked me how one gets into tech journalism. It’s something I’ve been asked from time to time, and I always have the same answer. There are two paths in. One is as a technologist; the other is as a journalist.

It’s obvious on the face of it. But the point is that people tend to enter the field in one of two distinct ways. Either they love writing or they’re really into tech. I was the former. I moved to New York City to write about music. It’s something I still do, but it’s never fully paid the bills. The good news for me is I sincerely believe it’s easier to learn about technology than it is to learn how to be a good writer.

I suspect the world of robotics startups is similarly bifurcated. You enter as either a robotics expert or someone with a deep knowledge of the field that’s being automated. I often think about the time iRobot CEO Colin Angle told me that, in order to become a successful roboticist, he first had to become a vacuum salesman. He and his fellow co-founders got into the world through the robotics side. And then there’s Locus robotics, which began as a logistics company that started building robots out of necessity.

Both approaches are valid, and I’m not entirely sure one is better than the other, assuming you’re willing to surround yourself with assertive people who possess deep knowledge in areas where you fall short. I don’t know if I entirely buy the old adage that there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but I do believe that dumb questions are necessary, and you need to get comfortable asking them. You also need to find a group of people you’re comfortable asking. Smart people know the right dumb questions to ask.

Covering robotics has been a similar journey for me. I learned as much about supply chain/logistics as the robots that serve them at last week’s event. That’s been an extremely edifying aspect of writing about the space. In robotics, no one really gets to be a pure roboticist anymore.

Q&A with Rick Faulk

Image Credits: Locus Robotics

I’m gonna kick things off this week with highlights from a trio of ProMat interviews. First up is Locus Robotics CEO, Rick Faulk. The full interview is here.

TC: You potentially have the foundation to automate the entire process.

RF: We absolutely do that today. It’s not a dream.

Lights out?

It’s not lights out. Lights out might happen 10 years from now, but the ROI is not there to do it today. It may be there down the road. We’ve got advanced product groups working on some things that are looking at how to get more labor out of the equation. Our strategy is to minimize labor over time. We’re doing integrations with Berkshire Grey and others to minimize labor. To get to a dark building is going to be years away.

Have you explored front-of-house — retail or restaurants?

We have a lot of calls about restaurants. Our strategy is to focus. There are 135,000 warehouses out there that have to be automated. Less than 5% are automated today. I was in Japan recently, and my meal was filled by a robot. I look around and say, “Hey, we could do that.” But it’s a different market.

What is the safety protocol? If a robot and I are walking toward each other on the floor, will it stop first?

It will stop or they’ll navigate around. It’s unbelievably smart. If you saw what happened on the back end — it’s dynamically planning paths in real time. Each robot is talking to other robots. This robot will tell this robot over here, “You can’t get through here, so go around.” If there’s an accident, we’ll go around it.

They’re all creating a large, cloud-based map together in real time.

That’s exactly what it is.

When was the company founded?

[In] 2014. We actually spun out of a company called Quiet Logistics. It was a 3PL. We were fully automated with Kiva. Amazon bought Kiva in 2012, and said, “We’re going to take the product off the market.” We looked for another robot and couldn’t find one, so we decided to build one.

The form factors are similar.

Their form factor is basically the bottom. It goes under a shelf and brings the shelf back to the station to do a pick. The great thing about our solution is we can go into a brownfield building. They’re great and they work, but it will also take four times the number of robots to do the same work our robots do.

Amazon keeps coming up in my conversations in the space as a motivator for warehouses to adopt technologies to remain competitive. But there’s an even deeper connection here.

Amazon is actually our best marketing organization. They’re setting the bar for SLAs (service-level agreements). Every single one of these 3PLs walking around here [has] to do same- or next-day delivery, because that’s what’s being demanded by their clients.

Do the systems’ style require in-person deployment?

The interesting thing during COVID is we actually deployed a site over FaceTime.

Someone walked around the warehouse with a phone?

Yeah. It’s not our preferred method. They probably actually did a better job than we did. It was terrific.

As far as efficiency, that could make a lot of sense, moving forward.

Yeah. It does still require humans to go in, do the installation and training — that sort of thing. I think it will be a while before we get away from that. But it’s not hard to do. We take folks off the street, train them and in a month they know how to deploy.

Where are they manufactured?

We manufacture them in Boston, believe it or not. We have contract manufacturers manufacturing some components, like the base and the mast. And then we integrate them together in Boston. We do the final assembly and then do all the shipments.

As you expand sales globally, are there plans to open additional manufacturing sites?

We will eventually. Right now we’re doing some assemblies in Amsterdam. We’re doing all refurbishments for Europe in Amsterdam. […] There’s a big sustainability story, too. Sustainability is really important to big clients like DHL. Ours is an inherently green model. We have over 12,000 robots in the field. You can count the number of robots we’ve scrapped on two hands. Everything gets recycled to the field. A robot will come back after three or four years and we’ll rewrap it. We may have to swap out a camera, a light or something. And then it goes back into service under a RaaS model.

What happened in the cases where they had to be scrapped?

They got hit by forklifts and they were unrepairable. I mean crushed.

Any additional fundraising on the horizon?

We’ve raised about $430 million, went through our Series F. Next leg in our financing will be an IPO. Probably. We have the numbers to do it now. The market conditions are not right to do it, for all the reasons you know.

Do you have a rough timeline?

It will be next year, but the markets have got to recover. We don’t control that.

Q&A with Jerome Dubois

Image Credits: 6 River Systems

Next up, fittingly, is Jerome Dubois, the co-founder of Locus’ chief competitor, 6 River Systems (now a part of Shopify). Full interview here.

TC: Why was [the Shopify acquisition] the right move? Had you considered IPO’ing or moving in a different direction?

JD: In 2019, when we were raising money, we were doing well. But Shopify presents itself and says, “Hey, we’re interested in investing in the space. We want to build out a logistics network. We need technology like yours to make it happen. We’ve got the right team; you know about the space. Let’s see if this works out.”

What we’ve been able to do is leverage a tremendous amount of investment from Shopify to grow the company. We were about 120 employees at 30 sites. We’re at 420 employees now and over 110 sites globally.

Amazon buys Kiva and cuts off third-party access to their robots. That must have been a discussion you had with Shopify.

Up front. “If that’s what the plan is, we’re not interested.” We had a strong positive trajectory; we had strong investors. Everyone was really bullish on it. That’s not what it’s been. It’s been the opposite. We’ve been run independently from Shopify. We continue to invest and grow the business.

From a business perspective, I understand Amazon’s decision to cut off access and give itself a leg up. What’s in it for Shopify if anyone can still deploy your robots?

Shopify’s mantra is very different from Amazon. I’m responsible for Shopify’s logistics. Shopify is the brand behind the brand, so they have a relationship with merchants and the customers. They want to own a relationship with the merchant. It’s about building the right tools and making it easier for the merchant to succeed. Supply chain is a huge issue for lots of merchants. To sell the first thing, they have to fulfill the first thing, so Shopify is making it easier for them to print off a shipping label.

Now, if you’ve got to do 100 shipping letters a day, you’re not going to do that by yourself. You want us to fulfill it for you, and Shopify built out a fulfillment network using a lot of third parties, and our technology is the backbone of the warehouse.

Watching you — Locus or Fetch — you’re more or less maintaining a form factor. Obviously, Amazon is diversifying. For many of these customers, I imagine the ideal robot is something that’s not only mobile and autonomous, but also actually does the picking itself. Is this something you’re exploring?

Most of the AMR (autonomous mobile robot) scene has gotten to a point where the hardware is commoditized. The robots are generally pretty reliable. Some are maybe higher quality than others, but what matters the most is the workflows that are being enacted by these robots. The big thing that’s differentiating Locus and us is, we actually come in with predefined workflows that do a specific kind of work. It’s not just a generic robot that comes in and does stuff. So you can integrate it into your workflow very quickly, because it knows you want to do a batch pick and sortation. It knows that you want to do discreet order picking. Those are all workflows that have been predefined and prefilled in the solution.

With respect to the solving of the grabbing and picking, I’ve been on the record for a long time saying it’s a really hard problem. I’m not sure picking in e-comm or out of the bin is the right place for that solution. If you think about the infrastructure that’s required to solve going into an aisle and grabbing a pink shirt versus a blue shirt in a dark aisle using robots, it doesn’t work very well, currently. That’s why goods-to-person makes more sense in that environment. If you try to use arms, a Kiva-like solution or a shuttle-type solution, where the inventory is being brought to a station and the lighting is there, then I think arms are going to be effective there.

Are these the kinds of problems you invest R&D in?

Not the picking side. In the world of total addressable market — the industry as a whole, between Locus, us, Fetch and others — is at maybe 5% penetration. I think there’s plenty of opportunity for us to go and implement a lot of our technology in other places. I also think the logical expansion is around the case and pallet operations.

Interoperability is an interesting conversation. No one makes robots for every use case. If you want to get near full autonomous, you’re going to have a lot of different robots.

We are not going to be a fit for 100% of the picks in the building. For the 20% that we’re not doing, you still leverage all the goodness of our management consoles, our training and that kind of stuff, and you can extend out with [the mobile fulfillment application]. And it’s not just picking. It’s receiving, it’s put away and whatever else. It’s the first step for us, in terms of proving wall-to-wall capabilities.

What does interoperability look like beyond that?

We do system interoperability today. We interface with automation systems all the time out in the field. That’s an important part of interoperability. We’re passing important messages on how big a box we need to build and in what sequence it needs to be built.

When you’re independent, you’re focused on getting to portability. Does that pressure change when you’re acquired by a Shopify?

I think the difference with Shopify is, it allows us to think more long-term in terms of doing the right thing without having the pressure of investors. That was one of the benefits. We are delivering lots of longer-term software bets.

Q&A with Peter Chen


Image Credits: Covariant

Lastly, since I’ve chatted with co-founder Pieter Abbeel a number of times over the years, it felt right to have a formal conversation with Covariant CEO Peter Chen. Full interview here.

TC: A lot of researchers are taking a lot of different approaches to learning. What’s different about yours?

PC: A lot of the founding team was from OpenAI — like three of the four co-founders. If you look at what OpenAI has done in the last three to four years to the language space, it’s basically taking a foundation model approach to language. Before the recent ChatGPT, there were a lot of natural language processing AIs out there. Search, translate, sentiment detection, spam detection — there were loads of natural language AIs out there. The approach before GPT is, for each use case, you train a specific AI to it, using a smaller subset of data. Look at the results now, and GPT basically abolishes the field of translation, and it’s not even trained to translation. The foundation model approach is basically, instead of using small amounts of data that’s specific to one situation or train a model that’s specific to one circumstance, let’s train a large foundation-generalized model on a lot more data, so the AI is more generalized.

You’re focused on picking and placing, but are you also laying the foundation for future applications?

Definitely. The grasping capability or pick and place capability is definitely the first general capability that we’re giving the robots. But if you look behind the scenes, there’s a lot of 3D understanding or object understanding. There are a lot of cognitive primitives that are generalizable to future robotic applications. That being said, grasping or picking is such a vast space we can work on this for a while.

You go after picking and placing first because there’s a clear need for it.

There’s clear need, and there’s also a clear lack of technology for it. The interesting thing is, if you came by this show 10 years ago, you would have been able to find picking robots. They just wouldn’t work. The industry has struggled with this for a very long time. People said this couldn’t work without AI, so people tried niche AI and off-the-shelf AI, and they didn’t work.

Your systems are feeding into a central database and every pick is informing machines how to pick in the future.

Yeah. The funny thing is that almost every item we touch passes through a warehouse at some point. It’s almost a central clearing place of everything in the physical world. When you start by building AI for warehouses, it’s a great foundation for AI that goes out of warehouses. Say you take an apple out of the field and bring it to an agricultural plant — it’s seen an apple before. It’s seen strawberries before.

That’s a one-to-one. I pick an apple in a fulfillment center, so I can pick an apple in a field. More abstractly, how can these learnings be applied to other facets of life?

If we want to take a step back from Covariant specifically, and think about where the technology trend is going, we’re seeing an interesting convergence of AI, software and mechatronics. Traditionally, these three fields are somewhat separate from each other. Mechatronics is what you’ll find when you come to this show. It’s about repeatable movement. If you talk to the salespeople, they tell you about reliability, how this machine can do the same thing over and over again.

The really amazing evolution we have seen from Silicon Valley in the last 15 to 20 years is in software. People have cracked the code on how to build really complex and highly intelligent looking software. All of these apps we’re using [are] really people harnessing the capabilities of software. Now we are at the front seat of AI, with all of the amazing advances. When you ask me what’s beyond warehouses, where I see this really going is the convergence of these three trends to build highly autonomous physical machines in the world. You need the convergence of all of the technologies.

You mentioned ChatGPT coming in and blindsiding people making translation software. That’s something that happens in technology. Are you afraid of a GPT coming in and effectively blindsiding the work that Covariant is doing?

That’s a good question for a lot of people, but I think we had an unfair advantage in that we started with pretty much the same belief that OpenAI had with building foundational models. General AI is a better approach than building niche AI. That’s what we have been doing for the last five years. I would say that we are in a very good position, and we are very glad OpenAI demonstrated that this philosophy works really well. We’re very excited to do that in the world of robotics.

News of the week

Image Credits: Berkshire Grey

The big news of the week quietly slipped out the day after ProMat drew to a close. Berkshire Grey, which had a strong presence at the event, announced on Friday a merger agreement that finds SoftBank Group acquiring all outstanding capital stock it didn’t already own. The all-cash deal is valued at around $375 million.

The post-SPAC life hasn’t been easy for the company, in spite of a generally booming market for logistics automation. Locus CEO Rick Faulk told me above that the company plans to IPO next year, after the market settles down. The category is still a young one, and there remains an open question around how many big players will be able to support themselves. For example, 6 River Systems and Fetch have both been acquired, by Shopify and Zebra, respectively.

“After a thoughtful review of value creation opportunities available to Berkshire Grey, we are pleased to have reached this agreement with SoftBank, which we believe offers significant value to our stockholders,” CEO Tom Wagner said in a release. “SoftBank is a great partner and this merger will strengthen our ability to serve customers with our disruptive AI robotics technology as they seek to become more efficient in their operations and maintain a competitive edge.”

Unlike the Kiva deal that set much of this category in motion a decade ago, SoftBank maintains that it’s bullish about offering BG’s product to existing and new customers. Says managing partner, Vikas J. Parekh:

As a long-time partner and investor in Berkshire Grey, we have a shared vision for robotics and automation. Berkshire Grey is a pioneer in transformative, AI-enabled robotic technologies that address use cases in retail, eCommerce, grocery, 3PL, and package handling companies. We look forward to partnering with Berkshire Grey to accelerate their growth and deliver ongoing excellence for customers.

Container ships at dock

Image Credits: John Lamb / Getty Images

A healthy Series A this week from Venti Technologies. The Singapore/U.S. firm, whose name translates to “large Starbucks cup,” raised $28.8 million, led by LG Technology Ventures. The startup is building autonomous systems for warehouses, ports and the like.

“If you have a big logistics facility where you run vehicles, the largest cost is human capital: drivers,” co-founder and CEO Heidi Wyle tells TechCrunch. “Our customers are telling us that they expect to save over 50% of their operations costs with self-driving vehicles. Think they will have huge savings.”


Image Credits: Neubility / Neubility

This week in fun pivots, Neubility is making the shift from adorable last-mile delivery robots to security bots. This isn’t the company’s first pivot, either. Kate notes that it’s now done so five times since its founding. Fifth time’s the charm, right?

Neubility currently has 50 robots out in the world, a number it plans to raise significantly, with as many as 400 by year’s end. That will be helped along by the $2.6 million recently tacked onto its existing $26 million Series A.

Model-Prime emerged out of stealth this week with a $2.3 million seed round, bringing its total raise to $3.3 million. The funding was led by Eniac Ventures and featured Endeavors and Quiet Capital. The small Pittsburgh-based firm was founded by veterans of the self-driving world, Arun Venkatadri and Jeanine Gritzer, who were seeking a way to create reusable data logs for robotics companies.

The startup says its tech, “handles important tasks like pulling the metadata, automated tagging, and making logs searchable. The vision is to make the robotics industry more like web apps, or mobile apps, where it now seems silly to build your own data solution when you could just use Datadog or Snowflake instead.”

Image Credits: Saildrone

Saildrone, meanwhile, is showcasing Voyager, a 33-foot uncrewed water vehicle. The system sports cameras, radar and an acoustic system designed to map a body of water down to 900 feet. The company has been testing the boat out in the world since last February and is set to begin full-scale production at a rate of a boat a week.

Image Credits: MIT

Finally, some research out of MIT. Robust MADER is a new version of MADER, which the team introduced in 2020 to help drones avoid in-air collisions.

“MADER worked great in simulations, but it hadn’t been tested in hardware. So, we built a bunch of drones and started flying them,” says grad student Kota Kondo. “The drones need to talk to each other to share trajectories, but once you start flying, you realize pretty quickly that there are always communication delays that introduce some failures.”

The new version adds in a delay before setting out on a new trajectory. That added time will allow it to receive and process information from fellow drones and adjust as needed. Kondo adds, “If you want to fly safer, you have to be careful, so it is reasonable that if you don’t want to collide with an obstacle, it will take you more time to get to your destination. If you collide with something, no matter how fast you go, it doesn’t really matter because you won’t reach your destination.”

Fair enough.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch


Here you go, way too fast. Don’t slow down, you’re gonna crash. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na. (Subscribe to Actuator!)



Asking the right dumb questions by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

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Waymo retires its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan

More than five years ago, a newly minted Waymo took the wraps off of what would become its first commercialized autonomous vehicle: a Chrysler Pacifica…



More than five years ago, a newly minted Waymo took the wraps off of what would become its first commercialized autonomous vehicle: a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan loaded with sensors and software.

Now, the minivan, a symbol of the early and hypey AV days, is headed for retirement as Waymo transitions its fleet to the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles equipped with its fifth-generation self-driving system.

When the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid AV was first revealed, it might not have been what people expected from the former Google self-driving project turned Alphabet-owned business. The design wasn’t ripped from the pages of a graphic sci-fi novel and it was hardly flashy. But the white minivan — highlighted with the same blue and green accent colors found on the Waymo logo — embodied the company’s aim. Waymo wanted a friendly looking vehicle people would feel comfortable using.

The partnership with established manufacturer Fiat Chrysler — now Stellantis — also derisked an already risky frontier tech pursuit. Under the deal, Fiat Chrysler would handle the manufacturing and provide Waymo with minivans that built in redundancies designed for autonomous driving.

Waymo never got close to the 62,000-minivan order it agreed to in 2018 as part of an expanded partnership with Fiat Chrysler. But the minivan did become a critical part of its commercialization plan and over its lifespan the fleet provided tens of thousands of rides to the public, according to the company. (Waymo has never revealed detailed figures of its minivan fleet beyond that its total global fleet is somewhere around 700 vehicles.)

“It’s bittersweet to see it go,” Chris Ludwick, product management director at Waymo who has been at the company since 2012, told TechCrunch. “But I’m also happy for this next chapter.”

A bit of history

Waymo revealed the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid in December 2016 and then provided more technical and business model details a month later at the 2017 North American International Auto Show. The first look at the minivan in December came just five days after Google’s self-driving project officially announced that it was a business with a new name and slightly tweaked mission.

At the time, little was known about what the Google self-driving project — also known as Chauffeur — intended to do beyond a stated goal to commercialize self-driving cars. The Google self-driving project had developed a custom low-speed vehicle without a steering wheel called the Firefly, but that cute gumdrop-shaped car never made it to commercial robotaxi status.

Waymo Firefly and Chrysler Pacifica autonomous vehicles. Image Credits: Waymo

The lowly minivan seemed to represent a more grounded realistic vision toward the goal. By spring 2017, the company had launched an early rider program that let real people in the Phoenix area (who had been vetted and signed an NDA) use an app to hail a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan with a human safety operator behind the wheel.

Waymo eventually opened up the service to the public — no NDA required — and grew its service area to Phoenix suburbs Chandler, Tempe, Ahwatukee and Mesa. Waymo repeated that process as it took the important step of removing the human safety operator from behind the wheel, launching driverless rides in 2019 and eventually a driverless robotaxi service in 2020 that was open to the public.

Minivan proving ground

Image Credits: Waymo

The minivan’s initial reveal represented the moment when “Chauffeur” became Waymo and less of a science project, he noted. But there was still considerable work to be done.

The Chrysler Pacifica was the ultimate commercial proving ground, according to anecdotes from Ludwick, who recounted the progress of moving from autonomous driving 10 miles in one day, then 100 miles, and then a 100 miles everyday.

For instance, the company discovered that families were far more enthusiastic to use the minivan than it assumed. The minivan also helped develop the company’s AV operations playbook, including how to park vehicles in between rides and where to locate depots for maintenance and charging.

The minivan also became a testbed for how to operate a driverless fleet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to COVID, the fleet in Phoenix was a mix of driverless vehicles and those with human safety operators behind the wheel.

“In three months we turned it fully driverless and figured out how to disinfect the vehicles between each ride,” he said.

All-electric chapter

Waymo jaguar ipace autonomous vehicle

Image Credits: Waymo

The next chapter for Waymo is focused on its all-electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles, which will be pulled into the service area in the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler and Tempe that the minivan covered. The Jaguar I-Pace is currently the go-to driverless vehicle for robotaxi rides in downtown Phoenix and to the Phoenix International Sky Harbor Airport. The 24/7 service runs on a five-mile stretch between downtown Phoenix and an airport shuttle stop, specifically, the 44th Street Sky Train station.

On Thursday, the White House gave a shout-out to Waymo (along with other companies) for its commitment to an all-electric fleet as part of the White House EV Acceleration Challenge.

Waymo intends to deploy the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace across all of its ride-hailing service territories this spring now that the minivan has been retired. The nod to Waymo was part of a larger announcement from the Biden administration around public and private sector investments into EVs as part of its goal of having 50% of all new vehicle sales be electric by 2030.

The next task for Waymo may be its most challenging: The company has to figure out how to grow the service, charge its all-electric fleet efficiently and eventually turn a profit.

But Ludwick believes the company is well positioned thanks, in part, to the Chrysler Pacifica.

“When I look at what the Pacifica got us, it’s a lot,” he said, noting that the vehicle had to travel at higher speeds and make unprotected left turns.

Waymo retires its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

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