Uber offers to pay for drivers’ health insurance, and then yanks it away

Uber mistakenly sent out an email to some of its drivers and delivery workers last month offering to cover some of their health insurance costs — only to revoke the offer two weeks later.

On May 26th, an email from Uber with the enticing subject line “It’s a great time to get health coverage” appeared in the inbox of an unspecified number of the company’s drivers and delivery workers. When they opened the email, they were greeted by an even more alluring proposition: “Uber can help cover your healthcare costs.”

Drivers and couriers for Uber are classified as independent contractors, making them ineligible for employer-sponsored health insurance plans. For years, many of these workers have lobbied for more benefits and protections, only to face strong opposition from Uber.

So one can only imagine the shock from drivers who opened this email and saw an offer for subsidies ranging from $613.77 to $1,277.54, depending on the type of insurance plan they had and the amount of hours they worked each week. That kind of money could be transformative for drivers, many of whom subsist on poverty-level wages and are struggling to find work amid a steep drop in demand during the pandemic. What could account for this radical change in position by Uber?

As it turns out, nothing has changed. Uber intended only to send the email to drivers and delivery workers in California, and not any other state. “Unfortunately, we made a mistake sending this email to you, as this policy only applies to drivers and delivery people in California,” the email to one driver read. “We sincerely apologize for this error.”

A spokesperson said that the company’s support team is working with drivers and delivery workers who received the email by mistake.

Last year, Uber — along with Lyft, DoorDash, and other gig economy companies — poured over $200 million into the “Yes on 22” campaign to exempt them from a California state law that would require them to treat their workers like employees. The companies aggressively opposed the law, arguing it would eliminate driver flexibility, while also increasing consumer prices and wait times. The measure passed in November 2020 with 59 percent of the vote.

Under Prop 22, Uber and other gig work companies are required to “provide healthcare subsidies equal to 41 percent the average [California Coverage] premium for each month” for drivers and couriers “who average between 15 and 25 hours per week of engaged time.” This would explain the email, but doesn’t explain why it also ended up in the inboxes of drivers and couriers who don’t reside in California.

Edward Burmila, a political science professor who lives in Raleigh, NC and occasionally drives for Uber, received the original email about healthcare subsidies. “I may be an atypical Uber driver — I have a PhD and so tend to think of these things in a political context — but it is part of the ludicrous song-and-dance the ride-share companies are always doing to maintain the fiction that their labor force are not employees or workers,” Burmila wrote to The Verge in an email.

He added, “It also demonstrates that they’ll provide benefits — for riders or for passengers — only when they are forced to.”


Waze names former Hotwire president Neha Parikh as CEO

Waze has a new CEO: Neha Parikh, the president of Hotwire and a board member of Carvana. Parikh replaces Noam Bardin, who stepped down as CEO of the Google-owned navigation service last November after leading the company for 12 years.

Parikh will join Waze as CEO starting in June, the company says. She is a veteran of online hospitality brand Expedia, having served in a variety of positions at two of the corporation’s subsidiaries: Hotels.com, where she ended as senior vice president for global brands and retails, and flight and hotel booking service Hotwire, where she is currently president.

As Hotwire’s youngest and first female president, Parikh “led a return to growth by revamping the business model, reshaping the product, and rebuilding the team and culture,” Waze says. The aim is for her to do the same at Waze.

Neha Parikh is the youngest and first female president of Hotwire.
Photo: Carvana

“As Neha leads Waze into the future, she will remain hyper-focused on our passionate community, beloved brand, and best-in-class products,” a spokesperson for the company said.

She was appointed to the board of Carvana in April 2019. The online car marketplace praised Parikh for her focus on customer service. “On my first visit to the Carvana offices, I took a picture of their prominently displayed values, one of which is ‘Your next customer may be your mom,’ which I love,” she said in the press release. “Relentless customer focus has been central to my career, so I’m thrilled to align with a company that puts their customers first.”

Waze was founded in Israel in 2008 by Ehud Shabtai, Amir Shinar, and Uri Levine. The crowdsourced navigation app quickly grew in popularity, praised for its ability to take into account traffic and construction in real time. The app quickly emerged as a top choice among Uber and Lyft drivers. And today, it has 140 million monthly active users who drive more than 24 billion miles (40 billion kilometers) every month.

The company was acquired by Google in 2013 for a reported $1.1 billion. And the app continued to flourish, as Google refrained from absorbing it into its Maps division and allowed it to stay independent.

Like most companies, Waze hit a rough patch during the pandemic. Its number of monthly active users, or the number of customers using the app each month, and driven kilometers, the metric by which the company measures how far its customers drive while using Waze, both decreased significantly. The company laid off 5 percent of its global workforce, or 555 people, in September. Its nascent Carpool service was hit especially hard, as people stopped commuting to work.


Slack will let you list your pronouns right under your job title

Slack is now rolling out a new field for profiles that will let you list your pronouns right under your name and job title. Once filled out, your pronouns will appear both on the mini-profiles you see when you click on someone’s name and in their full profiles.

Note that your Slack profile may already have a pronouns field, if an administrator created a custom field for your company’s employees. (When I went to check The Verge’s Slack, I found we already had one.) Slack says administrators can continue using that custom field or choose to turn on this new one, though the new dedicated pronouns field has the benefit of appearing more prominently in your profile.

Here’s how your pronouns will appear in Slack.
Image: Slack

This new field will be hidden by default, however — Slack administrators will have to flip it on for everyone in a Slack workspace. If you’re an administrator and want to do that, here’s a quick guide from Slack.

Slack joins a few other apps in letting people add pronouns to profiles, such as Instagram (which just got them last week), OkCupid, and Lyft.


Instagram will let people list their pronouns on their profiles

Instagram is making it easier to address people by their defined pronouns. The company announced today that it’s allowing people to add up to four pronouns to their profile, which they can then choose to display publicly or only to their followers. (Users under 18 will have this setting turned on by default.) Instagram says people can fill out a form to have a pronoun added, if it’s not already available, or just add it to their bio instead. Instagram says this is available in a “few countries,” but doesn’t specify further. We’ve reached out for more information and will update if we hear back.

A couple Verge staffers already have the pronouns setting available to them, suggesting it’s live in the US. You can get a better sense of the feature’s user flow in the screenshots below, courtesy of news writer Jay Peters.

  • Instagram’s pronoun feature allows users to choose from a set of options to add pronouns to their profile.

  • Instagram’s pronoun feature allows users to choose from a set of options to add pronouns to their profile.

  • Instagram’s pronoun feature allows users to choose from a set of options to add pronouns to their profile.

  • Instagram’s pronoun feature allows users to choose from a set of options to add pronouns to their profile.

Other platforms also allow their users to add pronouns to their profiles. Dating apps, like OkCupid, have already introduced the feature, as have other apps like Lyft. Interestingly, Facebook allowed users to define their pronouns starting in 2014, although the feature limited people to “he/him, she/her, and they/them.” This appears to still be the case while Instagram will offer more options.


The autonomous vehicle world is shrinking — it’s overdue

Photo Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

‘The AV industry has promised too much for too long, and has delivered too little’

After years of positive vibes about the future of autonomous vehicles and nearly unrestricted access to cash from Kool-Aid-drunk venture capitalists, the AV industry is confronting some hard truths. The first is that autonomous vehicles are going to take a lot longer to reach mass scale than previously thought. The second is that it’s going to be a lot more expensive, too. And the third hard truth: going it alone is no longer a viable option.

Last week, Lyft sold its self-driving car division to a subsidiary of Toyota for $550 million. Cruise bought Voyage. Aurora merged with Uber’s autonomous vehicle unit. Delivery robot startup Nuro acquired self-driving truck outfit Ike. There have been so many mergers, joint ventures, and various tie-ups lately it can be difficult to keep them all straight.

Where that leaves things is a little unclear. There is still money flowing to these companies, and nearly all of the executives, engineers, and software developers working on the technology remain bullish about the future. But there is a growing sense among experts and investors that the heady days when anyone with a couple of test vehicles, some LIDAR, and a vision for the future could launch a startup are at an end. And there will definitely be more shrinkage to come.

“The consolidation is long overdue,” said Raj Rajkumar, robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “The AV industry has promised too much for too long, and has delivered too little.”

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

There are other signs of general unease in the AV world. Last month, John Krafcik announced that he was stepping down as CEO of Waymo after helping lead the company since 2015. Krafcik oversaw the transformation of Google’s self-driving car division from “Project Chauffeur” to its own standalone company. During his time, Waymo struck partnerships with several automakers, launched a limited ride-hailing pilot with fully driverless vehicles in Arizona, and expanded its commercial ambitions to include trucking and last-mile delivery.

As a former auto executive with years of experience at Hyundai and Ford, Krafcik was seen as someone who could bring self-driving cars to the mainstream. But his decision to step aside at a time of heightened uncertainty highlights the difficult road ahead for self-driving cars — especially as many of those early predictions have failed to come to pass.

Krafcik was not able to bring to market an autonomous vehicle that can drive on any road and in any conditions without years of rigorous testing. Aside from a small area outside Phoenix, Waymo’s cars require backup drivers to monitor the vehicle’s operations and take control if anything goes wrong.

Waymo still has a commanding lead in autonomous vehicles, but diminished expectations about the future of self-driving cars are affecting its business in other ways, too. In 2018, Morgan Stanley published a research note valuing the company at $175 billion based on its perceived leadership in the space and the potential for massive amounts of revenue from its autonomous vehicles.

A year later, the bank slashed Waymo’s valuation to $105 billion, still an extraordinary amount of money for a company with no revenue. But last year, when Waymo announced its first external funding round of $2.25 billion, the company declined to discuss what valuation that investment was based on. Later, the Financial Times reported it to be $30 billion — a nearly 85 percent decrease from 2018.

Valuations aren’t the sole indicator of where things stand with autonomous vehicles. But they do point to investor sentiment. And right now, investors are not feeling as confident in the prediction that autonomous vehicles will soon become the dominant form of transportation.


For years, Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University, has been criticizing rosy predictions about our driverless future. She’s consistently warned that the technology is much further away and harder to get right than anyone in the industry cares to admit.

The recent trend in consolidation is vindication for her position, she says.

“It’s kind of like the elephant in the room,” she said of the shrinking of the AV world. “People will mention that and then they’ll stop themselves from making the Socratic connection to what this means about the viability of this industry.”

But Cummings doesn’t think people in the industry will be able to ignore the truth for much longer. “There is an embarrassingly large sum of money that’s been invested in this, so people feel like they have to keep going down that path because surely all these people who invested all this money can’t be wrong,” she says.

“Not everyone is delusional,” she added. “Just most people in this business.”

That said, Toyota and Aurora weren’t delusional when they decided to buy the automated driving teams at Lyft and Uber, respectively. They likely saw the value in the code produced by those teams, as well as the talent accrued by the ride-hailing companies over the years. When you can’t hire the people you’d like to staff your own projects, then you have to acquihire them, the distinctive Silicon Valley practice of buying a smaller company for the express purpose of acquiring their team of software engineers. Also, Uber and Lyft were very motivated to sell as recently public companies under pressure to staunch the bleeding and become profitable.

Another recent acquihire was when Apple bought bankrupt self-driving startup Drive.ai back in 2019. Apple had just laid off over 200 engineers from its secretive Project Titan, its own floundering self-driving operation. The Drive.ai team, composed of several graduates from Stanford’s AI lab, had already had some modest success with a ride-hailing pilot in Texas. Unhappy with its own team, Apple simply fired them and bought a new one.

“The buying up of these companies represents companies being able to buy skill sets that they would not otherwise be able to recruit,” Cummings said. “And I think that’s very valuable.”

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The recent reorganization of the self-driving car industry may also point to a new set of priorities. Namely, robotaxis are out, and logistics and industrial applications are in.

Four years ago, the industry saw plenty of startups come out of stealth promising to do everything: they were going to make hardware and software; they were going to build their own vehicle; they were going to do robotaxis and delivery and trucking. And of course, they were going to change the world in the process. “It was a little bit like the decathlete business model,” said Reilly Brennan, general partner at venture capital firm Trucks. “We’re going to be very good at 10 different things.”

Now, most investors are interested in more “structured” applications of automated driving technology, such as construction, mining, middle-mile delivery, and agriculture. “So instead of being a decathlete, you had to pick a javelin thrower,” he said.

That’s not to say robotaxis are completely dead — far from it, with major players like Waymo, Cruise, Argo, and Baidu as well as smaller startups like Pony.ai, May Mobility, and Optimus Ride still banking on the proliferation of autonomous ride-hailing vehicles by the middle of this decade. But Brennan says the robotaxi craze has definitely cooled in recent years.

“Frankly, we stopped seeing robotaxi startups in probably the end of 2017,” Brennan said. “Here we are in 2021 and there are very few ongoing robotaxi startups that aren’t, you know, Cruise, Waymo, or Argo.”

Brennan thinks the concept of autonomous vehicles that can drive anywhere under any conditions is still possible, but much further out than originally thought. They will require huge financial investments — “11 figures” by Brennan’s estimates — and a willingness to tolerate zero cash flow until the technology is mature and safe enough to launch. There are only so many companies with deep enough pockets to take on that challenge: major car companies like Ford, GM, and Volkswagen or tech giants like Apple, Alphabet, and Intel. Everyone else is probably not long for this world.

The mid-level engineers always knew this to be true, Brennan said. It was the CEOs who were making the erroneous predictions about the availability of self-driving taxis by 2020. “I think the CEOs of those companies knew that they were going to be playing golf by 2020,” he said.

Uber will let you book a vaccine appointment through its app

You can now book a vaccine appointment — and a ride to that appointment — in the Uber app.

The new feature is part of a host of product news that Uber announced today under the rubric “go anywhere, get anything.” With more people getting vaccinated, the company is banking on a big comeback to help make up for the steep losses it suffered during 2020. And it’s rolling out a series of new features aimed at enticing lockdown-weary customers back to its platform — whether to travel somewhere or to get something delivered.

The vaccine appointments are being offered nationwide through the company’s previously announced partnership with Walgreens. Since February, Uber has been offering free rides to Walgreens stores for people who book a vaccine appointment but do not have transportation and live in an underserved community. The company says it’s committed to offering 10 million free or discounted rides to people from those communities.

Now that partnership includes vaccine appointments at participating Walgreen drugstores. Walgreens says vaccinations are now available at more than 9,000 locations across the country as eligibility expansion continues.

Uber’s main rival Lyft similarly has the goal of offering 60 million rides to and from vaccine appointments to people from low-income or high-risk communities.

Uber is also offering new and different ways to get around that don’t necessarily involve a vehicle-for-hire. The company is teaming up with rental car services across the country, including Avis, Budget, and Hertz, to offer its customers the ability to rent a car through its app. And for an extra fee, you can also pay to have that car delivered straight to your front door through Uber’s new valet service. That service is only available in Washington, DC starting in May, but Uber expects to expand it nationwide later this year.

The company is expanding its Uber Reserve feature that lets customers book a ride 30 days in advance to more cities, including Paris, London, and “hundreds” of US cities and towns. It’s a sign of Uber’s growing confidence that more people will be taking trips to the airport in the coming months as vaccines become more plentiful and business and leisure travel returns.

For customers who want to use Uber to make multiple stops, the company is introducing a new Hourly feature for reserving rides by the hour. Previously, the feature was only available in Uber Black and Uber Premium, the company’s higher-priced products. Now it will also be available to customers who use UberX.

Uber is also bringing more features to its Uber Eats delivery service, including a Pickup and Go option to purchase takeout food or liquor along your route in a for-hire Uber vehicle. Preorders allow customers to order food from restaurants when they are closed. And the company is including a new option to bundle delivery orders from multiple locations, so customers can get takeout food and grocery items in the same order.

If all of this sounds like a lot of extra work for drivers, it’s probably because it is. Uber and Lyft are both facing a massive driver shortage right now, with many drivers abandoning the platforms over low wages, stressful working conditions, and the decrease in demand brought on by the pandemic. Both companies have responded by hiking rates and offering bonuses to lure more drivers back into their vehicles.

A major challenge for this effort, though, is that COVID-19 continues to be a huge drag on Uber’s and Lyft’s respective businesses. As case numbers spiked over the winter, both companies lost a significant portion of their customer base. People stayed at home, or when they did go out, they opted not to use ride-hailing apps. In the last quarter of 2020, Uber said it had only 93 million “monthly active platform consumers,” its term for users who take at least one ride on Uber or buy at least one meal on Uber Eats — a 16 percent decrease year over year. Meanwhile, Lyft reported a drop in monthly active users of 45 percent, from 22 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 12.5 million in 2020.

Both companies will report their first quarter earnings in the first week of May.


Congress resurrects push to allow thousands more autonomous vehicles on the road

Robot cars are back in the spotlight on Capitol Hill after previous efforts failed to pass comprehensive legislation allowing more autonomous vehicles on the road.

US Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and John Thune (R-SD) plan to introduce an amendment to a funding bill that would grant federal regulators the power to exempt tens of thousands of vehicles from requirements to have traditional controls for human drivers, according to Reuters.

The amendment would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the power to exempt 15,000 vehicles per manufacturer from certain safety standards, with that number increasing to 80,000 in three years. The effect would be to grant more leeway to automakers like Ford and General Motors, as well as tech firms like Google and Amazon, to manufacture and deploy vehicles that lack traditional controls like steering wheels, pedals, and sideview mirrors.

Today, the NHTSA is only legally allowed to grant 2,500 exemptions per manufacturer. The agency handed out its first autonomous vehicle exemption to a California-based company called Nuro in early 2020.

The autonomous vehicle industry praised the introduction of the amendment. A group called the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which includes Uber, Lyft, Volvo, Ford, and Waymo as members, said it “welcomes Senators Peters and Thune’s amendment to support autonomous vehicle testing and deployment in the U.S.” The amendment will “pave the way for AV technology to save lives, unlock new economic and mobility opportunities, and promote American leadership and innovation in this globally competitive arena,” Ariel Wolf, general counsel of the coalition, said in a statement.

But some safety groups say the amendment falls short similarly to previous legislation, like the AV START bill, which died after failing to muster enough support in the Senate. Along with trial lawyers and some local officials, they argue that the technology is not ready for prime time and want Congress to empower the NHTSA to require more data from autonomous vehicle operators, such as crash reporting and disengagements of the self-driving software. The trial lawyers, who have an enormously powerful lobbying group, have been blamed for sinking the previous effort to pass legislation.

“The amendment fails to provide consumer protection and instead essentially creates a fast-track process for manufacturers to attest that their driverless vehicle is no more safe than the least safe vehicle on the road today, before being permitted to sell tens of thousands of them and turning them lose in our neighborhoods,” Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said in an email. “Throwing open the door to more unregulated testing and underregulated sales without a strong oversight mandate is no way to bolster diminished public trust in driverless technology.”

Cathy Chase, executive director of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the amendment was “alarming,” and she opposed the effort to pass the legislation as an amendment rather than a standalone bill.

The Peters-Thune amendment would be attached to the Endless Frontier Act, a $100 million spending bill that aims to increase investments in science and technology in order to compete with China and other countries. Peters and Thune are hoping to win the approval from the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday when they take up the bill. The Biden administration has signaled its support for the Endless Frontier Act, but not specifically the autonomous vehicle legislation.

The news of the new amendment comes during a week in which two other members of the Senate, Ed Markey (D-MI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), have requested a robust investigation into a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S in which no one was behind the steering wheel.


Lyft launches health care transportation program

Lyft launched a program that will let health care organizations send patients prepaid passes that they can use for rides to doctor’s appointments.

“We’ve automated an important piece of health access that allows patients to be self-sufficient and in control, while allowing our partners to focus on the services they provide, rather than on administrative processes,” said Megan Callahan, vice president of Lyft Healthcare, in a statement.

The program, called Lyft Pass for Healthcare, lets health care organizations or social services agencies create a budget and set approved pickup and drop-off locations. They can share the pass with patients, who can apply it to their ride.

Non-emergency medical transportation is estimated to be a $3 billion market. Transportation is a major barrier to health care, and millions of people each year put off medical appointments because they don’t have a way to get to them. Lyft already partners with a number of health care organizations to schedule trips for patients, but the new program aims to make it easier for patients to request trips themselves in the app, rather than wait for the health system to schedule them.

Uber has a similar medical transportation program. Uber Health, which launched in 2018, also lets health care providers book rides for patients.


Polestar is building a zero-emissions car without ‘cop-out’ carbon offsets

Swedish electric performance automaker Polestar says it will build the world’s first truly zero-emissions vehicle without relying on carbon offsets, which it described as a “cop-out.”

The company, which was spun out of Volvo and Volvo’s parent company Geely, framed its effort to cut carbon emissions by changing the way its cars are made as a “moonshot goal” that would result in the world’s first carbon neutral vehicle by 2030.

Carbon offsets, like tree planting, have become a standard way for car companies and other businesses to write off their carbon emissions by investing in renewable energy or conservation projects aimed at bolstering forests’ ability to naturally store carbon. But there’s growing evidence that offsets haven’t succeeded in slowing global warming and have instead given companies license to keep polluting.

“Offsetting is a cop-out,” says Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar CEO, in a statement. “By pushing ourselves to create a completely climate-neutral car, we are forced to reach beyond what is possible today. We will have to question everything, innovate and look to exponential technologies as we design towards zero.”

FedEx, United, Delta, and JetBlue said they would eliminate all of their emissions over the next several decades. And Uber and Lyft have pledged to go carbon neutral within a similar timeframe.

The automaker makes two cars: the $155,000 hybrid coupe Polestar 1 and the all-electric fastback sedan Polestar 2. The Polestar 3, an electric crossover SUV, is expected to be released in late 2021. After its first vehicle, the company has said it will only produce electric vehicles.

The real challenge for Polestar will be the elimination of carbon emissions from its production process and supply chain. Several major automakers have pledged to phase out gas-powered vehicle production by a certain target date, including General Motors, Ford, and Polestar’s parent company, Volvo. But automobile production, including the mining of the rare earth minerals that go into lithium-ion batteries, is an intensely carbon-heavy process. Even reducing those emissions, to say nothing of eliminating them, will be a hugely consequential task.

Polestar, as a boutique operation, may have more flexibility to achieve its goals than other larger — and thus, less nimble — companies. The company announced its so-called Polestar 0 project as part of its first annual review, in which it also said that sustainability declarations would be applied to all future Polestar models.

Sustainability declarations, popular in industries like food and fashion, is a checklist of all the carbon emissions and waste associated with a product or process. Starting with the Polestar 2, the company says it will list on its website the carbon footprint and traced risk materials associated with the production of each of its vehicles.

“Today, Polestar 2 leaves the factory gates with a carbon footprint,” Ingenlath said. “In 2030 we want to present a car that does not.”


Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 electric crossover will be Motional’s robotaxi

Lyft and Motional have selected the Hyundai Ioniq 5 for their forthcoming autonomous ride-hailing service. Motional, which is a joint venture between Aptiv and Hyundai, said the Ioniq 5 was chosen because it represents a “convergence of mobility’s two most transformative technologies — electrification and autonomy.”

Motional hasn’t said how many vehicles it would acquire, nor where it will eventually deploy them for its robotaxi service. The company is currently testing its fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Las Vegas, where it is also running an autonomous ride-hailing service with Lyft.

The Ioniq 5 was first unveiled by Hyundai last month, and won’t go on sale until later this year. Also, the vehicle won’t hit public roads as part of Motional’s fleet until after they’ve been retrofitted with the company’s hardware and sensor suite, and then put through a months-long testing regime on both public roads and a private, closed testing course.

The Ioniq 5 is said to have nearly 300 miles of range on a single charge and a two-way charging feature that Hyundai calls “vehicle-to-load,” which can supply up to 3.6kW of power. It will also be built on Hyundai’s new Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP) that the automaker says will serve as the basis for an entire family of planned EVs.

Motional is the latest AV company to commit to an electric vehicle as its primary platform. Cruise, a majority owned subsidiary of General Motors, uses Chevy Bolts exclusively. Alphabet’s Waymo uses gas-powered Chrysler Pacificas while also phasing in a next-gen fleet of electric Jaguar I-Paces. Other companies, like Zoox, Nuro, and Aurora, have said they would use electric vehicles as part of their respective commercial services.

Motional as a joint venture was first announced in March 2020, when Hyundai said it would spend $1.6 billion to catch up to its rivals in the autonomous vehicle space. Aptiv, a technology company formerly known as Delphi, owns 50 percent of the venture. The company currently has facilities in Las Vegas, Singapore, and Seoul, and has also tested its vehicles in Boston and Pittsburgh.

Motional’s engineers were responsible for the world’s first robotaxi pilot in Singapore, as well as the first cross-country New York to San Francisco autonomous trip. Over the last two years, Aptiv’s fleet of safety driver-monitored autonomous taxis in Las Vegas (in partnership with Lyft) have completed over 100,000 trips. And the company recently tested its vehicles with a monitor in the passenger seat but without one behind the steering wheel.


Tinder will soon let you gift a Lyft ride to your date

Tinder is partnering with Lyft to offer the ability to gift rides to dates without having to leave the Tinder app. It’s a small convenience if you already have the Lyft app downloaded, but like adding video chat in the app, it’s one less reason to switch your focus away from your match and to another app.

There’s no firm release date for the Lyft integration other than it’s “slated to roll out in the coming months” and Tinder has no visuals to share yet for how it will work in the app. Tinder does say that Lyft’s usual safety features like location sharing with family and friends will be available from the Lyft app for gifted rides.

Adding Lyft rides could be convenient, but there are some potential scenarios to be concerned about. It’s not clear at what point you’re able to order a ride, or whether both you and the person you matched with have to agree. It would be annoying (not to mention a little unsettling) for both the person you matched with in Tinder and the Lyft driver if you called a ride and they didn’t actually want it.

When asked for more details, Tinder declined and said more information would be available in the coming months. Until then, Zoom dates or Tinder’s built-in trivia feature might be the way to go.


Uber’s new minimum wage policy in the UK doesn’t meet the law, say case claimants

Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, the two lead claimants in the successful tribunal that fought Uber for employee rights in the UK, say the company is continuing to flout the law. After it lost a final appeal with the UK’s Supreme Court in February, Uber announced yesterday it would give its 70,000 drivers minimum wage, holiday pay, and pensions. But Aslam and Farrar say the details of Uber’s new policy mean it’s still short-changing workers.

The issue is that Uber has only committed to paying drivers at least minimum wage for the time “after accepting a trip request.” This, says Aslam and Farrar, contradicts the Supreme Court ruling, which found that working time for Uber drivers included any period when individuals were logged in to the company’s app and waiting in the right area for fares.

As the justice of the Supreme Court, Lord Leggatt, stated in a summary of the ruling: “The judgement also upholds the finding of the employment tribunal that for the purposes of the legislation, the claimants’ working time was not limited, as Uber had argued, to periods when they were actually driving passengers to their destinations. It also included any period when the driver was logged into the Uber app in the relevant territory and was ready and willing to accept trips.”

Speaking to The Verge, Aslam said the language in the Supreme Court ruling was clear, and Uber’s response showed it would continue to try to bend the law to its advantage. “It’s just a cheap PR trick,” he said of the decision. “If I’m working 10 hours, but only have passengers on board for three hours, I’m only getting paid for those three hours.”

Farrar added: “The Supreme Court was asked to decide two things: if we are workers and when we are workers. These were the decisions it had to make and Uber is in clear violation of them. We can’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Uber did not respond to requests for comment from The Verge.

Yaseen Aslam (left) and James Farrar (right) were part of a small group of Uber drivers who brought a case against the company in 2015.
Image: Getty

It’s not clear how much time Uber drivers spend on average waiting for fares, and thus how much potential income has been lost through the company’s new policy. Farrar and Aslam say that drivers will lose out on 40 to 50 percent of a possible wage increase. A 2019 study by the University of California, Berkeley, found that US Uber and Lyft drivers spent roughly a third of their working day logged in to the app and waiting for fares.

Aslam said Uber’s new policy is crafted to ensure it won’t lose a key advantage versus traditional taxi firms: creating an abundance of drivers who respond quickly to customers without paying for their downtime. “It costs Uber next to nothing to operate in cities,” says Aslam. “All the liabilities — the running costs and expenses of maintaining a vehicle — are shifted over to the driver. So the more drivers they have on the platform, the better it is for them: it doesn’t cost them anything but creates more availability for customers.”

If Uber had to pay drivers for time spent waiting for requests from passengers, it would lose this advantage. It’s for reasons such as this that critics of the company say it doesn’t offer any significant technological innovations at all. It simply extracts extra value from workers by exploiting loopholes in countries’ legal systems.

What’s not clear is what happens next from a legal perspective. Aslam says it’s up to the UK government to enforce the Supreme Court ruling, but he also says London’s transport regulator, Transport for London (TfL), should take responsibility. “TfL has the power to protect workers but they don’t want to get involved,” he says. Farrar added: “It should have been government enforcing this all the way back to the original case, rather than expecting precarious workers to bring complicated litigation all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Paul Jennings, a partner at the London law firm Bates Wells, who represented Aslam and Farrar in their original employment tribunal, said that the discrepancy between Uber’s new policies and the Supreme Court ruling was clear and that the government should act.

“The idea that drivers are only working when they have a passenger in the car is not consistent with the judgement,” Jennings told The Verge. “It’s regrettable that Uber hasn’t done the right thing entirely.” He added compliance could be enforced without additional litigation, but that the latter might be necessary to “reinforce the judgement.”

Overall, Aslam and Farrar say they are pleased that Uber has been forced to change its policies but are disappointed their fight is not yet over. “We suffered financially and mentally. But we’re not delighted. What we’re getting is a bone chucked at us,” says Aslam. “It’s never going to stop, we know that. This is Uber.”

Farrar added that despite the time and resources they’d committed already, the pair was happy to keep on fighting: “Me and Yaseen, we latch on and we don’t let go.”


Twitch may be adding a ‘brand safety score’ for streamers

Cybersecurity researcher Daylam Tayari has found evidence in Twitch’s internal API that the site plans to implement something called a “brand safety score” for its streamers. That score would depend on a number of criteria: the streamer’s age, a rating given by Twitch staff, their ban history, the relationship the streamer has with Twitch, their automod settings, their partnership status, the ESRB rating of the game being played, and whether the stream is set to mature.

Twitch has added an automatic Brand Safety Score which grades how brand friendly every streamer is based on things like chat behavior, ban history, manual ratings by Twitch staff, games played, age, automod and more (See below).

1/5 pic.twitter.com/VBl4HjGv7t

— Daylam ‘tayari’ Tayari (@tayariCS) March 9, 2021

Twitch a couple days ago added to their GQL (internal) API endpoints (keyword to query the API) for a “brandSafetyScore” which is sent to advertisers for ads, sponsors and also probably for bounty purposes.

Check this tweet’s images for screenshots of the API changes.

2/5 pic.twitter.com/cHUzvnl50s

— Daylam ‘tayari’ Tayari (@tayariCS) March 9, 2021

If Tayari’s research is indeed accurate — and here I should note that I have reached out to Twitch and will update this story if I hear back — this would represent a shift in the way that advertisers interact with streamers on the platform. Presently, one of the main ways that marketers work with streamers on Twitch is the site’s bounty board; select partners and affiliates in the US, UK, Germany, and France can choose from a list of paid opportunities to either play games or watch branded videos with their communities for automatic payouts. It’s a pretty slick system, one that streamlines and automates the (occasionally arduous) process of working with a brand and getting paid for it.

It’s not hard to imagine that if Twitch does in fact implement a brand safety score for streamers that it would be used to expand the bounty program; it seems like a useful thing for brands to be able to compare streamers on that specific axis, at least. Then again, for streamers, it does mean the site is tracking you on yet another metric that may or may not be available for you to see. I can’t help but think about Uber and Lyft ratings, and how quietly insidious they can be: if your rating gets screwed up for whatever reason, you lose your ability to drive — to make money.


Meet Dr. B, the startup promising a better way to distribute leftover vaccines

More than half a million people have signed up to a newly launched service called Dr. B in an attempt to snag a COVID-19 vaccine — and reduce the number of doses that might end up in the trash. Led by ZocDoc founder Cyrus Massoumi, Dr. B is a website that aims to function as a kind of emergency alert system for thawed coronavirus vaccines, which typically need to be injected within six hours of being thawed.

“This vaccine is now the scarcest resource on earth,” says Massoumi. “We were concerned about the fact that a lot of the vaccine ends up in this last-minute shuffle at the end of the day.”

A longtime drag on conventional health care, missed appointments have become an unusually vital issue for the coronavirus vaccine. Massoumi estimates as much as 20-30 percent of vaccine appointments are missed, leaving a thawed vaccination dose that must be used within six hours or be permanently lost. State reports suggest that few of the doses are allowed to expire. Instead, vaccination sites distribute them to employees or whoever happens to be standing outside. But that confusion has led to chaotic lines and a haphazard approach to priority lists — something Massoumi delicately describes as “suboptimal.”

Dr. B is designed to serve as a kind of standby list for those situations, giving providers an easy way to summon willing patients in a matter of hours. More than half a million people in the US have signed up to be on the waitlist, each giving their home zip code and filling out a catchall version of their state’s questionnaire. (Each state has a slightly different list of who is eligible for vaccines first. In New York, the first tier, 1a, is people over 65 or with co-morbidities. The next tier, 1b, includes grocery store employees and other essential workers, and so on.)

When a provider ends up with thawed doses, Dr. B sends out texts to participants from nearby zip codes, prioritizing them according to the state health department’s tier list. Once texted, a participant has fifteen minutes to confirm that they can get to the provider, then two hours to reach the location and get their shot. If you say you can’t make it, you go to the back of the line (within your priority group).

The system counts on providers to schedule a follow-up shot, which both the Moderna and Pfizer / BioNTech vaccines still require — but the hope is that simply getting patients in the door for their first dose will be a significant improvement.

This isn’t the first project aiming to create a standby list for coronavirus vaccines, but it’s quickly become the largest one, absorbing the smaller Vaccination Standby project in February. What’s most impressive is how quickly the effort has grown. Still limited to America, Dr. B’s waitlist currently has more than half a million people, up from 300,000 just two weeks ago.

Providers are coming on board more slowly, since each one needs to be vetted to ensure it’s legitimate, but there are already two sites providing shots through the system — in Little Rock, Arkansas and Queens, New York. The company won’t say how many doses have been given out through those sites, but they do say alerts have been sent out each day that the two test sites were open, suggesting at least a handful have been administered through the system. More than 200 other providers are in the pipeline, spanning 30 states.

Massoumi says signing up those providers is still the biggest bottleneck — but it’s an impressive record for what is still mostly a volunteer effort. There’s no plan to monetize the system and much of the hosting and other back-end services have been donated by companies like Amazon, Twilio, and others. Some staff are on loan to the project from their regular jobs; others are being paid out of Massoumi’s pocket. There’s no clear sign of what will happen to the project after COVID-19 is defeated.

“We’re just trying to get this moving as fast as we possibly can,” Massoumi says. “We have patients and provider sites that want to use this and we just want to make sure that it’s ready for prime time.”

As with any vaccination problem, there are concerns about who will get access and who won’t. Black and Latino communities have lagged behind in vaccination rates, a reminder of long-standing patterns of discrimination in US health care. The new standby list runs the risk of making those inequities worse: the nature of the project means it will only work for patients with phones who can drop what they’re doing and head to a vaccination site at a moment’s notice.

The problem isn’t lost on medical ethicists. Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz, a professor at Baylor’s Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, told The Verge he applauded the effort behind Dr. B, but he worried the project could deepen inequality in how vaccines are distributed.

“If Dr. B sends out a text, most of the people who are going to be able to drop what they’re doing and get the vaccine will be people who have access to emergency childcare, people with cars, people who can probably get out of work more easily than most underserved populations,” Lázaro-Muñoz said. “So they’re trying to address the problem, but it also exacerbates the equity issue.”

Many of the fixes the team has tried only address parts of the broader problem. The project has already launched a Spanish-language version of the site and is in talks with Uber and Lyft to provide free rides in connection with the shots — an effort that would make a significant dent in the transportation problem.

But Massoumi believes Dr. B’s queueing system will be fundamentally more equitable than what most states are doing, particularly as more tiers open up. Most state systems have focused on giving the elderly and vulnerable first access to the vaccine — but as more people become eligible to receive the shot, vulnerable patients will find themselves in a larger and larger pool of potential recipients. Under the current system, a first-tier patient who waited to get their shot would have no advantage over anyone else in an open tier. Massoumi compares it to an airplane boarding call, when a Group 1 passenger who arrives late has to wait in the same line with all the other groups. But because Dr. B has granular information on each person’s tier, the system can send the most vulnerable patients to the front of the standby line automatically — a kind of express lane for late arrivals.

Behind it all, there’s the steady march of vaccinations. More than 20 percent of the US population has received at least one dose of the vaccine at this point, and President Biden has said he expects the government to have secured enough doses for every adult in America by the end of May. Even small lags in rate or distribution can compound to huge gaps over the coming months.

Dr. B’s plans are still limited by providers’ willingness to use the system, which has kept them limited to the US rollout and places where the scheduling system fails. But like any startup founder, Massoumi isn’t afraid to dream big, noting that there’s nothing stopping the system they build from being applied for non-thawed doses or in other countries where the rollout is proceeding more slowly.

“It’s not just this country. The entire world is not going to be vaccinated until 2023,” Massoumi says. “It’s a global problem, both the pandemic and the scheduling problem, and what we’re creating is a global solution.”


FedEx will spend $2 billion to become carbon neutral by 2040

FedEx will spend $2 billion in “initial investments” to become carbon neutral by 2040, the company announced today. The move comes as many of the world’s biggest automakers are also pledging to phase out carbon-emitting vehicles within the next several decades.

FedEx claims it is the largest cargo airline in the world, with more than 650 aircraft in operation. As such, it has a particularly large carbon footprint, making its pledge to go completely carbon neutral a uniquely massive challenge.

The money will be spent in three key areas: vehicle electrification, sustainable energy, and carbon sequestration. FedEx will also donate $100 million to Yale University’s efforts to devise new ways to achieve carbon sequestration, which is the process of capturing and storing CO2 from the atmosphere. The company said that, initially, it will fund research to help “offset greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to current airline emissions.”

But most of the funds will be spent on buying new electric delivery vehicles to replace FedEx’s largely gas-powered fleet. The phase-out will take place over the next several years, with the goal set for 50 percent of FedEx Express pickup and delivery vehicle purchases to be electric by 2025. By 2030, 100 percent of those vehicle purchases will be electric.

But the real challenge will be to eliminate the carbon output of FedEx’s air operation. While UPS is known for its ground delivery service, FedEx is mostly recognized for its global air express freight. And while there has been a lot of progress in rolling out new electric ground delivery vehicles, the process for eliminating emissions from the aviation industry has been much slower.

That’s probably why FedEx’s goal of becoming completely carbon neutral is so far off in the future. Global automakers like Volvo, Ford, General Motors, and others have set similar deadlines within the next decade. But electrifying ground vehicles is simple compared to building a fleet of non-polluting airplanes.

FedEx currently operates 118 all-electric trucks and 364 commercial hybrid trucks, the company says. That is a tiny fraction of the overall 43,000 motor vehicles the company has in operation currently.

The company says it will also seek to eliminate the carbon produced by its packaging and shipping facilities. This can be achieved through “carbon–neutral shipping offerings and sustainable packaging solutions,” as well as investments in renewable energy.

Notably, FedEx did not say it would purchase carbon offsets as a way to achieve full neutrality, though its investment in Yale University’s research project could be seen as such. Purchasing offsets has become a standard way for car companies and other businesses to write off their carbon emissions by investing in renewable energy or conservation projects aimed at bolstering forests’ ability to naturally store carbon. But there’s growing evidence that offsets haven’t succeeded in slowing global warming and have instead given companies license to keep polluting.

FedEx, which is based in Memphis, Tennessee, is the latest giant corporation to make a specific pledge to go carbon neutral. United, Delta, and JetBlue said they would eliminate all of their emissions over the next several decades. And Uber and Lyft have pledged to go carbon neutral within a similar timeframe.