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Swedish VC hitches a ride with CarZar

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CarZar.co.za, which was founded in 2016, is now being backed by Vostok New Ventures, the Sweden-listed investment firm behind Avito, Russia’s leading online classifieds company.

Vostok New Ventures is listed on the NASDAQ Stockholm Exchange and has also funded other successful online tech-brands: BlaBlaCar, a leading long-distance ride sharing service; Gett, an on-demand taxi hailing service available in Israel, Russia, UK and New York City; and babylon, a leading AI-driven digital healthcare company.

Vostok New Ventures’ investment in CarZar is part of a larger funding round. CarZar is also backed by Silvertree Capital, the South-African based venture capital firm behind PriceCheck, the lprice comparison website, and CyberCellar, South Africa’s oldest online bottle store.

CarZar is an online car buying service for the second hand auto-trade industry in South Africa. In operation for only a year, the startup has been disrupting the second-hand car market by introducing technology to an industry that has remained traditional for decades.

CarZar Joint MD Fernando Pineiro says that, with this new round of funding, it will focus more on improving customer experience, as well as boosting marketing, and recruiting more talent to join their international team.

CarZar entered the second-hand car market with a clear mission: “empowering SA consumers to sell their pre-loved vehicles seamlessly”.

Potential sellers can go onto the CarZar.co.za website, and enter their cars details. CarZar’s algorithm will generate an estimate for the vehicle’s selling price instantly. If the sellers are happy with the estimated value, they can book a free inspection with one of CarZar’s fully trained car inspectors, at one of CarZar’s Car Buying Centres or at their preferred location. Within 20 minutes, the inspector will make a final offer to the seller. CarZar then makes an instant payment and takes care of all the paperwork. In all, the process takes 30 minutes.

The CarZar service comes at no cost to customers and is 100 percent obligation-free.

Vostok New Ventures identifies investment opportunities with strong network effect characteristics through expertise, experience and a widespread network.

Although CarZar may be a young tech-startup, the company has seen extensive growth while entering the market with a strong brand promise to guarantee safety, transparency, convenience and competence throughout the car selling experience. CarZar has expanded its scope from Cape Town to Johannesburg and Durban.

Pinheiro says consumer education is one of the biggest challenges CarZar has faced: “South Africans are proving to be ready to welcome new ways of getting ‘stuff done’. With the local market being extremely diverse and the auto industry being among the most traditional ones, South Africans are still familiarising themselves with new ways of selling their vehicles.

“We see technology being our key differentiator and main driver of growth. Additionally, we foresee territorial expansion in South Africa, introducing our services to even the smallest of towns.”

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Project Bloodhound saved

The British project to break the world landspeed record at a site in the Northern Cape has been saved by a new backer, after it went into bankruptcy proceedings in October.

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Two weeks ago,  and two months after entering voluntary administration, the Bloodhound Programme Limited announced it was shutting down. This week it announced that its assets, including the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC), had been acquired by an enthusiastic – and wealthy – supporter.

“We are absolutely delighted that on Monday 17th December, the business and assets were bought, allowing the Project to continue,” the team said in a statement.

“The acquisition was made by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst. Ian is a mechanical engineer by training, with a strong background in managing a highly successful business in the automotive engineering sector, so he will bring a lot of expertise to the Project.”

Warhurst and his family, says the team, have been enthusiastic Bloodhound supporters for many years, and this inspired his new involvement with the Project.

“I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets preventing the project breakup,” he said. “I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths, and I want to ensure Bloodhound can continue doing that into the future.

“It’s clear how much this unique British project means to people and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of thanks I have received in the last few days.”

The record attempt was due to be made late next year at Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari Desert, where retired pilot Andy Green planned to beat the 1228km/h land-speed record he set in the United States in 1997. The target is for Bloodhound to become the first car to reach 1000mph (1610km/h). A track 19km long and 500 metres wide has been prepared, with members of the local community hired to clear 16 000 tons of rock and stone to smooth the surface.

The team said in its announcement this week: “Although it has been a frustrating few months for Bloodhound, we are thrilled that Ian has saved Bloodhound SSC from closure for the country and the many supporters around the world who have been inspired by the Project. We now have a lot of planning to do for 2019 and beyond.”

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Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

The futuristic car technology of tomorrow is being built today in both racing cars and
toys, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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