U.S. sanctions put telecoms firms off Cuba, internet task force says

HAVANA (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions on Cuba are deterring American firms from exploring its telecommunications sector even as Washington seeks to expand internet access on the Communist-run island, according to the final report of a U.S. government task force released on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: People connect to the internet at a hotspot in Havana, Cuba, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

Chinese companies dominate Cuba’s telecoms sector, a status quo “worth challenging given concerns that the Cuban government potentially obtains its censorship equipment from Chinese Internet infrastructure providers,” the report said.

Cuba’s government protested the U.S. State Department’s creation of a Cuba Internet Task Force last year as “foreign interference.” It remains unclear how open it would be to U.S. investment in the strategic telecoms sector.

“U.S. companies informed the subcommittees they are often deterred from entering the market due to uncertainty caused by frequent changes to U.S. regulations concerning Cuba,” according to the task force, convened last year by the State Department.

U.S. presidents have successively tightened and loosened the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba imposed in the years after its 1959 revolution.

Former President Barack Obama created a loophole for U.S. telecommunications companies to provide certain services to Cuba. His successor, Donald Trump, maintained the loophole but tightened the broader sanctions, worsening the overall business climate.

Banks are increasingly reluctant to process payments originating in Cuba. Some telecoms firms surveyed by the task force said that was putting them off offering key services and products in the country.

The task force advised the U.S. government to clear up the regulatory uncertainty and seek feedback on how to improve telecoms firms’ ability to invest.

Until 2013, the internet was largely available to the public in Cuba only at tourist hotels amid the U.S. embargo, lack of cash and concerns over the free flow of information.

The government has increased web access in recent years, installing a fiber-optic cable to Venezuela and introducing cyber cafes, Wi-Fi hot spots and mobile internet.

Cuban telecoms monopoly ETECSA signed a deal earlier this year with Alphabet Inc’s Google on increasing connectivity, but the two have not publicly agreed on any significant investments.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Peter Cooney

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Mercedes-Benz Co. to establish Middle East’s first-of-its-kind logistics hub in Suez Canal Economic Zone – Egypt Independent

After at four-years hiatus, Mecredes Benz will resume assembling passenger cars in Egypt in addition to launching an investment plan in the region: the establishment of a logistics hub in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, which will be the first of its kind in the entire Middle East, according to an official statement by Mercedes Benz.

The statement indicated that after long discussions led by the Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli between the Mercedez-Benz group and the Egyptian government, both sides signed a memorandum of understanding for local assembly of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars in Egypt.

The highly anticipated cooperation is the foundation for the logistical hub and training center in the Suez Canal Economic Zone. The hub will enrich the region with up-to-date mobility techniques in addition to promoting the availability of self-driving and electric cars.

The agreement avowed that the market for Mercedes-Benz cars in Egypt will see further enhancement.

“Egypt has been an important market of Daimler for passenger cars, buses and commercial vehicles for many years. In the long term, we create various potentials for the country and the region through strategic cooperation for mobility topics,” Markus Schäfer, a member of the Daimler AG Board of Management for Corporate Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, alluded.

In the same vein, he highlighted his company’s significant contributions to alleviating stress in the Egyptian economy.

Jörg Burzer, an executive board member of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain, mentioned that the planned local assembly will enable the company to fulfill customers’ desires and needs easily as the assembly will rely on a locally-based production network.

The statement mentioned the participation of local suppliers, confirming that this agreement will secure more than 1,000 direct and indirect job opportunities in the Egyptian market.

The prestigious auto giant closed its production line in Egypt four years ago due to unrevealed reasons. The company then changed its mind and decided to jump back into the Egyptian market, a step approved this year by Egypt’s prime minister.

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How Self-Driving Cars Can Figure Out Parking – Forbes

Private spaces have all sorts of parking rules – or lack of them

Brad Templeton

Robocars are very close to being able to drive the roads at a safety level to match humans. But what about dropping you off, picking you up, and parking or waiting?

For most teams, driving on the roads will be done with detailed maps of the road. They will know where to go on any road, and also how to tell if the road differs from the map and what to do in that situation. (All cars will have at least rudimentary ability to drive without maps for this situation.)

Those maps will include the locations of parking spaces and standing spaces on the public roads. Standing spaces can include the entrances to driveways and spaces in front of fire hydrants, suitable for pick-up an drop-off. Cities have long allocated “taxi stands” for waiting, as well as pick-up/drop-off areas, and recently I have observed such areas being allocated for use with Uber/Lyft style services.

Drop-off points and parking spots are very commonly on private land, though. How will cars know where to go if you are heading to a private destination?

For important private venues — schools, public buildings, and large buildings, the mapping companies will map them just as they do roads. Most of them would allow a human-driven mapping car to pay a visit. In addition, privately driven cars with sensors will also frequently travel to them and can gather mapping data.

Generally, such maps need a basic level of human review, and as such, buildings below a certain threshold of traffic will not get mapped as quickly as high traffic buildings. This can be solved by allowing the owners, and even the public, to map these spaces. Somebody motivated will generally be able to start with an aerial image of the private area to mark out the geometry of the space — where can cars drive, what is sidewalk, where any pick-up/drop-off points are and, as described below, waiting/parking areas. If there are not high-quality aerial image of a location (ie. it’s non-urban) owners could, at a pretty low price, request a drone overflight to help.

The cars don’t use the aerial imagery to navigate — this is just to get the rough shape. A visit by a robocar (or human-driven car) with the right sensors is needed. That gets easier and easier as more robocars are available. Such cars can have a remote human supervisor when they enter the unknown space to map it. The supervisor almost never “drives” it like a human with a wheel, rather they give strategic commands, like pointing to a spot on an image and saying to drive to that spot. The car worries about not hit anything along the way, or noticing things the remote operator might not see.

With remote operators, such mapping can be quite cheap, because we need no human for the journey to the parking lot, just while the car is navigating strange territory.

Even companies that claim they will drive without maps, like Tesla, will need maps of private territory. Public streets are required by law to follow certain patterns and rules. Things may differ from town to town but generally there is a system to figuring out what’s road and where the parking is and what places might be suitable for pulling over. Private land follows only social conventions, not laws. It’s built by whoever owns it, however they like. Street signs on private land often have no force of law. You may see complex rules saying which parking spaces are reserved at different times or anything else the lot wants to explain in human language. You want a human to make sense of it, and encode it in a way the machines can reliably use.

My expectation is that robocar companies (not just taxi companies, because people want their private cars to be able to come and pick them up on private land) will offer private lot owners the ability to choose from various systems to manage how cars come to their land. These systems will go beyond what even humans understand today. They will be allowed to designate waiting areas, something like the taxi stands of old, and instructions on how to get in and out and in what order.

Traditional lots with marked spaces can probably be figured out without more than an image of the boundaries of the parking area.

Brad Templeton

It might be common for a busy building (at the extreme, imagine a stadium after a game lets out) to want a fairly involved management system. In such a system, cars would be told that to go to the stadium, they must first get permission and instructions from a computer managing the stadium lot. (They won’t communicate with that computer, their HQ computer will do that, to avoid the risk of direct communication.)

The stadium computer will manage traffic coming in, and only let in as many cars as it can handle. It may arrange priority based on all sorts of rules, such as priority for people on the curb and ready to go, for VIPs and in particular for those carpooling or vanpooling. Each arriving car will probably be told to move to a line and then to a pickup spot. The car can then tell its rider what pickup spot it will be coming to.

For cases as extreme as emptying a stadium, at first they might allow only buses to come, and those buses might move to other, more distant lots where private cars can go to receive passengers who came on the shuttle.

Office buildings will need more simple versions of this if they don’t have a parking lot. If the office building has a parking lot (as most do from the legacy days of private driving) the cars can go pick up people in the lot by going to stalls where their master awaits.

All of this needs maps and protocols, even for a Tesla. In addition, there needs to be some management of the public street at the entrances to the stadium or office building. That gets naturally managed if the stadium is only allowing in a fixed number of vehicles, and there is enforcement of rules against stopping or driving slowly by the entrance. This will make cars doing pick-ups go to less antisocial places to wait, so that they can get a signal to come get their master when it’s a reserved straight shot to where the people are waiting.

Even things as simple as grocery store lots will have management if they wish it, to control how cars go to parking spots, how delivery vehicles arrive, and how cars move to pick up customers at the door. As the number of people using robocars rises, the pick-up areas will increase in size to handle it, but that’s easy because the need for parking drops.

Good pick-up areas with limited space can be handled in one of two ways. If there is space, the best is perpendicular. You have a long series of perpendicular spots, and cars arriving just go to a spot to load or unload. With much less space it is also possible to just have a single lane. Cars would come into the lane in a group and all stop right in the lane to do load/unload together, then all would leave at once, and be replaced by the next batch of accepted cars. Even a small single lane should be able to do a nice, high volume of pick-up and drop-off compared to the way it works today.

It should take just a few minutes to lay out the parking rules for even a grass lot with no markings

Brad Templeton

It surprises me more places don’t use the perpendicular approach today. That’s how Singapore Changi airport has done it for years, and it has a deserved reputation as one of the best-managed airports in the world. When I see the long, snaking taxi lines at some airports that load just a few customers at a time, it baffles me.

Valet style

One thing that will

be very popular is for lots to designate areas for robocars parking in “valet” mode, which is to say, packing themselves in tight for best use of the space. This may be as simple as laying out a space in the map of the lot and telling cars to arrange themselves, or it may involve a server which manages the lot dynamically, changing the size of the valet area based on demand, and even having the cars report their size and expected duration in the lot so the system can decide where to put each car if it wants.

While a central computer managing the lot can do a lot — parking lots won’t have to run their own, there will be companies offering this as a low-cost service – the cars can do quite a bit on their own, including managing exit from the valet area. For example, you will know that in the valet area, you can park in a way that blocks in other cars. Later, when a car wants to move, it doesn’t have to communicate with anybody. It just starts to slowly move, just an inch, closing the gap with the car that blocked it. That car will then move, and that will cause the next car to move and so on, until the whole column exits, letting that first car out. The column then re-parks itself in the empty space. This can also be done on the sides of roads, with cars turning on a turn signal to say they want to leave. There, as long as one empty space is kept per row, the cars can “move the space” to put it next to the exiting car, which pulls out, almost like the other cars are not there.

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Renault, Nissan and Waymo partner to explore driverless mobility services – Intelligent Transport

Japan and France are one step closer to driverless vehicles as Groupe Renault and Nissan to become the first automotive manufacturers to explore driverless mobility.

Renault, Nissan and Waymo partner to explore driverless mobility services

Groupe Renault, Nissan Motor Co., and Waymo, have entered into an exclusive agreement for an initial period to explore all aspects of driverless mobility services for passengers and deliveries in France and Japan.

The agreement is designed to bring together the strengths of each party and expand expertise by assessing market opportunities, working together to research commercial, legal and regulatory issues related to driverless Mobility-as-a-Service offerings in France and Japan. The Alliance of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, with a global footprint and portfolio covering every segment of passenger and light commercial vehicles, is uniquely suited to join this business exploration with Waymo, a self-driving technology company building the world’s most experienced driver with more than 10 million miles on public roads.

The agreement marks a first step to developing long-term, profitable driverless mobility services operations. This analysis will first take place in France and Japan, home to Groupe Renault and Nissan headquarters, respectively, and may expand to other markets, excluding China, in the future.

To further the exploration process, Groupe Renault and Nissan will create joint venture Alliance-focused companies in France and Japan dedicated to driverless mobility services.

John Krafcik, Chief Executive Officer, Waymo, commented: “This is an ideal opportunity for Waymo to bring our autonomous technology to a global stage, with an innovative partner. With the Alliance’s international reach and scale, our Waymo Driver can deliver transformational mobility solutions to safely serve riders and commercial deliveries in France, Japan, and other countries.”

Thierry Bolloré, Chief Executive Officer, Groupe Renault, said: “The story of tomorrow’s mobility will be jointly written, with the cooperation of the Alliance with Waymo, as industry leaders, opening new perspectives for driverless mobility services. We believe this partnership will accelerate our commitment to deliver new shared mobility services and benefit the automobile ecosystems by placing us at the forefront of driverless mobility new business streams in our key strategic markets.”

Hiroto Saikawa, President and CEO Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., said: “As we continue our work through the mid-term plan – Nissan M.O.V.E 2022 – to evolve our business to meet changing consumer behaviour, Nissan aims to be an early provider of driverless mobility service. Our expertise in the global automotive industry and expertise in strategic partnership will enable us to explore opportunities to grow our portfolio and deliver new value to customers with Waymo, the recognised leader in this space.“

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Dr. Ken Washington

Dr. Ken Washington is chief technology officer, Ford Motor Company, effective June 1, 2017. In this role, Washington will continue to lead Ford’s worldwide research organization, overseeing the development and implementation of the company’s technology strategy and plans, and playing a key role in the company’s expansion into emerging mobility opportunities. He reports to Jim Farley, president, New Businesses, Technology & Strategy, Ford Motor Company.

Prior to joining Ford, he was vice president of the Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. In this role, Washington was responsible for leading a team of scientists and engineers in performing research and development in space science and related R&D.

Previously, he served as Lockheed Martin Corporation’s first chief privacy officer, a role in which he built the company’s privacy program, set the privacy strategy direction and established a team of privacy professionals to execute the strategy. Washington also previously served as the vice president and chief technology officer for the Lockheed Martin internal IT organization, where he was responsible for shaping the future of the corporation’s information technology enterprise.

Prior to joining Lockheed Martin in February 2007, Washington served as chief information officer for Sandia National Laboratories, where he also previously served in a variety of technical, management, and program leadership positions.

Washington serves on the board of McKesson Corporation, a global leader in healthcare supply chain management solutions, retail pharmacy, healthcare technology, community oncology and specialty care. He was born in 1960. He has a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in Nuclear Engineering from Texas A&M University and is a fellow of the MIT Seminar XXI program on International Relations.

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Jeffrey Jones

Jeff Jones is the Vice President of Ford’s North American City Solutions. He leads Ford’s global efforts to partner with municipalities to identify key urban mobility needs that will inform development of new mobility services while also working to create, pilot and implement new mobility solutions in cities worldwide.

Previously, Jones was an Executive Director for Asia Pacific Strategy.  In this role, he was responsible for developing strategies for smart mobility, digital services, and autonomous vehicles for Asia Pacific.

And before that role, Jones was the Lincoln Segment Chief for Asia Pacific, responsible for the development and launch of Lincoln products to support the significant growth in China since the brand’s re-introduction in 2014.  Jones has also spent time working in Research, Engineering, Manufacturing Operations, Product Launch, Labor Strategy, Marketing Communications, User Experiences, & Product Planning, and has worked on the development of the Fiesta for North America, the Taurus for China, and global Fusion/Mondeo, Edge, MKZ, MKX, Continental and Navigator programs.

Jones originally joined Ford in 1996 as a research engineer and also spent time as a design and release engineer working on infotainment solutions that led to the development of Ford’s SYNC program.  He left the company in 2005 to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School and cofounded Local Motors, an automotive start-up, with a classmate the following year.  In 2008, he returned to Ford in Product Development.  

Jones graduated from the University of Michigan – Dearborn in 2001 with bachelor’s degrees in computer and electrical engineering.  He also holds a master of science degree in engineering management from the University of Michigan and a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School with distinction.

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Robert Bosch Venture Capital leads growth funding round in MegaRobo

About RBVC GmbH

Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH (RBVC) is the corporate venture capital company of the Bosch Group, a leading global supplier of technology and services. RBVC invests worldwide in innovative start-up companies at all stages of their development. Its investment activities focus on technology companies working in areas of business of current and future relevance for Bosch, above all, automation and electrification, energy efficiency, enabling technologies, and healthcare systems. RBVC also invests in services and business models as well as new materials that are relevant to the above-mentioned areas of business.

Additional information is available at www.rbvc.com

About MegaRobo
MegaRobo is a robotics startup in China. MegaRobo integrates the most cutting-edge robotics and AI technology to provide innovative automation solutions for the life science, retail and light industrial sectors.
Additional information is available at: www.megarobo.tech

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 410,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2018). The company generated sales of 78.5 billion euros in 2018. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. As a leading IoT company, Bosch offers innovative solutions for smart homes, smart cities, connected mobility, and connected manufacturing. It uses its expertise in sensor technology, software, and services, as well as its own IoT cloud, to offer its customers connected, cross-domain solutions from a single source. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to deliver innovations for a connected life. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.” The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 460 subsidiary and regional companies in over 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing, engineering, and sales network covers nearly every country in the world. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. At nearly 130 locations across the globe, Bosch employs some 68,700 associates in research and development.

Additional information is available online at www.bosch.com, www.iot.bosch.com, www.bosch-press.com, www.twitter.com/BoschPresse.

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Tuesday Morning Auto News, Jun 25, 2019


Original Article

Faraday Future fires dozens of employees on unpaid leave

Sputtering electric vehicle startup Faraday Future has fired dozens of employees who have been on unpaid leave for months, including manufacturing workers hired to staff the company’s factory in Hanford, California, The Verge has learned. The workers received benefits during this furlough, which started in late 2018, and it had already been extended once already. But the newly-fired employees will see those benefits expire on June 30th, according to termination paperwork provided by a former employee who was granted anonymity due to a nondisclosure agreement with the company.

In addition, Jeff Risher, Faraday Future’s vice president of product, technology, and IP strategy, left the company earlier this year, The Verge has learned. Risher came to Faraday Future from Tesla, where he served as deputy general counsel and chief IP counsel for two years. Risher also spent nearly a decade at Apple. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

John Schilling, Faraday Future’s spokesperson, confirmed the cuts and Risher’s departure in an email to The Verge. “Most” of the hundreds of workers who were on furlough had already “left on their own,” Schilling said, but the company made new cuts over the last few days. He said some workers still remain on furlough, but wouldn’t say how many. “I cannot share the exact number of furloughed workers we let go nor their roles at this time but the company still retains over 350 active workers in the US,” he wrote. Faraday Future had employed around 1,000 workers in the US in the middle of 2018.

The new cuts come after the startup made two splashy but quizzical funding announcements earlier this year. In March, the would-be California automaker announced a joint venture agreement with Chinese mobile gaming company The9 to make EVs in China, with the latter claiming it would contribute up to $600 million to the project. And in April, Faraday Future announced it had signed on an investor willing to put up to $225 million into its stalled US operations.

Both of those deals came with caveats, though, as The Verge previously reported. The Chinese gaming company only had a market capitalization of about $100 million at the time of the announcement. It also doesn’t have to deliver the first $200 million installment for a few months, according to the terms of the deal. Even then, the money from The9 will mostly go to the new joint venture in China.

The other investment Faraday Future recently announced came in the form of bridge financing (or a short-term loan) from Chicago firm Birch Lake Associates, which is known for dealing with restructurings and bankruptcies. And while Faraday Future touted the deal’s ceiling of $225 million, the startup has likely only received a fraction of that so far. The first installment the company recently said it received from Birch Lake is worth just $15 million, according to a previously unreported deed filed with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office.

It’s not clear how much Faraday Future has received so far from either of these deals, but some of the money is likely being used to pay off the company’s debts. While the startup had been hit with 11 new lawsuits from suppliers and contractors between October 2018 and February 2019, four of those are now in the process of being settled, three are in the process of being dismissed, and one has been moved to arbitration, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court records.

That said, Faraday Future’s debts have also ballooned in recent months. The startup’s chief financial officer claimed suppliers and contractors were owed “more than $59 million” at the end of September 2018, according to court documents uncovered by The Verge. But the company recently told Fresno’s Business Journal that it now owes closer to $160 million. Faraday Future executives have also said internally that the company needs at least $500 million to get its first car, the FF91 luxury SUV, into production.

Faraday Future found itself in this most recent financial ditch after it spent most of 2018 fighting with Chinese real estate conglomerate Evergrande, which saved the startup from bankruptcy. Evergrande pledged $2 billion to Faraday Future in exchange for a 45 percent stake in the startup at the end of 2017. But Faraday Future founder and CEO Jia Yueting spent the first $800 million installment ahead of schedule. Evergrande agreed to advance some of the remaining balance of the investment, but only if Jia relinquished control of the company.

The two sides then spent months fighting with each other, and in the meantime Faraday Future nearly ran out of money again. The startup laid off workers near the end of October and cut salaries across the board to stay afloat. One of the two remaining co-founders resigned, along with a number of other key executives. Faraday Future then placed hundreds of workers on unpaid leave, and expanded that furlough in December to include hundreds more.

Faraday Future and Evergrande eventually called a truce on the last day of 2018. Evergrande reduced its stake in the company to 32 percent and allowed Faraday Future to find new investors. As it searched for backers, Faraday Future sold its headquarters to free up some short-term cash, and put the land it owns in Nevada — where the company once planned to build a $1 billion factory — up for sale, too. That land, though, is now being held by Birch Lake as collateral.

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Peter Thiel-backed auto commerce startup Drive Motors has a new name and $5M in capital

Not that long ago, visiting the website of an auto dealership was a little like going to a store without a cash register. The retailer’s website might list all the cars, trucks and SUVs in its inventory, but there would be no way to actually buy one online.

A digital commerce startup called Drive Motors jumped in to fill that void. Unlike Carvana and Shift and other online used car startups that have emerged on the scene, this company is providing the “buy button” for  dealerships and automakers by creating a native transaction layer within their existing webpages and stores.

Now, the three-year-old company is flush with a fresh injection of capital, high-profile investors and a new name that founder Aaron Krane says better reflects its broader vision and business plan. 

The startup, now called Modal, has raised $5 million in capital from new investors, including Peter Thiel, Japanese dealer conglomerate IDOM, and Ally Ventures, the investing arm of national auto lender Ally Financial.

The company started small, first landing local dealerships in California as customers of its real-time financing and digital commerce platform. Today, its customers include auto brands and some of the largest dealer groups in the country. In 2018, the startup saw its online monthly volume per store double to more than $1.8 million per month, and more than $10 million per month for top-performing individual stores.

That transaction layer is still the core feature of the company’s business, Krane told TechCrunch. Modal has added several new features since its last funding round, including real-time financing, digital documents and in-store point of sale.

Krane initially landed on the name Drive Motors because it sounded relevant to the auto dealerships he wanted to win over and not the Silicon Valley tech world where he had come from. (Krane founded Drive Motors after selling his fantasy sports startup Hitpost to Yahoo, and becoming an entrepreneur-in-residence at Khosla Ventures.)

The new name and capital just better reflects its broader strategy, he added. Krane landed on the name Modal because it embodies the company’s primary mission of delivering transactions within someone else’s experience.

“We want to be invisible, we want to be a fully self-contained embedded feature within a car brand’s vehicle page, or a car retailer’s vehicle page,” Krane said. “We don’t want to change the context on the buyer at all; that’s a philosophy that starts at the top and penetrates all the way down even the smallest decisions in our company.”

That notion of transparency and self-contained interactions led Krane to the new name because “modal,” in software terminology, means a self-contained user interface that is overlaid on top of an existing application page and keeps that existing application page in full view the whole time.

The new name also hints towards where the company is headed.

“The platform starts with just creating accessibility to a digital transaction, but it becomes the ultimate channel to introduce an entire ownership operating system, which can span everything from the more contemporary mundane automotive needs like servicing, all the way through introducing the most far out mobility or connected vehicle features,” Krane said.

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