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Meet Surf Air Mobility, the Startup Trying To Electrify Air Travel
Yet some startups, like Hawthorne-based Surf Air Mobility, are looking to the electrification of air travel as a possible solution. On Wednesday, Surf Air announced it will go public by merging with blank-check company Tuscan Holdings Corp and Florida-based commuter airline Southern Airways, in a deal that values the combined company at $1.42 billion. The transaction is expected to raise up to $467 million, giving Surf Air much-needed capital to expand its vision for a fully electric airline.
Co-founded by CEO Sudhin Shahani and Chief Brand Officer Liam Fayed in 2012, Surf Air is a charter flight service with an electrified twist. Its single-engine, eight-seater Pilatus PC-12 aircraft is capable of a 2,150-mile flight range and a max speed of 330 miles. While that’s not as long nor as fast as most major commercial airplanes, it suits the carrier’s regional flights between local airports across the country, which are available to members who pay a starting rate of $199 per month.
Surf Air has stacked a notable slate of investors and advisors in recent years. Chairman Carl Albert is an airline industry veteran; he was CEO of turboprop charter airline Wings West before it was acquired by American Airlines and also ran manufacturing outfit Fairchild Aircraft for a decade. Other notable investors include billionaire businessman and Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, banking heir Alexandre de Rothschild and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, as well as local venture firms M13, Plus Capital and TenOneTen Ventures.
Though Surf Air has been eyeing an IPO since 2020, Shahani told Bloomberg that the startup’s business really took off during the pandemic, when many travelers who could afford charter flights were eager to skip larger, more crowded planes and airports. The newly merged company expects to generate roughly $100 million in revenue across all of its business units in 2022, it said Wednesday. “We’ve grown 50% last year to this year,” Shahani told Bloomberg.
The company aims to electrify all of its regional flights through the development of both an original hybrid and electric powertrain, which it can use to retrofit turboprop aircraft like its fleet of Cessna Grand Caravans and create fully electric planes. It also hopes to expand to more terminals—something that will be aided by the merger with Southern Airways, which serviced 39 cities and 300,000 customers last year.
Surf Air says that if it achieves that vision, it’ll be able to completely neutralize its emissions while reducing operating costs by half. Right now, Surf Air says its hybrid planes in action are producing half the emissions of a standard flight while saving about a quarter of the cost. The company doesn’t have a deadline on when its fully electric powertrain will be ready, but announced a deal Thursday with aircraft developer AeroTEC and propulsion firm Magnix to make more hybrid electric powertrains for its Cessnas, which could speed up the timeline.
Surf Air’s competitors in the realm of flight electrification include Textron, Cape Air and NASA, which started testing electric planes two years ago. Another airline, Hawaiian Air, is invested in a company that makes electric sea gliders, while Boeing is also testing electric planes. According to a recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there are 170 similar projects underway.
“We believe deploying hybrid electric propulsion technology on existing aircraft at scale will be the most significant step we can take toward decarbonization of aviation in this decade,” Shahani said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re at a moment when the increasing consumer demand for faster, affordable, and cleaner regional travel will be met with [Surf Air]’s electrification ecosystem to accelerate the industry’s adoption of green flying.”
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Starting today, Glendale’s most meme-able outdoor mall, The Americana at Brand, will be home to the Amazon Style store—the ecommerce giant’s first foray into brick-and-mortar apparel retail. We got an early sneak peak inside the new digs (located on the corner with Sprinkles Cupcakes, next to H&M and the Apple store) and were able to try out some of its tech-enabled features, which—as ever with Amazon—seek to make the act of shopping as easy as possible.
1. It’s Bigger Than It Looks—Even From the Inside
The floor is massive—laying out original products from Amazon’s own apparel lines alongside name brands like Theory, Adidas and Calvin Klein, as well as several other lines that have up until now only existed online. But the actual store is much larger than the two floors that most customers will only ever see.
Amazon Style is just the front—the homepage, if you will—behind which a large warehouse facility keeps a gigantic surplus of inventory. A floor-to-ceiling glass window on the main floor gives shoppers just a peak behind the scenes, as employees help load industrial-sized elevators with racks of goods to send upstairs to the dressing rooms.
2. Online Shopping IRL
When perusing the store’s bouquet of cottagecore maxi dresses, Kendall & Kylie blazers and, yes, a whole section dedicated to Y2K apparel, one doesn’t just pick an item off the rack and take it with you while you shop. Instead, each rack has a barcode that you can scan via the Amazon Shopping app, which has your sizes pre-loaded from previous purchases. (You can opt for a different size if you choose.) That cues an AI-enabled algorithm to start searching through the store’s warehoused catalog and zip the desired item over to the second floor, where the dressing room provides its own glimpse into the future of shopping.
The store also boasts a version of The Drop, an Amazon staple that allows online customers to shop entire influencer-curated collections for a 30-hour flash window.
3. Changing Stations of the Future—Today
Your phone also acts as your keycard to get into your personal dressing room. To prevent waiting, you are put in a virtual cue the moment you scan your first item; should the Amazon app prompt that your room is ready while you’re still shopping, a tap of your screen allows you to hold your spot in the queue while freeing up the room for someone else. (And if your phone dies while you’re waiting, Amazon says a Style employee on the floor will be happy to help you keep your place in line, or hook you up with a charge.)
Amazon Style’s dressing rooms offer a tech-enabled twist to trying on clothes.Image by Joshua Letona
The changing room is like its own parlor trick. Designed to look like a walk-in closet, one wall has a full-length mirror and a giant touchscreen while another has all the clothes you scanned in your style and size preference. Expect to see a few surprises in there, as Amazon’s algorithm picks out other stuff you might want to try on based on your picks. It would be spooky if it wasn’t so convenient—an IRL mashup of the online retailer’s “Recommended Based on Your Purchases” and “Frequently Bought Together” features.
If an item doesn’t fit quite right or you want to see how a skirt looks in blue instead of black, just tap the touchscreen to request a variant. Or an entirely new outfit, as the screen makes available everything in the facility. Then just bring it down to checkout—perhaps the wildest part of this ride.
4. Palming the Bucks
Checking out of Amazon Style’s flagship store is what really blew my mind—although apparently it’s because I haven’t been to one of the Amazon Go, Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods locations where cashless checkouts have been an option in select stores since 2020.
I assumed you could just walk out the door with your purchase, because I watch "Saturday Night Live" sketches for news. While the Go payment option isn't available at Amazon Style, there are several checkout options to keep the experience as frictionless and non-cumbersome as possible.
One way is to take the clothes you want out of the dressing room and go directly to Amazon’s palm-enabled checkout kiosks. That’s right: Register on the spot for an Amazon One account, and you need merely to wave your hand over a little black device that reads your palm and charges your on-file payment method. It’s super convenient for everyone except $10 boardwalk psychics, who just may be put out of business by such technology.
For the more traditional set, you still have the option of paying via credit card or cash.
Shoppers can check out of Amazon Style with the wave of a palm. Image by Joshua Letona
5. Supply & Demand & Return
Amazon Style’s brick-and-mortar location opens up a variety of new ways to shop, return and exchange clothing. For instance, you can order a load of clothes online and pick them up in the store; anything you don’t want can be returned in the store without you ever having to print a shipping label.
See something you like but don’t have time to try it on? Just scan the barcode, pick it up at the front of the store and pay on your way out without ever going into a dressing room.
The Amazon Shopping app also boasts a Deals feature, which automatically sorts for the best price on items to help customers either save money (or believe they are).
While Glendale is home to the only Style store so far, Amazon isn’t ruling out more locations. With fewer retailers able to afford rents on America’s main strips and shopping malls, Amazon’s resources—and its unique position at the intersection of tech and retail—make it easy to envision more Style stores on the horizon.
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Three months after opening its new headquarters in Santa Monica, micromobility startup Veo is expanding its fleet and its footprint. As of last week, riders have been able to cross the municipal boundary between Santa Monica and L.A. and take trips north to Will Rogers State Beach, south to Marina Del Rey and east to Mar Vista.
“It’s good to see more people able to actually commute from Santa Monica to a nearby neighborhood…because in the past, we [did] see a lot of people stopped at the boundary,” said Veo CEO Candice Xie.
A screenshot shows Veo scooters' new availability on the west side of the city of L.A.
Still, riders will not be able to ride all through the city of L.A. The city of L.A. has only granted them permits for 500 vehicles. Xie said they’re focusing on expanding the boundaries of where their mostly Santa Monica-based users are already indicating they want to ride.
As part of the expansion, the company is adding a mixed fleet of 400 e-bikes and 100 standing scooters.
Enterprising riders who venture beyond the new, expanded geofenced zone can expect to receive a warning text message and for their vehicle to come to a slow stop. In addition, they will not be allowed to leave the e-scooter or e-bike outside of the zone without incurring a penalty that starts at $15.
Currently, it costs riders $1 to unlock and $0.33 cents per minute to ride (plus tax and fees). Residents of Santa Monica and Los Angeles who qualify can apply to ride at a reduced rate through Veo Access, where riders pay $5 per month for unlimited 30 minute rides.
Xie said that the permit approval process for the city of L.A. took longer than originally anticipated and that this new expansion will happen in phases, with the next phase anticipated in two to three months.
Veo is the seventh micromobility operator currently permitted in the city of Los Angeles, joining rivals Bird, Lime, Wheels, LINK (Superpedestrian), Lyft and Spin.
Veo’s expansion comes at a precarious time for the shared micromobility market. Earlier this month, Santa Monica-based Bird laid off 23% of its staff. Layoffs were also reported at both Superpedestrian and Voi this week.
However, Xie said that Veo is doubling down on both the greater L.A. area and California as a whole, as it recently launched in Berkeley and intends to move into Santa Clara and San Jose soon. As other companies lay off workers in pursuit of profitability, Xie said Veo is expanding.
“We're still hiring from the community and want to increase our exposure and also have more local talent join us.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Veo vehicles were already available in Santa Clara.
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