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E-moto startup Alta Motors reportedly powers down

Brisbane, California based e-motorcycle startup Alta Motors has ceased operations, TechCrunch has confirmed. 

Earlier today Asphalt and Rubber — and several subsequent outlets — reported the company stopped operating this morning, fired its staff, and may be looking for a buyer. Alta has yet to comment on the situation.

“As of this morning I no longer represent Alta Motors so I’m not in a position to speak on it,” a former Alta Motors spokesperson told TechCrunch on background when asked about the shutdown. “I forwarded your request for more info to the board, and they’ll have to comment,” said the former comms rep. Alta’s head office has not respond to requests for comment.

The EV company specializes in producing dual-sport and high performance electric powered off-road motorcycles. The startup had raised $45 million and counts Tesla co-founders Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard among its investors.

Alta made news in March when it entered a co-development partnership with Harley Davidson. This aligned with Harley’s EV push, including the debut of a production e-moto by 2019, an expanded electric line-up to follow, and the opening of a Silicon Valley research facility.

Harley Davidson wouldn’t give a solid “no” to reports its partnership with Alta had concluded but their statement TechCrunch seems a pretty strong indication they’re business with the startup is in the past.

“Our collaborative efforts with Alta Motors were productive and we were pleased with the development work we partnered on,” Harley Davidson Communications Director Patricia Sweeney told TechCrunch.  

TechCrunch visited Alta’s facilities, tested its motorcycles, and interviewed co-founder Marc Fenigstein earlier this year. The startup has 70 dealerships nationwide  and our reporting flagged it is a potential acquisition target in a motorcycle industry that could be shifting electric.

On the competition level, Alta has been attempting compete with gas bikes by seeking entrance in American Motorcycle Association sanctioned motocross events. In September, the company became the first e-moto to earn a podium spot in AMA competition in another race class, endurocross.

With Harley Davidson’s EV commitment potentially pushing the motorcycle industry to voltage, Alta could be a discounted acquisition and R&D buy for Indian Motorcycle or  other major gas companies — Honda, Yamaha, BMW — who have been slow to develop production e-motos.

The space pen became the space pen 50 years ago

Everyone knows about the space pen. NASA spent millions on R&D to create the ultimate pen that would work in zero gravity and the result was this incredible machine. Well, no. In fact it was made by a pen manufacturer in 1966 — but it wasn’t until October of 1968 that it went into orbit and fulfilled its space pen destiny.

The pen was created by pen maker (naturally) Paul Fisher, who used $1 million of his own money to create the AG-7 anti-gravity pen. As you may or may not know, the innovation was a pressurized ink cartridge and gel ink that would deploy reliably regardless of orientation, temperature or indeed the presence of gravity.

He sent it to NASA, which was of course the only organization reliably worried about making things work in microgravity, and they loved it. In fact, the Russians started using it shortly afterwards, as well.

Walt Cunningham, Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele took the pens aboard with them for the Apollo 7 mission, which launched on October 11, 1968, and they served them well over the next 11 days in orbit.

A 50th anniversary edition of the pen is now available to people who have a lot of money and love gold stuff. It’s $500, a limited edition of 500, and made of “gold titanium nitride plated brass,” and it comes with a case and commemorative plaque with a quote from Cunningham:

“Fifty years ago, I flew with the first flown Space Pen on Apollo 7. I relied on it then, and it’s still the only pen I rely on here on Earth.”

Okay, that’s pretty cool. Presumably astronauts get a lifetime supply of these things, though.

Here’s to the Fisher space pen, an example of American ingenuity and simple, reliable good design that’s persisted in use and pop culture for half a century.

Knotch launches Blueprint to help marketers find the best publishers of sponsored content

When I last wrote about Knotch, the company had just patented its color-based feedback system that helps advertisers measure the effectiveness of their sponsored content.

Since then, it’s added a competitive intelligence product and now Blueprint, a tool for marketers who want to find the best topics, formats and partners to reach their desired audience.

Lara Vandenberg, Knotch’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, told me that agencies had been asking the company to recommend which publishers to work with, so Blueprint is meant to meet that need. She described it as both “this ultimate content planning product” and as “a predictive matchmaker for brands as content becomes so much more of a focus.”

To accomplish this, she said Knotch is scouring the web for sponsored content, then automatically identifying elements like content, themes and trends.

Knotch Blueprint

Marketers can then access this data by browsing through different themes and publishers. They also can search based on the audience and metrics that they’re looking for, and Blueprint will recommend publishers that seem like a good fit. Blueprint offers detailed information about publishers, like how often they’re publishing sponsored content, who their advertisers are and what kind of response they’re getting.

In some cases, marketers can even click a button to send a message directly to the publisher’s sales team.

The initial brands using Blueprint include JP Morgan Chase and Ford. Vandenberg said the product will only be monetized on the brand side, but publishers can also claim their profiles, turning them into “verified” accounts where Knotch measures their sponsored content directly.

“The idea is for Knotch to be with a brand at every phase of the content cycle, except for the creating,” Vandenberg said. That means the company wants to be involved in “the measurement, the optimization, the distribution, the planning.”