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Join Fuel Capital’s Leah Solivan at TC Early Stage and hear how to avoid early founder mistakes

By Darrell Etherington

When you’re just starting out building your company, there’s obviously a lot that can go wrong. Especially if you’re a first-time founder (but even if you’re an experienced serial entrepreneur), it can be hard to spot the potential pitfalls that might lead you astray before you even really get rolling. That’s why we’re thrilled to have Fuel Capital General Partner Leah Solivan joining us at TechCrunch Early Stage – Operations and Fundraising on April 1 & 2 for a discussion about how to avoid making some of the biggest mistakes early in your founding journey.

Solivan brings her keen insight as an early-stage investor who has invested in and helped many early-stage companies spanning consumer tech, marketplaces, hardware and retail — but also her eight years of experience leading TaskRabbit, the startup she founded and led to a successful exit when it was acquired by IKEA in 2017. Between her time as an operator building a successful business and raising more than $50 million in venture funding, and her nearly four years investing and helping other founders build companies with Fuel, Solivan has unparalleled perspective on how to avoid common company-building problems early on.

Fuel CapitalGeneral Partner Leah Solivan. Image Credits: Meg Messina

At TC Early Stage this year, our two-day virtual event focused on entrepreneurs turning their startup dreams into reality, we’re focusing on both operations and fundraising, with a variety of top speakers ranging from investors, to accelerator managers, to subject-matter experts in key roles that startups need to invest in early on. The fully virtual event will include not only virtual panel discussions and interviews like our chat with Solivan, but also plenty of networking and opportunities for audience participation with our world-class speakers and guests.

TC Sessions: Justice 2021 kicks off in two weeks

By Alexandra Ames

We’re only two weeks away from TC Sessions: Justice 2021, a virtual conference focused on making diversity, equity, inclusion and labor as integral to tech as data, software engineers, startups and venture capital.

Join your global community on March 3 for a day packed with presentations, panel discussions and fireside chats with the top social justice warriors, leaders and innovators in tech today. Just look at this speaker lineup. As always, we’ll have ample time for networking so you can connect and discover new people and new opportunities to change the world.

We believe accessibility and inclusion starts at home, which is why you can get a TC Sessions: Justice pass for $5. Here are just a few of the outstanding presentations on tap — be sure to read the TC Sessions: Justice 2021 agenda. We have a few surprises and more speakers in store, so check back in the coming weeks to see what’s new.

Meeting of the Minds: Diversity and inclusion as an idea has been on the agenda of tech companies for years now. But the industry still lacks true inclusion, despite best efforts put forth by heads of diversity, equity and inclusion at these companies. We’ll seek to better understand what’s standing in the way of progress and what it’s going to take to achieve real change. Wade Davis (Netflix), Bo Young Lee (Uber).

Identifying and Dismantling Tech’s Deep Systems of Bias: Nearly every popular technology or service has within it systems of bias or exclusion, ignored by the privileged but obvious to the groups affected. How should these systems be exposed and documented, and how can we set about eliminating them and preventing more from appearing in the future? Mutale Nkonde (AI for the People), Haben Girma (disability rights lawyer) and Safiya Umoja Noble (author of “Algorithms of Oppression”).

Demystifying First-Check Fundraising with First-Check Investors: There are so many ways to finance your startup that don’t include Y combinator or a traditional fund. In this stacked panel, founders will hear how to leverage unconventional communities and resources to get the first dollars they need to execute. Brian Brackeen (Lightship Capital), Astrid Scholz (Zebras Unite), Sydney Thomas (Precursor Ventures).

You’ll also get to meet some of the diverse early-stage startup founders participating in the TechCrunch Include program and watch them deliver their best pitch in a live feedback session.

TC Sessions: Justice 2021 takes place on March 3. Buy your pass, and spend the day listening to and learning from the people leading the charge for meaningful change in tech.

Is your company interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Justice 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Imagine a better future for social media at TechCrunch Sessions: Justice

By Taylor Hatmaker

Toxic culture, deadly conspiracies and organized hate have exploded online in recent years. We’ll discuss how much responsibility social networks have in the rise of these phenomena and how to build healthy online communities that make society better, not worse at TechCrunch Sessions: Justice on March 3.

Join us for a wide-ranging discussion with Rashad Robinson, Jesse Lehrich and Naj Austin that explores what needs to change to make social networks more just, healthy environments rather than dangerous echo chambers that amplify society’s ills.

Naj Austin is the founder and CEO of Somewhere Good and Ethel’s Club. She has spent her career building digital and physical products that make the world a more intersectional and equitable space. She was named one of Inc. magazine’s 100 Female Founders transforming America, a HuffPost Culture Shifter of 2020 and Time Out New York’s 2020 list of women making NYC better.

Jesse Lehrich is a co-founder of Accountable Tech. He has a decade of experience in political communications and issue advocacy, including serving as the foreign policy spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, where he was part of the team managing the response to Russia’s information warfare operation.

Rashad Robinson is the President of Color Of Change, a leading racial justice organization driven by more than 7.2 million members who are building power for Black communities. Color Of Change uses innovative strategies to bring about systemic change in the industries that affect Black people’s lives: Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood, Washington, corporate board rooms, local prosecutor offices, state capitol buildings and city halls around the country.

Under Rashad’s leadership, Color Of Change designs and implements winning strategies for racial justice, among them: forcing corporations to stop supporting Trump initiatives and white nationalists; framing net neutrality as a civil rights issue; holding local prosecutors accountable to end mass incarceration, police violence and financial exploitation across the justice system; forcing over 100 corporations to abandon ALEC, the secretive right-wing policy shop; changing representations of race and racism in Hollywood; moving Airbnb, Google and Facebook to implement anti-racist initiatives; and forcing Bill O’Reilly off the air.

Be sure to join us for this conversation and much more at TechCrunch Sessions: Justice on March 3.

Reimagining the path forward for the formerly incarcerated at TechCrunch Sessions: Justice

By Devin Coldewey

Reentering society after having been incarcerated by the criminal justice system can be daunting. Advances in technology and the continued, unchecked march of capitalism place obstacles in paths that can generally be difficult to overcome.

Fortunately for these returning citizens there are a variety of programs and resources designed to help get them up to speed. One such organization, The Last Mile, aims to help incarcerated folks learn skills so that they have a shot to get jobs after they reenter society. And some companies, like Slack, have committed to hiring returned citizens.

At TechCrunch Sessions: Justice on March 3, we’ll examine the importance of opportunities for returning citizens upon release from incarceration with a panel of people working in this important transition space. Joining us for the virtual discussion will be Aly Tamboura, strategic advisor at the newly formed Justice Accelerator Fund; Jason Jones, remote instruction manager for The Last Mile; and Deepti Rohatgi, head of Slack for Good and Public Affairs.

Aly Tamboura graduated from The Last Mile program while at San Quentin. Until recently, Tamboura was a manager in the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, where he helped to guide the organization toward one of its stated goals, to reform the American criminal justice system. Just last week, the Justice Accelerator Fund announced that Tamboura joined the grantmaking organization as its first strategic advisor. Tamboura will work alongside Founder and Executive Director Ana Zamora to “operationalize the fund and launch its first grantmaking strategy later this year.”

Jason Jones also graduated from The Last Mile in 2018. Upon his release from San Quentin, he joined the organization as its remote instruction manager. He is a web developer and volunteers at West Oakland’s McClymonds High School teaching coding.

Slack decided to build its own take on programs like The Last Mile with Next Chapter, which helps train up formerly incarcerated individuals for jobs in tech, and has hired a few itself. Deepti Rohatgi leads Slack for Good, which developed the program, though other companies have signed on to give it a try.

Join us on March 3 at TC Sessions: Justice to hear from Tamboura, Jones, and Rohatgi about how the ability to start from a place of strength can help set folks up for success, as well as what the tech industry can do to help foster this environment. You can get your $5 ticket here.

We’re talking startup sales with Zoom CRO Ryan Azus at TechCrunch Early Stage

By Alex Wilhelm

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Zoom chief revenue officer (CRO) Ryan Azus is joining us at TechCrunch Early Stage on April 1.

Azus has worked at Cisco, RingCentral and most recently Zoom. In his previous roles he held a number of sales titles, including his final role at RingCentral where he was its executive vice president of global sales and services.

Zoom needs little introduction, having crossed over from enterprise software success story to consumer phenomenon during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which time companies, groups, individuals and families leaned on the video chat provider to stay in touch.

Azus has been at the helm of Zoom’s money engine since mid-2019, which means that he has sat atop it during one of the most impressive periods of sales growth at any software company — ever.

So we’re glad that he’ll be at TC Early Stage this year, where we’ll pepper him with questions. Bring your own, of course, as we’ll be reserving around half our time for audience Q&A.

But the TechCrunch crew has a plethora of things we want to chat about too, including the importance of bottom-up sales during the pandemic, especially in contrast to the more traditional sales bullpen model that many startups have historically used; how to balance self-service sales and human-powered sales at a tech company that presents both options to customers, and their relative strength in 2021; changes to sales incentive metrics at Zoom over time from which startups might be able to learn; and how to maintain order and culture in a quickly scaling, remote sales organization.

We’re also curious how Zoom managed to adapt to the pandemic itself, like how long it took the company to reach full-strength from a sales perspective as it moved to remote work and customers that were also out of the office. The simple answer is that his company simply used more of its own product, but there’s more to the story that we want to hear.

Often at TechCrunch events we round up a cadre of executives from well-known technology companies and then hammer them for news. Early Stage is a bit different, focusing instead on extracting knowledge, tips and what-pitfalls-to-avoid from tech folks interested in helping startups do more, more quickly.

Azus won’t be coming alone. Bucky Moore from Kleiner will be in the house, along with Neal Sales-Griffin (a managing director at Techstars) and Eghosa Omoigui (a managing general partner at EchoVC Partners). The list goes on, as you can see here. (We’re also having a big pitch-off, so make sure to come to both days of the event.)

TC Early Stage continues TechCrunch’s recent spate of virtual events, so no matter where you are, you can tune in and learn. Register today to take advantage of early bird pricing, don’t forget to bring your best questions, and we’ll see you in early April!

Just two weeks left to score early-bird passes for TC Early Stage

By Alexandra Ames

Tackling the learning curve that comes with building a startup is not for the faint of heart. So many questions, so little time to search out reliable, actionable advice. Enter TechCrunch Early Stage 2021 — two distinct, virtual bootcamps designed specifically for early-stage founders and open to entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts.

Budget-friendly tips: TC Early Stage part one takes place April 1-2, and you have two weeks left to score the early bird price and save up to $250. Founder passes cost $199 and Innovator passes (for investors and other startup fans) cost $299. The early-bird deadline ends at 11:59 p.m. (PT) on February 27. Buy a dual-event pass to learn and save even more (TC Early Stage – Marketing and Fundraising runs July 8-9). The TC Early Stage April and July bootcamps feature different speakers, topics and content.

At TC Early Stage, you’ll take part in interactive sessions and learn from the leading experts and investors who span the range of the startup ecosystem — operations, product lifecycle, fundraising and recruiting for starters. Here are just two examples of the people ready to help you move your startup dreams forward.

Learn from folks like Alexa von Tobel as she leads a discussion on Finance for Founders. Got questions about raising Series A funding? Don’t miss Bucky Moore of Kleiner Perkins as he breaks down that complicated topic.

Ready for an awesome plot twist? We’re adding an exciting opportunity on day two of both TC Early Stage bootcamps — the TC Early Stage Pitch-Off. Ten early-stage startups will get to pitch live to a global audience of investors, press and tech industry leaders. That kind of exposure can change a startup’s trajectory in the best possible way.

You’ll find all the Pitch-off details here — how it works, who qualifies to compete, what competitors receive and the prizes in store for the ultimate winner. Or cut to the chase and apply for the April 2 pitch-off here before the clock hits 11:59 p.m. (PT) on February 21.

Whether you’re competing or watching, Katia Paramonova, founder and CEO of Centrly (who attended Early Stage 2020), says a pitch critique shows you ways to strengthen your pitch deck.

“The pitch deck teardown session was great. VCs reviewed my deck and gave specific, actionable advice. Watching them provide comments on other decks was helpful, too. We’re incorporating the feedback and when we start fundraising, the improved slides will make it easier for VCs to understand our value proposition.”

TC Early Stage Operations & Fundraising takes place on April 1-2. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn the essentials of building a stronger startup. And don’t miss out on early bird savings. Buy your pass (remember, you’ll save more and learn twice as much with a dual-event pass) before 11:59 p.m. (PT) on February 27.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Early Stage 2021 — Operations & Fundraising? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

EchoVC’s Eghosa Omoigui to talk about how founders can avoid blind spots at Early Stage 2021

By Kirsten Korosec

The All-22 tape is perhaps one of the most valued tools for professional football coaches because it allows the viewer to see all 22 players on the field at the same time. It improves a coach’s line of sight and, most importantly, helps avoid missing a critical motion or player.

The upshot: It removes the blind spot. The concept of this tool can — and should — be applied in the startup world as well. Successful founders and investors understand the playbook on both sides of the ball. For founders, that means being able to zoom out and see each of their employees’ points of view and being inclusive. Without an All-22 tape, founders can mistakenly spend too much on engineering while ignoring the product rollout strategy, or forget to communicate with employees outside of their bubble of interest. A company can become fragmented as more blind spots emerge, which can ultimately lead to oversights that damage its reputation, operations or even its ability to raise money from investors.

It’s a skillset that is developed through practice. Luckily, Eghosa Omoigui, the founder and managing general partner of EchoVC Partners, a seed and early-stage technology venture capital firm serving underrepresented founders and underserved markets, is coming to Early Stage 2021 to give early-stage founders the tools they need to develop their own All-22 tape.

TC Early Stage – Operations & Fundraising is a virtual event focused on early-stage founders happening on April 1 & 2. The event will include breakout sessions led by investors and experts that break down the most difficult parts of building a business.

Here’s a look of Omoigui’s talk:

The All-22 View

Improving line of sight and dynamic field of play aperture is rarely discussed but hugely important. Great founders, operators and investors have an understanding of playbooks on both sides of the ball. We’ll talk through learnings and some ideas on how to build muscle memory and skillsets.

Omoigui, who was previously director of consumer internet and semantic technologies at Intel Capital, will share his experiences and tips to help founders see every aspect of their company. Register for TC Early Stage 2021 today and catch his All-22 Tape talk.

 

Reflections on the first all-virtual CES

By Brian Heater

I’ve spent more time than I care to mention over the last several years wondering aloud about the value of in-person trade shows. There’s something seemingly antiquated in the idea of jamming a bunch of people in a room, walking from booth to booth. Sure, they’ve fulfilled an important need in the past, but aren’t they just a relic in this hyperconnected world?

I’ve always assumed that if trade shows were to go extinct, it would be a gradual process — a slow fade into cultural irrelevance, like bookstores and record stores (both things I miss dearly). Technology has, for many intents and purposes, dramatically reduced their relative value to our society.

While it’s undoubtedly true that Spotify and the Kindle Store are lacking in much of the appeal and all of the charm of their real-world counterparts, we’re happy to sacrifice all that and more at the alter of convenience.

A rampaging pandemic has effectively given us a year without in-person trade shows. That means, among other things, we’ve had a much more immediate control variable in this question about trade shows. Last year’s CES managed to get in just under the wire. The next major consumer electronics show — Mobile World Congress — was eventually canceled after much hand-wringing.

The CTA (the governing body behind CES) appeared to have been planning a scaled-back in-person version of the show this year, following a similar move by the team behind the Berlin-based IFA over the summer. By July, however, it was clear that such a plan was untenable. To put it bluntly, the United States didn’t have its shit together when it comes to keeping this virus in check (I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that we just hit 400,000 deaths on the day I’m writing this).

CES 2021 was far from the first tech show to go all virtual over this past year. The size and scope of the event, on the other hand, are relatively unique here. Per the CTA, the 2020 show drew north of 170,000 attendees. The majority of the tech events I’ve attended virtually in the past year have been put on by a single company. CES is obviously a different beast entirely.

The CTA’s (nee CEA) role in the industry certainly afforded it a fair bit of goodwill up front. The show, after all, dates back to the late-60s. It has ebbed and flowed over the years (taking hits from external forces like the 2008 financial crisis), but it has remained a constant. Those of us who’ve been doing this for a while tend to face the show with equal parts anticipation and dread. But the companies always come out.

Per the CTA’s numbers, nearly 2,000 companies launched products at the 2021 event. The figure pales in comparison to the 4,419 companies exhibiting last year, but that’s to be expected. In addition to the uncertain nature of the event, it’s been a remarkably crappy year for plenty of companies. I certainly had my questions and doubts going in — chief among them was the value of an event like this for a startup? Without an in-person element, wasn’t this just yet another chance to get lost in the noise?

I heard similar feedback from startups on the side, though ultimately nearly 700 chose to exhibit at the show. I know because I ended up going through all of them for the purposes of our coverage. It brought back a kind of visceral memory of the year I challenged myself to walk every square inch of the show, and ended up being challenging for entirely different reasons.

Ultimately, this was the element I missed the most. For me, CES’s biggest appeal has been the element of discovery. Eureka Park, the jam-packed startup portion of the show at the Sands Expo, is easily the best part. The vast majority of exhibitors are not for us, but I still get a charge stumbling on something new and innovative I’ve not seen before. The blogger instinct that lives dormant inside kicks in and I can’t wait to get back in front of my laptop to tell the world.

There was no Eureka Park this year — not even a virtual version. There’s just no good way to approximate a show floor online — at least none that I’m aware of. A couple of existing contacts offered to send me stuff in the mail to look out. Sensel, for instance, has a new version of its trackpad (which it announced today will be integrated into Lenovo’s latest ThinkPad). But for obvious reasons, it’s just not possible to get all 700 startups to send review units to my one-bedroom in Queens.

More than anything, the virtual event highlighted the technology limitations of an event at this scale. Press conferences are simple enough (though I found frustration in the various different platforms the CTA employed). More often than not, these felt like lengthy commercials for the exhibiting company. The in-person versions are, as well, of course, but we tend to be blinded by the spectacle. For my own purposes, there just wasn’t a lot that that couldn’t have been accomplished more efficiently with a press release.

The nature of news releases was far more nebulous this year. More companies seemingly took liberties by dumping their news well ahead of the show. Other companies offered their own sort of counter programming. One of the biggest advantages to these events when it comes to my own peace of mind is how they regulate the news flow. I know going into the year that there’s going to be one hair-pullingly difficult week at the beginning of the year where a ton of news is announced.

With CES less of a center of gravity this year, I anticipated seeing a less segmented news flow. I’ve commented to colleagues over the last couple of years that there’s “no more slow season” when it comes to hardware news, and this will likely only increase that sentiment. Obviously there’s upside in having things more evenly spread out, but I’ve got the feeling we’re moving toward something more akin to a series of small CES-like events throughout the year, and the thought makes my blood turn cold.

It’s been clear in recent years that companies would rather break out from the noise of CES in favor of their own events, following in Apple’s footsteps. Virtual events are a perfect opportunity to adopt that approach. Apple, meanwhile, moved from one event to a series of one smaller event every month toward the end of the year. When you’re not asking people to fly across the country or world to attend an event, the bar for what qualifies as news lowers considerably. Perhaps instead of having thousands of companies vying for our attention at one event, we’re moving toward a model in which there are instead thousands of events. The mind boggles.

I have some hyper-specific grievances about the CTA’s format, but I’ll save them for the post-event survey that I may or may not get around to filling out. I still found value in the virtual event. It was an excuse to talk to a bunch of startups I wasn’t familiar with. Ultimately, however, I think the event served as a testament to the fact that as much as we bemoan all of the headaches and head colds that come with an event like CES, there’s still a lot of value to be had in the in-person event.

There’s little doubt that the CTA and the rest of these sorts of organizations are champing at the bit to return to in-person events, even as a bumpy vaccine rollout leaves a big question mark around the expected timeline. There’s a very good chance that we’ll view 2020/2021 as the beginning of the end for the in-person trade show. But given the sorts of limitations we’ve seen in the past year, I’m not ready to declare them fully dead any time soon.

The Station: CES trends and Uber plots another spinoff

By Kirsten Korosec

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hi friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

Before I launch into the news of the week, let’s take care of some housekeeping. First, you might have noticed that The Station landed in your email inbox on Sunday, not Saturday.

I have received some feedback that suggests the newsletter is typically read on Sundays. Do you have an alternate view? Please reach out with your opinion on this matter.

When would you like to see The Station? And what do you like and dislike about the newsletter?

One last item: I am now transportation editor at TechCrunch. The title change comes with more responsibility and a mission. I’ll be bringing on more freelancers to expand our “future of transportation” coverage. Mark Harris, an investigative reporter who has already delivered some wonderful articles for us, will be a more regular fixture here. Harris has a knack for rooting out news tucked inside legal documents and filings such as his Tesla tariffs article in 2019 and insights into the passenger capability of Elon Musk’s Las Vegas Loop project.

I hope to add more faces to the transportation bureau in the weeks and months to come.

Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

CES roundup

Mercedes-EQ. MBUX Hyperscreen

Mercedes-EQ. MBUX Hyperscreen

Maybe it was the virtual format, but autonomous vehicle technology didn’t play a starring role at CES this year as it has in the past.

Instead, several other themes emerged at CES, mostly around infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems. And continuing a trend in 2020, there were several gigantic screens, including the Mercedes Hyperscreen that is pictured below.

Pioneer, Harman and Panasonic all revealed future products aimed at bringing more audio and visual technology into the vehicle. Harman, for instance, unveiled three new “experience concepts,” that can turn the infotainment system in a vehicle into a concert hall, recording studio or gaming center.

Panasonic also announced a partnership with UK startup Envisics to jointly develop and commercialize a new generation of head-up displays for cars, trucks and SUVs. Head-up displays, or HUDs, seemed to be everywhere this show. The technology isn’t new. But recent advances are pushing the capabilities of these systems, which are integrated in the dash of a vehicle and project images onto the windshield to aid drivers with navigation and provide other alerts.

Envisics Navigation

Image Credits: Envisics

GM had perhaps the biggest presence at the virtual 2021 CES, at least within the transportation sector. The automaker chose the tech trade show to announce a new business unit called BrightDrop that will focus on electric vans and other products and services for the commercial market. But that wasn’t all.

GM used the opportunity to tease its upcoming Chevrolet Bolt EUV — a vehicle that will have GM’s hands-free highway driving assist technology known as Super Cruise — as well as the Cadillac Celestiq dashboard and even a new logo. The intent of this bouquet of announcements was clear: GM wants the world — and shareholders — to know it’s serious about electrification and connected car tech.

GM’s numerous announcements were hard to miss — there was even an eVTOL. Conversely, Mobileye’s announcements flew a bit under the radar, but are arguably as notable. 

GM showed off two concepts at CES 2021: an autonomous shuttle and a personal eVTOL.

Mobileye outlined plans to expand its autonomous vehicles testing to more cities, which was expected and is in line with the company’s previously stated plans.

What stood out to me was a talk that Mobileye president and CEO Amnon Shashua gave which outlined the company’s vision and progress.

The recap: Mobileye is taking a three-pronged strategy to developing and deploying automated vehicle technology that combines a full self-driving stack — that includes redundant sensing subsystems based on camera, radar and lidar technology— with its REM mapping system and a rules-based Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) driving policy.

Mobileye’s REM mapping system essentially crowdsources data by tapping into nearly 1 million vehicles equipped with its tech to build high-definition maps that can be used to support in ADAS and autonomous driving systems. Shashua said Mobileye’s technology can now map the world automatically with nearly 8 million kilometers tracked daily and nearly 1 billion kilometers completed to date.

The company provided more details at CES about a new lidar System on Chip product that is under development and will come to market in 2025. The lidar, which will use Intel’s specialized silicon photonics fab, is notable because Mobileye is known for its camera-based technology. To be clear, Mobileye is not backing away from that camera-first approach. Shashua explained Mobileye believes the best technological and business approach is to develop a camera-first system and use the lidar and radar as add-ons for redundancy.

In short: Mobileye has the money and existing network to commercialize automated vehicle technology and bring it to the masses.

Below is sampling of our transportation-related CES coverage:

Mercedes unveils Hyperscreen, a 56-inch screen for its flagship EQS electric vehicle

GM targets delivery with new EV business unit BrightDrop

Mobileye is bringing its autonomous vehicle test fleets to at least four more cities in 2021

Sony reveal more details on its secretive Vision S sedan

Holographic startup Envisics partners with Panasonic to fast track in-car AR tech

Startups look beyond lidar for autonomous vehicle perception

BMW previews its next-generation iDrive infotainment system

Sono Motor plans to license the tech that powers it solar electric car

Air taxi startup Archer partners with FCA

Another Uber spinoff is in the works

POSTMATES OUSTER 1

Postmates’ Serve robot is equipped with cameras as well as lidar from Ouster.

Remember when I predicted that autonomous delivery would gain momentum in 2021? It seems that sometimes I am right!

Postmates X, the robotics division of the on-demand delivery startup that Uber acquired last year for $2.65 billion, is seeking investors in its bid to become a separate company called Serve Robotics.

You might recall Serve, the yellow and black-emblazoned autonomous sidewalk delivery bot that was developed and piloted by Postmates X. This robot, which recently partnered with Pink Dot Stores for deliveries in West Hollywood, will likely be the centerpiece of the new startup.

I learned of a few important details of this plan, which is not yet settled. Uber will maintain a stake in this new startup. Uber’s stake was initially low, but has since popped to about 25%, according to sources familiar with the deal.

The company would be run by Ali Kashani, who heads up Postmates X and leads the Serve program. Anthony Armenta would lead the startup’s software efforts and Aaron Leiba would be in charge of hardware — keeping the same positions they hold at Postmates X.

I’ll fill y’all in with more details as I learn them.

Goama lets developers integrate a social gaming platform into their apps

By Catherine Shu

Goama (also known as Go Games) lets developers quickly integrate social games into their apps. Some of Goama’s clients have used it for promotional campaigns, while others rely on the platform, which introduces new games every week, to add a full-fledged gaming function to their app.

The startup, which recently took part in SOSV’s accelerator program, presented last week during CES at the Taiwan Tech Arena pavilion. The event is over, but Goama’s virtual booth is still up.

Some of Goama’s clients are “super apps,” or apps that offer several services and want to include games, too. To better serve super apps, Goama recently introduced a tournament model in addition to its subscription model for users.

[gallery columns="2" ids="2097598,2097599"]

 

The startup says that integrating Goama’s platform can help apps grow brand awareness when people share their results or invite other players tournaments. It also increases user engagement, with players typically spending more than 16 minutes per session playing games. So far, the platform has a combined total of 2.5 million unique users.

The company currently focuses on Asia and Latin America, where mobile penetration is growing quickly, and works with more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, to enable digital payments and communications. Its gaming platform’s user interface can be customized to match host apps and rewards can include points and other prizes that can be spent inside the app. Some companies that have used Goama include food delivery app FoodPanda, Snickers and money transfer app WavePay.

Startups at CES showed how tech can help elderly people and their caregivers

By Catherine Shu

The COVID-19 pandemic shined a harsh spotlight on the challenges many elderly people face. Older adults are among the highest-risk groups for developing cases that need hospitalization and nursing homes were especially vulnerable to outbreaks. While dealing with COVID-19, the elderly have also faced many other problems, including the difficulty of accessing medical care for chronic conditions during lockdowns and isolation.

Many of these issues won’t go away after the pandemic. According to the United Nations, the global population of people 65 and over is growing faster than any other age group. At the same time, there is a critical shortage of caregivers, especially for elderly people who want to continue living at home instead of moving into nursing homes.

Tech can help in many ways: by helping caregivers (and reducing burnout), allowing seniors to perform health monitoring at home and creating tools to combat isolation. During CES, there were several “age-tech” presentations. One of the most notable was AARP Innovation Lab, the non-profit’s startup accelerator program. It presented nine companies at the virtual show.

Zibrio's smart scale for assessing postural stability, or balance

Zibrio’s smart scale for assessing postural stability, or balance

One common theme among AARP’s group was tech that helps elderly people “age in place,” or stay in their homes or communities instead of moving into a nursing home. For example, Wheel Pad designs accessible home and work spaces that can be installed into existing structures and sites. Mighty Health is an app that pairs users with health coaches, certified trainers and personalized nutrition plans, while Zibrio, a scale that assesses users’ balance to predict if they are at risk for a fall, can also be incorporated into at-home routines.

Other startups from AARP Innovation Lab focus on helping caregivers, too. For example, FallCall Solutions’ creates Apple Watch apps that send alerts if a fall is detected and help family members check on users. Another app, called Ianacare, helps family members coordinate caregiving tasks and ask for support. End-of-life planning is one of the most emotionally difficult processes for families, and Cake, an “end-of-life platform” helps by providing tools for estate and health care planning, as well as resources to help relatives cope with caregiving issues and grief.

Other startups center on medical care. For people with chronic conditions, Folia Health helps monitor the progress of treatments. On the clinical side, Embleema’s software allows clinical investigators to share data and design studies, making pharmaceutical research more efficient.

Other noteworthy age-tech startups at CES included Nobi, a smart lamp that automatically turns on when users stand up and sends alerts to family members if they fall. Nobi can also be used in residences and nursing homes.

Caregiver Smart Solution's app for caregivers to coordinate tasks

Caregiver Smart Solution’s app for caregivers to coordinate tasks

Caregiver Smart Solutions is a multi-faceted platform that makes it easier for seniors to stay at home with a machine learning-based app for early detection of potential health issues, fall sensors, monitors and emergency buttons. For people with incontinence, DFree, a wearable device, can reduce stress by monitoring how full their bladder is with an ultrasound sensor and keeping track of their average time between bathroom visits. It’s available for both consumers and health care facilities.

A diagram of companion robot Cutii's features

A diagram of companion robot Cutii’s features

For elderly people living in nursing homes, Rendever is a virtual reality platform that wants to help reduce isolation. It can be used with reminiscence therapy, which guides individuals with dementia through experiences that remind them of their pasts, and to allow virtual travel to landmarks. Cutii, a companion robot, also seeks to reduce loneliness. While companion robots have been a mainstay of CES for years, Cutii sets itself apart with entertainment like music, games and live events. It also has video call and night patrol features.

The pandemic was top of mind in the tech of CES 2021

By Brian Heater

Of course COVID-19 was bound to be an unavoidable topic during the first-ever all-virtual CES. After all, the topic is at front of mind regardless of the topic these days. Close to a year into the pandemic, presenters still understandably feel obligated to address the always-present elephant in the room. Sometimes it was as simple as acknowledging the strangeness of moving from the Las Vegas Convention Center to a Microsoft-powered virtual venue. Other times it felt far more forced.

When it comes to the technology itself, there’s no doubt that the pandemic is going to have a profound effect on the industry for years to come, from health measures to remote work setups. Sometimes it’s a genuinely organic evolution aimed at adapting technology to an ever-changing world. In other cases, it can feel far more exploitative — like the consumer electronics equivalent to a beer commercial discussing “these uncertain times.”

I’ve written a lot about how the pandemic will impact robotics and AI going forward. The short version is that companies will no doubt be more enthusiastic about embracing these technologies, after bumping up against the limitations of a human workforce with a deadly and highly contagious virus spreading across the world.

We saw some glimpses of robotics’ response. Though there tends to be a far longer lead time than in the consumer category. The clearest and most immediate example had to be the prevalence of UV outfitted robotics. LG, Ubtech and Ava Robotics all bombarded my inbox with their take on the category. The desire for disinfecting technology should be clear during a pandemic, and robotics offer both a way to automate a dull and repetitious process like this, while removing a potential human viral vector from the equation.

Image Credits: Razer

UV disinfecting made appearances in a number of other form factors. Phones have been a target for the tech for a few years now. After all, it didn’t take COVID-19 to teach us that smartphones are mobile petri dishes we watch TikToks on. Products like CleanPhone from Canadian startup Glissner are looking to enter a space that’s been thus far dominated by PhoneSoap, which was genuinely ahead of the curve on the phenomenon.

Targus’s keyboard may well have been the most widely reported-on UV solution of the show, because, well, it’s a bit wacky, with an ultraviolet lamp that sits above it.

Masks are another piece of the puzzle that have slowly been infiltrating the show, but really hit a fever pitch this year. Obviously wearing a face mask in public is only a new phenomenon in some countries — in other parts of the world like East Asia it’s long been a normal part of life. Last year, Portland-based Ao Air grabbed some headlines with its own take on the category.

Razer’s Project Hazel was undoubtedly the most prominent mask to debut at the show. It’s big and flashy and a bit of a diversion for a company that primarily trades in gaming peripherals. The N95 mask sports LEDs to indicate charging status and make the wearer’s face visible in dark surroundings. There’s also technology built in to make the wearer’s voice clearer. For the moment, however, it’s hard to see them as much beyond a headline grabber.

One piece I genuinely expected to see more of was remote work. We caught glimpses, like the Dell monitor with Microsoft Teams conferencing built in. Microsoft pitched its new Surface as a remote work machine, but frankly, it didn’t feel any more targeted at that vertical than any other portable Surface.

No doubt many of the innovations companies are working on will have to wait until CES 2022. Fingers crossed, we’ll see them next year in Vegas.

Virtual CES Was As Surreal As We All Suspected It Would Be

By Lauren Goode
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Watch Highlights From WIRED's CES Conversations

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Check out the replays of our talks with former US defense secretary Ash Carter, Nobel laureate Jennifer A. Doudna, Slack CEO Scott Butterfield, and more.

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By Adrienne So
Much of the trade show’s flashy tech will never hit store shelves, but here are a few gadgets that are already available.

Samsung answers Apple with the $199 Galaxy Buds Pro

By Brian Heater

Even before the leaks, we all saw the Galaxy Buds Pro coming. It was a given that the company was planning to deliver its own take on Apple’s AirPods Pro, with improved sound quality and active noise canceling. The real secret weapon here, however, may be the price.

This morning’s S21 announcement found Samsung dropping $200 off the price of its flagship smartphone, and here the Galaxy Buds come in at $50 cheaper than the AirPods’ asking price. It’s not clearance-bin pricing exactly, but $199 is a pretty reasonable starting price. And Samsung’s earbud track record is a pretty good indication that the headphones will be solid.

The buds get a stated five hours of on-board battery life. That bumps up to eight hours with active noise canceling and Bixby Voice off — one of those things I can fairly easily live without. The case bumps things up to 18 and 28 hours, respectively. Pretty impressive claims for a quite small case.

Image Credits: Samsung

The buds’ design improves on the Galaxy Buds Live’s bean design, trading it for something a bit more ergonomic that’s designed to reduce the contact area between the device and the ear. Per Samsung’s claims, the ANC is capable of reducing ambient sound up to 99%. You can tweak the settings from there. They sport an 11 mm woofer and 6.5 mm tweeter, along with three microphones for calls.

There are a couple of features specifically for Samsung devices, including auto switching between phones and tablets, as well as Dolby head tracking and microphone capabilities for video recording on the Galaxy S21.

The buds are available in three colors and go up for order today. They’ll hit retail tomorrow.

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 line arrives with camera bumps, price drops and S Pen compatibility

By Brian Heater

Samsung wasted no time this year. With Mobile World Congress pushed back six or so months, the hardware maker hitched its wagon to the tail end of the CES whirlwind — though unlike its press conference earlier in the week, the company is very much on its own for the latest Unpacked.

And why not? In spite of broader issues with the mobile industry (certainly not helped by the COVID-19 pandemic), the Galaxy line is still very much a draw. People may not be as eager to buy a flagship as they were a couple of years ago, but when they do, it’s frequently a Samsung device.

I tend to save pricing for the end of these kinds of posts, but it really bears mention up front. Samsung’s launching three key iterations of the S21 line today: the S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra. Those are priced at $799, $999 and $1,119 respectively, here in the States. That’s down from $999, $1,199 and $1,399 last year. While it’s true we’re still very much in the flagship price range here, a $200 drop is not insignificant.

Image Credits: Samsung

Rather, it points to a very conscious correction — one that goes beyond simply introducing a budget flagship or flagship lite to appease that segment of the market. Smartphone sales were already lagging before the pandemic, and the routine pricing of flagships above $1,000 was a considerable piece of that. Obviously the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation for myriad reasons, and 5G, which was expected to lead to a sales rebound didn’t move the needle nearly as much as anticipated.

Of course, 5G was a headliner feature for Samsung all the way back in 2019. The company has been all-in with the Galaxy line for a while now, and frankly, the feature is just kind of expected now. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Samsung is going back to imaging as a key differentiator.

Here’s what Mobile head TM Roh has to say about the new handsets:

We are living in a mobile-first world, and with so many of us working remotely and spending more time at home, we wanted to deliver a smartphone experience that meets the rigorous multimedia demands of our continuously changing routines. We also recognize the importance of choice, especially now, and that’s why the Galaxy S21 series gives you the freedom to choose the best device for your style and needs.

I absolutely understand why companies continue to go the “in these challenging times” route with these announcements, though I will say that, for the most part, the notion of device upgrades as a response to COVID-19 is really overstated here, beyond the aforementioned price drop. And I suspect that, with fewer people leaving the house these days, the dream of a smartphone as a primary productivity device has probably dampened of late.

Image Credits: Samsung

Still, the S21 Ultra, in particular, has one very important trick up its sleeve. Samsung is further blurring the line between the Galaxy S and Note by making the Ultra S Pen compatible. The experience will vary to some degree, but users will be able to use the stylus to write and draw on the handset. It’s sold separately and there’s no in-device housing for the pen, though Samsung will be offering a case that will hold it. It will be interesting to see if the company goes out of its way to distinguish the new Note, but it seems equally possible that the lines are simply converging. After all, the S Pen has long been the key distinguishing factor.

The devices also get Ultra-wideband capabilities, which will bring a number of capabilities, including the ability to unlock car doors and AR messages to find lost items. More detail on that soon, no doubt.

Visually, the biggest change here is the camera housing, which gets streamlined. I’m holding off judgement until I see it in person, but the new “Contour Cut” housing feels a bit more brutalist or perhaps industrial than the prior generation. The device also drops the expandable memory. A strong argument could be made that current on-board storage has made microSD redundant for many or most, but it was always a nice little differentiator.

The company has also removed the headphones charging adapter from the box, a move the world saw coming when the company deleted ads ribbing Apple from dropping accessories over what it said were environmental concerns. It’s the headphone jack all over again, because history rhymes.

Hardware-wise, the triple-camera situation is similar. On the S21 and 21+ you get a 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel wide and 64-megapixel telephoto with 30x space zoom. The Ultra bumps that up to a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, 108-megapixel wide and a dual-telephoto lens system with 3x and 10x optical zoom. That’s the first time Samsung has offered a dual-telephoto setup. The Ultra also sports improved low-light shooting, courtesy of the Bright Night sensor.

Image Credits: Samsung

Software imaging updates include the ability to pull stills from 8K shooting, improved image stabilization and new modes like “Vlogger view,” which shoots from the front and rear camera simultaneously. I see limited use for that last bit in my own life, but I’m sure folks will find a creative use for it.

The screens measure in at 6.1, 6.7 and 6.8 inches (that last one is a decrease from the S20 Ultra’s 6.9 inches). All sport a 120Hz refresh rate that adapts based on usage. The phones also get the new Eye Comfort Shield, which reduces blue light as the day goes on.

Here in the States, all three phones sport the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. The S21 and S21+ start at 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, while the Ultra starts at 12GB and 256GB. The batteries are pretty healthy, clocking in at 4000, 4800 and 5000mAh. They’re all available for pre-order now and start shipping January 29.

Samsung unveils its newest Tile competitor, the Galaxy SmartTag

By Sarah Perez

Alongside its other CES announcements, at Samsung’s Unpacked event today the company introduced its new Galaxy SmartTag Bluetooth locator, a lost item beacon for Samsung owners and a competitor with Tile. Like Tile and Apple’s forthcoming AirTags, the beacon can be attached to keys, a bag, a pet’s collar or anything else you want to track. Initially, these SmartTags will use Bluetooth to communicate with a nearby Samsung device, however, the company confirmed an ultra-wideband (UWB) powered version called the SmartTag+ will arrive later this year.

The latter would allow the SmartTag to better compete with Apple’s AirTags, which are also expected to take advantage of newer iPhones’ UWB capabilities. Tile, in anticipation of this news, has already developed a UWB tracker arriving later this year, as well.

The SmartTag announced today, the Galaxy SmartTag, will use Bluetooth and there is only one main SKU — not a range of products in different sizes or configurations. However, the tracker will be sold in two color variations: Black and Oatmeal.

The tracker works with any Galaxy device, a Samsung rep told us, as long as the device runs Android 10 or later.

Device owners can then locate the missing item with the SmartTag attached using the SmartThings Find app.

This works similar to Tile and other BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) trackers. When the SmartTag is offline — meaning, disconnected from the Galaxy S21 or other device — it sends a BLE signal that can be detected by nearby Galaxy devices. When detected, the device will send the nearby location information to the SmartThings Fine app so you can locate the item. Samsung says the SmartThings Find user data is encrypted and securely protected, so your location and personal information is safe when you lose your device and use the app to search for it.

The app will also offer a variety of locating tools, including a “Notify me when it’s found” option, as well as “Search Nearby,” “Search” and “Ring” tools. Like Tile, you can also use a SmartTag to locate a missing phone. In this case, you push the Galaxy SmartTag button twice to receive an alert to help locate the missing phone.

The tag can also be customized to do other things when pushed once, so you could easily turn on your lights or TV when you return home, for example.

Ahead of the announcement, regulatory documents showed the tracker as a slightly chunkier version of Tile’s trackers, powered by a CR2032 cell battery, with Bluetooth connectivity. (We’ve confirmed the battery is, in fact, a user-replaceable CR2032.)

A Samsung rep could not provide us with the official and detailed tech specs for the device ahead of its announcement today, but we’ll update if the company figures it out. Unfortunately, without the confirmed details like whether the battery is user-replaceable, for example, or what the range is, it’s difficult to make a proper comparison to the existing trackers on the market. (You can’t always go off leaks alone here, either, as they aren’t always an indication of the final product. But the regulatory filings are likely a good starting point.)

To promote adoption, Samsung is giving away the new trackers via select pre-orders. From January 14-28, 2021, consumers who pre-order the Galaxy S21 Ultra will get a $200 Samsung Credit plus a free Galaxy SmartTag. That could help the devices gain a little more traction, as Samsung’s previous investments in tracking gadgets, including its 2018 LTE-based SmartThings tracking fobs, never really caught on.

Outside the pre-order promotion, the SmartTags will cost $29.99 individually and will be sold starting January 29th.

This is slightly steeper than Tile’s entry-level Bluetooth tracker, the Tile Mate, which retails for $24.99.

Tresl’s Segments Analytics gives small online stores the same data analytics as large sellers

By Catherine Shu

Tresl’s flagship product, e-commerce intelligence platform Segment Analytics, is designed to give small brands on Shopify access to the same kind of analytics larger online retailers have. Founded by former LinkedIn data scientists, Tresl is currently exhibiting at CES’ Taiwan Tech Arena.

Segments Analytics analyzes a Shopify store’s data and then automatically sorts visitors into more 30 pre-built customer segments based on their browsing habits, spending and how likely they are to make repeat purchases.

This means that brands can identify specific groups of shoppers and use Segments Analytics’ suggestions for targeted campaigns without spending too much on data analytics, marketing or user acquisition. For example, one of the segments the platform identifies are people who have made one purchase already, but are unlikely to buy again unless they are see an ad or promotion soon. Segments Analytics can be used for advertising across multiple channels, including email, Facebook and Google.

Tresl claims that brands using Segments Analytics have increased their clickthrough rates on abandoned cart flows (or reminders sent to customers who have unpurchased items) by 30% and grown sales by 40% month-over-month within one month of implementing the platform.

Segments Analytics is currently available through the Shopify App Store, with subscriptions starting from $79 a month.

3Drens helps fleet operators use their vehicles more efficiently

By Catherine Shu

3Drens’ IoT mobility management platform not only lets fleet operators track where their vehicles are, but also produces data that helps them make business decisions. The company began operating in Taiwan, where it is based, before expanding into Southeast Asia. Currently presenting at CES’ Taiwan Tech Arena, 3Drens is focused on the increased demand for logistics during COVID-19. For example, its tech can potentially be used to enable smaller e-commerce retailers to rent unused capacity on delivery vehicles from larger platforms.

The company’s clients also come from the vehicle rental, ride-hailing and food delivery sectors. Founded in 2017, one of 3rens’ first clients was a electric scooter company that mostly serves tourists. It installed 3Drens’ IoT box onto scooters to send alerts if scooters were potentially involved in accidents or if a user went over the time they had paid for. It also generated a heat map of where the scooters traveled the most often, so the company was able to make partnerships with popular venues and attractions.

3Drens’ platform can also help logistics services pick the right type of vehicle for a delivery, predict the best routes and assign new tasks for drivers on their way back after an order is fulfilled.

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