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Tesla owners can now see how much solar or coal is powering their EVs

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla owners can now see exactly what kind of energy is powering their electric vehicles. TezLab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, pushed out a new feature this week that shows the energy mix — breaking down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy — coming from charging locations, including Superchargers and third-party networks throughout the United States.

“We’re tracking the origin of data as it relates to energy, so we know if you’re in Tucson or Brooklyn (or any location) where the energy is coming from and what the mix of that energy looks like,” Ben Schippers, the CEO and co-founder of TezLab explained in a recent interview. “As a result, we can see how much carbon is being pushed out into the atmosphere based on your charge, whether you’re charging at home, or whether you’re charging at a Supercharger.”

ElectricityMap, a project from Tomorrow, provided the energy data, which TezLab then folded into its consumer-facing app. Once downloaded, the app knows when and where a Tesla owner is plugging in. The energy mix feature builds off of an existing program on the app that gave owners more general information on how dirty or clean their charge is.

Image Credits: TezLab

Take Tesla’s Linq High Roller Supercharger in Las Vegas, a V3 Supercharger that is supposed to support a peak rate of up to 250 kilowatts and has been heralded for its use of Tesla solar panels and its Powerpack batteries to generate and store the power needed to operate the chargers.

According to TezLab’s data, 1.7% of the energy is from solar. The primary source of renewable energy is actually hydro at 65.6% — courtesy of the Hoover Dam. The remaining energy mix from the Supercharger is about 33% natural gas.

Tesla’s Supercharger in Hawthorne, California, which was one of the first to have solar panels, has an energy mix of 0.2% solar, 5.5% nuclear,13.3% natural gas, 27% coal and 49.9% wind.

The top 10 “cleanest” Superchargers — a list that includes Centralia, Leavenworth, Moses Lake and Seattle, Washington — achieved that goal thanks to hydroelectric power. Superchargers with the most solar energy are all located in the same power grid in California. Superchargers in Barstow, Oxnard, Cabazon, San Diego, Mojave, Inyokern, San Mateo, Seaside and Santa Ana, California all have 22.7% solar and 15% wind energy. The remaining mix at these locations is 0.2% battery storage, 2.9% biomass, 5.6% geothermal, 6.3% hydro, 6.6% nuclear and 40% natural gas.

TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups. HFC’s engineers, including co-founders Schippers (who is now chairman of the company’s board) and William Schenk, were attracted to Tesla largely because of its software-driven approach. The group was particularly intrigued at the opportunity created by the openness of the Tesla API. The Tesla API is technically private. But the endpoints are accessible to outsiders. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

TezLab launched in 2018 with some initial features that let owners track their efficiency, total trip miles and use it to control certain functions of the vehicle, such as locking and unlocking the doors and heating and air conditioning. More features have been added, mostly focused on building community, including one that allows Tesla owners to rate Supercharger stations.

All of that data is aggregated and anonymous. TezLab has said it won’t sell that data. It does post on its website insights gleaned from that data, such as a breakdown of model ownership, the average trip length and average time between plugging in.

As other electric vehicles come to market, TezLab is adding those to the app, including the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

1Doc3, a Colombian telemedicine startup, raises $3 million

By Marcella McCarthy

The pandemic has made telemedicine video visits in the U.S. almost commonplace, but in Latin America, where broadband isn’t widely available, 1Doc3 is using text and chat to provide access to care. Today, the Colombia-based company announced a $3 million pre-Series A led by MatterScale Ventures and Kayyak Ventures.

“I’m on a nice MacBook for this interview, but that’s not the case of most people in LatAm,” said Javier Cardona, co-founder and CEO of 1Doc3. The company’s name is a play on the phonetics of 1, 2, 3 in Spanish.

Reaching your primary care doctor when you’re not feeling well is getting harder and harder, and 1Doc3 aims to solve that problem in LatAm by offering a telemedicine platform powered by AI that does symptom assessment, triage and pre-diagnosis before connecting the patient to a doctor.

“In 97% of our consultations, you’re connected to a doctor in a matter of minutes,” Cardona said.

After seeing the doctor, the patient can also get their prescriptions delivered to their home through 1Doc3. The startup, like others in the space, is trying to close the loop so patients can get care quickly without having to leave their homes.

In addition to Colombia, the company already has operations in Mexico and plans to use part of the funding to expand further in the region as well as building out a marketing and sales team, which it hasn’t had thus far. 

1Doc3 reaches customers directly and by establishing corporate partnerships where the companies themselves pay for their employees’ medical care through the startup. One of Cardona’s goals is to bring the unit economics down so that smaller businesses can also afford 1Doc3, which for corporates, now charges between $3-4 a month/employee.

“For big companies, the money isn’t an issue, but our region is comprised of small to medium-sized businesses,” Cardona said.

The company, which was founded in 2013 and was a finalist in TechCrunch’s Latin American Battlefield in 2018, experienced massive growth in 2020, going from 2,500 to 35,000 consultations per month from February to December 2020, respectively, which led the company to be cashflow positive last year. In March of 2021, the company had $120,000 in MRR.

Like many startups, the jolt to found 1Doc3 came from a personal experience faced by the founder.  

“When I was in Tanzania I had a medical need and I was definitely not going to go to a doctor in Tanzania, and I couldn’t reach any doctor online, not even in the U.S., and I became a little obsessed with this problem,” said Cardona, who was working in the Middle East and Africa at the time. 

This round brings the total raised by 1Doc3 to $5 million. Other investors that participated in the round include Swanhill Capital, Simma Capital and existing investors The Venture City, EWA capital (previously Mountain Nazca Colombia) and Startup Health.

As working out goes virtual, Moxie raises $6.3M Seed+ round led by Resolute Ventures

By Mike Butcher

With the pandemic sending the planet indoors to workout, the at-home fitness market has boomed. It was only in October last year that three-year-old Future closed $24 million in Series B and Playbook (streaming for personal trainers) raised $9.3 million in a Series A. Into this market launched Moxie, a platform that allowed fitness instructors to broadcast live and recorded classes, access licensed music playlists and deploy a CRM and payment tools. Classes range from $5-$25 and various subscriptions and packages are offered.

Moxie has now raised a $6.3M ‘Seed+’ funding round led by Resolute Ventures with participation from Bessemer Ventures, Greycroft Ventures, Gokul Rajaram, and additional investors. With the $2.1M Seed round from last October, that means Moxie has now raised a total of $8.4M.

With the funding, Moxie now plans to better optimize the user experience with a curated selection of top Moxie classes; new tools that help connect users to instructors; and the ability to preview classes before attending.

The company claims to have experienced “exponential growth” because of its convenience in the pandemic era, with 8,000 classes and 1 million class-minutes completed in March. Moxie’s independent instructors set their own schedules and prices, and get to keep 85% of what they earn on the platform.

The company will also now launch ‘Moxie Benefits’ in partnership with Stride Health, provide instructors with access to health insurance, dental and vision plans, life insurance, and other benefits.

Also planned is ‘Moxie Teams’, enabling groups of instructors to join together to form small businesses on the platform, not unlike the way some Uber drivers form teams.

Jason Goldberg, CEO and founder said in a statement: “Moxie was born during the pandemic alongside thousands of independent fitness instructors who were forced out of gyms and studios and suddenly had to become entrepreneurs and navigate the new frontier of virtual fitness. Now we are seeing widespread adoption of online fitness into people’s lives, and Moxie’s growth proves that these shifts in consumer behavior have staying power. We know that 89% of Moxie users plan to continue virtual workouts post COVID — they love the convenience.”

Resolute Ventures Partner & Co-Founder Raanan Bar-Cohen said: “Our investment theory has always been to identify entrepreneurial founders solving for today’s problems. With Moxie, we saw an experienced operator in Jason, with a product that solved for the issues that instructors and consumers had experienced in the shift to online fitness, as well as a clear roadmap for continued success.”

So why has Moxie managed to cleave to the new virtual workout culture? Goldburg tells me it’s down to a range of factors.

For starters, it’s a two-sided fitness marketplace that has live interactive group fitness classes, unlike VOD apps, and, crucially, unlike Peloton. Additionally, any instructor can teach on Moxie, rather than wait to be picked as a ‘star’ by Peloton. Since 90% of classes are live group fitness classes, they are effectively replacing yoga studios and HIIT classes, rather than personal training. He says many top instructors are now earning $6-figures on the platform.

Certainly, Moxie has managed to capitalize on the fact that while gyms are closed, it’s easy to do virtual classes. Will they still stick around when the pandemic is over? Presumably many will find it more convenient than schlepping to the gym and less intimidating than joining classes in person. Additionally, users can switch classes as easily as switching TV channels.

As Goldberg told me via email: “Covid forced everyone to try virtual fitness for the first time. Guess what? People found it more convenient and more connected than going to offline gyms. And guess what? Peloton is not for everyone.”

Sonos delivers a near-perfect portable speaker with the new Sonos Roam

By Darrell Etherington

Sonos has a new speaker that starts shipping later this month, and it’s a significant departure from the company’s usual offerings in a number of ways. The all-new Sonos Roam is a compact, portable speaker with a built-in battery and Bluetooth connectivity — but still very much a Sonos system team player, with wifi streaming, multi-room feature, voice assistant support and surprisingly great sound quality.

The basics

Priced at $179, the Sonos Roam is truly diminutive, at just over 6 inches, by roughly 2.5 inches for both height and depth. It weighs under a pound, and is available in either a matte white or black finish, which is par for the course for Sonos in terms of colorways. Roam is also IP67-rated, meaning it’s effectively waterproof, with a resistance rating of up to 30 minutes at depths of up to 1 meter (3.3 feet).

Sonos has placed the speaker’s control surface at one end of the device, including a microphone button, volume controls and a play/pause button. These are actual, tactile buttons, rather than touch-sensitive surfaces like you’d find on other Sonos speakers, which makes sense for a speaker designed to be used on the go, and in conditions where touch controls might get flummoxed by things like rain and water.

The Roam also has a power button on the back, next to a USB-C port for charging. It also offers wireless charging, via a receiver found in the base of the speaker, which can be used with Sonos’ own forthcoming magnetic charging adapter (sold separately), or with any standard Qi-powered wireless charger you want.

In addition to wifi streaming, Sonos Roam can also connect to any device via Bluetooth 5.0. It also features AirPlay 2 for connecting to Apple devices when on wifi, and it works out of the box with Spotify Connect. The built-in battery is rated for up to 10 hours of playback on a full charge, according to Sonos, and can also provide up to 10 days of its sleep-like standby mode.

Design and performance

This is the smallest speaker yet released by Sonos, and that’s definitely a big plus when it comes to this category of device. The dimensions make it feel like a slightly taller can of Red Bull, which should give you some sense of just how portable it is. Unlike Sonos’ first portable speaker with a built-in battery, the Sonos Move, the Roam truly feels like something designed to be thrown in a bag and brought with you wherever you happen to need it.

Despite its small size, the Sonos Roam offers impressive sound — likely the best I’ve yet encountered for a portable speaker in this size class. Inside, it manages to pack in dual amplifiers, one tweeter and a separate custom racetrack mid-woofer, which Sonos developed to help deliver both lows and mids with a faithfulness that normally escapes smaller speakers. The Roam also gets a lot louder than you’d probably expect it could, while keeping audio quality clear and free of distortion at the same time.

One of the keys to the Roam’s great sound quality is Sonos’ Automatic Trueplay tech, which tunes the audio to best suit its surroundings actively and continually. This feature requires that the mic be enabled to work, but it’s well worth having on in most settings, and makes a big difference while streaming in both Bluetooth and wifi modes. This also helps the speaker adjust when it’s switched from horizontal to vertical orientation, and it’s one of the main reasons that the Roam punches above its weight relative to other speakers in this size and price category.

The Roam would be a winner based on audio quality alone for the price, but the extra Sonos system-specific features it boasts really elevate it to a true category leader. These include a standby mode that preserves battery while keeping the Roam available to your system for wifi streaming via the Sonos app (handy, and also optional since you can hold the power button down for five seconds to truly power off and preserve your charge for even longer, which is great for travel).

One of Roam’s truly amazing abilities is a hand-off feature that passes playback of whatever you’re using it to listen to on to the nearest Sonos speaker in your system when you long press the play/pause button. This works almost like magic, and is a great speaker superpower for if you’re wandering around the house and the yard doing chores with the Roam in your pocket.

Bottom line

Sonos waited a long time to release their first travel-friendly portable speaker, but they obviously used that time wisely. The Sonos Roam is the most thoughtfully-designed, feature-rich and best-sounding portable speaker you can get for under $200 (and better than many more expensive options, at that). Even if you don’t already have a Sonos system to use it with, it’s an easy choice if you’re in the market for a portable, rugged Bluetooth speaker — and if you’re already a Sonos convert, the decision gets that much easier.

Clarence Thomas plays a poor devil’s advocate in floating First Amendment limits for tech companies

By Devin Coldewey

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas flaunted a dangerous ignorance regarding matters digital in an opinion published today. In attempting to explain the legal difficulties of social media platforms, particularly those arising from Twitter’s ban of Trump, he makes an ill-informed, bordering on bizarre, argument as to why such companies may need their First Amendment rights curtailed.

There are several points on which Thomas seems to willfully misconstrue or misunderstand the issues.

The first is in his characterization of Trump’s use of Twitter. You may remember that several people sued after being blocked by Trump, alleging that his use of the platform amounted to creating a “public forum” in a legal sense, meaning it was unlawful to exclude anyone from it for political reasons. (The case, as it happens, was rendered moot after its appeal and dismissed by the court except as Thomas’ temporary soapbox.)

“But Mr. Trump, it turned out, had only limited control of the account; Twitter has permanently removed the account from the platform,” writes Thomas. “[I]t seems rather odd to say something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it.”

Does it? Does it seem odd? Because a few paragraphs later, he uses the example of a government agency using a conference room in a hotel to hold a public hearing. They can’t kick people out for voicing their political opinions, certainly, because the room is a de facto public forum. But if someone is loud and disruptive, they can ask hotel security to remove that person, because the room is de jure a privately owned space.

Yet the obvious third example, and the one clearly most relevant to the situation at hand, is skipped. What if it is the government representatives who are being loud and disruptive, to the point where the hotel must make the choice whether to remove them?

It says something that this scenario, so remarkably close a metaphor for what actually happened, is not considered. Perhaps it casts the ostensibly “odd” situation and actors in too clear a light, for Thomas’ other arguments suggest he is not for clarity here but for muddying the waters ahead of a partisan knife fight over free speech.

In his best “I’m not saying, I’m just saying” tone, Thomas presents his reasoning why, if the problem is that these platforms have too much power over free speech, then historically there just happens to be some legal options to limit that power.

Thomas argues first, and worst, that platforms like Facebook and Google may amount to “common carriers,” a term that goes back centuries to actual carriers of cargo, but which is now a common legal concept that refers to services that act as simple distribution — “bound to serve all customers alike, without discrimination.” A telephone company is the most common example, in that it cannot and does not choose what connections it makes, nor what conversations happen over those connections — it moves electric signals from one phone to another.

But as he notes at the outset of his commentary, “applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward.” And Thomas’ method of doing so is spurious.

“Though digital instead of physical, they are at bottom communications networks, and they ‘carry’ information from one user to another,” he says, and equates telephone companies laying cable with companies like Google laying “information infrastructure that can be controlled in much the same way.”

Now, this is certainly wrong. So wrong in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start and when to stop.

The idea that companies like Facebook and Google are equivalent to telephone lines is such a reach that it seems almost like a joke. These are companies that have built entire business empires by adding enormous amounts of storage, processing, analysis and other services on top of the element of pure communication. One might as easily suggest that because computers are just a simple piece of hardware that moves data around, that Apple is a common carrier as well. It’s really not so far a logical leap!

There’s no real need to get into the technical and legal reasons why this opinion is wrong, however, because these grounds have been covered so extensively over the years, particularly by the FCC — which the Supreme Court has deferred to as an expert agency on this matter. If Facebook were a common carrier (or telecommunications service), it would fall under the FCC’s jurisdiction — but it doesn’t, because it isn’t, and really, no one thinks it is. This has been supported over and over, by multiple FCCs and administrations, and the deferral is itself a Supreme Court precedent that has become doctrine.

In fact, and this is really the cherry on top, Associate Justice Kavanaugh in a truly stupefying legal opinion a few years ago argued so far in the other direction that it became wrong in a totally different way! It was Kavanaugh’s considered opinion that the bar for qualifying as a common carrier was actually so high that even broadband providers don’t qualify for it. (This was all in service of taking down net neutrality, a saga we are in danger of resuming soon). As his erudite colleague Judge Srinivasan explained to him at the time, this approach too is embarrassingly wrong.

Looking at these two opinions, of two sitting conservative Supreme Court justices, you may find the arguments strangely at odds, yet they are wrong after a common fashion.

Kavanaugh claims that broadband providers, the plainest form of digital common carrier conceivable, are in fact providing all kinds sophisticated services over and above their functionality as a pipe (they aren’t). Thomas claims that companies actually providing all kinds of sophisticated services are nothing more than pipes.

Simply stated, these men have no regard for the facts but have chosen the definition that best suits their political purposes: For Kavanaugh, thwarting a Democrat-led push for strong net neutrality rules; for Thomas, asserting control over social media companies perceived as having an anti-conservative bias.

The case Thomas uses for his sounding board on these topics was rightly rendered moot — Trump is no longer president and the account no longer exists — but he makes it clear that he regrets this extremely.

“As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms,” he concludes. “The extent to which that power matters for purposes of the First Amendment and the extent to which that power could lawfully be modified raise interesting and important questions. This petition, unfortunately, affords us no opportunity to confront them.”

Between the common carrier argument and questioning the form of Section 230, Thomas’s hypotheticals break the seals on several legal avenues to restrict First Amendment rights of digital platforms, as well as legitimizing those (largely on one side of the political spectrum) who claim a grievance along these lines. (Slate legal commentator Mark Joseph Stern, who spotted the opinion early, goes further, calling Thomas’s argument a “paranoid Marxist delusion” and providing some other interesting context.)

This is not to say that social media and tech do not deserve scrutiny on any number of fronts — they exist in an alarming global vacuum of regulatory powers, and hardly anyone would suggest they have been entirely responsible with this freedom. But the arguments of Thomas and Kavanaugh stink of cynical partisan sophistry. This endorsement by Thomas accomplishes nothing legally, but will provide valuable fuel for the bitter fires of contention — though they hardly needed it.

Bunch adds $1M to its seed round to flesh out its leadership learning app

By Alex Wilhelm

This morning Bunch announced that it has closed a total of $4.4 million in seed capital, including a new $1 million infusion this week. The company’s product, a mobile app, focuses on teaching leadership skills to the younger generations more accustomed to learning in smaller chunks, often on the go.

Don’t roll your eyes, all ye who attended business school. The concept has traction.

Earlier this month TechCrunch covered Arist, for example, a startup that provides corporate training delivered to end-users via text. That company added $2 million to its prior raise, bringing its round to a total of $3.9 million. To see Bunch pick up some extra cash is therefore not too surprising.

TechCrunch caught up with Bunch CEO and co-founder Darja Gutnick and M13 partner and Bunch-backer Karl Alomar to chat about the round and what the startup is up to.

Bunch claims to be an “AI coach” that provides users with daily, short-form tips and tricks to become a better leader. Given that we have all either worked for a manager who could have used some more training, or been that manager ourselves, the idea isn’t a bad one.

As you would expect, Bunch tailors itself to individual users. Gutnick told TechCrunch that her company has partnered with academics to detail different leadership style “archetypes” as part of its foundation. The Bunch system also molds its out to a user’s style and leadership goals.

Notably when TechCrunch last covered Bunch, it was working on something a bit different. Back in 2017, the company was building what we described as “Google Analytics for company culture.” Since then the startup has shifted its focus to individuals instead of companies.

Bunch’s service launched in November, leading to around 13,000 signups by the start of the year. The startup now claims nearly 20,000. And it has big product plans for the next few months. That’s why the company raised more money, and why Alomar and his firm were willing to put more capital into the startup.

What’s ahead that got M13 sufficiently excited that it put more capital into Bunch? Alomar said that community and peer-review features are coming. It was a good time, he explained, to put more money into Gutnick’s company so that it can build, and then raise more capital later on after it gets some more work done.

The company plans to make money via a freemium offering. Gutnick told TechCrunch that related apps in her category tend to struggle with retention, so they charge up front and then don’t mind limited usage later on. She wants to flip that.

And there’s more to come from Bunch, like other categories of content. But the startup wants to focus and get its first niche done right. It now has another million dollars to prove that its early traction isn’t just that.

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H3X rethinks the electric motor to power the next phase of mobility

By Devin Coldewey

It’s plain to see that electric vehicles are the future, but there’s more to making that change happen than swapping out a gas motor for a battery-powered one — especially in aircraft. H3X is a startup that aims to accelerate that future with a reimagined, completely integrated electric motor that it claims outperforms everything on the market.

The small founding team — CEO Jason Sylvestre, CTO Max Liben, and COO Eric Maciolek — met in college while participating in an electric vehicle building and racing program. After stints in the tech and automobile industry (including at Tesla), the crew came back together when they saw that the Department of Energy was offering a bounty for improved high power density electric motors.

“The problem was uniquely suited to our abilities, and passions too — we’re excited about this stuff. We care about decarbonization of the different transit sectors, and aviation is going to become a growing part of the global carbon footprint over the next few decades as electric improves ground vehicles,” said Liben. “We just kinda decided to take a leap of faith, and applied to Y Combinator.”

Electric flight isn’t so much a wild idea as one that’s in its early, awkward stages. Lightweight craft like drones can do a great deal with the batteries and motors that are available, and converted small aircraft like seaplanes are able to make short flights, but that’s about the limit with the way things are today.

The problem is primarily a simple lack of power: The energy required to propel an aircraft fast enough to generate lift grows exponentially as the size and mass of the plane increase. A handful of kilowatt-hours will serve for a drone, and a few EV-scale batteries will work for a light aircraft, but beyond that the energy required to take flight requires batteries the bulk and weight of which make flight impractical.

The H3x lab with someone working on a motor the size of a toaster.

Image Credits: H3X

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like that. And there are two general avenues for improvement: better batteries or better motors. So either you can fit more energy in the same mass or use what energy you have more efficiently. Both are being pursued by many companies, but H3X claims to have made a huge leap forward in power density that could unlock new industries overnight. While even an improvement of 10% or 20% in power per kilogram (e.g., a 50-pound motor putting out 120 horsepower rather than 100) would be notable, H3X says its motor is performing at around 300% of the competition’s output.

How? It’s all about integration, Liben explained. While the pieces are similar in some ways to motors and power assemblies out there now, the team basically started from scratch with the idea of maximizing efficiency and minimizing size.

Electric motors generally have three main sections: the motor itself, a power delivery system and a gearbox, each of which may have its own housing and be sold and mounted separately from one another. One reason why these aren’t all one big machine is temperature: The parts and coolant systems of the gearbox, for instance, might not be able to operate at the temperatures generated by the motor or the power system, or vice versa. Put them together and one may cause the other to seize up or otherwise fail. The different sections just have different requirements, which seems natural.

Animated image of an electric motor rendered to be see-through.

Image Credits: H3X

H3X challenges this paradigm with a novel integrated design, but Liben was careful to clarify what that means.

“We’re not just taking the inverter box and slapping it on top and calling it integrated,” he said. “All the components are all intimately connected to the same housing and motor. We’re making a truly integrated design that’s one of the first of its kind at this power level.”

And by “one of the first” he doesn’t mean that Airbus has one in some powertrains, but rather that there have been research projects along these lines — nothing intended for production.

The idea that no one else has gone this far in putting everything in the same box at scales that could be used commercially may sound suspicious to some. One would think that the existing players in aerospace would have been barking up this tree for years, but Liben said large companies are too slow to innovate and too invested in other methods, while smaller ones tend to avoid risk by improving incrementally on successful existing designs and competing among themselves. “No one is targeting the level of performance we’re looking at right now,” he said.

Image Credits: H3X

But it isn’t like H3X stumbled over a single advance that magically tripled the performance of electric motors.

“We’re not relying on one big tech or something — there’s no magic bullet,” Liben said. “There are a few improvements that have very significant gains, like 50% better than the state of the art, and lots of areas that add 10%-20%. It’s good from the technical risk side.”

He went into considerable detail on a lot of those improvements, but the less technical-minded among our readers, if they’ve even read this far, might close the tab if I tried to recount the whole conversation. To be brief, it amounts to combining advances in materials, manufacturing and electric components so that they act synergistically, each enabling the other to be used to best effect.

For instance, recently improved power switching hardware can be run at hotter temperatures and handle higher loads — this raises performance but also allows for shared cooling infrastructure. The shared infrastructure can itself be improved by using new pure-copper 3D-printing techniques, which allow more cooling to fit inside the housing. Using 3D printing means custom internal geometries so that the motor, gearbox and power delivery can all be mounted in optimal positions to one another instead of bolted on where existing methods allow.

The result is an all-in-one motor, the HPDM-250, that’s smaller than a lot of the competition, yet produces far more power. The best production motors out there are around 3-4 kilowatts per kilogram of continuous power. H3X’s prototype produces 13 — coincidentally, just above the theoretical power density that would enable midrange passenger aircraft.

CG render of 3D printed copper coils.

Image Credits: H3X

There is the risk that stacking cutting-edge techniques like this makes the cost rise faster than the performance. Liben said that while it’s definitely more expensive in some ways, the smaller size and integrated design also lead to new savings in cost, time or material.

“People think, ‘3D-printing copper, that’s expensive!’ But when you compare it to the super high-performance windings you’d need otherwise, and the different ways that you manufacture them, that can require a lot of manual steps and people involved … it can be a lot simpler printing something,” he explained. “It can be counterintuitive, but at least from my BOM [bill of materials] cost, when you’re selling something three times smaller than the other guy, even if it’s high-performance materials, it’s actually not as expensive as you’d think. Based on the customers we’ve talked to so far, we think we’re in a good spot.”

Servicing a fully integrated motor is also fundamentally more complex than doing so for an off-the-shelf one, but Liben noted that they were careful to think about maintenance from the start — and also that, while it may be a little harder to service their motor than an ordinary electric one, it’s much, much simpler than servicing even the most reliable and well-known gas-powered motors.

Image Credits: H3X

Despite the huge gains H3X claims, the target market of passenger aircraft is hardly one that they, or anyone, can just jump into. Heavily regulated industries like air travel require years of work and technology proving to change a fastener style, let alone the method of propulsion.

So H3X is focusing on the numerous smaller, less regulated industries that could use vastly improved electric propulsion. Cargo drones, electric boats and air taxis might still be rare sights on this planet, but a big bump to motor power and efficiency might be what helps tip them from niche (or vaporware) to mainstream. Certainly all three of those applications could benefit hugely from improved range or payload capacity.

Graduating to passenger flights isn’t a distant dream, exactly, suggested Liben: “We’re already on our way — this isn’t 20-years-out type stuff. In the last few years the timelines have shrunk drastically. You could have a full-battery electric vehicle soon, but it isn’t going to cut it for longer flights.”

There’s still a role for motors like H3X’s in hybrid aircraft that use jet fuel, batteries and perhaps even hydrogen fuel cells interchangeably. Like the switch to electric cars, it doesn’t happen all at once and it doesn’t need to for the purposes of their business. “That’s the great thing about motors,” Liben said. “They’re so ubiquitous.”

H3X declined to disclose any funding or partners, although it’s hard to believe that the team could have gotten as far as it has without some kind of significant capital and facilities — this sort of project outgrows the garage workbench pretty fast. But with Y Combinator’s demo day happening tomorrow, it seems likely that they’ll be receiving a lot of calls over the next few weeks, after which it may be reasonable to expect a seed round to come together.

If H3X’s prototypes perform as well in the wild as they do on the bench, they may very well enable a host of new electric transportation applications. We’ll be watching closely to see how the startup’s play affects the future of electric mobility.

Desktop Metal launches a health-focused business line

By Brian Heater

Mass manufacturing may be the future of 3D printing (one hopes), but health products are very much its present. From orthodontics to prosthesis, medical needs are right in the sweet spot for additive manufacturing. Prototyping is a category with a specific ceiling, while true mass manufacturing is still at an impossible scale for most of these systems. Medical and dental present a larger market that still requires a good deal of customization.

Today, Desktop Metal announced that it launched Desktop Health, a line specifically devoted to healthcare-adjacent products. The line encompasses a number of different technologies, including binder jetting, bioprinting and various materials.

Image Credits: Desktop Health

“Today the world manufactures more than $85 billion in medical and dental implants each year,” Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop said in a release. “We think a large percentage of these parts could be printed and made patient-specific before the end of the decade, making this market a key opportunity for Desktop Metal.

Dentistry/orthodontics continue to be top of mind (think retainers and Invisalign-style braces, to start), but current and future applications extend beyond that. The list includes things like tissue and graft printing, as the company explores how the process might grow in the future.

Leading the division is Michael Mazen Jafar. The former COO of Evolus will be coming on board as the CEO of the new line. “Desktop Health has a mission to change the way patients experience personalized healthcare, through innovation and science-based solutions,” he says in the release.

The additive manufacturing company announced plans to go public via SPAC last August. This January, it purchased EnvisionTEC for $300 million. The German company specializes in photopolymer printing, a key emerging technology for dental. It already sported 1,000 dental customers, including Smile Direct Club, which will no doubt serve as a key foundation for the new division.

 

Big Tech companies cannot be trusted to self-regulate: We need Congress to act

By Annie Siebert
Arisha Hatch Contributor
Arisha Hatch is Vice President and Chief of Campaigns at Color Of Change.

It’s been two months since Donald Trump was kicked off of social media following the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill in January. While the constant barrage of hate-fueled commentary and disinformation from the former president has come to a halt, we must stay vigilant.

Now is the time to think about how to prevent Trump, his allies and other bad actors from fomenting extremism in the future. It’s time to figure out how we as a society address the misinformation, conspiracy theories and lies that threaten our democracy by destroying our information infrastructure.

As vice president at Color Of Change, my team and I have had countless meetings with leaders of multi-billion-dollar tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, where we had to consistently flag hateful, racist content and disinformation on their platforms. We’ve also raised demands supported by millions of our members to adequately address these systemic issues — calls that are too often met with a lack of urgency and sense of responsibility to keep users and Black communities safe.

The violent insurrection by white nationalists and far-right extremists in our nation’s capital was absolutely fueled and enabled by tech companies who had years to address hate speech and disinformation that proliferated on their social media platforms. Many social media companies relinquished their platforms to far-right extremists, white supremacists and domestic terrorists long ago, and it will take more than an attempted coup to hold them fully accountable for their complicity in the erosion of our democracy — and to ensure it can’t happen again.

To restore our systems of knowledge-sharing and eliminate white nationalist organizing online, Big Tech must move beyond its typical reactive and shallow approach to addressing the harm they cause to our communities and our democracy. But it’s more clear than ever that the federal government must step in to ensure tech giants act.

After six years leading corporate accountability campaigns and engaging with Big Tech leaders, I can definitively say it’s evident that social media companies do have the power, resources and tools to enforce policies that protect our democracy and our communities. However, leaders at these tech giants have demonstrated time and time again that they will choose not to implement and enforce adequate measures to stem the dangerous misinformation, targeted hate and white nationalist organizing on their platforms if it means sacrificing maximum profit and growth.

And they use their massive PR teams to create an illusion that they’re sufficiently addressing these issues. For example, social media companies like Facebook continue to follow a reactive formula of announcing disparate policy changes in response to whatever public relations disaster they’re fending off at the moment. Before the insurrection, the company’s leaders failed to heed the warnings of advocates like Color Of Change about the dangers of white supremacists, far-right conspiracists and racist militias using their platforms to organize, recruit and incite violence. They did not ban Trump, implement stronger content moderation policies or change algorithms to stop the spread of misinformation-superspreader Facebook groups — as we had been recommending for years.

These threats were apparent long before the attack on Capitol Hill. They were obvious as Color Of Change and our allies propelled the #StopHateForProfit campaign last summer, when over 1,000 advertisers pulled millions in ad revenues from the platform. They were obvious when Facebook finally agreed to conduct a civil rights audit in 2018 after pressure from our organization and our members. They were obvious even before the deadly white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville in 2017.

Only after significant damage had already been done did social media companies take action and concede to some of our most pressing demands, including the call to ban Trump’s accounts, implement disclaimers on voter fraud claims, and move aggressively remove COVID misinformation as well as posts inciting violence at the polls amid the 2020 election. But even now, these companies continue to shirk full responsibility by, for example, using self-created entities like the Facebook Oversight Board — an illegitimate substitute for adequate policy enforcement — as PR cover while the fate of recent decisions, such as the suspension of Trump’s account, hang in the balance.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other Big Tech companies kick into action when their profits, self-interests and reputation are threatened, but always after the damage has been done because their business models are built solely around maximizing engagement. The more polarized content is, the more engagement it gets; the more comments it elicits or times it’s shared, the more of our attention they command and can sell to advertisers. Big Tech leaders have demonstrated they neither have the willpower nor the ability to proactively and successfully self-regulate, and that’s why Congress must immediately intervene.

Congress should enact and enforce federal regulations to reign in the outsized power of Big Tech behemoths, and our lawmakers must create policies that translate to real-life changes in our everyday lives — policies that protect Black and other marginalized communities both online and offline.

We need stronger antitrust enforcement laws to break up big tech monopolies that evade corporate accountability and impact Black businesses and workers; comprehensive privacy and algorithmic discrimination legislation to ensure that profits from our data aren’t being used to fuel our exploitation; expanded broadband access to close the digital divide for Black and low-income communities; restored net neutrality so that internet services providers can’t charge differently based on content or equipment; and disinformation and content moderation by making it clear that Section 230 does not exempt platforms from complying with civil rights laws.

We’ve already seen some progress following pressure from activists and advocacy groups including Color Of Change. Last year alone, Big Tech companies like Zoom hired chief diversity experts; Google took action to block the Proud Boys website and online store; and major social media platforms like TikTok adopted better, stronger policies on banning hateful content.

But we’re not going to applaud billion-dollar tech companies for doing what they should and could have already done to address the years of misinformation, hate and violence fueled by social media platforms. We’re not going to wait for the next PR stunt or blanket statement to come out or until Facebook decides whether or not to reinstate Trump’s accounts — and we’re not going to stand idly by until more lives are lost.

The federal government and regulatory powers need to hold Big Tech accountable to their commitments by immediately enacting policy change. Our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to protect us from the harms Big Tech is enabling on our democracy and our communities — to regulate social media platforms and change the dangerous incentives in the digital economy. Without federal intervention, tech companies are on pace to repeat history.

Microsoft announces the next perpetual release of Office

By Frederic Lardinois

If you use Office, Microsoft would really, really, really like you to buy a cloud-enabled subscription to Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365). But as the company promised, it will continue to make a stand-alone, perpetual license for Office available for the foreseeable future. A while back, it launched Office 2019, which includes the standard suite of Office tools, but is frozen in time and without the benefit of the regular feature updates and cloud-based tools that come with the subscription offering.

Today, Microsoft is announcing what is now called the Microsoft Office LTSC (Long Term Servicing Channel). It’ll be available as a commercial preview in April and will be available on both Mac and Windows, in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

And like with the previous version, it’s clear that Microsoft would really prefer if you just moved to the cloud already. But it also knows that not everybody can do that, so it now calls this version with its perpetual license that you pay for once and then use for as long as you want to (or have compatible hardware) a “specialty product for specific scenarios. Those scenarios, Microsoft agrees, include situations where you have a regulated device that can’t accept feature updates for years at a time, process control devices on a manufacturing floor and other devices that simply can’t be connected to the internet.

“We expect that most customers who use Office LTSC won’t do it across their entire organization, but only in specific scenarios,” Microsoft’s CVP for Microsoft 365, Jared Spataro, writes in today’s announcement.

Because it’s a specialty product, Microsoft will also raise the price for Office Professional Plus, Office Standard, and the individual Office apps by up to 10%.

“To fuel the work of the future, we need the power of the cloud,” writes Spataro. “The cloud is where we invest, where we innovate, where we discover the solutions that help our customers empower everyone in their organization – even as we all adjust to a new world of work. But we also acknowledge that some of our customers need to enable a limited set of locked-in-time scenarios, and these updates reflect our commitment to helping them meet this need.”

If you have one of these special use cases, the price increase will not likely deter you and you’ll likely be happy to hear that Microsoft is committing to another release in this long-term channel in the future, too.

As for the new features in this release, Spataro notes that will have dark mode support, new capabilities like Dynamic Arrays and XLOOKUP in Excel, and performance improvements across the board. One other change worth calling out is that it will not ship with Skype for Business but the Microsoft Teams app (though you can still download Skype for Business if you need it).

Sennheiser partners with Formlabs for customized headphones

By Brian Heater

3D printing has come a long way over the course of the last decade, but questions about mainstream adoption still linger around the technology. Medical devices have been a pretty compelling use case — they’re not really mass produced and require a high level of personalization. Clear orthodontics are a great example of something that falls in that sweet spot — in fact, dental in general has been a big application.

Audio, too, holds a lot of potential. Imagine, for example, a set of headphones custom designed for your ears. The technology has been available on high-end models for a while, courtesy of molding, but 3D printing could unlock a more easily scalable version of that kind of luxury.

This week, Sennheiser announced a partnership that will utilize Formlabs technology to print custom earphones. Specifically, the headphone maker will be using the Form 3B, a printer design for use with biocompatible material that has largely been utilized for dental applications. Product specifics haven’t been revealed, but the audio company’s Ambeo division will be using the tech to create custom headphone eartips. Users would be able to scan their ears with a smartphone and send that to the company to get a tip printed.

Image Credits: Sennheiser

“Our technology collaboration with Sennheiser seeks to change the way customers interact with the brands they love by enabling a more customized, user-centric approach to product development,” Formlabs audio head Iain McLeod said in a release.. “Formlabs’ deep industry knowledge and broad expertise in developing scalable solutions enable us to deliver tangible innovations to our customers. In this case, we are working with Sennheiser’s Ambeo team to deliver a uniquely accessible, custom fit experience.”

The product is still very much in the prototype phase. And while such a partnership seems like a no-brainer for headphone makers going forward, there are some big questions here, including pricing and scalability. Clearly such a product would come at a premium over standard headphones, but not at so high a cost that supersedes such novelty.

The release calls it “an affordable and simple solution is now available to mass 3D print custom-fit earphones.” What, precisely, it means by affordable remains to be seen.

ExOne gets $1.6M DoD contract to build a 3D printing ‘factory’ in shipping container

By Brian Heater

ExOne this week announced that the U.S. Department of Defense has granted it $1.6 million. It’s one of the Pennsylvania-based metal 3D printing company’s largest government contracts, in service of building a portable 3D printing factory for the front line – essentially a method for troops to fabricate broken and missing parts where the need them the most.

“Over the last two years, we’ve really focused on providing our technology into government-type applications: DoD, NASA, DoE,” CEO John Hartner tells TechCrunch. “Sometimes people talk about disrupting the supply chain and getting decentralized manufacturing. This is decentralized and forward deployed, if you will. Be it an emergency, humanitarian mission or frontlines for a war fighter.”

The money from the grant will specifically go toward R&D and building the first unit.

ExOne is proud to have been awarded a $1.6M U.S. Department of Defense contract to develop a portable self-contained 3D printing “factory” housed in a shipping container. The pod will help reduce inventory and simplify the supply chain. #metal3Dprintinghttps://t.co/jSCef5HuB6 pic.twitter.com/awXhMGrKFp

— ExOne (@ExOneCo) February 16, 2021

The system combines a series of machines with a software layer designed to lower the barrier of entry for use. While some training will be required, the hope is that people will be able to operate the system in the field.

“We’ve ruggedized the products that are going inside,” says Hartner. “There’s an element of software that makes the whole thing easier to use together. You start with scanning. So, there’s a possibility that you print from a cloud-based repository, but that may not be available for whatever reason, so you may have a broken part that you can scan and do some digital repair to the file and print.”

The devices rely on binder jet printing, the core tech behind ExOne’s machines. The system essentially composites powder, layer by layer to build up an object. ExOne expects to deliver the first system by Q3 2022. If all goes well, the parties will discuss further partnerships going forward.

Redefine Meat is moving plant-based proteins from patties to steaks

By Jonathan Shieber

The Israeli startup Redefine Meat, which has developed a manufacturing process to make plant-based proteins that more closely resemble choice cuts of beef than the current crop of hamburger-adjacent offerings, has gotten a big vote of confidence from the investment arm of one of Asia’s premier food brands.

The company has raised $29 million in financing from Happiness Capital, the investment arm backed by the family fortunes of Hong Kong’s Lee Kum Kee condiment dynasty, and Hanaco Ventures, an investment firm backing startups in New York and Israel.

Investors have stampeded into the plant-based food industry, spurred by the rising fortunes of companies like Beyond Meat, which has inked partnerships with everyone from Pepsico to McDonald’s, and Impossible Foods, which counts Burger King among the brands boosting its plant-based faux meat.

While these companies have perfected plant patties that can delight the taste buds, the prospect of carving up a big honkin cut of pea protein in the form of a ribeye, sirloin or rump steak, has been a technical hurdle these companies have yet to overcome in a commercial offering.

Redefine Meat thinks its manufacturing processes have cracked the code on the formulation of plant-based steak.

They’re not the only ones. In Barcelona, a startup called Novameat raised roughly $300,000 earlier this year for its own take on plant-based steak. That company raised its money from the NEOTEC Program of the Spanish Center for Industrial Technological Development.

Both companies are using 3-D printing technologies to make meat substitutes that mimic the taste and texture of steaks, rather than trying to approximate the patties, meatballs, and ground meat that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible have taken to market.

Backing Redefine’s path to market are a host of other investors including Losa Group, Sake Bosch, and K3 Ventures.

The company said it would use the new funding to expand its portfolio and support the commercial launch of its products. Redefine aims to have a large-scale production facility for its 3-D printers online before the end of the year, the company said in a statement.

In January, Redefine Meat announced a strategic agreement with the Israeli distributor Best Meister and the company has been expanding its staff with a current headcount of roughly 40 employees.

“We want to change the belief that delicious meat can only come from animals, and we have all the building blocks in place to make this a reality: high-quality meat products, strategic partnerships with stakeholders across the world, a large-scale pilot line under construction, and the first-ever industrial 3D Alt-Meat printers set to be deployed within meat distributors later this year,” said Eschar Ben-Shitrit, the company’s chief executive, in a statement. 

 

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