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Apple reportedly planning thinner and lighter MacBook Air with MagSafe charging

By Darrell Etherington

Apple is said to be working on a new version of the MacBook Air with a brand new physical case design that’s both thinner and lighter than its current offering, which was updated with Apple’s M1 chip late last year, per a new Bloomberg report. The plan is to release it as early as late 2021 or 2022, according to the report’s sources, and it will also include MagSafe charging (which is also said to be returning on Apple’s next MacBook Pro models sometime in 2021).

MagSafe would offer power delivery and charging, while two USB 4 ports would provide data connectivity on the new MacBook Air. The display size will remain at its current 13-inch diagonal measurement, but Apple will reportedly realize smaller overall sizes by reducing the bevel that surrounds the screen’s edge, among other sizing changes.

Apple has a plan to revamp its entire Mac lineup with its own Apple Silicon processors over the course of the next two years. It debuted its first Apple Silicon Macs, powered by its M1 chip, late last year, and the resulting performance benefits vs. their Intel-powered predecessors have been substantial. The physical designs remained essentially the same, however, prompting speculation as to when Apple would introduce new case designs to further distinguish its new Macs from their older models.

The company is also reportedly working on new MacBook Pros with MagSafe charging, which could also ditch the company’s controversial TouchBar interface – and, again according to Bloomberg, bring back a dedicated SD card slot. All these changes would actually be reversions of design changes Apple made when it introduced the current physical notebook Mac designs, beginning with the first Retina display MacBook Pro in 2012, but they address usability complaints by some of the company’s enthusiast and professional customers.

Raspberry Pi Foundation launches $4 microcontroller with custom chip

By Romain Dillet

Meet the Raspberry Pi Pico, a tiny little microcontroller that lets you build hardware projects with some code running on the microcontroller. Even more interesting, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is using its own RP2040 chip, which means that the foundation is now making its own silicon.

If you’re not familiar with microcontrollers, those devices let you control other parts or other devices. You might think that you can already do this kind of stuff with a regular Raspberry Pi. But microcontrollers are specifically designed to interact with other things.

They’re cheap, they’re small and they draw very little power. You can start developing your project with a breadboard to avoid soldering. You can pair it with a small battery and it can run for weeks or even months. Unlike computers, microcontrollers don’t run traditional operating systems. Your code runs directly on the chip.

Like other microcontrollers, the Raspberry Pi Pico has dozens of input and output pins on the sides of the device. Those pins are important as they act as the interface with other components. For instance, you can make your microcontroller interact with an LED light, get data from various sensors, show some information on a display, etc.

The Raspberry Pi Pico uses the RP2040 chip. It has a dual-core Arm processor (running at 133MHz), 264KB of RAM, 26 GPIO pins including 3 analog inputs, a micro-USB port and a temperature sensor. It doesn’t come with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. And it costs $4.

If you want to run something on the Raspberry Pi Pico, it’s quite easy. You plug your device to your computer using the micro-USB port. You boot up the Raspberry Pi Pico while pressing the button. The device will appear on your computer as an external drive.

In addition to C, you can use MicroPython as your development language. It’s a Python-inspired language for microcontrollers. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has written a ton of documentation and a datasheet for the Pico.

Interestingly, the Raspberry Pi Foundation wants to let others benefit from its own chip design. It has reached out to Adafruit, Arduino, Pimoroni and Sparkfun so that they can build their own boards using the RP2040 chip. There will be an entire ecosystem of RP2040-powered devices.

This is an interesting move for the Raspberry Pi Foundation as it can go down this path and iterate on its own chip design with more powerful variants. It provides two main advantages — the ability to control exactly what to put on board, and price.

Image Credits: Raspberry Pi Foundation

Elon Musk said it was ‘Not a Flamethrower’

By Kirsten Korosec

After two days locked up in an Italian prison, American Max Craddock was finally able to make his case to a judge.

“It’s not a weapon of war,” his lawyer told the investigating magistrate. “It’s a toy they sell to children.”

Craddock had been arrested in the Sardinian port city of Olbia in June 2018 after trying to board a private party bus with a collectible flamethrower from Elon Musk’s latest startup, The Boring Company. Craddock had painted his flamethrower black, and written on it the name of a floating music festival in the Bahamas he had attended the previous year while starring in reality TV show Unanchored.

Alarmed by the sight of what he thought was a gun, the bus driver refused to drive off, and then called the police.

“They were very chill at first,” Craddock told TechCrunch in a recent phone interview. “But as the night went on, it kept getting worse. I spent the first night in jail in Olbia and then they took me to prison.”

When Craddock managed to get a lawyer, she told him the judge would probably just let him go with a warning. Instead, the magistrate ordered him back to his cell. That was when Craddock, pictured below, learned possession of a flamethrower in Italy can carry a 10-year prison sentence.

A few months later, author John Richardson was sitting down to work at his home in London, when there was a loud knock at the door. He opened it and five police officers barged in wearing tasers and tactical gear.

“I think a couple of them also had handguns,” Richardson told TechCrunch. “But I’m slightly hazy on that because my legs went wobbly.”

The police officers sat Richardson down on his sofa and informed him that they had a warrant to search the premises. “I was, like, what’s going on here?” Richardson recalled. “Then something clicked and I said, ‘Is this about the flamethrower?’ ”

The raid was indeed about his flamethrower.

Craddock and Richardson are not the only Boring Company customers to have fallen foul of law enforcement.

More than 1,000 flamethrower purchasers abroad have had their devices confiscated by customs officers or local police, with many facing fines and weapons charges. In the U.S., the flamethrowers have been implicated in at least one local and one federal criminal investigation. There have also been at least three occasions in which the Boring Company devices have been featured in weapons hauls seized from suspected drug dealers.

The upshot: What Musk and his army of fans thought was just another of his money-spinning larks is having real-world consequences for people and countries not in on the joke.

The Boring Company did not respond to detailed questions from TechCrunch for this story.

The spark of an idea

Inspired by Los Angeles traffic, Musk launched The Boring Company in December 2016. The startup’s mission was to solve urban traffic jams by moving cars through tiny tunnels. But re-engineering sewer tunneling technology to build a revolutionary subterranean transportation network doesn’t come cheap. In an effort to drum up awareness and funds, Musk announced in December 2017 a limited run of novelty flamethrowers designed and branded by The Boring Company.

It was a scheme that had produced results earlier that year. Musk raised $1 million just weeks after launching sales of a $20 Boring Company hat.

“I’m a big fan of Spaceballs, the movie,” Musk told Joe Rogan during an infamous podcast in 2018. “They have a flamethrower in the merchandising section of Spaceballs, and, like, the kids love that one.”

The device uses a standard propane gas canister and is functionally similar to propane torches for melting ice, killing weeds or applying roofing materials. But with its rifle-style stock, pistol grip and sci-fi styling, the Boring Company’s flamethrower had a very different aesthetic — more post-apocalyptic party accessory than everyday yard maintenance.

Musk did his best to hype sales, tweeting to his Twitter followers, which numbered about 22 million at the time: “Flamethrower obv best way to light your fireplace/BBQ. No more need to use a dainty ‘match’ to ignite!”

Flamethrower obv best way to light your fireplace/BBQ. No more need to use a dainty “match” to ignite! If no wood, just drop your flamethrower in fire place! It will generate way more warmth than a quaint pile of logs.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 9, 2018

He also threw a launch party in Los Angeles, where Craddock was one of the first 1,000 customers to collect a flamethrower, just before his European trip. “I removed the gas canister, put the flamethrower in my carry-on, and had no trouble on the flights,” he said.

Musk’s influence and the appeal of the product provided a winning combination.

“I had no intention of going around setting fire to stuff,” said Richardson. “I just thought it looked pretty cool, and was something I could potentially flip for a lot more money down the line.”

The Boring Company would make 20,000 flamethrowers and sell them at $500 each, netting the young company $10 million.

‘Not’ a Flamethrower

The 20,000 flamethrowers quickly sold out, with orders flooding in from around the world. As the shipping date neared, however, The Boring Company realized its scorching new product could also be a legal hot potato.

“We are told that various countries would ban shipping of it, that they would ban flamethrowers,” Musk told Rogan in 2018. “So, to solve this problem for all of the customs agencies, we labelled it, ‘Not a Flamethrower.’ “

“Did it work? Was it effective?” asked Rogan. “I don’t know. I think so. Yes,” Musk replied.

The correct answer was no.

In London, the flamethrower came to the attention of Operation Viper, a rapid response team dedicated to tackling gun crime. Working with customs officials, Viper tracked Musk’s flamethrowers en route to the nation’s capital. “There has been a debate as to whether these are firearms,” one of the Viper officers wrote in an email to Richardson. “Similar flamethrowers have been seized right across London.” One Londoner had his laptop and several cellphones confiscated along with the flamethrower.

Flamethrower raids were also happening around the UK and across Europe. A YouTube vlogger in Manchester was targeted by police after featuring the Boring Company’s gadget in one of his videos, while up to 1,000 purchasers in Switzerland had devices confiscated and were issued fines. One took his case to court, saying the flamethrower was little different from a school Bunsen burner. He lost.

Not just a European problem

Without the immediacy of a Customs check, the backlash to Musk’s flamethrowers in the United States took longer to arrive. But in June 2019, a Democratic lawmaker in the New York State Senate introduced a bill that would criminalize owning and using Musk’s flamethrower.

“Elon Musk’s Boring Company released a new flamethrower… without any concern to the training of the purchasers or their reasons for buying,” reads S1637. “This bill establishes that owning and using a flamethrower is a criminal act, unless it is used for agricultural, construction or historical collection purposes. These dangerous devices should not be sold to civilians, and use needs to be restricted to trained professionals.”

Not every police force believes that new laws are necessary — finding that existing ones are enough. In June 2020, police in Springfield, Mass., stopped a car for a missing inspection sticker. One of the officers noticed what he thought was a rifle hidden beneath a seat — actually a Boring Company flamethrower. Its owner, passenger Brandon McGee, was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon and an “infernal machine” (a device for endangering life or property using fire).

The same month, FBI agents executing a search warrant against a Pennsylvania man, Brandon Althof Long, stumbled across his Boring Company flamethrower propped against a wall. Long had been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to riot and cause civil disorder, and conspiracy to use fire to commit a felony, during riots in Ohio protesting police brutality.

The agents seized the flamethrower out of concern for their safety, which a U.S. district judge later ruled lawful. “Other individuals could be located inside the house and the flamethrower could have been used to endanger officers as they retreated from Long’s home,” she wrote.

Novel items like flamethrowers are rarely specified in law, says Ryan Calo, a law professor and co-founder of the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington. “Some items – like guns or spring knives – are weapons ‘per se,’ meaning that they are always weapons. But most statutes have an ‘or other deadly weapon’ clause as well, meaning that anything that is capable of causing serious bodily harm, even a rock, can be a weapon in the right circumstances,” he said.

The problem is, what circumstances? A flame-spouting weed-killer might not attract the interest of police, whereas a similar device styled like an assault rifle is more likely to be considered threatening. “And if you use the item during the commission of another crime, this can lead to a distinct offense of using a deadly weapon to commit a felony,” said Calo.

For all Musk’s portrayal of the Not a Flamethrower as just an entertaining toy, police forces — and criminals — in North America are increasingly treating them as dangerous weapons. In rural Wisconsin, a two-year narcotics investigation led police to arrest two men in July 2020 with a hoard of drugs, cash and weapons. Among the cocaine, pistols and assault rifles prominently displayed in the traditional seizure photo was a Boring Company flamethrower. Similar seizures were displayed by police in Canada in December and again this month.

guelph guns-seized- boring company flamethrower

Guelph Police Service lays out items seized including Not a Flamethrower, the novelty item sold by The Boring Company. Image credit: Guelph Police

No company has complete control over what customers do with its products. However, this isn’t the first time a product connected to Musk has been misused.

Tesla, the electric automaker led by Musk, has been criticized for naming its advanced driver assistant system Autopilot and for calling the $10,000 add-on option Full Self-Driving (FSD) even though the driver must remain engaged at all times and is legally liable. A German court has banned the company from using the terms “Autopilot” or “full potential for autonomous driving” on its website or in other marketing materials.

Safety advocates have argued that using terms like Autopilot and FSD misrepresents the capabilities of the system. The name, along with the lack of an in-cabin camera that monitors the driver, has led owners to push well beyond the bounds of the system.

Videos showing Tesla owners misusing Autopilot and FSD abound on YouTube. Some have had run-ins with law enforcement. One Canadian man was charged for sleeping in his Tesla as it drove down the highway.

Eternal flame

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

John Richardson eventually got his Not a Flamethrower back from the Metropolitan police. He now intends to keep it out of the public eye, at least until it’s worth selling. “I’m happy to sit on it for however long,” he said. “And if there is a zombie apocalypse, at least I’ve got one.”

For now, Craddock remains the only person that TechCrunch can identify as having been incarcerated solely for possessing a Not A Flamethrower. “It was a hair-raising experience,” he said. “I’m in the middle of nowhere in Sardinia, on 24-hour lockdown with an older guy giving off Mafia vibes.”

After nearly a week in prison, Craddock was abruptly handed his belongings (flamethrower aside) and set free. “My lawyer asked the judge, ‘Do you really want to be the guy on international news keeping an American in jail over this toy?’,” he said. “I think that was the key to getting me out.”

Craddock took the first plane home. He says he now regrets taking the flamethrower abroad, and carrying it in public: “I would have preferred not to have spent that week in an Italian prison but now I’ve got a hell of a story.”

He also has another flamethrower.

“As soon as I got back, I built myself a new one,” said Craddock. “You can follow YouTube videos with links to all the things you need. It’s pretty simple.”

Startups look beyond lidar for autonomous vehicle perception

By Devin Coldewey

Last CES was a time of reckoning for lidar companies, many of which were cratering due to a lack of demand from a (still) non-existent autonomous vehicle industry. The few that excelled did so by specializing, and this year the trend has pushed beyond lidar, with new sensing and imaging methods pushing to both compete with and complement the laser-based tech.

Lidar pushed ahead of traditional cameras because it could do things they couldn’t — and now some companies are pushing to do the same with tech that’s a little less exotic.

A good example of addressing the problem or perception by different means is Eye Net’s vehicle-to-x tracking platform. This is one of those techs that’s been talked about in the context of 5G (admittedly still somewhat exotic), which for all the hype really does enable short-distance, low-latency applications that could be life-savers.

Eye Net provides collision warnings between vehicles equipped with its tech, whether they have cameras or other sensing tech equipped or not. The example they provide is a car driving through a parking lot, unaware that a person on one of those horribly unsafe electric scooters is moving perpendicular to it ahead, about to zoom into its path but totally obscured by parked cars. Eye Net’s sensors detect the position of the devices on both vehicles and send warnings in time for either or both to brake.

CG illustration of a bicyclist and car being warned of an imminent collision.

Image Credits: Eye Net

They’re not the only ones attempting something like this, but they hope that by providing a sort of white-label solution, a good size network can be built relatively easily, instead of having none, and then all VWs equipped, and then some Fords and some e-bikes, and so on.

But vision is still going to be a major part of how vehicles navigate, and advances are being made on multiple fronts.

Brightway Vision, for instance, addresses the issue of normal RGB cameras having limited visibility in many real-world conditions by going multispectral. In addition to ordinary visible-light imagery, the company’s camera is mated to a near-infrared beamer that scans the road ahead at set distance intervals many times a second.

CG illustration of a camera using infrared to see further ahead at night.

Image Credits: Brightway Vision

The idea is that if the main camera can’t see 100 feet out because of fog, the NIR imagery will still catch any obstacles or road features when it scans that “slice” in its regular sweep of the incoming area. It combines the benefits of traditional cameras with those of IR ones, but manages to avoid the shortcomings of both. The pitch is that there’s no reason to use a normal camera when you can use one of these, which does the same job better and may even allow another sensor to be cut out.

Foresight Automotive also uses multispectral imagery in its cameras (chances are hardly any vehicle camera will be limited to visible spectrum in a few years), dipping into thermal via a partnership with FLIR, but what it’s really selling is something else.

To provide 360-degree (or close) coverage, generally multiple cameras are required. But where those cameras go differs on a compact sedan versus an SUV from the same manufacturer — let alone on an autonomous freight vehicle. Because those cameras have to work together, they need to be perfectly calibrated, aware of the exact position of the others, so they know, for example, that they’re both looking at the same tree or bicyclist and not two identical ones.

Image showing Foresight cameras being attached magnetically to a car's body.

Image Credits: Foresight Automotive

Foresight’s advance is to simplify the calibration stage, so a manufacturer or designer or test platform doesn’t need to be laboriously re-tested and certified every time the cameras need to be moved half an inch in one direction or the other. The Foresight demo shows them sticking the cameras on the roof of the car seconds before driving it.

It has parallels to another startup called Nodar that also relies on stereoscopic cameras, but takes a different approach. The technique of deriving depth from binocular triangulation, as the company points out, goes back decades, or millions of years if you count our own vision system, which works in a similar ways. The limitation that has held this approach back isn’t that optical cameras fundamentally can’t provide the depth information needed by an autonomous vehicle, but that they can’t be trusted to remain calibrated.

Nodar shows that its paired stereo cameras don’t even need to be mounted to the main mass of the car, which would reduce jitter and fractional mismatches between the cameras’ views. Attached to the rear view mirrors, their “Hammerhead” camera setup has a wide stance (like the shark’s), which provides improved accuracy because of the larger disparity between the cameras. Since distance is determined by the differences between the two images, there’s no need for object recognition or complex machine learning to say “this is a shape, probably a car, probably about this big, which means it’s probably about this far away” as you might with a single camera solution.

Image Credits: Nodar

The industry has already shown that camera arrays do well in harsh weather conditions, just as human eyes do,” said Nodar COO and co-founder Brad Rosen. “For example, engineers at Daimler have published results showing that current stereoscopic approaches provide significantly more stable depth estimates than monocular methods and LiDAR completion in adverse weather. The beauty of our approach is that the hardware we use is available today, in automotive-grade, and with many choices for manufacturers and distributors.”

Indeed, a major strike against lidar has been the cost of the unit — even “inexpensive” ones tend to be orders of magnitude more expensive than ordinary cameras, something that adds up very quickly. But team lidar hasn’t been standing still either.

Sense Photonics came onto the scene with a new approach that seemed to combine the best of both worlds: a relatively cheap and simple flash lidar (as opposed to spinning or scanning, which tend to add complexity) mated to a traditional camera so that the two see versions of the same image, allowing them to work together in identifying objects and establishing distances.

Since its debut in 2019 Sense has refined its tech for production and beyond. The latest advance is custom hardware that has enabled it to image objects out to 200 meters — generally considered on the far end both for lidar and traditional cameras.

“In the past, we have sourced an off-the-shelf detector to pair with our laser source (Sense Illuminator). However, our 2 years of in-house detector development has now completed and is a huge success, which allows us to build short-range and long-range automotive products,” said CEO Shauna McIntyre.

“Sense has created ‘building blocks’ for a camera-like LiDAR design that can be paired with different sets of optics to achieve different FOV, range, resolution, etc,” she continued. “And we’ve done so in a very simple design that can actually be manufactured in large volumes. You can think of our architecture like a DSLR camera where you have the ‘base camera’ and can pair it with a macro lens, zoom lens, fisheye lens, etc. to achieve different functions.”

One thing all the companies seemed to agree on is that no single sensing modality will dominate the industry from top to bottom. Leaving aside that the needs of a fully autonomous (i.e. level 4-5) vehicle has very different needs from a driver assist system, the field moves too quickly for any one approach to remain on top for long.

“AV companies cannot succeed if the public is not convinced that their platform is safe and the safety margins only increase with redundant sensor modalities operating at different wavelengths,” said McIntyre.

Whether that means visible light, near-infrared, thermal imaging, radar, lidar, or as we’ve seen here, some combination of two or three of these, it’s clear the market will continue to favor differentiation — though as with the boom-bust cycle seen in the lidar industry a few years back, it’s also a warning that consolidation won’t be far behind.

Thimble teaches kids STEM skills with robotics kits combined with live Zoom classes

By Sarah Perez

Parents with kids stuck learning at home during the pandemic have had to look for alternative activities to promote the hands-on learning experiences kids are missing out on due to attending class virtually. The New York-based educational technology startup Thimble aims to help address this problem by offering a subscription service for STEM-based projects that allow kids to make robotics, electronics and other tech using a combination of kits shipped to the home and live online instruction.

Thimble began back in 2016 as a Kickstarter project when it raised $300,000 in 45 days to develop its STEM-based robotics and programming kits. The next year, it began selling its kits to schools, largely in New York, for use in the classroom or in after-school programs. Over the years that followed, Thimble scaled its customer base to include around 250 schools across New York, Pennsylvania and California, which would buy the kits and gain access to teacher training.

But the COVID-19 pandemic changed the course of Thimble’s business.

“A lot of schools were in panic mode. They were not sure what was happening, and so their spending was frozen for some time,” explains Thimble co-founder and CEO Oscar Pedroso, whose background is in education. “Even our top customers that I would call, they would just give [say], ‘hey, this is not a good time. We think we’re going to be closing schools down.”

Pedroso realized that the company would have to quickly pivot to begin selling directly to parents instead.

Image Credits: Thimble

Around April, it made the shift — effectively entering the B2C market for the first time.

The company today offers parents a subscription that allows them to receive up to 15 different STEM-focused project kits and a curriculum that includes live instruction from an educator. One kit is shipped out over the course of three months, though an accelerated program is available that ships with more frequency.

The first kit is basic electronics, where kids learn how to build simple circuits, like a doorbell, kitchen timer and a music composer, for example. The kit is designed so kids can experience “quick wins” to keep their attention and whet their appetite for more projects. This leads into future kits like those offering a Wi-Fi robot, a little drone, an LED compass that lights up and a synthesizer that lets kids become their own DJ.

Image Credits: Thimble

While any family can use the kits to help kids experience hands-on electronics and robotics, Pedroso says that about 70% of subscribers are those where the child already has a knack for doing these sorts of projects. The remaining 30% are those where the parents are looking to introduce the concepts of robotics and programming, to see if the kids show an interest. Around 40% of the students are girls.

The subscription is more expensive than some DIY projects at $59.99/per month (or $47.99/mo if paid annually), but this is because it includes live instruction in the form of weekly one-hour Zoom classes. Thimble has part-time employees who are not just able to teach the material, but can do so in a way that appeals to children — by being passionate, energetic and capable of jumping in to help if they sense a child is having an issue or getting frustrated. Two of the five teachers are women. One instructor is bilingual and teaches some classes in Spanish.

During class, one teacher instructs while a second helps moderate the chat room and answer the questions that kids ask.

The live classes will have around 15-20 students each, but Thimble additionally offers a package for small groups that reduces class size. These could be used by homeschool “pods” or other groups.

Image Credits: Thimble

“We started hearing from pods and then micro-schools,” notes Pedroso. “Those were parents who were connected to other parents, and wanted their kids to be part of the same class. They generally required a little bit more attention and wanted some things a little more customized,” he added.

These subscriptions are more expensive at $250/month, but the cost is shared among the group of parents, which brings the price down on per-household basis. Around 10% of the total customer base is on this plan, as most customers are individual families.

Thimble also works with several community programs and nonprofits in select markets that help to subsidize the cost of the kits to make the subscriptions more affordable. These are announced, as available, through schools, newsletters and other marketing efforts.

Since pivoting to subscriptions, Thimble has re-established a customer base and now has 1,110 paid customers. Some, however, are grandfathered in to an earlier price point, so Thimble needs to scale the business further.

In addition to Kickstarter, Thimble has raised funds and worked on the business over the year with the help of multiple accelerators, including LearnLaunch in Boston, Halcyon in D.C. and Telluride Venture Accelerator in Colorado.

The startup, co-founded by Joel Cilli in Pittsburgh, is now around 60% closed on its seed round of $1 million, but isn’t announcing details of that at this time.

 

 

 

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.

Origami Labs’ OFLO is a smart walkie talkie for frontline workers

By Catherine Shu

OFLO is a voice communication system designed to replace traditional walkie talkies. Its hardware is more compact and lightweight, with a bone conduction headset, and capable of covering unlimited distances and multiple channels. Created by Origami Labs, OFLO is also connected to software that features auto logging and productivity tools for teams who don’t have access to screens while they are working.

The startup, whose clients include property management company JLL and luxury hotel chain The Peninsula, is currently showcasing OFLO at CES’ Taiwan Tech Arena pavilion.

OFLO was created for the millions of frontline workers in health care, hospitality, security, manufacturing and other sectors who can’t sit in front of a computer or look down at mobile screens frequently. The walkie talkies many of them currently use cover only limited distances and have a single channel that is shared by multiple workers. OFLO’s advantages include letting users call specific co-workers and it is also cross-platform, so someone talking on a smartphone can call a person on a OFLO walkie talkie. Its software includes features like live chats, transcriptions, task management and GPS location.

A product shot of OFLO walkie talkie

A product shot of OFLO walkie talkie

OFLO is available on a subscription plan for $6 per user a month. Wong said its monthly recurring revenue is currently increasing 20% a month, with a target of $100,000 a month by the third quarter of 2021.

The system builds on Origami Labs’ other tech, including Orii, a voice-powered ring. Co-founder and chief executive officer Kevin Johan Wong told TechCrunch the company sees OFLO as “almost a screenless smartphone alternative.” One of the reasons Wong became interested in working on voice technology is because his father, Peter Wong, is a visually-impaired programmer who helped develop Microsoft’s accessibility tools.

“Our company’s mantra is to try to create devices that are equalizing, that allow people to interact with computers screenless-ly,” said the younger Wong.

GoPro makes stopping and starting simpler with motion, power, QR triggers

By Devin Coldewey

GoPro may have started out at the intersection of capability and affordability in the action cam space, but since then it has increasingly leaned towards use by professionals or deployment by businesses. The latest features, announced at CES, underline that priority, making the cameras simpler and more automated for rentals and hands-free operation.

If you’ve got a Hero 7, 8, or 9 Black, or Max, you should be able to download the latest GoPro Labs firmware, which adds the following convenient features.

Motion and USB power triggers: Set the camera to start and stop recording either when power flows to it (in a dash cam situation, for instance) or when in motion (for a bike or ski helmet perhaps). Motion detection is also improved and now works in all video modes.

The cameras can already perform various tasks upon scanning QR codes, but here’s a new one: you can use a QR code to tell a device to connect to a specific wi-fi network and start streaming. It’s faster than using the app for when you need a quick deployment.

An obvious one for tourism is the “one button mode,” which as you might expect limits the controls to starting and stopping video capture. Great both for the less tech-savvy on vacation who can’t handle more than one button’s worth of controls, and also for rental joints tired of their cameras coming back with weird custom settings after an overly tech-savvy customer tweaks them.

There are a few other improvements, which you can check out at the press release.

Dell’s 40-inch curved monitor is perfect for a home office command center

By Darrell Etherington

Dell’s kicking off 2021 with a new addition to its monitor lineup that aims to hit a variety of sweet spots. The Dell UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD monitor offers 39.7″ of screen real estate, with a 5120 x 2160 resolution that matches the pixel density of 4K resolution on a 32-inch conventional widescreen display. It comes equipped with Thunderbolt 3 for display and data connectivity, as well as 90W of charging for compatible computers, and a 10Gbps Ethernet connection for networking. In short, Dell’s latest (which is available beginning January 28) looks to be a true ‘one display to rule them all’ contender, particularly for those searching for a way to optimize their home offices.

The basics

Dell’s UltraSharp 40 has a 60Hz, 39.7″ diagonal display in 21:9 aspect ratio with WUHD resolution (not quite true 5K, but exceptional for a curved monitor this size). It offers 100% sRGB and 98% P3 color reproduction, and comes with a stand that has height adjustability, tilt and swivel, and that features a hidden cable channel for cable management. Built-in speakers provide 9W each of sound reproduction so you don’t need to worry about adding externals.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

In terms of wired connections, it offers Thunderbolt 3, RJ45 Ethernet, and USB 10Gps ports (three on the rear, and one in front) as well as one USB-C port for easy access on the front. There’s also 3.5mm audio line out (though it’s worth noting that this doesn’t work with headphones), and two HDMI ports plus one DisplayPort for more traditional display connectivity if you’re not going the Thunderbolt route. Finally, a standard security lock slot allows you to anchor the display in any shared environment.

The display itself is bright, clear and viewable at a wide range of angles, with a more matte finish that provides excellent viewing in a wide range of lighting conditions. A joystick control button provides easy navigation and operation of the built-in on-screen menu and integrated features, including picture-in-picture.

Design and features

First and foremost, the Dell UltraSharp 40 delivered excellent visual quality. Especially for a display this size, in a curved form factor, at this resolution, it’s going to be something that satisfies everyone from telecommuters mostly handling meetings and spreadsheets, to photographers and video professionals looking for image quality that is highly color-accurate and provides crystal clear detail.

The WUHD resolution means that you can run the display in a range of different configurations, depending on how much screen real estate you want or need. For instance, I’ve been using it at the 5160 x 2160 res, and it provides ample workspace for arranging multiple windows side-by-side, and tiled vertically. I typically use three displays at once in my day job (there’s a lot of tab and browser windows involved) and the Dell UltraSharp 40 makes it so that I can comfortably work with just a single monitor instead. It’ll work with Apple’s HiDPI modes on its modern Macs for clear and crisp visuals with larger on-screen elements, too, however, if you don’t need all that room.

Dell’s integrated stand is simple and effective, providing a range of maneuverability options that allow for significant travel in height adjustment. You won’t get a portrait mode full swivel in this display – but that’s not surprising given how long it is on its longest edge, compared to the vertical. You do get tilt if you need it, and the ability to angle back and forwards depending on how you have it positioned. The end result is a display that’s very large, but easy enough to adjust for your comfortable use.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The display comes calibrated out of the box, but also includes plenty of options for adjusting things like contrast and brightness using the built-in menus. This also including a very useful multi-device display setup, including both picture-in-picture features for multiple sources, and a picture-by-picture mode that splits the display into two equal side-by-side sections for multiple inputs. Another useful feature for working with the display with multiple computers: keyboards and mice connected via the monitor will automatically detect and switch between controlling both connected PCs.

Besides the display size and resolution, the other thing that makes the UltraSharp 40 a fantastic option for a home workstation is its range of ports and added bonuses like built-in speakers. The speakers aren’t going to win any audiophile awards, but they’re better than the ones that come built into your laptop and they obviate the need for additional equipment if you’re looking to spare your desk surface space. With any modern Thunderbolt-equipped Mac, the Dell UltraSharp 40 really is a one-cable wonder that offers very little in the way of compromises.

Bottom line

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

With the Dell UltraSharp 40, the company continues its tradition of delivering extremely high-quality display products at a reasonable price. The $2,100 price tag may seem steep, but for what you’re getting it’s a very fair price point, and Dell’s displays also have very high reliability that means an investment in their monitors is likely to keep you satisfied for many years to come (two of my home office displays are some of Dell’s very first 4K monitors, which have served me reliably for over half a decade).

Because of its wide aspect ratio and curve, this display really does replace two smaller 4K screens for most uses, and so the cost framed that way actually makes even more sense. In short, Dell’s UltraSharp 40 is a home office beast, which fills a sweet spot for a wide range of remote professionals.

Yo-Kai Express introduces Takumi, a smart home cooking appliance

By Catherine Shu

Yo-Kai Express is known for autonomous restaurant technology for venues like office campuses, malls and hotels. As people continue staying home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is introducing a smart home cooking appliance with multiple functions. Called Takumi, it includes a coffee maker, high induction cooktop and a steamer for sanitizing utensils and baby bottles. Takumi is connected by RFID to an app with preprogrammed recipes, which also sends alert when its water container is running low.

The company is currently presenting Takumi at CES’ Taiwan Tech Arena.

Yo-Kai Express' smart home cooking appliance Takumi

Yo-Kai Express’ smart home cooking appliance Takumi

If you live in the Bay Area, you might have seen Yo-Kai Express’s Octo-Chef, a vending machine that serves hot noodle dishes (ramen, udon and pho), in venues like the San Francisco International Airport, the Metreon mall in San Francisco and corporate campuses. But the company is adapting as people stay home. In April, it launched a home meal kit delivery service that is now available in all states.

Created for people who want a home-cooked meal but are short on time (and space), the Takumi’s pre-programmed recipes have cooking times of just two to eight minutes. Yo-Kai Express is known for noodle dishes, but the Takumi’s menu will also include rice bowls, dim sum, dumplings and pasta.

Nobi’s smart lamp alerts caregivers when a fall is detected

By Brian Heater

As expected, this year’s (virtual) CES has brought with it a new flood of smart home gadgets. The technology has been a major presence over the last several CES events, and with a world stuck at home for the foreseeable future, a lot of this tech has become all the more appealing.

Nobi stands out from the pack, not so much because of any flashy features, but rather a kind of practicality it brings to the table. Created by a Belgian startup of the same name, the ceiling-mounted smart light features motion sensors and infrared detection.

When the user sits up, the top light illuminates. If they stand up to walk, it illuminates the ground. More interestingly, it can detect irregular motions in the user, as well as falls. If the user does the latter, the on-board speaker will ask, “did you fall.”

If the answer is “no,” nothing happens. If the answer is anything else, it will send a notification to a caregiver, which may include a photo, depending on the specific settings. The lamp is currently undergoing a testing period and will be available for sale by year’s end. Users can buy them outright, or rent them, along with a subscription.

Weber acquires smart cooking startup June

By Darrell Etherington

Outdoor cooking industry leader and famed kettle-grill-maker Weber has acquired June, the smart cooking startup founded in 2013 by Matt Van Horn and Nikhil Bhogal. While financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, Weber has confirmed that June will continue to operate as its own brand wholly owned by Weber-Stephen Products and will continue to both sell and develop the June Oven and related products. Meanwhile, June co-founder Nikhil Bhogal will take on a role as SVP of Technology and Connected Devices across the Weber lineup.

Weber had already teamed up with June, with the startup providing the technology and expertise behind its Weber Connect smart grilling platform. That includes both the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub, which adds connected smart grill features to any grill, and the built-in smart cooking features on its SmokeFire line of wood pellet grills. That partnership began with a cold email Van Horn received in 2018 from then-Weber CEO and current Executive Chairman Jim Stephen, the son of the company’s original founder.

“He said he was a fan, he was a customer, and he couldn’t imagine a future without June technology powering every product in the Weber collection,” Van Horn told me in an interview. “I said, ‘Slow down — what are you talking about? Yeah, who are you?’ And he said ‘I’m flying out, I’ll be there Monday.'” I normally have my nice demo setup that I do, I’ll do like chocolate lava cake and a steak [in the June Oven]. So I got there about 15 minutes early to do that, and [Jim] was already sitting in the front steps of the office, ready to open the door for me — he’s like, ‘I don’t need a demo, I own this.'”

“His energy and ability to see things often before other people, it blew my mind,” Van Horn continued. “Soon after I met Chris [Scherzinger, Weber’s current chief executive], who was joining as CEO and [I] was able to experience firsthand this, honestly very surprising and wonderful culture of this historic Weber brand.”

As mentioned, June became a partner to Weber and powered the connected cooking platform it debuted at CES last year. Weber also led June’s Series C funding round, a previously undisclosed final round of financing that Weber led in 2018 prior to this exit.

Van Horn will act as president of June under the terms of the new arrangement and will continue to lead development of its current and future products. He said that Weber’s ability to help them with international scale and distribution via their existing global footprint was a big motivating factor in why June chose to join the now 63-year-old company. But another key ingredient was just how much Weber proved to be a place where the company’s culture was still centered on customer focus and a love of food.

“Obviously why Nikhil and I started June was that we love food, and we love cooking,” Van Horn said. “And a lot of the principles of how we think about how products get made are a lot of Apple’s principles — a large percentage of the June team comes from Apple. We’ve obviously kind of brought that to a microscale with our small 60-person startup. But being able to work with this very eager Weber team, that’s just been really excited from the start has been pretty incredible.”

As for Weber, the company gains a software and technology team that was born out of the idea of approaching cooking from a tech-first perspective — and they intend to infuse that expertise throughout their product lineup, with an eye toward building on their legacy of quality and customer enthusiasm.

“Once you infuse the software engineering, the connected product design and the machine-intelligence expertise that you have, you get these core competencies or capabilities, but that really undersells it,” Scherzinger told me. “Matt put together a team of superstars, and we just got a first-round draft pick [in June] that takes the Weber game to another level. That allows us to accelerate a significant number of initiatives, and you can expect to see an expansion of what Weber Connect can become in terms of new experiences for consumers, new services and new products, for sure, starting as early as 2021 and 2022.”

While Weber and June are not sharing specifics around the deal, as mentioned, Scherzinger did mention that “Matt and his team and his investors all did handsomely.” June’s prior investors include Amazon Alexa Fund, Lerer Hippeau, First Round Capital, Promus Ventures, Industry Ventures, Eclipse Ventures and more.

PopSockets announces its MagSafe-compatible iPhone 12 accessories

By Sarah Perez

In October, TechCrunch broke the news that PopSockets was developing its own line of MagSafe-compatible products that will support the new wireless charging capabilities of the iPhone 12 devices. Today, at the (virtual) 2021 Consumer Electronics Show, the company formally introduced its upcoming products for the first time. The new line will include three MagSafe-compatible PopGrips, a wallet with an integrated grip, and two mounts.

The first of these is the new PopGrip for MagSafe, which will magnetically attach to MagSafe-compatible cases for iPhone 12 devices.

The design of this PopGrip clears up some confusion over how a PopGrip (the round, poppable dongle that people normally think of when they think of “PopPockets”) will work with a MagSafe device. Instead of attaching just at the base of the grip itself, the grip is integrated into a larger base which attaches to the case.

Meanwhile, the grip has a swappable top so you can change the style of your PopGrip whenever you want without having to buy a whole new accessory.

This grip will also be compatible with PopSockets PopMount 2 phone mounts, including the new PopMount 2 for MagSafe, introduced today.

The PopMount 2 for MagSafe will launch as two solutions: PopMount for MagSafe Multi-Surface and PopMount for MagSafe Car Vent. As described by their name, both products will magnetically attach to iPhone 12 devices either at home or while on-the-go.

For those who use the new PopGrip for MagSafe grip, they’ll be able to leave the grip on then let the mount’s magnets attach to the base.

Image Credits: PopMount Multi Surface for MagSafe

Also new is an updated PopWallet+ for MagSafe, which is combination wallet and grip that lets users carry up to 3 cards that now attaches magnetically to MagSafe-compatible phone cases for iPhone 12 devices. The wallet has an elastic sock so you can extract your cards without having to remove the wallet from the back of the device, and it now includes a shield to protect credit cards from magnetic damage. The grip here is swappable, too.

Image Credits: PopWallet+ for MagSafe

There are also two versions of the PopGrip Slide becoming available. One, the PopGrip Slide Stretch will have expanding arms that attach mechanically to the sides of most phone cases, including iPhone 12 cases. You can slide this grip to the bottom of the phone to serve as a portrait stand or to attach MagSafe accessories, without having to remove the grip.

Image Credits: PopGrip Slide Stretch for MagSafe

The PopGrip Slide for iPhone 12 is basically the same thing, but designed to fit the Apple Silicone cases for iPhone 12 devices, more specifically.

Among the first of the new accessories to hit the market will be the PopGrip for MagSafe and PopWallet+ for MagSafe in spring 2021.

The PopGrip Slide Stretch will launch March 21st on PopSockets.com and in select Target locations ahead of a broader rollout. The PopGrip Slide will launch May 1st on PopSockets.com and in Apple Stores. And the PopMount for MagSafe line will launch in summer 2021.

The company also announced a few other non-MagSafe products, including the PopGrip Pocketable, which streamlines the grip when collapsed so the the surface is flat; the PopGrip Antimicrobial, which has an embedded silver-based treatment for protection; and the PopSockets x SOG PopGrip Multi-Tool, made in collaboration with SOG Speciality Knives, which includes a PopGrip with a detachable multi-tool.

The company didn’t share an exact timeframe for these products besides “early 2021.”

Noopl’s iPhone plug-in is designed to improve hearing in noisy environments

By Brian Heater

Noopl looks like one of the more interesting hardware startups to come out of CES day one. The Sacramento-based company has designed an accessory that it says can help drown out background noise for users in a loud environment.

The little accessory sports a Lightning plug (it’s currently iOS only), which connects to the bottom of an iPhone. The little dongle features a trio of microphones, coupled with an audio signal processor designed to reduce background noise.

Image Credits: Noopl

The Noopl app launches when the device is plugged in, setting up a connection with a pair of AirPods Pro. It’s designed to utilize head tracking to determine the direction the wearer is facing, in order to offer clearer sound in that direction. The app can then be used to broaden the direction beam and adjust volume.

The company was founded by Steven Verdooner and Kevin Snow, building on technology from Sydney’s National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL).

“The genesis for the idea occurred when Verdooner was at a noisy restaurant with his father and both of them experienced challenges hearing each other, even with the father’s state-of-the-art hearing aids in ‘restaurant mode,’ ” it writes in a press release. “Realizing an immense opportunity to potentially help millions of people, Verdooner partnered with NAL and a small team of seasoned scientists and engineers to create Noopl. Hearing industry veteran, Tim Trine, was brought on in 2020 as President and CEO to create a scalable technology platform, commercialize products, and grow the company.”

Image Credits: Noopl

The device is currently up for pre-order from Noopl’s site, priced at $199.

Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are coming to LG TVs

By Romain Dillet

LG spent a good chunk of its CES press conference talking about its lineup of TVs for 2021. You can expect bigger, slimmer and brighter TVs. I’m not going to list the specifications of new models. But there are a few new features that are worth mentioning.

LG doesn’t use Android TV for the operating system. Instead, the company has its own operating system called webOS. App developers have to release specific versions of their apps for LG’s smart TVs. And the company announced that Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are coming to LG 2021 TVs.

Google’s cloud gaming service will arrive first in the coming months. It won’t be available everywhere as Stadia is only available in a handful of countries. But if you live in a country where Stadia is available, you will be able to unplug your Chromecast to access Stadia.

Stadia works a bit like a console that runs in the cloud. You can buy games and run them in a data center near you. The video feed is streamed directly to your screen and your gamepad controls are relayed to the server.

As for Nvidia’s cloud gaming service, it is coming later this year. This service is a bit different as you can take advantage of your Steam, Epic Games, GOG or Ubisoft Connect libraries.

Nvidia has favored its own set-top box in the past with a GeForce Now app on the Nvidia Shield TV. Recently, the Android app has been updated with support for more devices, and it looks like it’s expanding beyond Android TV with webOS support.

LG also announced that it is updating webOS with a brand new interface this year. The overlay menu at the bottom of the screen has been replaced with a full screen menu. You’ll be able to find your favorite apps, access live TV and get some content recommendations — and, yes, there will be ads.

If you’re playing games, there will be a new game menu to access the most relevant settings. For instance, you’ll be able to switch from one TV profile to another for that menu depending on the type of games that you’re playing (FPS, racing games, etc.). It sounds pretty useless to me as you mostly want to reduce latency as much as possible with any genre. You’ll also be able to turn on G-Sync and FreeSync if you’re using a compatible device.

When it comes to new OLED TVs, there are the entry-line A1 models with old processors, the C1 models with support for modern game consoles thanks to variable refresh rate, low latency, etc. At the top of the lineup, the G1 models come in three different sized (77 inches, 65 inches and 55 inches).

Image Credits: LG

Meet the 7 winners of the Taiwan Excellence awards, presented by ShowStoppers and TAITRA

By Catherine Shu

Taiwan is known for being a tech powerhouse, the headquarter of companies like Foxconn, Pegatron, TSMC, Acer and Asus. But while Taiwan’s tech industry is defined by well-established players, it is also home to a growing startup scene. Ahead of the official start of CES, the Taiwan Excellence awards were announced by non-profit trade promotion group Taiwan External Trade Development Council (known as TAITRA) and ShowStoppers, giving a preview of what its startups offer. Awards went to seven startups, while eleven other companies also presented. They cover a wide range of sectors, ranging from fitness and health to industrial monitoring.

More startups will showcase their tech next week at CES’ Taiwan Pavilion, organized by Taiwan Tech Arena.

The seven Taiwan Excellence Award winners are:

Advantech’s WISE-2410 vibration sensor

Advantech‘s LoRaWAN solutions are designed to control applications across wide distances and have been used for diverse array of scenarios, including monitoring floods, critical care patients in hospitals and transportation infrastructure. Two of its latest devices include the WISE-6610, a gateway for connecting up to 500 sensors and sending their data to cloud platforms using 3G/LTE or wired Ethernet connections. The other one is the WISE-2410, a vibration sensor for monitoring motor-powered mechanical equipment and identifying potential issues so manufacturers can schedule maintenance before machines malfunction, resulting in expensive downtime.

 

Cyberlink is the developer of the machine learning-based FaceMe Facial Recognition Engine, which is used in AIoT applications, including security, smart retail and surveillance. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, CyberLink’s new product FaceMe Health can identify faces even without masks on, and send alerts if someone isn’t wearing a mask or has a high temperature. It is meant to assist in pandemic control measures at places like hospitals, airports, retail stores and factories.

 

Dyaco‘s workout equipment line, called SOLE Fitness, includes its new SOLE CC81 Cardio Climber, which combines features from steppers and climbers into one machine. The SOLE CC81 is designed to be ergonomic, so users can get high-intensity cardio workouts while reducing wear on their joints.

 

Green Jacket Sports is showcasing its Golface smart system, which helps golf courses monitor and collect data on their operations in real-time, while allowing golfers to track their performance. The smart system’s other features include includes aerial videos and real-time scoring functions.

 

Maktar is the maker of a smartphone backup device called Qubii. Shaped like a small cube, Qubii automatically backs up phones while they are charging and doesn’t need internet or WiFi connections. Instead, users insert a microSD card into Qubii and connect it to their smartphones with their usual power adapters or chargers. Every time the smartphone is charged, Qubii backs up their photos, videos and contacts. The device also has a patented SD card lock feature to protect data.

MiTAC Digital Technology’s Mio dashcam range produces clear videos even in dark spaces like parking lots. The latest Mio dashcam, called the MiVue 798, uses Sony’s lowlight STARVISTM sensor and an all-glass lens, and produces wide-angle videos with quality of up to 2.8K. The MiVue 798 also has embedded WiFi connectivity for video backups and online sharing through the MiVue Pro App. Other features include GPS tracking, a patented smart alert system with fixed-distance warnings and speed limit alerts, and a driver assistance system that warns of lane departures, driver fatigue and forward collisions.

 

Winmate will present its M133WK Ultra Rugged Tablet PC, created for vehicle diagnostics. Powered by 8th-gen Intel Core i5-8265U Whiskey Lake processor, for high performance with low power consumption, the M133WK features a 1920 X 1080 PCAP touchscreen that is viewable even in heavy sunlight.

Here are the other 11 startups that TAITRA and ShowStoppers are presenting:

ATrack‘s AK11 Fleet Hub is a 4G LTE device for the real-time management of fleets across different verticals.

ELECLEAN 360 uses what it describes as the “world’s first nano-catalysis electrochemical technology” to turn water into hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radicals, for cleaning and disinfection.

In Win Development is introducing the SR Pro CPU Cooler, which uses patented twin-turbine pumps running in parallel to optimize water flow and ensure thermal performance. It comes with high-airflow AJF120 fans to cool PCs more quickly.

Innolux makes full range of LCD panels for televisions, monitors, notebooks, industrial, medical, mobile and other applications.

Planet Technology is building a secure network called PLANET Powerful Enterprise VPN Cybersecurity and Firewall Solutions for the “post-COVID-19 era.”

Rice Air makes LUFT Cube, a small filterless nanotech personal air purifier.

Systems & Technology Corp. (Systech)‘s fleet management platform uses intelligent telematics so organizations can track where vehicles are and more efficiently manage their fleets.

Tokuyu Biotech creates smart massage chairs and health care-related products that are connected to apps and sensor technologies.

Winnoz is the maker of Haiim, a portable vacuum-assisted device for collecting blood samples from fingertips.

WiseChip develops transparent OLEDs with touch functions for use in home appliance control panels, automotive, transportation applications (like passenger information display systems) and wearable devices.

Yztek‘s E+ Autoff is an IoT device created to stop people from forgetting to turn off their stoves. In addition to auto turn-off, it also has cooking time adjustment and energy saving features.

Any San Francisco teacher who needs a second monitor can get one, via Two Screens for Teachers

By Devin Coldewey

Any teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District who needs a second monitor can request one free of charge from Two Screens for Teachers, the nonprofit that recently extended a similar privilege to Seattle educators. If you’re a teacher in SF, you can sign up here.

Having a second monitor may sound like a power user move or luxury to some, but for teachers, whose days is essentially one giant group call, it’s a huge benefit to be able to put the call on one screen while the lesson and other tools are on another.

Two Screens for Teachers was started in September by Walkscore’s Matt Lerner and Mike Mathieu, and the first effort of simply connecting teachers in need to people who had a hundred bucks to spare quickly grew into something larger.

By tapping local businesses and VCs, they were able to secure enough money that any teacher in Seattle had a monitor available for the asking. Turns out it’s more efficient to do it that way. Lerner and his team have negotiated bulk pricing with Dell and others, which significantly lowers the necessary amounts for a given district.

San Francisco was a natural next location to try to get enough dollars together, and they’ve now collected enough for that city as well as Oakland, Redwood City, and Contra Costa County. (San Jose is still a little short.)

This remarkable map, both hopeful and terrifying, shows the scale of what’s needed versus what’s been accomplished.

A map showing where and how many teachers need a second monitor.

Yet even though the idea of hooking up more than 150,000 teachers with monitors seems gargantuan, it must be pointed out that in the few months since its humble beginnings, Two Screens for Teachers has rustled up more than 20,000, for both big cities and tiny towns. One order of magnitude is nothing!

The final cost for equipping teachers across the company with essential equipment is about $23 million. It seems an almost ridiculously low number for a single billionaire, perhaps one of the many whose net worth has grown by ten times that amount in the last year, to provide with a single check. Here’s something with which one could buy genuine cross-country goodwill, cheap at the price.

Do it, Jeff

Here’s the link, guys!

For those of you not in the three (going on four) comma club, it’s still possible to help out in a smaller way either by donating or following the instructions here to ship a monitor to a teacher in need.

Dell monitors embrace video calls with pop-up webcams and Teams buttons built in

By Devin Coldewey

Dell’s latest monitors reflect the growing need for simple, solid solutions to video conferencing needs, with a clever pop-up camera and a perhaps too clever by half Teams integration. The new displays integrate a number of advanced features — but they’re still made strictly with offices in mind.

The new Dell 24, 27, and 34 Video Conferencing Monitors are clearly meant to be a turnkey solution to the need at many companies for video-capable setups that don’t cost a fortune.

The most interesting feature is a pop-up camera at the top; this isn’t the first one of these by far (we’ve seen them going back a few years) or even the first by Dell, but it is the first in a monitor as opposed to an all-in-one system and it is probably the best one yet.

Dell's monitor has a pop-up camera.

Image Credits: Dell

The five-megapixel camera (which translates to somewhat more than 1080p, likely around 3K) won’t blow any minds, so if you want things like optical background blur and improved lighting, you’ll have to build your own setup. But it should be perfectly fine for work calls, and having it slip away when not in use is reassuring to the privacy-conscious.

An additional, non-obvious reason to like this setup is it means the camera isn’t confined to the bezel of the monitor itself, possibly allowing for a better lens and bigger sensor. I’ve asked Dell for the detailed specs and I don’t expect anything extraordinary, but it’s always better to have space than to pack the camera module into the margins.

At the bottom of these new screens is a pleasantly felted speaker bar, with just enough wattage for calls to sound fine — it won’t work for bangers, though.

But on the left side of that speaker are some interesting, if not entirely practical, new buttons. Most prominent is a dedicated Microsoft Teams button, along with call, volume, and mute buttons.

Close up of Teams button on Dell monitor.

Image Credits: Dell

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want one of those. And not just because we don’t use Teams.

Maybe this is just me, but I don’t like the idea of reaching forward and whacking my monitor, which I’ve carefully positioned, every time I want to adjust the volume or answer a call, or mute myself — good luck doing it subtly when the whole view shakes every time. Even if I did, I wouldn’t want a button dedicated specifically to a single brand of video conferencing. Seems limiting.

I would be far more likely to pay for a puck with those controls on it as well as a mono speaker for voices and mic that’s closer to me.

No doubt this is a simpler product solution, of course, and also one that Microsoft and Dell worked together on. The pop-up webcam also has an IR camera that works with Windows Hello, the face-recognition login method I didn’t realize existed until very recently.

Obviously this is Dell and Microsoft going after enterprise customers who are already in their ecosystem. But as a Dell monitor lover myself, I wouldn’t mind having a pop-up camera — minus the unnecessary sound bar and Teams button. Where’s the love, Dell?

The new video conferencing monitors will be available next month, starting at $520 for a 24-inch, then going up to $720 for the 27-inch and $1,150 for the (curved) 34-inch.

Video: TechCrunch editors share their top stories of 2020

By Veanne Cao

As the year draws to a close, a few members of our edit staff shared stories that defined the last 12 months for their beat.

 

Devin Coldewey: Technology played a pivotal role in the coverage of protests against police violence over the summer. Disinformation and discord spread like wildfire on social media, but so did important information and documentation of brutality, often via the newly popular medium of live streaming. 

Kirsten Korosec: Uber evolved from a company trying to cover everything in transportation to one focused on ride-hailing and delivery as it aims for profitability in 2021. To get there, Uber offloaded its micromobility unit Jump, its self-driving subsidiary Uber ATG and air taxi moonshot Uber Elevate.

Brian Heater: Smartphone sales suffered a major decline as people stayed home and spent less on luxury items. The expected rebound from 5G handsets will have to wait for 2021.

Natasha Mascarenhas: Edtech, a sector that was notoriously undercapitalized, got a cash-rich spotlight as the coronavirus spurred widespread remote learning. Startups were able to raise funds, turn first profits, and finally grow from a tool to a necessity.

Darrell Etherington: SpaceX had a tremendous 2020, realizing a lot of things that they’d been working on for years. First and foremost, they launched astronauts aboard a SpaceX spacecraft for the first time. They followed that up with even more human launches, and with a huge step forward in their Starship development program. Finally, they made big progress with their Starlink broadband internet constellation. Definitely the space industry newsmakers of the year.

Apple announces $549 over-ear headphones, the AirPods Max

By Romain Dillet

The AirPods Max are joining the AirPods and AirPods Pro in Apple’s audio accessory lineup. As you can see on the photo, Apple is releasing its first over-ear headphones under the AirPods brand.

The wireless headphones feature active noise cancellation and cost $549. With this product, Apple competes directly with Sony’s and Bose’s wireless headphones — the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose 700. Pre-orders start today and they’ll ship on December 15.

This isn’t the company’s first over-ear headphones as Apple acquired Beats back in 2014. Apple has released new Beats headphones over the past few years. For instance, last year, Apple released the Beats Solo Pro, wireless headphones that feature Apple’s H1 chip and cost $300. They also have active noise cancellation.

The AirPods Max come in multiple colors — silver, space gray, sky blue, pink and green. They are foldable and can be stored in a case — or, as Apple calls it, a Smart Case. When you put your headphones in the case, the device enters an ultra-low power state — but that’s about it. Apple promises 20 hours of battery life.

Image Credits: Apple

Powered by Apple’s H1 chip, they bring many of the features that you can find in the AirPods Pro — active noise cancellation, transparency mode, spatial audio and adaptive EQ. The headband is made of stainless steel, which probably explains the pricing strategy. The ear cushions try to create a seal thanks to memory foam.

In addition to a noise control button, there’s an Apple Watch digital crown, which lets you adjust the volume, skip tracks, etc. Inside the device, you’ll find 40-mm dynamic drivers. Combined with computational audio, Apple promises very little distorsion and high quality sound.

Image Credits: Apple

If you’re not familiar with Adaptive EQ, the feature was originally introduced with the AirPods Pro. The device uses microphones to adjust the sound based on the fit and seal of the headphones or earbuds.

When it comes to active noise cancellation, the AirPods Max use three outward-facing microphones on each ear cup. When you pair the AirPods Max with an iPhone or iPad, Apple uses the gyroscope and accelerometer in both devices to compare motion data and deliver sound in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos. Music also automatically stops when you remove the AirPods Max.

Image Credits: Apple

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