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Yesterday — May 29th 2020Your RSS feeds

Propella 7-Speed Review: A Great Ebike and a Killer Deal

By Parker Hall
Looking to get around safely? This sleek new electric bike costs as much as a year's worth of bus tickets.

Covid-19 Testing Is Expensive. It Doesn't Have to Be

By Gregory Barber
The diagnostics industry favors wealthy countries, but the rest of the world needs tests, too. Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash thinks "frugal science can help.

Some Nursing Homes Escaped Covid-19—Here's What They Did Right

By Sara Harrison
As states start to reopen, senior care facilities must balance the needs of residents against the potential for more deadly Covid-19 outbreaks.

Google’s latest experiment encourages social distancing through AR

By Brian Heater

Several months into this pandemic, you can no doubt already eyeball six feet/two meters with the best of them. But if you’re still having trouble — and happen to have an Android device handy — Google’s got you covered, I guess.

The latest project out of the company’s Experiments With Google collection, Sodar is a simple browser-based app that uses WebXR to offer a mobile augmented reality social distance. Visiting the site in Chrome on an Android handset will bring up the app. From there you’ll need to point your camera at the ground and move it around as the device recognizes the plane with a matrix of dots.

Sodar – use WebXR to help visualise social distancing guidelines in your environment. Using Sodar on supported mobile devices, create an augmented reality two meter radius ring around you. #hacktohelp https://t.co/Bu78QrEN9f pic.twitter.com/kufatNFDQk

— Experiments with Google (@ExpWithGoogle) May 28, 2020

Move it up, and you’ll get a visual perimeter of two meters (that’s 6.6 feet for us imperial unit loving Americans) — the CDC-recommended length to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The organization also handily lists it as “about two arms’ length. The app is probably more clever than it is useful at this point. Perhaps some day in the future, if smart glasses ever really take off. A big if, of course. 

Meantime, holding a phone up to make sure you’re a proper distance away from your fellow human/disease vector is a bit less practical than good old fashioned common sense.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Join us June 3 for a contact-tracing and exposure-notification app development and deployment forum

By Darrell Etherington

Exposure notification and contact tracing are two related but distinct measures many public health authorities are either considering or already implementing.

Contact tracing is a practice almost as old as epidemiology itself, but today’s technology means the way that we go about tracking the spread of a contagious illness within and between communities is changing very quickly. This presents an opportunity for learning more about the opportunities and challenges presented in extending contact tracing and exposure notification via digital means.

To that end, we’re happy to be working with the COVID-19 Technology Task Force, as well as Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, Betaworks Studios and Hangar. We’ll be playing host on TC to their live-streamed discussion around contact tracing and exposure notification applications, including demonstrations of some of the cutting-edge products that will be available in the U.S. to tackle these challenging, but crucial, tasks. The day’s events will include a roundtable discussion followed by a series of product demos, and will take place starting at 11 AM EDT (8 AM PDT) on Wednesday, June 3.

Below, we’ve included an agenda of the confirmed speakers and demonstrations for the day so far. Note that this is work in progress, and that more speakers and demos will be added to the day’s slate as we get closer to Wednesday. To RSVP for this free event, check out this link.

11am-1pm EDT: Roundtable Discussion – Hear from researchers, healthcare professionals, and technologists, including:

  • Andrew McLaughlin is helping lead the Task Force’s contact tracing/exposure notification initiative. Andrew is the Chairman of Access Now, the former Deputy U.S. CTO for the White House, and the former Director of Global Public Policy at Google.
  • Daniel Burka is heading up the COVID-19 response efforts for New York State through Resolve to Save Lives, the not-for-profit organization led by former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.
  • Harper Reed is helping lead the Task Force’s contact tracing/exposure notification initiative. Harper is a Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab, a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, and was the CTO of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
  • Jonathan Jackson is the Founder and CEO at Dimagi, a social enterprise that develops innovative technology solutions for frontline workforces and underserved populations. They have an extensive background in global health and are a leader in mobile health data collection.
  • Jonathan Zittrain is a professor of law and computer science, and co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Jonathan’s work focuses on topics including control of digital property, privacy frameworks, and the roles of intermediaries in Internet architecture.
  • Randall Thomas is assisting Resolve to Save Lives and other stakeholders with the New York State response to COVID-19. Randall is the CTO of Geometer, a technology incubator.
  • Mona Sloane is an NYU-based sociologist working on inequality in the context of AI design and policy. At NYU, she helps form NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, and is Co-Principal Investigator on the COVID-19 Tech Project. Mona also leads the project Terra Incognita: Mapping NYC’s New Digital Public Spaces in the COVID-19 Outbreak.

1pm-2pm EDT: Contact Tracing/Exposure Notification Product Demos – Leading organizations developing applications to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, primarily through contact tracing and exposure notification, will each demo their product. Teams include:

We’ll have a live stream available on June 3 so you can follow along, as mentioned, but you can also RSVP here to register your interest. It should be a day full of interesting, expert discussion of why there’s a need to extend contact tracing and exposure notification through connected and digital means, as well as the privacy, public health and policy implications such extension necessarily carries with it.

The secret to trustworthy data strategy

By Walter Thompson
Daniel Wu Contributor
Dan Wu is a Privacy Counsel & Legal Engineer at Immuta, an automated data governance platform for analytics. He’s advocated for data ethics, inclusive urban innovation, and diversity in TechCrunch, Harvard Business Review, and FastCompany. He's helped Fortune 500 companies, governments, and startups with ethical & agile data strategies. He holds a Harvard J.D. & Ph.D.
Eugene Kolker Contributor
Eugene Kolker, PhD is the Chief Economist and Head of XLAB at Fabuwood Corp., an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, and President of 1Ekaroni, a consulting and services company. He was formerly the Chief Data Officer of IBM Global Services and the Chief Data and Analytics Officer of Seattle Children's Healthcare System. He has also co-founded three digital technology and healthcare startups.
Leandro DalleMule Contributor
Leandro DalleMule is the General Manager for North America for Planck. He's the former Chief Data Officer and Head of Information Management at AIG. Leandro holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, graduating magna cum laude, a graduate certificate in applied mathematics from Columbia University, and a B.Sc. in mechanical engineering from University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Barbara Cohn Contributor
Barbara Cohn is the managing member of BLC Strategic Advisors. She previously served as the first Chief Data Officer for the State of New York, having led its successful open data initiative for Governor Andrew Cuomo. Prior to that, she was Executive Counsel/HHS Connect Data Interoperability Initiative under Mayor Bloomberg, as well as served in multiple leadership positions in NYS agencies and Office of the NYS Governor.

Shortly after its use exploded in the post-office world of COVID-19, Zoom was banned by a variety of private and public actors, including SpaceX and the government of Taiwan. Critics allege its data strategy, particularly its privacy and security measures, were insufficiently robust, especially putting vulnerable populations, like children, at risk. NYC’s Department of Education, for instance, mandated teachers switch to alternative platforms like Microsoft Teams.

This isn’t a problem specific to Zoom. Other technology giants, from Alphabet, Apple to Facebook, have struggled with these strategic data issues, despite wielding armies of lawyers and data engineers, and have overcome them.

To remedy this, data leaders cannot stop at identifying how to improve their revenue-generating functions with data, what the former Chief Data Officer of AIG (one of our co-authors) calls “offensive” data strategy. Data leaders also protect, fight for, and empower their key partners, like users and employees, or promote “defensive” data strategy. Data offense and defense are core to trustworthy data-driven products.

While these data issues apply to most organizations, highly-regulated innovators in industries with large social impact (the “third wave”) must pay special attention. As Steve Case and the World Economic Forum articulate, the next phase of innovation will center on industries that merge the digital and the physical worlds, affecting the most intimate aspects of our lives. As a result, companies that balance insight and trust well, Boston Consulting group predicts, will be the new winners.

Drawing from our work across the public, corporate, and startup worlds, we identify a few “insight killers” — then identify the trustworthy alternative. While trustworthy data strategy should involve end users and other groups outside the company as discussed here, the lessons below focus on the complexities of partnering within organizations, which deserve attention in their own right.

Insight-killer #1: “Data strategy adds no value to my life.”

From the beginning of a data project, a trustworthy data leader asks, “Who are our partners and what prevents them from achieving their goals?” In other words: listen. This question can help identify the unmet needs of the 46% of surveyed technology and business teams who found their data groups have little value to offer them.

Putting this to action is the data leader of one highly-regulated AI health startup — Cognoa — who listened to tensions between its defensive and offensive data functions. Cognoa’s Chief AI Officer identified how healthcare data laws, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, resulted in friction between his key partners: compliance officers and machine learning engineers. Compliance officers needed to protect end users’ privacy while data and machine learning engineers wanted faster access to data.

To meet these multifaceted goals, Cognoa first scoped down its solution by prioritizing its highest-risk databases. It then connected all of those databases using a single access-and-control layer.

This redesign satisfied its compliance officers because Cognoa’s engineers could then only access health data based on strict policy rules informed by healthcare data regulations. Furthermore, since these rules could be configured and transparently explained without code, it bridged communication gaps between its data and compliance roles. Its engineers were also elated because they no longer had to wait as long to receive privacy-protected copies.

Because its data leader started by listening to the struggles of its two key partners, Cognoa met both its defensive and offensive goals.

Amazon says it will offer full-time jobs to 125,000 temporary workers

By Brian Heater

In a blog post today, Amazon announced plans to offer permanent jobs to around 70% of the 175,000 temporary workers it brought on to meet demand amid a COVID-19-fueled surge. Initially filled as seasonal positions, the company will be transferring 125,000 people to full-time roles next month, as the pandemic-fueled push theoretically dies down.

Those roles will earn workers a minimum wage of $15 and hour (after pushback from lawmakers like Bernie Sanders) and access to some training programs designed to help them work their way up at the company. The full-time jobs will kick in the same month Amazon winds down its $2 an hour hazard pay for workers.

Amazon has been the subject of criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, including letters from senators and attorneys general aimed at getting a better picture of its worker health policies, along with numbers of employees who have been infected or died from the novel coronavirus.

Another asked the company to offer insight into why the company had fired a number of staff who had been vocally critical of its policies. Amazon has denied any wrongdoing in all of this and insisted that COVID-19 rates among staff are lower than the general population.

This latest move comes amid the worst U.S. unemployment rate since the Great Depression. This week, an additional 2.1 million Americans applied for unemployment, bringing the total up to 41 million since the beginning of the pandemic. Economists are hopeful that reopening sectors of the country will help reverse those figures, assuming that such actions don’t lead to massive spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Meditation and mindfulness apps continue their surge amid pandemic

By Sarah Perez

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in downloads of mental wellness, and specifically, those focused on meditation, dealing with anxiety and helping users fall asleep. According to a new report from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the world’s 10 largest English-language mental wellness apps in April saw a combined 2 million more downloads during the month of April 2020 compared with January, reaching close to 10 million total downloads for the month.

The charts were dominated by market leaders, including No. 1 app Calm with 3.9 million downloads in April, followed by Headspace with 1.5 million downloads, then Meditopia, with 1.4 million. Of those, Calm saw the largest number of new installs, with more than 911,000 more downloads in April compared with January, a rise of nearly 31%. Another app, Relax: Master Your Destiny, grew 218% since the start of the year, picking up 391,000 downloads in April.

In addition, eight of the top 10 grew their monthly installs in April compared with January. Most also grew their number of new downloads on a month-over-month basis between March and April as well, the firm noted.

This is not the first report to detail the surge of interest in mobile meditation apps since the COVID-19 outbreak. App Annie had earlier found that downloads of mindfulness apps hit 750,000 during the week of March 29, 2020, up 25% from the weekly average in January and February.

The apps have used a variety of different approaches to grow their businesses amid the pandemic. One app, Headspace, was the first to offer free memberships to front-line medical professionals and first responders. It later expanded its free access to the unemployed and launched a collection of free content for those living in New York, in partnership with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Other apps, including Breethe, Ten Percent Happier and Simple Habit, offered free memberships to medical workers, following Headspace’s lead.

This strategy has the short-term benefit of gaining the apps good press while helping those who are battling COVID-19 on the front lines. But it also comes across as a little opportunistic — as if the companies are using the pandemic and, in particular, medical workers’ struggles to boost their downloads. If the companies truly cared about the impacts of COVID-19 on users’ stress and anxiety, a better strategy may have been one that involved rolling out an entirely free collection to all their users focused on that topic of COVID-19 stress and anxiety, specifically.

Calm, meanwhile, took a different approach. It launched a page of free resources, but instead focused on partnerships to expand free access to more users, while also growing its business. Earlier this month, nonprofit health system Kaiser Permanente announced it was making the Calm app’s Premium subscription free for its members, for example — the first health system to do so.

The company’s decision to not pursue as many free giveaways meant it may have missed the easy boost from press coverage. However, it may be a better long-term strategy as it sets up Calm for distribution partnerships that could continue beyond the immediate COVID-19 crisis.

Sensor Tower’s full report delves into which apps are more popular in the U.S. versus the U.K., and other data. It’s available here.

Image credits: Sensor Tower

Researchers use biometrics, including data from the Oura Ring, to predict COVID-19 symptoms in advance

By Darrell Etherington

A team of researchers from the West Virginia University (WVU) Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI), along with WVU’s Medicine department and staff from Oura Health have developed a platform they say can be used to anticipate the onset of COVID-19 symptoms in otherwise healthy people up to three days in advance. This can help with screening of pre-symptomatic individuals, the researchers suggest, enabling earlier testing and potentially reducing the exposure risk among frontline healthcare and essential workers.

The sudsy involved using biometric data gathered by the Oura Ring, a consumer wearable that looks like a normal metallic ring, but that includes sensors to monitor a number of physiological metrics, including body temperature, sleep patterns, activity, heart rate and more. RNI and WVU Medical researchers combined this data with physiological, cognitive and behaviroral biometric info from around 600 healthcare workers and first responders.

Participants in the study wore the Oura Ring, and provided additional data that was then used to develop AI-based models to anticipate the onset of symptoms before they physically manifested. While these are early results from a phase one study, and yet to be peer-reviewed, the researchers say that their results showed a 90 percent accuracy rate on predicting the occurrence of symptoms including fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue and more, all of which could indicate that someone has contracted COVID-19. While that doesn’t mean that individuals have the disease, a flag from the platform could mean they seek testing up to three days before symptoms appear, which in turn would mean three fewer days potentially exposing others around them to infection.

Next up, the study hopes to expand to cover as many as 10,000 participants across a number of different institutions in multiple states, with other academic partners on board to support the expansion. The study was fully funded by the RNI and their supporters, with Oura joining strictly in a facilitating capacity and to assist with hardware for deployment.

Many projects have been undertaken to see whether predictive models could help anticipate COVID-19 onset prior to the expression of symptoms, or in individuals who present as mostly or entirely asymptomatic based on general observation. This early result from RNI suggests that it is indeed possible, and that hardware already available to the general public could play an important role in making it possible.

Tia Health gets over $24 million to build a network of holistic health clinics and virtual services for women

By Jonathan Shieber

Tia Health, the developer of a network of digital wellness apps, clinics and telehealth services designed to treat women’s health holistically, has raised $24.275 million in a new round of funding.

The company said the financing would support the expansion of its telehealth and clinical services to new markets, although co-founder and chief executive Carolyn Witte would not disclose, where, exactly those locations would be.

Co-founded initially as a text-based tool for women to communicate and receive advice on sexual health and wellness, Witte and her co-founder Felicity Yost always had bigger ambitions for their business.

Last year, Tia launched its first physical clinic in New York and now boasts a team of 15 physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, therapists and other treatment providers. The support staff is what helps keeps cost down, according to Witte.

“We reduce the cost of care by 40% [and] we do that through collaborative care staffing. [That] leverages mid-level providers like nurse practitioners to deliver higher-touch care at lower cost,” she said. 

Tia closed its most recent round before shelter-in-place went into effect in New York on March 17, and since then worked hard to port its practices over to telehealth and virtual medicine, Witte said.

Two days later, Tia went live with telehealth services and the company’s membership of 3,000 women responded. Witte said roughly half of the company’s patients have used the company’s telehealth platform. Since Tia began as an app first before moving into physical care services, the progression was natural, said Witte. The COVID-19 epidemic just accelerated the timeline. “In the last 90 days close to 50% of Tia’s 3,000 members have engaged in chat or video,” Witte said. 

The move to telehealth also allowed Tia to take in more money for its services. With changes to regulation around what kinds of care delivery are covered, telehealth is one new way to make a lot of money that’s covered by insurance and not an elective decision for patients.

“That has allowed us to give our patients the ability to use their insurance for that virtual care and bill for those services,” Witte said of the regulatory changes. 

The staff at Tia consists not just of doctors and nurse practitioners (there are two of each), but also licensed clinical therapists that provide mental health services for Tia’s patient population too.

“Before COVID we surveyed our 3,000 patients in NY about what they want and mental health was the most requested service,” said Witte. “We saw a 400% increase in mental health-related messages on my platform. We rolled out this behavioral health and clinical program paired with our primary care.”

As Tia continues to expand the services it offers to its patients, the next piece of the puzzle to provide a complete offering for women’s health is pregnancy planning and fertility, according to Witte.

The company sees itself as part of a movement to repackage a healthcare industry that has concentrated on treating specific illnesses rather than patient populations that have unique profiles and care needs.

Rather than focusing on a condition or medical specialization like cardiology, gastroenterology, gynecology or endocrinology, the new healthcare system treats cohorts or groups of people — those over 65, adult men and women, as groups with their own specific needs that cross these specializations and require different types of care.

We are really focused on collecting longitudinal data to better understand and treat women’s health,” said Witte. “A stepping stone in that regard is expanding our service line to support the pregnancy journey.” 

Tia’s latest round was led by new investor Threshold Ventures, with participation from Acme Ventures (also a new backer) and previous investors, including Define Homebrew, Compound and John Doerr, the longtime managing partner at KPCB.

When the company launched, its stated mission was to use women’s data to improve women’s health.

“We believe reproductive-aged women deserve a similar focus, and a new model of care designed end-to-end, just for us,” the company said in a statement

As Tia continues to stress, women have been “under-researched and underserved by a healthcare system that continues to treat us as ‘small men with different parts’ — all-too-often neglecting the complex interplay of hormones, gene regulation, metabolism and other sex-specific differences that make female health fundamentally distinct from male health. It’s time for that to change.”

But Tia won’t be changing anything on the research front anytime soon. The company is not pursuing any clinical trials or publishing any research around how the ways in which women’s menstrual cycles may affect outcomes or influence other systems, according to Witte. Rather the company is using that information in its treatment of individual patients, she said.

The company did just hire a head of research — an expert in reproductive genomics, which Witte said was to start to understand how the company can build out proof points around how Tia’s care model can improve outcomes. 

Tia will reopen its brick-and-mortar clinic in New York on June 1 and will be expanding to new locations over the course of the year. That expansion may involve partnerships with corporations or existing healthcare providers, the company said.

“By partnering with leading health systems, employers, and provider networks to scale our Connected Care Platform, and open new physical and digital Tia doors, we can make ‘the Tia Way’ the new standard of care for women and providers everywhere,” Tia said in a statement.

As it does so, the company said it will continue to emphasize its holistic approach to women’s health.

As the company’s founders write:

Being a healthy woman is all-too-often reduced to not having an STD or an abnormal Pap, but we know that the leading cause of death for women in America is cardiovascular disease. We also know that women are diagnosed with anxiety and depression at twice the rate of men, and that endocrine and autoimmune disorders are on the rise. In pregnancy, c-section and preterm birth rates continue to go up instead of down, as does maternal mortality, with the U.S. reporting more maternal deaths than any developed country in the world.

We believe that the solution is a preventive “whole women’s health” model…

Nuro’s self-driving vehicles to deliver prescriptions for CVS Pharmacy

By Kirsten Korosec

Nuro, the autonomous robotics startup that has raised more than $1 billion from Softbank Vision Fund, Greylock and other investors, said Thursday it will test prescription delivery in Houston through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy. The pilot, which will use a fleet of the startup’s autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles and transition to using its custom-built R2 delivery bots, is slated to begin in June.

The partnership marks Nuro’s expansion beyond groceries and into healthcare. Last month, the startup dipped its autonomous toe in the healthcare field through a program to delivery food and medical supplies at temporary field hospitals in California set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pilot program centers on one CVS Pharmacy in Bellaire, Texas and will serve customers across three zip codes. Customers who place prescription orders via CVS’ website or pharmacy app will be given the option to choose an autonomous delivery option. These pharmacy customers will also be able add other non-prescription items to their order.

Once the autonomous vehicle arrives, customers will need to confirm their identification to unlock their delivery. Deliveries will be free of charge for CVS Pharmacy customers.

“We are seeing an increased demand for prescription delivery,” Ryan Rumbarger, senior vice
president of store operations at CVS Health, said in a prepared statement. “We want to give our customers more choice in how they can quickly access the medications they need when it’s not convenient for them to visit one of our pharmacy locations.”

Nuro is already operating in the Houston area. Walmart announced in December a pilot program to test autonomous grocery delivery in the Houston market using Nuro’s autonomous vehicles. Under the pilot, Nuro’s vehicles deliver Walmart online grocery orders to a select group of customers who opt into the service in Houston. The autonomous delivery service involves R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carries products only, with no on-board drivers or passengers, as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses that deliver groceries.

Nuro also partnered with Kroger (Fry’s) in 2018 to test autonomous Prius vehicles and its first-generation custom-built robot known as R1. The R1 autonomous vehicle was operating as a driverless service without a safety driver on board in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. In March 2019, Nuro moved the service with Kroger to Houston, beginning with autonomous Priuses.

nuro sleep train autonomous

Image Credits: Nuro

The company’s contactless delivery program shuttling medical supplies and food is also continuing. Under that program, which began in late April, Nuro’s R2 bots are used at two events centers — in San Mateo and the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento — that have been turned into temporary healthcare facilities for COVID-19 patients. Nuro is delivering meals and equipment to more than 50 medical staff at both sites every week.

It’s unclear how long the field hospital program will continue. Last week, there were 25 patients across the two sites. The Sleep Train Arena is accepting patients through June 30 via California Office of Emergency Services. The hospital may be converted to a shelter for those affected by fires through the end of this year.

Covid-19 Creates Long, Anxious Waits for Fertility Treatments

By Monique Brouillette
As fertility clinics gradually reopen, patients and doctors must weigh the risks of seeking pregnancy during a pandemic—or waiting too long to try.

To Beat Covid-19, You Have to Know How A Virus Moves

By Adam Rogers
As public spaces reopen, scientists are racing to understand the mysterious and turbulent way the disease spreads through air—from person to person, and place to place.

Weather Delays the SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch

By Daniel Oberhaus
The historic launch planned for Wednesday gets pushed back due to stormy conditions, but the launch window remains open. SpaceX and NASA will try again Saturday.

3 Ways Scientists Think We Could De-Germ a Covid-19 World

By Michele Cohen Marill
Researchers want to know if we can create an antiviral infrastructure that would protect humans from transmission. Here are a few ideas.

How an Immunology Blog Became a Covid-19 Guide to Going Out

By Megan Molteni
With lockdowns ending, people have a lot of questions about how to calculate the risks of returning to everyday activities. Erin Bromage has answers.

Covid-19 Flares Up in America's Polluted ‘Sacrifice Zones’

By Sidney Fussell
Researchers find that areas with high levels of airborne dust or toxic chemicals also have more deaths from the coronavirus.

Covid-19 Makes the Case for More Meatpacking Robots

By Megan Molteni
The coronavirus has hit meat processing plants hard. But not in Denmark, where automation makes for safer slaughterhouses.

Scandit raises $80M as COVID-19 drives demand for contactless deliveries

By Natasha Lomas

Enterprise barcode scanner company Scandit has closed an $80 million Series C round, led by Silicon Valley VC firm G2VP. Atomico, GV, Kreos, NGP Capital, Salesforce Ventures and Swisscom Ventures also participated in the round — which brings its total raised to date to $123M.

The Zurich-based firm offers a platform that combines computer vision and machine learning tech with barcode scanning, text recognition (OCR), object recognition and augmented reality which is designed for any camera-equipped smart device — from smartphones to drones, wearables (e.g. AR glasses for warehouse workers) and even robots.

Use-cases include mobile apps or websites for mobile shopping; self checkout; inventory management; proof of delivery; asset tracking and maintenance — including in healthcare where its tech can be used to power the scanning of patient IDs, samples, medication and supplies.

It bills its software as “unmatched” in terms of speed and accuracy, as well as the ability to scan in bad light; at any angle; and with damaged labels. Target industries include retail, healthcare, industrial/manufacturing, travel, transport & logistics and more.

The latest funding injection follows a $30M Series B round back in 2018. Since then Scandit says it’s tripled recurring revenues, more than doubling the number of blue-chip enterprise customers, and doubling the size of its global team.

Global customers for its tech include the likes of 7-Eleven, Alaska Airlines, Carrefour, DPD, FedEx, Instacart, Johns Hopkins Hospital, La Poste, Levi Strauss & Co, Mount Sinai Hospital and Toyota — with the company touting “tens of billions of scans” per year on 100+ million active devices at this stage of its business.

It says the new funding will go on further pressing on the gas to grow in new markets, including APAC and Latin America, as well as building out its footprint and ops in North America and Europe. Also on the slate: Funding more R&D to devise new ways for enterprises to transform their core business processes using computer vision and AR.

The need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated demand for mobile computer vision on personal smart devices, according to Scandit, which says customers are looking for ways to enable more contactless interactions.

Another demand spike it’s seeing is coming from the pandemic-related boom in ‘Click & Collect’ retail and “millions” of extra home deliveries — something its tech is well positioned to cater to because its scanning apps support BYOD (bring your own device), rather than requiring proprietary hardware.

“COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the need for rapid digital transformation in these uncertain times, and the need to blend the physical and digital plays a crucial role,” said CEO Samuel Mueller in a statement. “Our new funding makes it possible for us to help even more enterprises to quickly adapt to the new demand for ‘contactless business’, and be better positioned to succeed, whatever the new normal is.”

Also commenting on the funding in a supporting statement, Ben Kortlang, general partner at G2VP, added: “Scandit’s platform puts an enterprise-grade scanning solution in the pocket of every employee and customer without requiring legacy hardware. This bridge between the physical and digital worlds will be increasingly critical as the world accelerates its shift to online purchasing and delivery, distributed supply chains and cashierless retail.”

Cathay Innovation’s first investment in Germany is healthcare startup Medwing

By Rita Liao

Medwing, a German startup with an ambition to tackle Europe’s shortage of healthcare workers, said on Tuesday that it has secured €28 million ($30 million) in a Series B financing round. Global venture capital firm Cathay Innovation led the round, marking its first investment in a German company. Other participating investors include Northzone, Cherry Ventures and Atlantic Labs.

The World Bank forecasted a worldwide shortage of 15 million health professionals by 2030, with demand being highest in affluent regions like Europe with an aging labor force and an aging population in need of care.

The pressing issue inspired Johannes Roggendorf, who previously worked at Rocket Internet and Bain & Company, to launch Medwing in 2017 and later brought on his co-founder Dr. Timo Fischer. The entrepreneurs discovered that, contrary to conventional wisdom, many healthcare workers in Europe wanted to work more, not less. Part of the reason why jobs were not filled was information asymmetry that led to a mismatch between supply and demand.

“There is a group of people who are willing to work more if they can manage their schedule,” Roggendorf told TechCrunch over a phone interview. “There are many qualified workers who left the healthcare system often because of inflexible working hours.”

In a survey that Medwing conducted, 50% of those who left the healthcare system said they would return if they were given more flexible working conditions.

Medwing’s solution is an automatic job matching system connecting workers with hospitals, nursing homes and other medical institutions. Focusing on Europe, the startup has so far registered more than 200,000 workers and 2,500 partner employers — including 80% hospitals in Berlin . Employers pay Medwing a commission every time a candidate is successfully placed. Each month, the platform is adding 15,000 new applicants, placing over 100 health experts in permanent positions and filling some 2,000 individual shifts. 20% of its users are looking for non-permanent jobs, according to Roggendorf.

The platform strives to differentiate itself by “starting with the candidates,” asserted the founder. Unlike traditional staffing sites, which search for applicants based on recruiters’ criteria, Medwing does the opposite and filters recruiters according to candidates’ preferences on whether the position is flexible or permanent, part-time or full-time. It’s an approach that the founder believes can optimize worker satisfaction. In addition to matchmaking, the platform also provides career consulting services to job seekers.

To Jacky Abitbol, who oversaw the deal for Cathay Innovation, Medwing is addressing two kinds of technological innovation his fund hunts for. For one, Medwing is driving “the future of work” by giving employees more autonomy and freedom. Terminal, which lets companies build out remote engineering teams overseas, is another startup in this category that has attracted financing from Cathay Innovation.

“Medwing is also bringing digital to a more traditional sector,” Abitbol told TechCrunch on the phone. That means streamlining the recruiting process by eliminating agencies or middlemen, saving time and costs for both workers and employers.

“What sounds very logical was not done this way until today,” the investor added.

Medwing operates a team of over 200 employees from over 30 countries, many of which have been hit hard by COVID-19. The startup is providing some of its services pro bono to fight the virus, placing professionals and volunteers in hospitals, nursing homes and private households that need support. Abitbol said the impact of the health crisis on the startup’s revenue remains “slight”, as only certain facilities are designated as coronavirus hospitals and demand will return to normal as the pandemic starts to ease.

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