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YC’s Earth AI closes funding for its platform to make mining less wasteful

By Mike Butcher

Discovering and drilling for the important minerals used for industry and the technology sector remains incredibly important as existing mines are becoming depleted. If the mining industry can’t become more efficient at finding these important deposits, then more unnecessary, harmful drilling and exploration takes place. Applying AI to this problem would seem like a no-brainer for the environment.

Andreessen Horowitz knows this, as they invested in KoBold Metals. GoldSpot Discoveries is a competitor.

Joining this field is now Earth AI, a mineral targeting startup which is using AI to predict the location of new ore bodies far more cheaply, faster, and with more precision (it claims) than previous methods.

It’s now closed a funding round of ‘up to’ $2.5 million from Gagarin Capital, A VC firm specializing in AI, and Y Combinator, in the latter’s latest cohort announced this week. Previously, Earth AI had raised $1.7 million in two seed rounds from Australian VCs, AirTree Ventures and Blackbird Ventures and angel investors.

The startup uses machine learning techniques on global data, including remote sensing, radiometry, geophysical and geochemical datasets, to learn the data signatures related to industrial metal deposits (from gold, copper, and lead to rare earth elements), train a neural network, and predict where high-value mineral prospects will be.

In particular, it was used to discover a deposit of Vanadium, which is used to build Vanadium Redox Batteries that are used in large industrial applications. Finding these deposits faster using AI means the planet will thus benefit faster from battery technology.

In 2018, Earth AI field-tested remote unexplored areas and claims to have generated a 50X better success rate than traditional exploration methods, while spending on average $11,000 per prospect discovery. In Australia, for instance, companies often spend several million dollars to arrive at the same result.

Jared Friedman, YCombinator partner comented in a statement: “The possibility of discovering new mineral deposits with AI is a fascinating and thought-provoking idea. Earth AI has the potential not just to become an incredibly profitable company, but to reduce the cost of the metals we need to build our civilization, and that has huge implications for the world.”

“Earth AI is taking a novel approach to a large and important industry — and that approach is already showing tremendous promise”, Mikhail Taver, partner at Gagarin Capital said.

Earth AI was founded by Roman Tesyluk, a geoscientist with eight years of mineral exploration and academic experience. Prior to starting Earth AI, he was a PhD Candidate at The University of Sydney, Australia and obtained a Master’s degree in Geology from Ivan Franko University, Ukraine. “EARTH AI has huge ambitions, and this funding round will supercharge us towards reaching our milestones,” he said.

This latest investment from Gagarin Capital joins a line of other AI-based products and services and investments it’s made into YC companies, such as Wallarm, Gosu.AI and CureSkin. Gagarin’s exits include MSQRD (acquired by Facebook), and AIMatter (acquired by Google).

How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray

By Arman Tabatabai

The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” was originally meant sarcastically.

It’s not actually physically possible to do — especially while wearing Allbirds and having just fallen off a Bird scooter in downtown San Francisco, but I should get to my point.

This week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services Office, repeatedly referred to the notion of bootstraps in announcing shifts in immigration policy, even going so far as to change the words to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus:” no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

We’ve come to expect “alternative facts” from this administration, but who could have foreseen alternative poems?

Still, the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ is far from limited to the rhetorical territory of the welfare state and social safety net. It’s also a favorite term of art in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital circles: see for example this excellent (and scary) recent piece by my editor Danny Crichton, in which young VC firms attempt to overcome a lack of the startup capital that is essential to their business model by creating, as perhaps an even more essential feature of their model, impossible working conditions for most everyone involved. Often with predictably disastrous results.

It is in this context of unrealistic expectations about people’s labor, that I want to introduce my most recent interviewee in this series of in-depth conversations about ethics and technology.

Mary L. Gray is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. One of the world’s leading experts in the emerging field of ethics in AI, Mary is also an anthropologist who maintains a faculty position at Indiana University. With her co-author Siddharth Suri (a computer scientist), Gray coined the term “ghost work,” as in the title of their extraordinarily important 2019 book, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. 

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Image via Mary L. Gray / Ghostwork / Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography

Ghost Work is a name for a rising new category of employment that involves people scheduling, managing, shipping, billing, etc. “through some combination of an application programming interface, APIs, the internet and maybe a sprinkle of artificial intelligence,” Gray told me earlier this summer. But what really distinguishes ghost work (and makes Mary’s scholarship around it so important) is the way it is presented and sold to the end consumer as artificial intelligence and the magic of computation.

In other words, just as we have long enjoyed telling ourselves that it’s possible to hoist ourselves up in life without help from anyone else (I like to think anyone who talks seriously about “bootstrapping” should be legally required to rephrase as “raising oneself from infancy”), we now attempt to convince ourselves and others that it’s possible, at scale, to get computers and robots to do work that only humans can actually do.

Ghost Work’s purpose, as I understand it, is to elevate the value of what the computers are doing (a minority of the work) and make us forget, as much as possible, about the actual messy human beings contributing to the services we use. Well, except for the founders, and maybe the occasional COO.

Facebook now has far more employees than Harvard has students, but many of us still talk about it as if it were little more than Mark Zuckerberg, Cheryl Sandberg, and a bunch of circuit boards.

But if working people are supposed to be ghosts, then when they speak up or otherwise make themselves visible, they are “haunting” us. And maybe it can be haunting to be reminded that you didn’t “bootstrap” yourself to billions or even to hundreds of thousands of dollars of net worth.

Sure, you worked hard. Sure, your circumstances may well have stunk. Most people’s do.

But none of us rise without help, without cooperation, without goodwill, both from those who look and think like us and those who do not. Not to mention dumb luck, even if only our incredible good fortune of being born with a relatively healthy mind and body, in a position to learn and grow, here on this planet, fourteen billion years or so after the Big Bang.

I’ll now turn to the conversation I recently had with Gray, which turned out to be surprisingly more hopeful than perhaps this introduction has made it seem.

Greg Epstein: One of the most central and least understood features of ghost work is the way it revolves around people constantly making themselves available to do it.

Mary Gray: Yes, [What Siddarth Suri and I call ghost work] values having a supply of people available, literally on demand. Their contributions are collective contributions.

It’s not one person you’re hiring to take you to the airport every day, or to confirm the identity of the driver, or to clean that data set. Unless we’re valuing that availability of a person, to participate in the moment of need, it can quickly slip into ghost work conditions.

DeepCode gets $4M to feed its AI-powered code review tool

By Natasha Lomas

DeepCode, a Swiss startup that’s using machine learning to automate code reviews, has closed a $4M seed round, led by European VC firm Earlybird, with participation from 3VC and existing investor btov Partners.

The founders described the platform as a sort of ‘Grammarly for coders’ when we chatted to them early last year. At the they were bootstapping. Now they’ve bagged their first venture capital to dial their efforts up.

DeepCode, which is spun-out of Swiss technical university ETH Zurich, says its code review AI is different because it doesn’t just pick up syntax mistakes but is able to determine the intent of the code because it processes millions of commits — giving it an overview that allows it to identify many more critical bugs and vulnerabilities than other tools.

“All of the static analysis and lint tools out there (there are hundreds of those) are providing similar code analysis services but without the deeper understanding of code, and mostly focusing on one language or specific languages,” says CEO and co-founder, Boris Paskalev, going on to name-check the likes of CA Technologies, Micro Focus (Fortify), Cast Software, and SonarSource as the main competitors DeepCode is targeting.

Its bot is free for enterprise teams of up to 30 developers, for open source software, and for educational use.

To use it developers connect DeepCode with their GitHub or Bitbucket accounts, with no configuration required. The bot will then immediately start reviewing each commit — picking up issues “in seconds”.  (You can see a demo of the code review tool here.)

“We do not disclose developer information but the number of Open Source Repositories that are using DeepCode have hundreds of thousands of total contributors,” Paskalev tells us when asked how many developers are using the tool now.

“We do not count rules per se as our AI Platform combines thousands of programming concepts, which if combined in individual rules will result in millions of separate rules,” he adds.

The seed funding will go on supporting additional integrations and more programming languages than the three currently supported (namely: Java, JavaScript, and Python); on improving the scope of code recommendations, and on expanding the team internationally.

Commenting in a statement, Christian Nagel, partner and co-founder of Earlybird, said: “For all industries and almost every business model, the performance and quality of coding has become key. DeepCode provides a platform that enhances the development capabilities of programmers. The team has a deep scientific understanding of code optimization and uses artificial intelligence to deliver the next breakthrough in software development.”

Bird, Uber and Lyft get another chance to apply for electric scooter permits in SF

By Megan Rose Dickey

In light of a so-far successful electric scooter pilot program in San Francisco, the city has opened up the application process for service providers to deploy their respective scooters as part of a more permanent program. However, the permits will only be valid for about one year, “reflecting the rapid pace at which the scooter industry continues to involve,” the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency wrote on its blog.

That means starting in October 2019, we may see electric scooters from more than just Skip and Scoot. Skip and Scoot’s current permits expire on Oct. 14, 2019.

As part of the permitting program, the SFMTA plans to issue permits to “a limited number” of applicants, the agency said. The city also plans to maintain a cap on the number of scooters to be deployed at any one time, likely somewhere between 1,000 to 2,500 scooters per company. Currently, Skip is authorized to operate 800 scooters, while Scoot is authorized to operate up to 625.

The application requires companies to integrate locking mechanisms to all of its scooters, implement stricter policies to ensure people don’t ride on sidewalks as well as pilot adaptive scooters to ensure people with disabilities are not left out from this new form of transportation. This comes shortly after Lyft began testing adaptive bike share for riders in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.

The deadline to apply is Aug. 21, 2019, which gives the likes of Bird (proud new owner of Scoot), Skip, Lime, Uber/JUMP, Lyft, Spin and the many others a fair amount of time to get their things in order — that is, if they want to. All of those companies mentioned above applied for permits to operate as part of SF’s pilot program, but were denied. Some companies took it worse than others, while others decided to focus their efforts on other markets for the time being.

What we can expect is yet another battle among the electric scooter providers to deploy their vehicles in the highly-coveted market of San Francisco. Last time, there were about one dozen applicants for the city’s pilot program.

On average, scooter riders took about 3,400 trips per day in San Francisco in May. Scoot has had a pretty drama-free existence in San Francisco, minus the whole theft and vandalism issue that forced the company to add a locking mechanism to its scooters. Skip, on the other hand, had to pull its scooters off the streets after one caught on fire in Washington, D.C.

It would be odd if the SFMTA didn’t consider that as it looks over all of the applications this time around. Meanwhile, given that a couple of Lyft’s electric bikes recently caught on fire due to apparent issues with the batteries, Lyft has likely given the SFMTA some pause around the company’s abilities to safely deploy electric vehicles.

 

How top VCs view the new future of micromobility

By Arman Tabatabai

Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its annual Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.

Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts key panels and conversations from the event, including our panel on micromobility where TechCrunch VC reporter Kate Clark was joined by investors Sarah Smith of Bain Capital Ventures, Michael Granoff of Maniv Mobility, and Ted Serbinski of TechStars Detroit.

The panelists walk through their mobility investment theses and how they’ve changed over the last few years. The group also compares the business models of scooters, e-bikes, e-motorcycles, rideshare and more, while discussing Uber and Lyft’s role in tomorrow’s mobility ecosystem.

Sarah Smith: It was very clear last summer, that there was essentially a near-vertical demand curve developing with consumer adoption of scooters. E-bikes had been around, but scooters, for Lime just to give you perspective, had only hit the road in February. So by the time we were really looking at things, they only had really six months of data. But we could look at the traction and the adoption, and really just what this was doing for consumers.

At the time, consumers had learned through Uber and Lyft and others that you can just grab your cell phone and press a button, and that equates to transportation. And then we see through the sharing economy like Airbnb, people don’t necessarily expect to own every single asset that they use throughout the day. So there’s this confluence of a lot of different consumer trends that suggested that this wasn’t just a fad. This wasn’t something that was going to go away.

For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Kate Clark: One of the first panels of the day, I think we should take a moment to define mobility. As VCs in this space, how do you define this always-evolving sector?

Michael Granoff: Well, the way I like to put it is that there have been four eras in mobility. The first was walking and we did that for thousands of years. Then we harnessed animal power for thousands of years.

And then there was a date — and I saw Ken Washington from Ford here — September 1st, 1908, which was when the Model T came out. And through the next 100 years, mobility is really defined as the personally owned and operated individual operated internal combustion engine car.

And what’s interesting is to go exactly 100 years later, September 2008, the financial crisis that affects the auto industry tremendously, but also a time where we had the first third-party apps, and you had Waze and you had Uber, and then you had Lime and Bird, and so forth. And really, I think what we’re in now is the age of digital mobility and I think that’s what defines what this day is about.

Ted Serbinski: Yeah, I think just to add to that, I think mobility is the movement of people and goods. But that last part of digital mobility, I really look at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. And it’s really that intersection, which is enabling all these new ways to move around.

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Image via Getty Images / Jackie Niam

Clark: So Ted you run TechStars Detroit, but it was once known as TechStars Mobility. So why did you decide to drop the mobility?

Serbinski: So I’m at a mobility conference, and we no longer call ourselves mobility. So five years ago, when we launched the mobility program at TechStars, we were working very closely with Ford’s group and at the time, five years ago, 2014, where it started with the connected car, auto and [people saying] “you should use the word mobility.”

And I was like “What does that mean?” And so when we launched TechStars Mobility, we got all this stuff but we were like “this isn’t what we’re looking for. What does this word mean?” And then Cruise gets acquired for a billion dollars. And everyone’s like “Mobility! This is the next big gold rush! Mobility, mobility, mobility!”

And because I invest early-stage companies anywhere in the world, what started to happen last year is we’d be going after a company and they’d say, “well, we’re not interested in your program. We’re not mobility.” And I’d be scratching my head like, “No, you are mobility. This is where the future is going. You’re this digital way of moving around. And no, we’re artificial intelligence, we’re robotics.”

And as we started talking to more and more entrepreneurs, and hundreds of startups around the world, it became pretty clear that the word mobility is actually becoming too limiting, depending on your vantage where you are in the world.

And so this year, we actually dropped the word mobility and we just call it TechStars Detroit, and it’s really just intersection of those physical and digital worlds. And so now we don’t have a word, but I think we found more mobility companies by dropping the word mobility.

Lyft poaches Bird’s head of vehicle product

By Megan Rose Dickey

Shared electric bike and scooter services are constantly at war with each other — whether it’s battling for an operating permit in a highly coveted market, raising a massive round of funding or making a key hire. Today, the war continues with Lyft’s recent hiring of Eugene Kwak, Bird’s now-former head of vehicle product. Kwak’s first day as Lyft’s head of hardware product for bikes and scooters was this past Monday.

Bird has been on a tear as of late, between actively raising a massive D round at a $2.5 billion valuation and having been one of the first scooter startups to deploy its own custom-built scooter. The in-house scooters, previously overseen by Kwak, have proven to have a positive impact on Bird’s unit economics.

“Eugene was a member of our very robust vehicle design and engineering team that is lead by Scott Rushforth, Bird’s Chief Vehicle Officer, a Bird spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We wish Eugene all the very best in his future endeavors.”

Lyft, on the other hand, is still relying on Segway for its scooters. This hire, however, signals Lyft’s shift to deploying scooters built in-house.

In addition to Kwak’s hire, Lyft has spent the last couple of months beefing up its bikes and scooters hardware team in order to keep iterating on its products. Earlier this month, Lyft also brought on Marc Fenigstein, co-founder of the now-defunct electric motorcycle company Alta Motors. Fenigstein is Lyft’s product lead for new vehicles.

Last month, Lyft brought on Mark Holveck from Tesla, where he served as a senior manager for the technology research and development team. At Lyft, Holveck is the head of hardware technology.

“We couldn’t be more excited to add these three leaders to take our hardware team to the next level,” Lyft Head of Bikes and Scooters Dor Levi said in a statement to TechCrunch. “They bring experience from some of the top hardware technology companies in the industry, and we look forward to continue offering best-in-class mobility solutions to our riders to help them easily get around their cities.”

Lyft is undoubtedly hitting its stride as a multi-modal transportation provider. To date, Lyft operates its bikes and scooters in 20 markets. Just last week, Lyft had a major legal win when a judge granted the company a preliminary injunction to prevent San Francisco from offering permits to other bike-share services.

Although Lyft is newer to the micromobility space than Bird, it’s noteworthy that the company poached a key member of one of its major competitor’s teams. Given the relative newness of this space, any little bit of a leg up on the competition will surely help.

I’ve reached out to Bird and will update this story if I hear back.

Toronto Raptors founder brings Bird scooters to Canada as a platform partner

By Darrell Etherington

Bird’s somewhat weird but also very clever global expansion model is to let others handle it, and one of those others is bringing their service online this month. Bird Canada, which is a wholly Canadian-owned company entirely distinct from Bird, will begin offering on-demand electric scooter rental service in Alberta this month, with plans to offer its services across more Canadian communities on a gradual rollout schedule after that.

Bird Canada will be operating its service under the Platform plan that the original Bird announced earlier this year, which will see it acquire its scooters from the U.S. Bird at cost, and gain access to the Santa Monica-based startup’s tools, software and technology to operate the service, in exchange for a 20 percent cut of ride revenue.

The new Canadian e-scooter company is founded by Canadian serial entrepreneur and Toronto Raptors founder John Bitove (he led the bid that brought the NBA expansion team to Toronto in 1993), who will act as the company’s Chairman. Bird Canada’s day-to-day operations will be overseen by CEO Steward Lyons, who previously worked with Bitove on SiriusXM’s Canadian business and the startup national wireless provider Mobilicity which the two entrepreneurs founded together.

For its part, the Canadian entity will operate the fleet, including recharging the electric, battery-powered scooters and ensuring they’re in good working order. Local operators are also the ones who’ll need to work with city and any other relevant governing officials, which is a big reason why this probably seemed like the wisest or at least most expedient path to getting revenue from markets outside the U.S. for Bird.

Bird is also being selective about how it rolls out these franchise-like Platform partnerships, by picking only one partner per region and also by avoiding any such partnerships in markets where it does have an interest in eventually expanding itself.

Both Lyons and Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden provided quotes around this news that emphasize how scooter charing can offer sustainable, affordable transportation that helps alleviate traffic, and Lyons specifically said that Alberta is “leading the way in Canada.” The regulatory environment around scooters is at best murky in most Canadian cities, and local governing authorities are scrambling to figure out what the formal rules should be ahead of the scooter explosion traveling north of the U.S. border in a bigger way.

Bird Canada is likely hoping to set the tone for that conversation and be involved in encouraging more communities beyond those in Alberta to open its arms to on-demand rental businesses, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of reception these receive, and what approach Bird Canada takes to managing their fleet in the country’s harsher winter conditions.

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