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Psykhe secures Seed funding to match consumer personalities to fashion products

By Mike Butcher

In an overcrowded market of online fashion brands, consumers are spoilt for choice on what site to visit. They are generally forced to visit each brand one by one, manually filtering down to what they like. Most of the experience is not that great, and past purchase history and cookies aren’t much to go on to tailor user experience. If someone has bought an army-green military jacket, the e-commerce site is on a hiding to nothing if all it suggests is more army-green military jackets…

Instead, Psycke ( it’s brand name is ‘PSYKHE’) is an e-commerce startup that uses AI and psychology to make product recommendations based both on the user’s personality profile and the ‘personality’ of the products. Admittedly, a number of startups have come and gone claiming this, but it claims to have taken a unique approach to make the process of buying fashion easier by acting as an aggregator that pulls products from all leading fashion retailers. Each user sees a different storefront that, says the company, becomes increasingly personalized.

It has now raised $1.7 million in seed funding from a range of investors and is announcing new plans to scale its technology to other consumer verticals in the future in the B2B space.

The investors are Carmen Busquets – the largest founding investor in Net-a-Porter; SLS Journey – the new investment arm of the MadaLuxe Group, the North American distributor of luxury fashion; John Skipper – DAZN Chairman and former Co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and President of ESPN; and Lara Vanjak – Chief Operating Officer at Aser Ventures, formerly at MP & Silva and FC Inter-Milan.

So what does it do? As a B2C aggregator, it pools inventory from leading retailers. The platform then applies machine learning and personality-trait science, and tailors product recommendations to users based on a personality test taken on sign-up. The company says it has international patents pending and has secured affiliate partnerships with leading retailers that include Moda Operandi, MyTheresa, LVMH’s platform 24S, and 11 Honoré.

The business model is based around an affiliate partnership model, where it makes between 5-25% of each sale. It also plans to expand into B2B for other consumer verticals in the future, providing a plug-in product that allows users to sort items by their personality.

How does this personality test help? Well, Psykhe has assigned an overall psychological profile to the actual products themselves: over 1 million products from commerce partners, using machine learning (based on training data).

So for example, if a leather boot had metal studs on it (thus looking more ‘rebellious’), it would get a moderate-low rating on the trait of ‘Agreeableness’. A pink floral dress would get a higher score on that trait. A conservative tweed blazer would get a lower score tag on the trait of ‘Openness’, as tweed blazers tend to indicate a more conservative style and thus nature.

So far, Psykhe’s retail partnerships include Moda Operandi, MyTheresa, LVMH’s platform 24S, Outdoor Voices, Jimmy Choo, Coach, and size-inclusive platform 11 Honoré.

It’s competitors include The Yes and Lyst. However, Psykhe’s main point of differentiation is this personality scoring. Furthermore, The Yes is app-only, US-only, and only partners with monobrands, while Lyst is an aggregator with 1,000s of brands, but used as more of a search platform.

Psykhe is in a good position to take advantage of the ongoing effects of COVID-19, which continue to give a major boost to global ecommerce as people flood online amid lockdowns.

The startup is the brainchild of Anabel Maldonado, CEO & founder, (along with founding team CTO Will Palmer and Lead Data Scientist, Rene-Jean Corneille, pictured above), who studied psychology in her hometown of Toronto, but ended up working at in the UK’s NHS in a specialist team that made developmental diagnoses for children under 5.

She made a pivot into fashion after winning a competition for an editorial mentorship at British Marie Claire. She later went to the press department of Christian Louboutin, followed by internships at the Mail on Sunday and Marie Claire, then spending several years in magazine publishing before moving into e-commerce at CoutureLab. Going freelance, she worked with a number of luxury brands and platforms as an editorial consultant. As a fashion journalist, she’s contributed industry op-eds to publications such as The Business of Fashion, T The New York Times Style, and Marie Claire.

As part of the fashion industry for 10 years, she says she became frustrated with the narratives which “made fashion seem more frivolous than it really is. I thought, this is a trillion-dollar industry, we all have such emotional, visceral reactions to an aesthetic based on who we are, but all we keep talking about is the ‘hot new color for fall and so-called blanket “must-haves’.”

But, she says, “there was no inquiry into individual differences. This world was really missing the level of depth it deserved, and I sought to demonstrate that we’re all sensitive to aesthetic in one way or another and that our clothing choices have a great psychological pay-off effect on us, based on our unique internal needs.” So she set about creating a startup to address this ‘fashion psychology’ – or, as she says “why we wear what we wear”.

SoftBank’s $100 million diversity and inclusion fund makes its first bet … in health

By Jonathan Shieber

SoftBank’s Opportunity Growth Fund has made the health insurance startup Vitable Health the first commitment from its $100 million fund dedicated to investing in startups founded by entrepreneurs of color.

The Philadelphia-based company, which recently launched from Y Combinator, is focused on bringing basic health insurance to underserved and low-income communities.

Founded by Joseph Kitonga, a 23 year-old entrepreneur whose parents immigrated to the U.S. a decade ago, Vitable provides affordable acute healthcare coverage to underinsured or un-insured populations and was born out of Kitonga’s experience watching employees of his parents’ home healthcare agency struggle to receive basic coverage.

The $1.5 million commitment was led by the SoftBank Group Corp Opportunity Fund, and included Y Combinator, DNA Capital, Commerce Ventures, MSA Capital, Coughdrop Capital, and angels like Immad Akhund, the chief executive of Mercury Bank; and Allison Pickens, the former chief operating officer of Gainsight, the company said in a blog post.

“Good healthcare is a basic right that every American deserves, whoever they are,” said Paul Judge, the Atlanta-based Early Stage Investing Lead for the fund and the founder of Atlanta’s TechSquare Labs investment fund. “We’ve been inspired by Joseph and his approach to addressing this challenge. Vitable Health is bridging critical gaps in patient care and has emerged as a necessary, essential service for all whether they’re uninsured, underinsured, or simply need a better plan for their lifestyle.”

SoftBank created the opportunity fund while cities around the U.S. were witnessing a wave of public protests against systemic racism and police brutality stemming from the murder of the Black Minneapolis citizen George Floyd at the hands of white police officers.  Floyd’s murder reignited simmering tensions between citizens and police in cities around the country over issues including police brutality, the militarization of civil authorities, and racial profiling.

SoftBank has had its own problems with racism in its portfolio this year. A few months before the firm launched its fund, the CEO and founder of one of its portfolio companies, Banjo, resigned after it was revealed that he once had ties to the KKK.

With the Opportunity Fund, SoftBank is trying to address some of its issues, and notably, will not take a traditional management fee for transactions out of the fund “but instead will seek to put as much capital as possible into the hands of founders and entrepreneurs of color.”

The Opportunity Fund is the third investment vehicle announced by SoftBank in the last several years. The biggest of them all is the $100 billion Vision Fund; then last year it announced the $2 billion Innovation Fund focused on Latin America.

As Blizzard sunsets StarCraft II, some of its key creators raise cash for a new gaming studio

By Jonathan Shieber

Even as Blizzard pulls the plug on new updates for its StarCraft II game, nearly a decade after its launch, gaming investors are financing the next new thing coming from key members of the game’s early development team.

Blizzard vets Tim Morten, the former production director for StarCraft II; and Tim Campbell, the lead campaign designer for WarCraft III; have launched a new studio with a number of colleagues from Blizzard to bring real time strategy games to a bigger audience.

The new company, Frost Giant Studios, has picked up $4.7 million in seed funding from the gaming and synthetic media focused investment firm, Bitkraft Ventures, along with participation from 1 Up Ventures, GC Tracker, Riot Games, and Griffin Gaming Partners, the company said.

“Frost Giant Studios is on a mission to bring one of the most beloved genres to a broader audience,” said Scott Rupp, Founding General Partner at Bitkraft Ventures. “We are excited to see some of the most experienced leaders in real-time strategy game development come together to build a game that will secure the future growth of the RTS genre while staying true to the core player fantasy of RTS.”

Building on their experience developing StarCraft II over the past ten years, the Frost Giant Studios strategy is focused on making gameplay better, easier, and more collaborative.

Think of it as taking some of the best elements of the battle royal genre and bringing them into real-time strategy games with an eye toward playability and competitive opportunities in esports.

“Real-time strategy players are an incredibly passionate community, and they deserve not just a great new game, but one they can share broadly with friends. Building a worthy successor will take time, but we’re incredibly excited and grateful to carry real-time strategy forward at Frost Giant Studios,” said Tim Morten, Frost Giant Studios CEO.

Robin.io launches a free version of its cloud-native Kubernetes storage solution

By Frederic Lardinois

Robin.io, a cloud-native application and data management solution with enterprise customers like USAA, Sabre, SAP, Palo Alto Networks and Rakuten Mobile, today announced the launch of its new free(-mium) version of its service, in addition to a major update to the core of its tool.

Robin .io promises that it brings cloud-native data management capabilities to containerized applications with support for standard operations like backup and recovery, snapshots, rollbacks and more. It does all of that while offering bare-metal performance and support for all major clouds. The service is essentially agnostic to the actual database being used and offers support for the likes of PostgreSQL, MySQL, MongoDB, Redis, MariaDB, Cassandra, Elasticsearch and others.

Image Credits: Robin.io

“Robin Cloud Native Storage works with any workload on any Kubernetes-based platform and on any cloud,” said Robin founder and CEO Partha Seetala. “With capabilities for storing, taking snapshots, backing up, cloning, migrating and securing data — all with the simplest of commands — Robin Cloud Native Storage offers developers and DevOps teams a super simple yet highly performant tool for quickly deploying and managing their enterprise workloads on Kubernetes.”

The new free version lets teams manage up to 5 nodes and 5TB of storage. The promise here is that this a free-for-life offering and the company obviously expects that it allows enterprises to get a feel for the service and then upgrade to its paid enterprise plans over time.

Talking about those enterprise plans, the company also today announced that it is moving to a consumption-based pricing plan, starting at $0.42 per node-hour (though it also offers annual subscriptions). The enterprise plan includes 24×7 support and doesn’t limit the number of nodes or storage capacity.

Among the new features to Robin’s core storage service are data management support for Helm Charts (where Helm is the Kubernetes package manager), the ability to specify where exactly the data should reside (which is mostly meant to keep it close to the compute resources) and affinity policies that ensure availability for stateful applications that rely on distributed databases and data platforms.

Stotles secures funding for platform which brings transparency to government tenders, contracts

By Mike Butcher

The public sector usually publishes its business opportunities in the form of ‘tenders,’ to increase transparency to the public. However, this data is scattered, and larger businesses have access to more information, giving them opportunities to grab contracts before official tenders are released. We have seen the controversy around UK government contracts going to a number of private consultants who have questionable prior experience in the issues they are winning contracts on.

And public-to-private sector business makes up 14% of global GDP, and even a 1% improvement could save €20B for taxpayers per year, according to the European Commission .

Stotles is a new UK startup technology that turns fragmented public sector data — such as spending, tenders, contracts, meeting minutes, or news releases — into a clearer view of the market, and extracts relevant early signals about potential opportunities.

It’s now raised a £1.4m seed round led by Speedinvest, with participation from 7Percent Ventures, FJLabs, and high-profile angels including Matt Robinson, co-founder of GoCardless and CEO at Nested; Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, COO at Go -Cardless; Charlie Songhurst, former Head of Corporate Strategy at Microsoft; Will Neale, founder of Grabyo; and Akhil Paul. It received a previous investment from Seedcamp last year.

Stotles’ founders say they had “scathing” experiences dealing with public procurement in their previous roles at organizations like Boston Consulting Group and the World Economic Forum.

The private beta has been open for nine months, and is used by companies including UiPath, Freshworks, Rackspace, and Couchbase. With this funding announcement, they’ll be opening up an early access program.

Competitors include: Global Data, Contracts Advance, BIP Solutions, Spend Network/Open Opps, Tussel, TenderLake. However, most of the players out there are focused on tracking cold tenders, or providing contracting data for periodic generic market research.

Jam raises $3.5 million to Figma-tize product collaboration

By Lucas Matney

The web of collaboration apps invading remote work toolkits have led to plenty of messy workflows for teams that communicate in a language of desktop screenshots and DMs. Tracing a suggestion or flagging a bug in a company’s website forces engineers or designers to make sense of the mess themselves.  While task management software has given teams a funnel for the clutter, the folks at Jam question why this functionality isn’t just built straight into the product.

Jam co-founders Dani Grant and Mohd Irtefa tell TechCrunch they’ve closed on $3.5 million in seed funding and are ready to launch a public beta of their collaboration platform which builds chat, comments and task management directly onto a website, allowing developers and designers to track issues and make suggestions quickly and simply

The seed round was led by Union Square Ventures, where co-founder Dani Grant previously worked as an analyst. Version One Ventures, BoxGroup and Village Global also participated alongside some noteworthy angels including GitHub CTO Jason Warner, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, Gumroad CEO Sahil Lavingia, and former Robinhood VP Josh Elman.

Like most modern productivity suites, Jam is heavy on integrations so users aren’t forced to upend their toolkits just to add one more product into the mix. The platform supports Slack, Jira, GitHub, Asana, Loom and Figma, with a few more in the immediate pipeline. Data syncs from one platform to the other bidirectionally so information is always fresh, Grant says. It’s all built into a tidy sidebar.

Grant and Irtefa met as product managers at Cloudflare, where they started brainstorming better ways to communicate feedback in a way that felt like “leaving digital sticky notes all over a product,” Grant says. That thinking ultimately pushed the duo to leave their jobs this past May and start building Jam.

The startup, like so many conceived during this period, has a remote founding story. Grant and Irtefa have only spent four days together in-person since the company was started, they raised their seed round remotely and most of the employees have never met each other in-person.

The remote team hopes their software can help other remote teams declutter their workflows and focus on what they’re building.

“On a product team, the product is the first tab everyone opens and closes,” Grant says. “So we’re on top of your product instead of on some other platform”

Jam’s interface

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and AR, raises $7.3M from EQT and Blueyard

By Mike Butcher

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and Augmented Reality (AR), has raised a $7.3 million round led by European fund EQT Ventures. Existing investor BlueYard (Berlin) also participated.

Vectary makes high-quality 3D design more accessible for consumers, garnering over one million creators worldwide, and has more than a thousand digital agencies and creative studios as users.

With the coronavirus pandemic shifting more people online, Vectary says it has seen a 300% increase in AR views as more businesses start showcasing their products in 3D and AR.

Vectary was founded in 2014 by Michal Koor (CEO) and Pavol Sovis (CTO), who were both from the design and technology worlds.

The complexity of using and sharing content created by traditional 3D design tools has been a barrier to the adoption of 3D, which is what Vectary addresses.

Although Microsoft, Facebook and Apple are making it easier for consumers, the creative tools remain lacking. Vectary believes that seamless 3D/AR content creation and sharing will be key to mainstream adoption.

Designers and creatives can use Vectary to apply 2D design on a 3D object in Figma or Sketch; create 3D customizers in Webflow with Embed API; and add 3D interactivity to decks.

Future raises $24M Series B for its $150/mo workout coaching app amid at-home fitness boom

By Lucas Matney

With thousands of gyms across the country forced to close down during the pandemic, there’s been an unprecedented opportunity for fitness companies pitching an at-home solution. This moment has propelled public companies like Peloton to stratospheric highs — its market cap is about to eclipse $40 billion — but it has also pushed venture capitalists towards plenty of deals in the fitness space.

Future launched with a bold sell for consumers, a $150 per month subscription app that virtually teamed users up with a real life fitness coach. Leaning on the health-tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch, the startup has been aiming to build a platform that teams motivation, accountability and fitness insights.

via Future

Close to 18 months after announcing a Series A led by Kleiner Perkins, the startup tells TechCrunch they’ve closed a $24 million Series B led by Trustbridge Partners with Caffeinated Capital and Kleiner Perkins participating again.

Amid the at-home fitness boom, Future has seen major growth of its own. CEO Rishi Mandal says that the company’s growth rate has tripled in recent months as thousands of gyms closed their doors. He says shelter-in-place has merely accelerated an ongoing shift towards tech-forward fitness services that can help busy users find time during their day to exercise.

The operating thesis of the company is that modern life is inherently crazy not just during pandemic times but in normal times,” Mandal says. “The idea of having a set routine is a complete fallacy.”

At $149 per month, Future isn’t aiming for mass market appeal the same way other digital fitness programs being produced by Peloton, Fitbit or Apple are. It seems to be more squarely aimed at users that could be a candidate for getting a personal trainer but might bot be ready to make the investment or don’t need the guided instruction so much as they need general guidelines and some accountability.

As the startup closes on more funding, the team has big goals to expand its network. Mandal aims to have 1,000 coaches on the Future platform by this time next year. Reaching new scales could give the service a chance to tackle new challenges. Mandal sees opportunities for Future to expand its coaching services beyond fitness as it grows, “there’s a real opportunity to help people with all aspects of their health.”

Temporal raises $18.75M for its microservices orchestration platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Temporal, a Seattle-based startup that is building an open-source, stateful microservices orchestration platform, today announced that it has raised an $18.75 million Series A round led by Sequoia Capital. Existing investors Addition Ventures and Amplify Partners also joined, together with new investor Madrona Venture Group. With this, the company has now raised a total of $25.5 million.

Founded by Maxim Fateev (CEO) and Samar Abbas (CTO), who created the open-source Cadence orchestration engine during their time at Uber, Temporal aims to make it easier for developers and operators to run microservices in production. Current users include the likes of Box and Snap.

“Before microservices, coding applications was much simpler,” Temporal’s Fateev told me. “Resources were always located in the same place — the monolith server with a single DB — which meant developers didn’t have to codify a bunch of guessing about where things were. Microservices, on the other hand, are highly distributed, which means developers need to coordinate changes across a number of servers in different physical locations.”

Those servers could go down at any time, so engineers often spend a lot of time building custom reliability code to make calls to these services. As Fateev argues, that’s table stakes and doesn’t help these developers create something that builds real business value. Temporal gives these developers access to a set of what the team calls ‘reliability primitives’ that handle these use cases. “This means developers spend far more time writing differentiated code for their business and end up with a more reliable application than they could have built themselves,” said Fateev.

Temporal’s target use is virtually any developer who works with microservices — and wants them to be reliable. Because of this, the company’s tool — despite offering a read-only web-based user interface for administering and monitoring the system — isn’t the main focus here. The company also doesn’t have any plans to create a no-code/low-code workflow builder, Fateev tells me. However, since it is open-source, quite a few Temporal users build their own solutions on top of it.

The company itself plans to offer a cloud-based Temporal-as-a-Service offering soon. Interestingly, Fateev tells me that the team isn’t looking at offering enterprise support or licensing in the near future, though. “After spending a lot of time thinking it over, we decided a hosted offering was best for the open-source community and long term growth of the business,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the company plans to use the new funding to improve its existing tool and build out this cloud service, with plans to launch it into general availability next year. At the same time, the team plans to say true to its open-source roots and host events and provide more resources to its community.

“Temporal enables Snapchat to focus on building the business logic of a robust asynchronous API system without requiring a complex state management infrastructure,” said Steven Sun, Snap Tech Lead, Staff Software Engineer. “This has improved the efficiency of launching our services for the Snapchat community.”

Harley-Davidson should keep making e-motorcycles

By Jake Bright

Harley-Davidson should continue to make electric motorcycles. That’s my big takeaway after taking home the company’s LiveWire for three weeks.

I’d ridden it on a closed course in 2019, but that wasn’t enough to absorb the finer qualities of the 105 horsepower machine. After nearly a month and a thousand miles on the LiveWire, I’d venture to say it could be the most innovative motorcycle Harley-Davidson has ever produced.

That doesn’t mean perfect (particularly on the pricing). But with declining sales and the aging of the baby boomers — Harley’s primary market for chrome and steel gassers — the company needed to take a fresh turn.

HD’s first EV

Harley-Davidson did that with the LiveWire, which began as a concept and developed into the manufacturer’s first production EV, released in late 2019. The voltage-powered two-wheeler is meant to complement, not replace, HD’s premium internal-combustion cruisers.

Founded in Milwaukee in 1903, Harley-Davidson opened a Silicon Valley office in 2018 with plans to add a future line-up of electric vehicles — from motorcycles to bicycles to scooters. The $29,799 LiveWire was first, though waning earnings and the COVID-19-induced recession have put HD’s electric plans in question.

On key specs, the Livewire will do 0-60 mph in 3 seconds, top 110 mph and charge to 80% in 40 minutes on a DC Fast Charger. The motorcycle’s 15.5 kWh battery and magnet motor produce 86 ft-lbs of torque.

Image Credits: Harley-Davidson

The 548-pound LiveWire has an advertised city range of 146 miles (and 95 for combined city/highway riding).The electric Harley is also an IoT and app-compatible vehicle, with preset riding modes — that offer different combos of power, torque and regen braking — and the ability to create custom modes.

Harley-Davidson added some premium features to the LiveWire, such as key fob operation, an anti-theft control system and a heartbeat-like vibration on the motorcycle.

That’s useful to remind the rider that the LiveWire — which goes silent at a stop — is still in run mode. In motion, the bike is basically quiet, though Harley-Davidson — famous for its internal combustion rumble — created a signature electric sound generated from the vehicle’s mechanical movements. It’s a barely audible buzz that gives the motorcycle a distinct voice as an electric Harley.

The ride

As an e-motorcycle, the LiveWire is remarkably balanced for a two-wheeler that has so much mass concentrated in one place: the battery.

At over 500 pounds, it isn’t exactly heavy by Harley cruiser standards, but the LiveWire is hefty for a naked sport bike. You definitely feel that weight pushing the EV around the garage, but fortunately — with some clever frame engineering — it fades away once the LiveWire gets rolling.

When I tested the LiveWire on a track in 2019, I noted that it brought everything that was becoming the e-motorcycle experience: huge torque and lightning-like acceleration with little noise beyond the wind moving around you.

More time and riding conditions with the LiveWire led to a stronger appreciation. I took it down the Hudson River Valley into Manhattan, up to three digits on I-95, and on the twisty backroads outside of Greenwich. The LiveWire looks and performs the part of a high-performance e-motorcycle, and in many ways, offers a more exciting ride than anything piston-powered.

Image Credits: Jake Bright

The biggest rush on a LiveWire, compared to ICE peers, is the torque and acceleration. With fewer mechanical moving parts than gas bikes — and no clutch or shifting — the power delivery is stronger and more constant than internal combustion machines. You simply twist and go.

Like other high-performance e-motorcycles, the LiveWire’s regenerative braking — or the extent to which the motor recharges the battery and slows the rear wheel coming off throttle — also enhances performance. Regen braking can be adjusted manually or by riding mode on the electric HD.

It takes some skill, but the end result is the ability to fly through corners in a smoother manner than a gas motorcycle — with little to no mechanical braking — by simply rolling off and on the throttle. This is complemented by the motorcycle’s lateral handling. In turns, the LiveWire holds a line as precisely as a Tron light-cycle (at least that’s how it felt conceptually).

This all translates into a riding experience of uninterrupted forward movement, without any racket and rattling. That the motorcycle also looks great— with lines and styling that hit the marks for an EV and a Harley — adds even more.

The market

With the LiveWire debut, Harley-Davidson became the first of the big gas manufacturers to offer a street-legal e-motorcycle for sale in the U.S.

The move is something of a necessity for the company, which like most of the motorcycle industry in the U.S., has been bleeding revenue and younger buyers for years.

While HD got the jump on traditional motorcycle manufacturers, such as Honda and Kawasaki, it’s definitely not alone in the two-wheeled electric space.

Harley-Davidson entered the EV arena with competition from several e-moto startups that are attempting to convert gas riders to electric and attract a younger generation to motorcycling.

One of the leaders is California startup Zero Motorcycles, with 200 dealers worldwide. Italy’s Energica is expanding distribution of its high-performance e-motos in the U.S.

And Canadian startup Damon Motors debuted its 200 mph, $24,000 Hypersport this year, which offers proprietary safety and ergonomics tech for adjustable riding positions and blind-spot detection.

Of course, it’s not evident there’s enough demand out there to buy up all these new models, particularly given the COVID-19-induced global recession.

On the LiveWire’s market success (or failure), it’s tough to assess since HD’s reporting doesn’t include LiveWire-specific sales data. One thing I (and others) have been critical of is the motorcycle’s $29,000 price. At just several thousand dollars less than a Tesla Model 3, it’s just too high — even for a premium motorcycle. But price aside, and that’s a big aside, I’d still argue the company succeeded with the LiveWire in a couple major ways. Harley-Davidson created an exciting halo motorcycle that established it as a legitimate e-motorcycle maker — in a distinctly Harley-Davidson form — while capturing public interest for its EV program.

What’s next?

For a company to reap the benefits of a successful halo launch, it needs to create a more accessible sequel. In July, Harley-Davidson’s newly appointed CEO, Jochen Zeitz, announced a five-year plan — dubbed The Rewire — to adjust to declining sales and lead the company into the future. The strategy includes a massive restructuring and holding on (or even cancelling) some previously announced programs, such Harley’s gas powered Bronx model.

On whether the LiveWire — and producing new EVs — remain in Harley-Davidson’s future, Zeitz hasn’t been specific in confirming that in recent statements or investor calls.

Image Credits: Jake Bright

After some intimate time getting to know HD’s debut electric motorcycle, and assessing the market, my vote is for the iconic American company to continue its EV program and give us more. Offer a follow-on that makes the rush and on-demand capabilities of the halo Livewire available to the mases.

I could envision the company’s next EV product release including a scooter offering — registering Harley in the urban mobility space — and a more affordable e-motorcycle with broad market appeal.

What could that look like? Something priced around $10,000, lighter and more realistic for beginner riders than the 549-pound LiveWire; cloud and app connected with at least 100 miles of range and a charge time of 30 to 40 minutes. A tracker-styled EV channeling Harley’s flat-track racers — with some off-road capability — could be a winner.

Image Credits: Jake Bright

Getting it all right on specs, style and price-point will be even more critical for HD in a COVID-19 economic environment, where spending appetites for motorcycles will be more conservative for the foreseeable future.

But continuing the commitment to production EV’s is still Harley-Davidson’s best bet to reach a younger market and remain relevant in the 21st century mobility world. HD’s Rewire should definitely include more LiveWire.

Dataloop raises $11M Series A round for its AI data management platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Dataloop, a Tel Aviv-based startup that specializes in helping businesses manage the entire data lifecycle for their AI projects, including helping them annotate their datasets, today announced that it has now raised a total of $16 million. This includes a $5 seed round that was previously unreported, as well as an $11 million Series A round that recently closed.

The Series A round was led by Amiti Ventures with participation from F2 Venture Capital, crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, NextLeap Ventures and SeedIL Ventures.

“Many organizations continue to struggle with moving their AI and ML projects into production as a result of data labeling limitations and a lack of real time validation that can only be achieved with human input into the system,” said Dataloop CEO Eran Shlomo. “With this investment, we are committed, along with our partners, to overcoming these roadblocks and providing next generation data management tools that will transform the AI industry and meet the rising demand for innovation in global markets.”

Image Credits: Dataloop

For the most part, Dataloop specializes in helping businesses manage and annotate their visual data. It’s agnostic to the vertical its customers are in, but we’re talking about anything from robotics and drones to retail and autonomous driving.

The platform itself centers around the ‘humans in the loop’ model that complements the automated systems with the ability for humans to train and correct the model as needed. It combines the hosted annotation platform with a Python SDK and REST API for developers, as well as a serverless Functions-as-a-Service environment that runs on top of a Kubernetes cluster for automating dataflows.

Image Credits: Dataloop

The company was founded in 2017. It’ll use the new funding to grow its presence in the U.S. and European markets, something that’s pretty standard for Israeli startups, and build out its engineering team as well.

Family-tracking app Life360 launches ‘Bubbles,’ a location-sharing feature inspired by teens on TikTok

By Sarah Perez

Helicopter parenting turned into surveillance with the debut of family-tracking apps like Life360. While the app can alleviate parental fears when setting younger kids loose in the neighborhood, Life360’s teenage users have hated the app’s location-tracking features so much that avoiding and dissing the app quickly became a TikTok meme. Life360 could have ignored the criticism — after all, teens aren’t the app’s paying subscribers; it’s the parents. But Life360 CEO Chris Hulls took a different approach. He created a TikTok account and started a dialogue with the app’s younger users. As a result of these conversations, the company has now launched a new privacy-respecting feature: “Bubbles.”

Bubbles work by allowing any Life360 Circle member to share a circle representing their generalized location instead of their exact whereabouts. To set a bubble, the user can adjust the radius on the map anywhere from 1 to 25 miles in diameter, for a given period of time of 1 to 6 hours. After this temporary bubble is created, Life360’s other existing safety and messaging features will remain enabled. But parents won’t be able to see precisely where their teen is located, other than somewhere in the bubble.

Image Credits: Life360

For example, a teen could tell their parents they were hanging out with some friends in a given part of town after school, then set a bubble accordingly. But without popping that bubble, the parents wouldn’t know if their teenager was at a friend’s house, out driving around, at a park, out shopping, and so on. The expectation is that parents and teens should communicate with one another, not rely on cyberstalking. Plus, parents need to respect that teens deserve to have more freedom to make choices, even if they will sometimes break the rules and then have to suffer the consequences.

A location bubble isn’t un-poppable, however. The bubble will burst if a car crash or other emergency is detected, the company says. A parent can also choose to override the setting and pop the bubble for any reason — like if they don’t hear from the teen for a long period of time or suspect the teen may be unsafe. This could encourage a teen to increase their direct communication with a parent in order to reassure them that they are safe, rather than risk their parent turning tracking back on.

But parents are actively discouraged from popping the bubbles out of fear. Before the bubble is burst, the app will ask the user if they’re sure they want to do so, reminding them also that the member will be notified about the bubble being burst. This gives parents a moment to pause and reconsider whether it’s really enough of an emergency to break their teen’s trust and privacy.

Image Credits: Life360

The feature isn’t necessarily going to solve the problems for teens who want to sneak out or just be un-tracked entirely, which is where many of the complaints have stemmed from in recent years. Instead, it’s meant to represent a compromise in the battle between adult surveillance of kids’ every move and teenagers’ needs to have more personal freedom.

Hulls says the idea for the new feature was inspired by conversations he had with teens on TikTok about Life360’s issues.

“Teens are a core part of the family unit — and our user base — and we value their input,” said Hulls. “After months of communicating with both parents and teens, I am proud to launch a feature that was designed with the whole family in mind, continuing our mission of redefining how safety is delivered to families,” he added.

Before joining TikTok, the Life360 mobile app had been subject to a downrating campaign where teen users rated the app with just one star in hopes of getting it kicked off the App Store. (Apps are not automatically removed for low ratings, but that hasn’t stopped teens from trying this tactic with anything they don’t like, from Google Classroom’s app to the Trump 2020 app, at times.)

In his TikTok debut, Hulls appeared as Darth Vader, then took off the mask to reveal, in his own words, “just your standard, awkward tech CEO.” In the months since, his account has posted and reacted to Life360 memes, answered questions and asked for — and even paid for — helpful user feedback. One of the ideas resulting from the collaboration was “ghost mode,” which is now being referred to at launch as “Bubbles” — a name generated by a TikTok contest to brand the feature.

In addition to sourcing ideas on TikTok, Hulls used the platform to rehabilitate the Life360 brand among teens, explaining how he created the app after Hurricane Katrina to help families reconnect after big emergencies, for example (true). His videos also suggested that he was now on teens’ side and that building “ghost mode” was going to piss off parents or even lose him his job (highly debatable).

In a related effort, the company posted a YouTube parody video to explain the app’s benefits to parents and teens. The video, suggested to teen users through a notification, hit over a million views in 24 hours.

Many teens, ultimately, came around. “i’m crying he seems so nice,” said one commenter. “ngl it’s the parents not the app,” admitted another.

In other words, the strategy worked. Hulls’ “life360ceo” TikTok account has since gained over 231,000 followers and its videos have been “liked” 6.5 million times. Teens have also turned their righteous anger back to where it may actually belong — at their cyberstalking parents, not the tech enabling the location-tracking.

Bubbles is now part of the most recent version of the Life360 app, a free download on iOS and Android. The company offers an optional upgrade to premium plans for families in need of extra features, like location history, crash detection and roadside assistance, among other things.

Family trackers are a large and growing business. As of June 2020, Life360 had 25 million monthly active users located in more than 195 countries. The company’s annualized monthly revenue was forecasted at $77.9 million, a 26% increase year-over-year.

To celebrate the launch of Bubbles, this past Saturday, Life360 launched a branded Hashtag Challenge on TikTok, #ghostmode, for a $10,000 prize. As of today, the hashtag already has 1.4 billion views.

 

 

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These 3 factors are holding back podcast monetization

By Walter Thompson
Krystina Rubino Contributor
Krystina Rubino is a marketing executive who leads the offline growth marketing practice at Right Side Up.
Grant Durando Contributor
Grant Durando is a growth marketing leader, currently consulting on podcast and offline advertising at Right Side Up.

Podcast advertising growth is inhibited by three major factors:

  • Lack of macro distribution, consumption and audience data.
  • Current methods of conversion tracking.
  • Idea of a “playbook” for podcast performance marketing.

Because of these limiting factors, it’s currently more of an art than a science to piece disparate data from multiple sources, firms, agencies and advertisers, into a somewhat conclusive argument to brands as to why they should invest in podcast advertising.

1. Lack of macro distribution, consumption and audience data

There were several resources that released updates based on what they saw in terms of consumption when COVID-19 hit. Hosting platforms, publishers and third-party tracking platforms all put out their best guesses as to what was happening. Advertisers’ own podcast listening habits had been upended due to lockdowns; they wanted to know how broader changes in listening habits were affecting their campaigns. Were downloads going up, down or staying the same? What was happening with sports podcasts, without sports?


Read part 1 of this article, Podcast advertising has a business intelligence gap, on TechCrunch.


At Right Side Up, we receive and analyze all of the available research from major publishers (Stitcher, aCast), to major platforms (Megaphone) and third-party research firms (Podtrac, IAB, Edison Research). However, no single entity encompasses the entire space or provides the kind of interactive, off-the-shelf customizable SaaS product we’d prefer, and that digitally native marketers expect. Plus, there isn’t anything published in real-time; most sources publish once or twice annually.

So what did we do? We reached out to trusted publishers and partners to gather data around shifting consumption due to COVID-19 ourselves, and determined that, though there was a drop in downloads in the short term, it was neither as precipitous nor as enduring as some had feared. This was confirmed by some early reports available, but how were we to evidence our own piecewise sample with another? Moreover, how could you invest 6-7 figures of marketing dollars if you didn’t have the firsthand intelligence we gathered and our subject matter experts on deck to make constant adjustments to your approach?

We were able to piece together trends we’re seeing that point to increased download activity in recent months that surpass February/March heights. We’ve determined that the industry is back on track for growth with a less steep, but still growing, listenership trajectory. But even though more recent reports have been published, a longitudinal, objective resource has not yet emerged to show a majority of the industry’s journey through one of the most disruptive media environments in recent history.

There is a need for a new or existing entity to create cohesive data points; a third party that collects and reports listening across all major hosts and distribution points, or “podcatchers,” as they’re colloquially called. As a small example: Wouldn’t it be nice to objectively track seasonal listening of news/talk programming and schedule media planning and flighting around that? Or to know what the demographics of that audience look like compared to other verticals?

What percentage increase in efficiency and/or volume would you gain from your marketing efforts in the channel? Would that delta be profitable against paying a nominal or ongoing licensing or research fee for most brands?

These challenges aren’t just affecting advertisers. David Cohn, VP of Sales at Megaphone, agrees that “full transparency from the listening platforms would make our jobs easier, along with everyone else’s in the industry. We’d love to know how much of an episode is listened to, whether an ad is skipped, etc. Along the same lines, having a central source for [audience] measurement would be ideal — similar to what Nielsen has been for TV.” This would also enable us to understand cross-show ad frequency, another black box for advertisers and the industry at large.

Waymo starts to open driverless ride-hailing service to the public

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo, the Google self-driving-project-turned-Alphabet unit, is beginning to open up its driverless ride-hailing service to the public.

The company said that starting today, members of its Waymo One service will be able to take family and friends along on their fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. Existing Waymo One members will have the first access to the driverless rides — terminology that means no human behind the wheel. However, the company said that in the next several weeks more people will be welcomed directly into the service through its app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.

Waymo said that 100% of its rides will be fully driverless — which it has deemed its “rider only” mode. That 100% claim requires a bit of unpacking. The public shouldn’t expect hundreds of Waymo-branded Chrysler Pacifica minivans — no human behind the wheel — to suddenly inundate the entire 600-plus square miles of the greater Phoenix area.

Waymo has abut 600 vehicles in its fleet. About 300 to 400 of those are in the Phoenix area. Waymo wouldn’t share exact numbers of how many of these vehicles would be dedicated to driverless rides. However, Waymo CEO John Krafcik explained to TechCrunch in a recent interview that there will be various modes operating in the Phoenix area. Some of these will be “rider only,” while other vehicles will still have trained safety operators behind the wheel. Some of the fleet will also be used for testing.

“We’re just ready from every standpoint,” Krafcik told TechCrunch. “And how do we know we’re ready? We’ve had our wonderful group of early riders, who’ve helped us hone the service, obviously not from a safety standpoint because we’ve had the confidence on the safety side for some time, but rather more for the fit of the product itself.” He added that these early riders helped the company determine if the product was “delivering satisfaction and delight for them.”

Later this year, Waymo will relaunch rides with a trained vehicle operator to add capacity and allow us to serve a larger geographical area. Krafcik said the company is in the process of adding in-vehicle barriers between the front row and rear passenger cabin for in-vehicle hygiene and safety.

Waymo operates in about a 100-square-mile area. The driverless or “rider only” service area that will be offered to Waymo One members is about 50 square miles, Krafcik said.

Despite the various caveats, this is still a milestone — one of many the company has achieved in the past decade. The past five years has been particularly packed, starting with Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, taking the “first: driverless ride in the company’s Firefly prototype on Austin’s city streets in 2015. More than a dozen journalists experienced driverless rides in 2017 on a closed course at Waymo’s testing facility in Castle. Then last November, TechCrunch took one of the first driverless rides in a Waymo Pacifica minivan along the public streets of a Phoenix suburb.

waymo-driverless app

The company scaled its commercial product even as these demos and testing continued. In 2017, Waymo launched its early rider program, which let vetted members of the public, who had signed non-disclosure agreements, hail its self-driving cars in the Phoenix area. Those autonomous vehicles all had human safety operators behind the wheel.

Waymo then launched Waymo One, a self-driving ride-hailing service aimed for public use, no NDA strings attached. But again, those rides all had human safety operators in the driver’s seat, ready to take over if needed. Waymo slowly moved its early rider program members into the more open Waymo One service. It also started experimenting with charging for rides and expanded its footprint — or geofenced service area. Today, the company charges for rides across all of its programs (early rider and Waymo One) in the Phoenix area. The Waymo One service (with human safety operators) is about 100 square miles in Phoenix suburbs like Chandler.

The first meaningful signs that Waymo was ready to put people in vehicles without human safety operators popped up last fall when members of its early rider program received an email indicating that driverless rides would soon become available.

And they did. These driverless rides were limited and free. And importantly, still fell under the early rider program, which had that extra NDA protection. Waymo slowly scaled until about 5 to 10% of its total rides in 2020 were fully driverless for its exclusive group of early riders under NDA. Then COVID-19 hit and the service was halted. The company has continued testing with its safety drivers in Arizona and California. That has raised some concerns among those workers about the dual issue of catching COVID and dealing with air quality issues caused by wildfires in California.

Waymo said it has added new safety protocols due to COVID-19, including requiring users to wear masks, having hand sanitizer in all vehicles and conducting what Krafcik described as a cabin flush — essentially a four to five-time increase in air volume sent through the vehicle — after every ride.

Krafcik also said Waymo will soon add the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace to the mix, first testing them on public roads and then adding the vehicles to the early rider program.

Updated: The company charges for all rides now in Phoenix. 

Bringing micromobility to Africa

By Megan Rose Dickey

When you look at maps of micromobility across the world, it appears there’s not a ton of activity throughout Africa. Well, that’s because there’s not, Gura Ride founder and CEO Tony Adesina said at TC Sessions: Mobility.

In Africa, there are “very few” micromobility operators, Adesina said. “Almost non-existent.”

That’s why launching bike and scooter share in Africa, and specifically Rwanda was strategic, he said. In Kigali, there are many bike lanes and cycling is quite popular in Rwanda, Adesina said. But bikeshare and scooters are “completely new to them.”

Gura Ride has been in operation for the last couple of years and says people are generally receptive to the idea. Still, it hasn’t attracted the same type of market activity as other places.

“Africa is quite unique,” Adesina said. “I don’t think it’s somewhere where you can bring an existing model, maybe that worked in the States or the UK and just dump in a country like South Africa or Rwanda. You have to understand the culture and the people you’re dealing with. It takes quite some time. You have to study the terrain and make sure the model you run in the U.S. or the U.K. can actually fit. Another thing is price. The buying power is not as heavy as you have in the States. So the numbers have to make sense and you have to make sure that the market you’re going into can meet your projected goals.”

That’s partly why Voi, which has gained a stronghold across Europe, has yet to launch in Africa. Voi CEO Fredrik Hjelm noted how the cost of supply and operations is pretty much the same wherever it operates, so in markets where there is less willingness among riders to pay higher costs, it makes it “very, very difficult to operate profitably,” he said.

Once Voi can bring down the costs of operations, it will be easier to launch in more markets and operate profitably there, Hjelm said.

“So there is definitely a time where we will be able to make markets with lower willingness to pay, such as Africa, profitable, when we go there,” he said.

What’s key to micromobility becoming more mainstream in Africa is infrastructure, Adesina said.

“I think the biggest issue [in Kigali] is that the roads are quite narrow, so how do you share the road so you don’t have a lot of hit and runs,” he said.

On the other hand, micromobility is thriving so much in Europe because of the infrastructure, Hjelm said. So, infrastructure can really make or break the industry.

“The infrastructure is better than anywhere else,” Hjlem said. “Culturally also, we’re much more used to bikes to mopeds to vespas to scooters — to all kinds of alternatives to cars. So I think that fundamentally, Europe is the world’s most attractive market.”

Here’s the curtain raise on the Sight Tech Global agenda

By Ned Desmond

The goal of Sight Tech Global, a virtual, global event on December 2-3, 2020, is to gather the world’s top experts who are applying advanced technologies, notably AI, to the future of accessibility and assistive tech for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Today we’re excited to roll out most of the agenda. There are another half-dozen sessions and breakouts still to come, notably sessions on AI bias and civil rights. What we’ve discovered over the many weeks of research and conversation is a consistent, strong interest on the part of researchers, technologists and product and design thinkers to convene and talk over the future — its promises, challenges and even threats.

We’re delighted to have top-level talent from virtually every leading technology company, many research universities and some startups ready for fireside chats and small panel discussions with expert moderators. Some sessions will take questions from our audience as well.

When the event dates are closer, we will add dates and times to each of these sessions as well as announce additional speakers. Register today to get a free pass and please browse the first edition of the Sight Tech Global agenda below.

Seeing AI: Where does Microsoft’s blockbuster app go from here?

With ever more powerful computer and data resources available in the cloud, Microsoft’s Seeing AI mobile app is destined to become a steadily better ally for anyone with vision challenges. Co-founder Saqib Shaikh leads the engineering team that’s charting the app’s cloud-enabled future.

Saqib Shaikh, co-founder of Seeing AI, Microsoft
Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

The future according to OrCam

As AI-based computer vision, voice recognition and natural language processing race ahead, the engineering challenge is to design devices that can perceive the physical world and communicate that information in a timely manner. Amnon Shashua’s OrCam MyEye is the most sophisticated effort yet to merge those technologies in a seamless experience on a dedicated device.

Amnon Shashua, co-founder of OrCam and Mobileye
Moderator: Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch

Accessibility from the wheels up: The Waymo self-driving taxi

If people who are blind or visually impaired find Uber and Lyft liberating, imagine how they will feel summoning a self-driving ride from an app on their mobile phones. But wait, how exactly will they locate the cars and what happens when they climb in? Presenter Clem Wright is responsible for the self-driving taxi’s accessibility, and he will be joined by leadership from two organizations closely involved in that effort: The Lighthouse for the Blind SF and the Foundation for Blind Children.

Clem Wright, Accessibility product manager, Waymo
/> Marc Ashton, CEO, Foundation for Blind Children
Bryan Bashin, CEO, Lighthouse for the Blind
Moderator: Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch

Our AI future is already here

Whether it’s Alexa, Tesla or Facebook, AI is already deeply embedded in our daily lives. Few understand that better than Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, a scientist who developed the first speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system as a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon, led Google in China and held senior roles at Microsoft and Apple. Today, Dr. Lee runs Sinovation Ventures, a $2 billion fund based in China, is president of the Sinovation’s Artificial Intelligence Institute and has 50 million followers on social media.

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and CEO, Sinovation Ventures
/> Moderator: Ned Desmond, Sight Tech Global

The future of AT devices and the companies that make them

Dedicated devices versus accessible platforms? Victor Reader Stream versus iPhones and Alexa? How will AT companies take advantage of a world with cloud data and edge computational power, AI algorithms and more demanding customers than ever? Humanware, eSight and APH are already looking far into that future.

Gilles Pepin, CEO, Humanware
Greg Stilson, head of Global Innovation, APH
Charles Lim, CTO, eSight
Moderator: Betsy Beaumon, CEO, Benetech

If the Jetsons had screen readers, would they be using keyboard commands?

The screen reader is arguably the most consequential digital technology ever for people who are blind or visually impaired. At the same time, screen readers depend on a dizzying array of keyboard commands, and — when it comes to reading websites in a browser — they struggle with the ugly reality of poor website accessibility. New technologies may lead the way to better outcomes.

Glen Gordon, Software fellow, Vispero; architect, JAWS
James Teh, Accessibility engineer, Mozilla; co-founder, NVDA
Léonie Watson, director, TetraLogical
Moderator: Matt King, Accessibility technical program manager, Facebook

Alexa, what is your future?

When Alexa launched six years ago, no one imagined that the voice assistant would reach into millions of daily lives and become a huge convenience for people who are blind or visually impaired. This fall, Alexa introduced personalization and conversational capabilities that are a step-change toward more human-like home companionship. Amazon’s Josh Miele and Anne Toth will discuss the impact on accessibility as Alexa becomes more capable.

Anne Toth, director, Alexa Trust at Amazon
Josh Miele, principal accessibility researcher, Lab126 at Amazon
/> Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

Augmented reality and perception: What’s the best way to get the message across?

It’s one thing for an AI-based system to “know” when it’s time to turn left, who came through the door or how far away the couch is: It’s quite another to convey that information in a timely fashion with minimal distraction. Researchers are making use of haptics, visual augmented reality (AR), sound and language to figure out the right solutions.

Amos Miller, Product strategist, Microsoft AI and Research
Ashley Tuan, VP Medical Devices, Mojo Vision
Sile O’Modhrain, associate professor, Performing Arts Technology, University of Michigan
Moderator: Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine

Wayfinding: Finding the mark

Map apps on mobile phones are miraculous tools accessible via voice output, but mainstream apps don’t announce the detailed location information (which people who are blind or visually impaired really want), especially inside buildings and in public transportation settings. Efforts in the U.S. and U.K. are improving accessible navigation.

Tim Murdoch, founder and CEO, Waymap
Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine
Moderator: Mike May, chief evangelist, GoodMaps

Computer vision, AI and accessibility: What’s missing from this picture?

For an AI to interpret the visual world on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired, the AI needs to know what it’s looking at, and no less important, that it’s looking at the right thing. Mainstream computer vision databases don’t do that well — yet.

Danna Gurari, assistant professor and director of the Image and Video Computing Group, University of Texas
Patrick Clary, product manager, AI and accessibility, Google
/> Moderator: Roberto Manduchi, professor CS and Engineering, UC Santa Cruz

Keep an out for more sessions and breakouts later this month. In the meantime, registration is open. Get your pass today!

Sight Tech Global is eager to hear from potential sponsors. We’re grateful to current sponsors Amazon, Ford, Google, Microsoft, Mojo Vision, Waymo, Wells Fargo and Humanware. All sponsorship revenues go to the nonprofit Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which has been serving the Silicon Valley area for 75 years.

Special thanks to the Sight Tech Global advisors — Tech Matters Jim Fruchterman, UC Santa Cruz’s Roberto Manduchi, Verizon Media’s Larry Goldberg, Facebook’s Matt King and Be My Eyes’ Will Butler — who are playing an invaluable role on this project.

Final week to score $50 student passes to TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

By Alexandra Ames

Class is about to be in session, students. If you’re passionate about mobility and transportation tech and hungry to learn from the visionaries, makers and investors who are building the future today, don’t miss out on TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on October 6-7.

We support you, the next generation of mobility tech leaders, so take advantage of our $50 student pass — a $145 savings. But don’t delay. The price increases on October 5.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 offers two days packed with 1:1 interviews and panel discussions with the people at the top of game — the leaders, movers and shakers who continue to push beyond what seems possible. You won’t just hear from them, you’ll engage with them during a series of Q&A breakout sessions.

Whether you’re focused on micromobility, connected data, EVs or regulatory trends, you’ll find it — and much more — across the main stage, breakout sessions and sponsored sessions. Here’s a taste of what to expect. Be sure to study the event agenda and start strategizing your schedule now.

Driving the Mobility Revolution with Connected Car Data: Bret Scott, Wejo VP, discusses the future of mobility and how connected car data impacts the world of autonomous, electric and shared cars.

Software is Revolutionizing the Driver Experience and Driving Mass Electrification: Software in EVs enables a shift from buying a car to investing in an experience. ChargePoint CEO, Pasquale Romano discusses how it’s driving adoption, revolutionizing behavior and keeping up with demand.

Uber’s City Footprint: Uber touches many aspects of the transportation ecosystem — autonomous vehicles, food delivery, trucking and traditional ride-hailing. Director of Policy, Cities & Transportation, Shin-pei Tsay discusses Uber’s place in cities and how she navigates various regulatory frameworks.

This virtual conference draws a global audience and thousands of attendees. Talk about the perfect place to build your network — an essential part of any successful career. Find that dream internship or exciting employment opportunities and explore more than 40 early-stage mobility startups in the expo area.

Take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free AI-enhanced networking platform. It’s an easy-to-use tool to find and connect with the people who can help you advance your startup aspirations. Stay focused and organized as you schedule 1:1 meetings, meet founders, pitch investors, discuss your resume and otherwise impress the pants off influential people.

Class is in session on October 6-7. Join your community, dazzle the experts and build a firm foundation for your future at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020. Purchase your student pass before the price increases on October 5 and save a chunk of cash.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

D-Wave launches its 5,000+ qubit Advantage system

By Frederic Lardinois

D-Wave today announced the launch of its new Advantage quantum computers. These new systems, with over 5,000 qubits and 15-way qubit connectivity, are now available in the company’s Leap cloud computing platform. That’s up from about 2,000 qubits in the previous system, which featured six-way connectivity. Using Leap’s hybrid solver, which combines classic CPUs and GPUs with the company’s quantum system, users can now solve significantly more complex problems, thanks to both the higher qubit and connection count.

“With over twice the number of qubits, with over twice the connectivity, with over five times the number of devices on the superconducting chip, we’re still able to program it in the same amount of time, read out in the same amount of time, run it at the same temperature — which means we’re able to continue scaling the technology,” said D-Wave CEO Alan Baratz, who is never afraid to compare his company’s systems against the competition. “This is a really important point because, over the years, there have been various so-called experts who have said that the D-Wave technology just wouldn’t scale. And yet, we’re the only quantum computing technology that has scaled.”

Image Credits: D-Wave Systems

Some of D-Wave’s competitors, who have scaled up their systems over time, will likely take offense with this, but it’s worth noting that D-Wave’s quantum annealing approach is quite different from what competitors are using.

As Baratz explained, this new processor was designed from the ground up, using a new fabrication stack.

Coming next month, D-Wave is also launching a major update to its solver, the discrete quadratic solver.

“Up until now our hybrid solver has worked on binary quadratic problems, problems where the variables were binary variables — zero or one, or plus and minus one, if you’re a physicist,” Baratz explained. You can scale this up by adding more variables, but that only lets you go so far. Now, with this new system, developers can use discrete variables with up to a million variables that D-Wave argues will expand the set of problems developers can tackle with its systems. Scheduling, for example, which is a sweet spot for D-Wave’s systems, is one area where companies can now solve significantly larger problems. Baratz also noted that protein folding is another area where users can now look at solving larger real-world problems, too.

Image Credits: D-Wave Systems

One of the companies using the system today for protein design is Menten AI.

“We are using quantum to design proteins today. Using hybrid quantum applications we’re able to solve astronomical protein design problems that help us create new protein structures,” said Hans Melo, the co-founder and CEO of Menten AI. “We’ve seen extremely encouraging results with hybrid quantum procedures often finding better solutions than competing classical solvers for de novo protein design. This means we can create better proteins and ultimately enable new drug discoveries.”

As for other real-world usages, Volkswagen, for example, is now using D-Wave’s hybrid solver to run its paint shop scheduling application, while Canada’s Save-On-Foods is piloting it to optimize some of its processes and speed up those calculations.

The other new product the company is launching is D-Wave Launch, a new white-glove service to help enterprises get started with quantum computing. D-Wave will pair up businesses with experts in a given area — and from partners like Accenture — to ensure that these users are successful.

“Up until now, a lot of the developers and customers of quantum computing have been the research part of the company that really just wanted to play with the systems, do some research and experimentation. But as you start moving into the part of the business that wants to build real business applications, those are the ones that we are looking for now,” Baratz explained.

 

 

Mental health startup eQuoo will be distributed by Unilever in new global youth campaign

By Mike Butcher

Last December (yes, in the before-times) UK-based mental health startup eQuoo had a round of announcements, becoming the NHS approved mental health game, as well as signing Barmer, the largest insurance company in Germany, as a client.

It’s now been selected as the Mental Health App for Unilever’s new global initiative aimed at the mental health of young people. The move came after Unilever’s People Data Centre (PDC) selected eQuoo out of all the mental health games on the Google Playstore, being, as it is, one of the few backed by scientific research. Unilever’s new brand campaign, which will feature eQuoo app – will be marketed to over 70,000 18 to 35-year olds.

“eQuoo teaches important skills in a fun and engaging way,” said Unilever’s Global PDC Search and Social Analyst, Janelle Tomayo. “The game teaches you how to become a better communicator using fictional characters to navigate through difficult circumstances with skills and storylines empirically based on current psychological research.”

Silja Litvin, founder and CEO of eQuoo said: “1 in 3 young adults experience an anxiety disorder, crippling and harming too many people at the cusp of their adult lives. Together eQuoo and Unilever will equip thousands of people with the personal resilience to manage the pressures of today’s world.”

PsycApps, which makes eQuoo, is a Digital Mental Health startup that is using gamification, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Positive Psychology and AI to treat mental illness, using evidence-based features. It’s achieved a top rating at ORCHA, the leading health app assessment platform and is also available through the GP EMIS data bank, meaning that NHS doctors can now refer their patients to eQuoo to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

The market for mental health-oriented games and apps is increasing considerably. AKILI, the first ADHD game for children, attained FDA approval. In June, the European Medicines Agency approved Akili’s digital therapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which uses a video game to treat the underlying cause of the condition. The European Commission has granted a CE mark for the game called EndeavorRx, allowing the product to be marketed in Europe.

Daily Crunch: Amazon unveils its own game-streaming platform

By Anthony Ha

Amazon announces a new game service and plenty of hardware upgrades, tech companies team up against app stores and United Airlines tests a program for rapid COVID-19 testing. This is your Daily Crunch for September 24, 2020.

The big story: Amazon unveils its own game-streaming platform

Amazon’s competitor to Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud is called Luna, and it’s available starting today at an early access price of $5.99 per month. Subscribers will be able to play games across PC, Mac and iOS, with more than 50 games in the library.

The company made the announcement at a virtual press event, where it also revealed a redesigned Echo line (with spherical speakers and swiveling screens), the latest Ring security camera and a new, lower-cost Fire TV Stick Lite.

You can also check out our full roundup of Amazon’s announcements.

The tech giants

App makers band together to fight for App Store changes with new ‘Coalition for App Fairness’ — Thirteen app publishers, including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, launched a coalition formalizing their efforts to force app store providers to change their policies or face regulation.

LinkedIn launches Stories, plus Zoom, BlueJeans and Teams video integrations as part of wider redesignLinkedIn has built its business around recruitment, so this redesign pushes engagement in other ways as it waits for the job economy to pick up.

Facebook gives more details about its efforts against hate speech before Myanmar’s general election — This includes adding Burmese language warning screens to flag information rated false by third-party fact-checkers.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Why isn’t Robinhood a verb yet? — The latest episode of Equity discusses a giant funding round for Robinhood.

Twitter-backed Indian social network ShareChat raises $40 million — Following TikTok’s ban in India, scores of startups have launched short-video apps, but ShareChat has clearly established dominance.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek pledges $1Bn of his wealth to back deeptech startups from Europe — Ek pointed to machine learning, biotechnology, materials sciences and energy as the sectors he’d like to invest in.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

3 founders on why they pursued alternative startup ownership structures — At Disrupt, we heard about alternative approaches to ensuring that VCs and early founders aren’t the only ones who benefit from startup success.

Coinbase UX teardown: 5 fails and how to fix them — Many of these lessons, including the need to avoid the “Get Started” trap, can be applied to other digital products.

As tech stocks dip, is insurtech startup Root targeting an IPO? — Alex Wilhelm writes that Root’s debut could clarify Lemonade’s IPO and valuation.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

United Airlines is making COVID-19 tests available to passengers, powered in part by Color — United is embarking on a new pilot project to see if easy access to COVID-19 testing immediately prior to a flight can help ease freedom of mobility.

Announcing the final agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 — TechCrunch reporters and editors will interview some of the top leaders in transportation.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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