posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
Tesla has withdrawn its request for a court-ordered restraining order against Randeep Hothi, documents submitted to the court where the complaint was filed revealed Friday. Hothi, an individual who is very vocal on social media about his short position in Tesla, had gone to extreme and potentially dangerous lengths in his avid attempts to collect materials to support his vocal criticism, according to the company. The Alameda County Superior Court actually granted Tesla a temporary injunction in this matter back in April, after Tesla filed a complaint with supporting documents supporting its assertion that Hothi had injured a guard during a hit-and-run incident in February, and that he nearly caused an accident by driving dangerously in pursuit of a Tesla Model 3 undertaking a test driven on April 16. After granting the temporary injunction based on Tesla’s description of events, supporting materials, and written affidavits submitted by employees, the court asked Tesla to produce both audio and video recordings related to these two incidents pursuant to a hearing. In withdrawing its complaint Friday, Tesla conveyed in documents filed with the court that it considered this requirement unnecessary in light of materials already provided, and an undue imposition on the privacy of their employees, since the recorded conversations regarding the incident contained “its employees’ private and personal conversations” as well as materials relating to the case. Tesla maintains in its letter to the court that it still believes “a restraining order against Mr. Hothi is necessary and appropriate to protect its employees at their workplace,” it says that faced with the choice between said protection and exposing their employees’ private conversations to further public scrutiny, it will instead opt to pursue the protection of their safety “through other means.” When contacted about the withdrawal, a Tesla spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company is now confident Hothi should be well aware at this stage that he’s not permitted to enter the company’s property, and that it will pursue legal action should he ever attempt to do so in future.

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posted about 4 hours ago on techcrunch
Introduced a few I/Os back, Fast Pair is Google’s attempt to make its own mark on the post-AirPod headphone landscape. Many of the features are similar to Apple’s offerings, but Google’s got a leg up in one key way: third-party hardware. Like Android, the company’s focused on bringing Fast Pair to as many manufacturers as possible. That list now includes Libratone, Jaybird, JBL (four models), Cleer, LG (four models), Anker (one pair of headphones and speaker) and, of course, Google’s own Pixel Buds. This week, the company announced a number of key features coming to Fast Pair headphones. A disappointing debut for Google’s Pixel Buds New this time around is Find My Device functionality, aimed at helping owners locate missing headsets. The app will show the time and location they were last in use, and will send out a chime from buds that are still in Bluetooth range. Also new is individual battery life for buds and case. Opening up the case near a paired handset will pop up that information. All of the above features will arrive on the 15 or so headphones that currently sport the feature.

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posted about 5 hours ago on techcrunch
There may be no “dark side” of the Moon, but when and where it is dark, it’s dark — and stays that way for two weeks. If we’re going to have colonists up there, they’ll need to stay warm and keep the lights (among other things) on for the long lunar night. Turns out bricks made of Moon dust could be part of the solution. Of course they will use the readily available solar power during the lunar day, and you might think that they could just charge up some batteries to last them through the night. But batteries are large and heavy — not the kind of thing you want to pack for a trip to the Moon. How else could lunar colonies store energy? The European Space Agency partnered with Azimut Space to find out whether a sort of improvised geothermal energy solution would be feasible. GPS on the Moon? NASA’s working on it The one thing they’ll have a lot of up there is dust — lunar regolith, to be precise. And thanks to samples brought back by the Apollo missions, we’re pretty familiar with the stuff. So the team simulated some using terrestrial materials to see what they could do with it. “In this study, we used Earth rock with comparable properties to Moon rock, crushed into a powder until the particles matched the size of those in the lunar regolith,” said the ESA’s Aidan Cowley, who oversaw the project. The faux-regolith was compressed into bricks, which were then wired up and heated using current like what they might be able to pull from solar cells on the Moon’s surface. The brick was then placed in an imitation lunar environment — near-vacuum and around -150 degrees C — and hooked up to a system that could withdraw heat from the bricks and convert it to electricity. “Using lunar regolith to store heat on the Moon would provide us with an abundance of readily-available material meaning space travelers wouldn’t need to take much from Earth,” said Azimut’s Luca Celotti. The ESA write-up says only that the process “worked well,” which isn’t particularly descriptive. I’ve contacted Azimut for more information. It seems, however, that if the method had worked but poorly, we wouldn’t be hearing about it at all. There are plenty of fundamental challenges in creating what amounts to an enormous, crude battery out of Moon dust, but if it works even marginally well it could become an important part of the energy and heat storage suite that any lunar colony would have to employ.

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posted about 7 hours ago on techcrunch
Customer experience management platform Medallia (NYSE: MDLA) rose more than 70% in its New York Stock Exchange debut Friday. The nearly two-decades-old business priced its shares at $21 apiece, the top of its proposed range, Thursday evening and traded as high as $39.54 the following morning. Medallia closed up roughly 76% at about $37 per share on Friday. Medallia sold a total of 15.5 million shares in its IPO, raising $326 million at a $2.5 billion valuation in the process. San Mateo-headquartered Medallia, led by chief executive officer Leslie Stretch, operates a platform meant to help businesses better provide for their customers. Its core product, the Medallia Experience Cloud, provides employees real-time data on customers collected from online review sites and social media. The service leverages that data to provide insights and tools to improve customer experiences. The company is backed by four venture capital firms: Sequoia Capital — which owned a roughly 40% pre-IPO stake — Saints Capital, TriplePoint Venture Growth and Grotmol Solutions, the latter which invested a small amount of capital in 2010. Medallia has raised a total of $268 million in equity funding, including a $70 million Series F funding earlier this year. Sequoia’s 40% stake was worth upwards of $1.8 billion at Medallia’s high price Friday.

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posted about 7 hours ago on techcrunch
Short-form video app TikTok, the fourth most downloaded app in the world as of last quarter, is working on several new seemingly Instagram-inspired features — including a Discover page, a grid-style layout similar to Instagram Explore, an Account Switcher, and more. The features were uncovered this week by reverse-engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong, who published screenshots of these features and others to Twitter. A TikTok spokesperson declined to offer further details on the company’s plans, but confirmed the features were things the company is working on. “We’re always experimenting with new ways to improve the app experience for our community,” the spokesperson said. The most notable change uncovered by Wong is one to TikTok’s algorithmically generated “For You” page. Today, users flip through each video on this page, one by one, in a vertical feed-style format. The updated version instead offers a grid-style layout, which looks more like Instagram’s Explore page. This design would also allow users to tap on the videos they wanted to watch, while more easily bypassing those they don’t. And because it puts more videos on the page, too, the change could quickly increase the amount of input into TikTok’s recommendation engine about a user’s preferences. TikTok is working on grid feed layout. It works like Instagram's Explore feed pic.twitter.com/gnhaRyiSx2 — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019   Another key change being developed is the addition of a “Discover” tab to TikTok’s main navigation. The new button appears to replace the current Search tab, which today is labeled with a magnifying glass icon. The Search section currently lets you enter keywords, and returns results that can be filtered by users, sounds, hashtags or videos. It also showcases trending hashtags on the main page. The “Discover” button, meanwhile, has a people icon on it, which hints that it could be helping users find new people to follow on TikTok, rather than just videos and sounds. TikTok is testing "Discover" tab pic.twitter.com/333WiPCvLn — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019 This change, if accurately described and made public, could be a big deal for TikTok creators, as it arrives at a time when the app has gained critical mass and has penetrated the mainstream. The younger generation has been caught up in TikTok, finding the TikTok stars more real and approachable than reigning YouTubers.  TikTokers and their fans even swarmed VidCon this month, leading some to wonder if a paradigm shift for online video was soon to come. A related feature, “Suggested Users” could also come into play here, in terms of highlighting top talent. TikTok is testing Suggested Users, Sounds and Hashtags in Search page pic.twitter.com/dQ1iCKUrJl — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019 Getting on an app’s “Suggested” list is often key to becoming a top creator on the platform. It’s how many Viners and Twitter users initially grew their follower bases, for instance. However, TikTok diverged from Instagram with the testing of two other new features Wong found which focused on popularity metrics. One test shows the “Like” counts on each video on the Sounds and Hashtags pages, and another shows the number of Downloads on the video itself, in addition to the Likes and Shares. TikTok is testing to SHOW like counts on each video on Sound and Hashtag page It's like the opposite of Instagram lol pic.twitter.com/6LWrEXgj2y — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019 TikTok is testing to show number of Downloads on videos pic.twitter.com/hPkBo09pNy — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019 This would be an interesting change in light of the competitive nature of social media. And its timing is significant. Instagram is now backing away from showing Like counts, in a test running in a half dozen countries. The company made the change in response to public pressure regarding the anxiety that using its service causes. Of course, in the early days of a social app, Like counts and other metrics are tools that help point users to the breakout, must-follow stars. They also encourage more posting as users try to find content that resonates — which then, in turn, boosts their online fame in a highly trackable way. TikTok is also taking note of how integrations with other social platforms could benefit its service, similar to how the Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger apps have offered features to drive traffic to one another and otherwise interoperate. A couple of features Wong found were focused on improving connections with social apps, including one that offered better integration with WhatsApp, and another that would allow users to link their account to Google and Facebook. TikTok is testing "Send to" section on Share UI, allowing sharing videos to individual WhatsApp friends pic.twitter.com/lBWRH6trcP — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019 A few other changes being tested included an Instagram-like Account switcher interface, a “Liked by Creator” comment badge, and a downgrade to the TikCode (QR code) which moves from the user profile the app’s settings. TikTok is testing Account Switcher pic.twitter.com/8F7YIeKCr7 — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019 TikTok is testing "Liked by creator" comment badge pic.twitter.com/u76L8btLXw — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019 TikTok is testing to move the TikCode button from Profile to Settings pic.twitter.com/TkAnV8BI5K — Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) July 18, 2019 Of course, one big caveat here with all of this is that just because a feature is spotted in the app’s code, that doesn’t mean it will launch to the public. Some of these changes may be tested privately, then scrapped entirely, or are still just works in progress. But being able to see a collection of experiments at one time like this — something that’s not possible without the sort of reverse engineering that Wong does — helps to paint a larger picture of the direction an app may be headed. In TikTok’s case, it seems to understand its potential, as well as when to borrow successful ideas from others who have come before it, and when to go its own direction.

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
We’ve got great news for all the time-strapped female founders out there. Yeah, we’re looking at you, sister. We’re extending the application deadline to apply for the All Raise “ask me anything” (AMA) sessions at Disrupt SF 2019. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to meet with a leading female VC and, well, ask her anything. Apply for an AMA session by August 15. Not familiar with All Raise? This startup nonprofit, dedicated to accelerating female founder success, will host a day-long AMA event on October 3 at Disrupt SF 2019 — in a dedicated section of Startup Alley. Each AMA session lasts 30 minutes and consists of three founders and one VC. All Raise expects more than 100 female founders to take part in at least 30 sessions scheduled throughout the day. Don’t bring your pitches, bring your questions — the kind of questions that keep you up at night. It’s a rare opportunity to ask a leading VC advice on topics like your next raise, key hires, your competition. Imagine receiving business advice from any of these female VCs: Dayna Grayson, NEA Susan Lyne, BBG Shauntel Garvey, Reach Capital Eurie Kim, Forerunner Jess Lee, Sequoia Kara Nortman, Upfront Sara Guo, Greylock, Anarghya Vardhana, Maveron Eva Ho, Fika Ventures Sarah Smith, Bain Capital Ventures Jess Lin, Work-Bench You can apply for an All Raise AMA session if you’re a U.S.-based woman founder and you’ve raised at least $250,000 in a seed, A or B round. All Raise gives special consideration to founders from underrepresented groups (e.g. Black, Latinx or LGBTQIA women). All Raise will review the applications and notify the founders. Acceptance is based on availability for session spots, investor fit with industry sector and company stage, as well as demand for certain categories. If you’re selected, your next step is to buy any pass to Disrupt SF (including Expo Only). All Raise will send an email to let you know what time they’ve scheduled your session. Networking opportunities of this caliber don’t come along very often — especially for women in tech. Build connections, learn from expert female VCs and move your startup forward. Take advantage of the deadline extension and apply for an AMA session before August 15. We want to see you in San Francisco! If you are interested in sponsoring this event or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2019, fill out this form to get in contact with our sales team.

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
Spotting and diagnosing cancer is a complex and difficult process even for the dedicated medical professionals who do it for a living. A new tool from Google researchers could improve the process by providing what amounts to reverse image search for suspicious or known cancerous cells. But it’s more than a simple matching algorithm. Part of the diagnosis process is often examining tissue samples under a microscope and looking for certain telltale signals or shapes that may indicate one or another form of cancer. This can be a long and arduous process because every cancer and every body is different, and the person inspecting the data must not only look at the patient’s cells but also compare them to known cancerous tissues from a database or even a printed book of samples. As has been amply demonstrated for years now, matching similar images to one another is a job well suited to machine learning agents. It’s what powers things like Google’s reverse image search, where you put in one picture and it finds ones that are visually similar. But this technique has also been used to automate processes in medicine, where a computer system can highlight areas of an X-ray or MRI that have patterns or features it has been trained to recognize. Chinese startup Infervision emerges from stealth with an AI tool for diagnosing lung cancer That’s all well and good, but the complexity of cancer pathology rules out simple pattern recognition between two samples. One may be from the pancreas, another from the lung, for example, meaning the two situations might be completely different despite being visually similar. And an experienced doctor’s “intuition” is not to be replaced, nor would the doctor suffer it to be replaced. Aware of both the opportunities and limitations here, Google’s research team built SMILY (Similar Medical Images Like Yours), which is a sort of heavily augmented reverse image search built specifically for tissue inspection and cancer diagnosis. A user puts into the system a new sample from a patient — a huge, high-resolution image of a slide on which a dyed section of tissue is laid out. (This method is standardized and has been for a long time — otherwise how could you compare any two?) Once it’s in the tool, the doctor can inspect it as they would normally, zooming in and panning around. When they see a section that piques their interest, they can draw a box around it and SMILY will perform its image-matching magic, comparing what’s inside the box to the entire corpus of the Cancer Genome Atlas, a huge database of tagged and anonymized samples. Similar-looking regions pop up in the sidebar, and the user can easily peruse them. That’s useful enough right there. But as the researchers found out while they were building SMILY, what doctors really needed was to be able to get far more granular in what they were looking for. Overall visual similarity isn’t the only thing that matters; specific features within the square may be what the user is looking for, or certain proportions or types of cells. As the researchers write: Users needed the ability to guide and refine the search results on a case-by-case basis in order to actually find what they were looking for…This need for iterative search refinement was rooted in how doctors often perform “iterative diagnosis”—by generating hypotheses, collecting data to test these hypotheses, exploring alternative hypotheses, and revisiting or retesting previous hypotheses in an iterative fashion. It became clear that, for SMILY to meet real user needs, it would need to support a different approach to user interaction. To this end the team added extra tools that let the user specify much more closely what they are interested in, and therefore what type of results the system should return. First, a user can select a single shape within the area they are concerned with, and the system will focus only on that, ignoring other features that may only be distractions. Second, the user can select from among the search results one that seems promising and the system will return more like it, less closely tied to the original query. This lets the user go down a sort of rabbit hole of cell features and types, doing that “iterative” process the researchers mentioned above. And third, the system was trained to understand when certain features are present in the search result, such as fused glands, tumor precursors, and so on. These can be included or excluded in the search — so if someone is sure it’s not related to this or that feature, they can just sweep all those examples off the table. In a study of pathologists given the tool to use, the results were promising. The doctors appeared to adopt the tool quickly, not only using its official capabilities but doing things like reshaping the query box to test the results or see if their intuition on a feature being common or troubling was right. “The tools were preferred over a traditional interface, without a loss in diagnostic accuracy,” the researchers write in their paper. It’s a good start, but clearly still only an experiment. The processes used for diagnosis are carefully guarded and vetted; you can’t just bring in a random new tool and change up the whole thing when people’s lives are on the line. Rather, this is merely a bright start for “future human-ML collaborative systems for expert decision-making,” which may at some point be put into service at hospitals and research centers. You can read the two papers describing SMILY and the doctor-focused refinements to SMILY here; they were originally presented at CHI 2019 in Glasgow earlier this year.

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
The fast-growing Indian hospitality business Oyo has garnered a valuation of $10 billion after its founder, Ritesh Agarwal, purchased $2 billion in shares from venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners, the company announced Friday. Agarwal, 25, founded Oyo in 2013 at the age of 19. Following immense growth of the now global hotel chain business, Agarwal opted to increase his 10% stake to 30% via a Cayman Islands company called RA Hospitality Holdings, according to The Wall Street Journal. SoftBank has also increased its percent ownership as part of this round, now owning nearly half of the company. Oyo has raised a whopping $1.6 billion in equity funding to date, reaching a valuation of $5 billion at its last funding round. Other investors in the company include Airbnb, Grab Holdings and Didi Chuxing. Oyo is active in 800 cities in 80 countries, with more than 23,000 hotels in its portfolio. Recently, the company announced plans to invest $300 million in the U.S. market, where it currently operates more than 50 Oyo Hotels in 35 cities and 10 states. Earlier this week, the Gurgaon-headquartered firm introduced Oyo Workspaces. The new entity was born out of its acquisition of Innov8, a co-working startup with more than 200 employees. The four-year-old startup was acquired for about $30 million, according to reporting by TechCrunch’s Manish Singh.

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
AutoX, the Hong Kong and San Jose, Calif.-based autonomous vehicle technology company, is pushing past its grocery delivery roots and into the AV supplier and robotaxi business. And now, it’s taking its business to Europe. AutoX has partnered with NEVS — the Swedish holding company and electric vehicle manufacturer that bought Saab’s assets out of bankruptcy — to deploy a robotaxi pilot service in Europe by the end of 2020. Under the exclusive partnership, AutoX will integrate its autonomous drive technology into a next-generation electric vehicle inspired by NEVS’s “InMotion” concept that was shown at CES Asia in 2017. This next-generation vehicle is being developed by NEVS in Trollhättan, Sweden. Testing of the autonomous NEVs vehicles will begin in the third quarter of 2019. The vehicles will hit public roads in Europe next year, the companies said.  AutoX founder and CEO Jianxiong Xiao, commonly referred to as Professor X, noted that this particular vehicle is ideal for an autonomous taxi service because it is purpose-built for this specific application, doesn’t produce tailpipe emissions, can be used 24 hours a day and can help reduce the number of vehicles in the streets. The companies ultimately want to deploy a large fleet of robotaxis globally. The partnership with NEVs is the latest sign that AutoX has broader ambitions for its autonomous vehicle technology than delivery services. AutoX launched in 2016 and was initially focused on using self-driving vehicles for delivering packages, namely groceries. Last August, the startup kicked off a grocery delivery and mobile store pilot in a limited area in San Jose in partnership with GrubMarket.com and local high-end grocery store DeMartini Orchard. But more recently, the company, which has raised about $58 million from venture and strategic investors, has expanded its plans. The company now wants to supply manufacturers with autonomous vehicle technology and launch its own robotaxi service. In June, AutoX became the second company to receive permission from California regulators to transport passengers in its robotaxis. AutoX is calling its California robotaxi service xTaxi. The California Public Utilities Commission has also granted Pony.ai, Waymo and Zoox permits to participate in the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, which prohibits the companies from charging for these robotaxi rides. Professor X has previously said his mission is to open up autonomous vehicles to everyone, and so this expansion shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a goal the company contends can be reached using economical (and better) hardware. The company does use light detection and ranging radar, known as lidar. But instead of loading up its self-driving vehicles with numerous expensive lidar units, AutoX relies more on cameras, which it argues have better resolution. The company’s proprietary AI algorithms tie everything together. For now, the xTaxi pilot in California will be rather limited. It will operate in the same operational design domain as the delivery service in San Jose, an area of about five square miles. But the company clearly has ambitions to expand both in size and geographic reach. AutoX has more than 115 employees, and plans to hire more than 50 people this year. The company is also working with San Jose city government to launch another pilot downtown. It has yet to reveal details, although the pilot could launch as early as next month. AutoX also has a permit to operate a robotaxi service in Shenzhen, China. It’s not clear whether the company will operate this service on its own or follow the model it set in Europe with NEVS. It’s possible AutoX will partner with BYD in China. AutoX is already working with the Chinese company to integrate its AV tech into BYD vehicles.

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
Deborah Eisenberg Contributor Share on Twitter Deborah Eisenberg is the founder of TechStarts PR, where she helps technology companies both big and small hone their message and reach their audience. There comes a time for many startup companies where they either realize they need to do a nationwide roll-out, or they need to actively target buyers in the middle of the country. If you are a startup on either the east or the west coasts, it’s worth thinking about how this market might present its own set of unique challenges, and how you plan to overcome them. There are a lot of misconceptions about what some people call “flyover country”, and as a San Francisco native who spent two decades in NY, DC, and Boston before moving to Pittsburgh, I can assure you they are almost all wrong. Without getting into specifics, the reality of “middle America” is that it’s the same as anywhere else. Income, education, world view, and waistlines are all varied. It’s pretty accurate that San Francisco possesses a culture obsessed with fitness and entrepreneurship. But, California isn’t necessarily all like that, and if you think it is, I encourage you to go to Bakersfield, the Central Valley, or Eureka sometime. In addition, just because the stereotypes are wrong doesn’t mean there’s nothing different about doing business here. As you think about how to conduct your rollout, here are some things you should consider: Table of Contents Research Audience  Launch Calendar Advertising  Youth Public Relations Pitfalls Research As with any market, research is key since it informs every other aspect of the rollout. Start by looking into who your competition is. Since there are fewer VC backed startups in middle America, and smaller companies tend to get less press, the research may be harder. However, there are some major universities that are actively putting money into their own Entrepreneurship programs and those spinoffs often do very well.

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
Lyft has announced an expansion of its new program designed to make airports pickups less confusing for riders and drivers alike, by directing riders to a designated pickup spot where they’ll show the driver a PIN code. The program is launching this weekend at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, the company says, and the plan to roll out a similar experience at other airports in the future still remains. Starting on Saturday, July 20 at LaGuardia, users who request a Lyft ride won’t have to search for their vehicle at the usual and often busy pickup areas. Instead, they’ll be directed through the Lyft app to a designated Lyft pickup spot line, located in the Terminal B Garage, Area G. A screen will pop-up after the user enters their ride request and destination that explains how to get to the Lyft pickup area, and will display a button that says “Get Code.” Riders tap this button for a unique code they’ll show their driver which matches them to that ride. This way, Lyft users can hop in the first available car as opposed to waiting for a particular driver to arrive. The company says it will have Lyft ambassadors on hand to assist, as the new program rolls out. The end result is effectively a ride-sharing alternative to an airport taxi line. It also comes shortly after Lyft announced a similar program in May in partnership with the Portland International Airport (PDX), as did Uber. That made Portland the first U.S. airport to participate in Uber’s pilot, following its trials of PIN pickups in Bangalore. LaGuardia, meanwhile, will be the first East Coast airport to offer such an option, according to reports. Only standard Lyft rides are available for the feature, Lyft notes. The company didn’t say what other airports will receive the feature in the future. But it may not always make sense, as it requires the airport to offer a designated pickup spot — and capacity for that could be limited in some cases. In addition, the location of the pickup spot plays a key role as to whether such a feature is even useful, as both Uber and Lyft are now finding out. Both companies have been making the headlines in recent days due to their pickup problems at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), following their move to a new pickup location. With wait times pushing 24-28 minutes, both services saw increased cancellations, according to local reports. Meanwhile, LaGuardia has been experiencing all kinds of problems of its own, but related to construction. This included traffic backups that led to Uber and Lyft drivers getting stuck trying to get to the pickup spot. Because of these problems, LaGuardia may not have been the best airport for this latest expansion, as Lyft won’t know the feature’s true impact on efficiency for some time.

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
Shahin Farshchi Contributor Shahin Farshchi is a partner at Lux Capital. More posts by this contributor Four ways to bridge the widening valley of death for startups Investing in frontier technology is (and isn’t) cleantech all over again Sense and compute are the electronic eyes and ears that will be the ultimate power behind automating menial work and encouraging humans to cultivate their creativity.  These new capabilities for machines will depend on the best and brightest talent and investors who are building and financing companies aiming to deliver the AI chips destined to be the neurons and synapses of robotic brains. Like any other herculean task, this one is expected to come with big rewards.  And it will bring with it big promises, outrageous claims, and suspect results. Right now, it’s still the Wild West when it comes to measuring AI chips up against each other. Remember laptop shopping before Apple made it easy? Cores, buses, gigabytes and GHz have given way to “Pro” and “Air.” Not so for AI chips. Roboticists are struggling to make heads and tails out of the claims made by AI chip companies.  Every passing day without autonomous cars puts more lives at risk of human drivers. Factories want humans to be more productive while out of harm’s way. Amazon wants to get as close as possible to Star Trek’s replicator by getting products to consumers faster. A key component of that is the AI chips that will power them.  A talented engineer making a bet on her career to build AI chips, an investor looking to underwrite the best AI chip company, and AV developers seeking the best AI chips, need objective measures to make important decisions that can have huge consequences.  A metric that gets thrown around frequently is TOPS, or trillions of operations per second, to measure performance.  TOPS/W, or trillions of operations per second per Watt, is used to measure energy efficiency. These metrics are as ambiguous as they sound.  What are the operations being performed on? What’s an operation? Under what circumstances are these operations being performed? How does the timing by which you schedule these operations impact the function you are trying to perform?  Is your chip equipped with the expensive memory it needs to maintain performance when running “real-world” models? Phrased differently, do these chips actually deliver these performance numbers in the intended application? Image via Getty Images / antoniokhr What’s an operation? The core mathematical function performed in training and running neural networks is a convolution, which is simply a sum of multiplications. A multiplication itself is a bunch of summations (or accumulation), so are all the summations being lumped together as one “operation,” or does each summation count as an operation? This little detail can result in difference of 2x or more in a TOPS calculation. For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll use a complete multiply and accumulate (or MAC), as “two operations.”  What are the conditions? Is this chip operating full-bore at close to a volt or is it sipping electrons at half a volt? Will there be sophisticated cooling or is it expected to bake in the sun? Running chips hot, and tricking electrons into them, slows them down.  Conversely, operating at modest temperature while being generous with power, allows you to extract better performance out of a given design. Furthermore, does the energy measurement include loading up and preparing for an operation? As you will see below, overhead from “prep” can be as costly as performing the operation itself. What’s the utilization? Here is where it gets confusing.  Just because a chip is rated at a certain number of TOPS, it doesn’t necessarily mean that when you give it a real-world problem, it can actually deliver the equivalent of the TOPS advertised.  Why? It’s not just about TOPS. It has to do with fetching the weights, or values against which operations are performed, out of memory and setting up the system to perform the calculation. This is a function of what the chip is being used for. Usually, this “setup” takes more time than the process itself.  The workaround is simple: fetch the weights and set up the system for a bunch of calculations, then do a bunch of calculations. Problem with that is that you’re sitting around while everything is being fetched, and then you’re going through the calculations.   Flex Logix (my firm Lux Capital is an investor) compares the Nvidia Tesla T4’s actual delivered TOPS performance vs. the 130 TOPS it advertises on its website. They use ResNet-50, a common framework used in computer vision: it requires 3.5 billion MACs (equivalent to two operations, per above explanation of a MAC) for a modest 224×224 pixel image. That’s 7 billion operations per image.  The Tesla T4 is rated at 3,920 images/second, so multiply that by the required 7 billion operations per image, and you’re at 27,440 billion operations per second, or 27 TOPS, well shy of the advertised 130 TOPS.   Batching is a technique where data and weights are loaded into the processor for several computation cycles.  This allows you to make the most of compute capacity, BUT at the expense of added cycles to load up the weights and perform the computations.  Therefore if your hardware can do 100 TOPS, memory and throughput constraints can lead you to only getting a fraction of the nameplate TOPS performance. Where did the TOPS go? Scheduling, also known as batching, of the setup and loading up the weights followed by the actual number crunching takes us down to a fraction of the speed the core can perform. Some chipmakers overcome this problem by putting a bunch of fast, expensive SRAM on chip, rather than slow, but cheap off-chip DRAM.  But chips with a ton of SRAM, like those from Graphcore and Cerebras, are big and expensive, and more conducive to datacenters.   There are, however, interesting solutions that some chip companies are pursuing: Compilers: Traditional compilers translate instructions into machine code to run on a processor.  With modern multi-core processors, multi-threading has become commonplace, but “scheduling” on a many-core processor is far simpler than the batching we describe above.  Many AI chip companies are relying on generic compilers from Google and Facebook, which will result in many chips companies offering products that perform about the same in real-world conditions.  Chip companies that build proprietary, advanced compilers specific to their hardware, and offer powerful tools to developers for a variety of applications to make the most of their silicon and Watts will certainly have a distinct edge. Applications will range from driverless cars to factory inspection to manufacturing robotics to logistics automation to household robots to security cameras.   New compute paradigms: Simply jamming a bunch of memory close to a bunch of compute results in big chips that sap up a bunch of power.  Digital design is one of tradeoffs, so how can you have your lunch and eat it too? Get creative. Mythic (my firm Lux is an investor) is performing the multiply and accumulates inside of embedded flash memory using analog computation. This empowers them to get superior speed and energy performance on older technology nodes.  Other companies are doing fancy analog and photonics to escape from the grips of Moore’s Law. Ultimately, if you’re doing conventional digital design, you’re limited by a single physical constraint: the speed at which charge travels through a transistor at a given process node. Everything else is optimization for a given application.  Want to be good at multiple applications? Think outside the VLSI box!

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
Parrot announced the AR.Drone back at CES 2010, three years before DJI’s Phantom 1. It was a seemingly odd move by a company best known for making bluetooth speakers and headsets, but over the years it’s continued to release fairly novel takes on the growing category. Two years back, the French company announced its intentions to shift product away from consumer focused device. Since then, it’s been slowly scaling things back, this week confirming a Wirecutter report that it’s leaving the toys behind. [email protected] got official confirmation today that @Parrot is indeed pulling out of the mini drone market. Websites like Amazon have slowly been running out of stock. We'll be retiring the Mambo and Swing as our top picks and testing new drones soon. https://t.co/WbvyIxs3Fj — Signe Brewster (@signe) July 18, 2019 No doubt seeing an insurmountable challenge from China’s DJI, the company is shuttering all drone lines but Anafi. While the line closely resembles DJI’s Mavic products, Parrot has begun to position the foldable quadcopter at enterprise uses. As we noted in April, the addition of a Flir thermal camera finds the company targeting construction workers and firefighters. The move comes as the consumer and hobbyist market continues to grow, but those numbers have been utterly dominated by DJI’s offerings in recent years. Of course, DJI has also been tackling the B2B space, both with souped up versions of the Mavic line and higher payload devices like the Matrice and Inspire. Those products can perform a wide range of different tasks, from pesticide spraying to search and rescue.

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
Gaurav Maken, the chief executive officer of the online vegan grocery store, Mylk Guys, doesn’t think of his company as a place to just buy food. For him, it’s a testing ground and platform for all of the new food products he expects to be developed as startup entrepreneurs and established food companies start tackling the plant-based and alternative meat market in earnest. The company has raised $2.5 million in support of that vision from investors including Khosla Ventures, Pear Ventures, and Fifty Years. “Today we’re an online grocery store,” says Maken. “We are also a place for cultured meats and any genetically engineered food that allows us to scale our food production and allows us to keep feeding people.” Maken isn’t wedded to plant-based products and envisions a virtual store stocked with products that create more sustainable consumption options for its customers. In fact, 40% of the company’s customers are not vegan, according to Maken. .  “We don’t only think about vegans. We think about sustainable food systems,” says Maken. “Our audience is an educated consumer who wants to have less of an impact from their diet… They’re just folks trying to do better with their eating habits.” Right now, the company sells around 1300 products through its site. And the pitch that Maken makes to suppliers is that they can access the data around their customers (unlike other online retailers whose name rhymes with shmamazon). “We provide analytics and a way for brands to unlock the data coming from their customers,” Maken says. “Our focus is how can we get you a personalized staple that works for you.”  The company’s top sellers are vegan cheeses like Sparrow Camembert, lines of vegan jerkies, and the Beyond Burger, Maken said. “You can build brands that are successful that are $1 million brands or $5 million brands and the reason why you haven’t is because they haven’t had the platform to provide national distribution to be successful,” says Maken.   Mylk Guys launched in 2018 and went through the Y Combinator accelerator program. Now, with its new capital, the company is focusing on expanding its sales and marketing on the East Coast. Opening a new warehouse for distribution and reaching out to the vegan community on the Eastern Seaboard. The model for selling more sustainable foods directly to the consumer has at least one precedent. Los Angeles-based Thrive Market raised $111 million in a 2016 round of funding for its online sustainable product-focused grocery store. As recent reports indicate, the sustainable food business is only growing. Citing reports from Ecovia Intelligence, the publication Environmental Leader reported that organic food sales topped $100 billion for the first time in 2018.

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Twitter is testing a new way to make conversation threads easier to follow, with the launch of a new test that labels notable replies with special icons. If the original poster replies somewhere in the thread, their tweet will have a small microphone icon next to their profile picture. Other tweets may be labeled, as well — including those from users who were mentioned in the original tweet and replies from people you’re already following on Twitter. These will be labeled with the at symbol (@) and a small person icon with a checkmark by it, respectively. The new test is the latest in a series of experiments Twitter has been running focused on making its product easier to use, particularly when conversations around a tweet become lengthy. At the beginning of this year, the company first began a test where it labeled the original poster in a conversation thread as the “Original Tweeter.” That may have been a bit too confusing for some, because a few months later, Twitter changed it to “Author.” It then also added two other labels, for people who were mentioned in the original tweet, and those replies from people you’re following. We're testing icons instead of labels within replies. Check it out and let us know what you think! pic.twitter.com/5CBoTZ40Hq — Twitter (@Twitter) July 18, 2019 These, however, were text labels — meaning they took up valuable screen space on small mobile devices. They also cluttered up the already text-heavy interface with more distracting text to read. The new icons don’t have that problem. But they’re also small and light gray and white in color, which makes them hard to see. In addition, their meaning isn’t necessarily clear to anyone who doesn’t hang around online forums like Reddit, for example, where it’s common to use a microphone to showcase the original poster’s follow-up comments. It’s also unclear why Twitter thinks users are clamoring to see this information. Highlighting the original poster is fine, I guess, but the other labels seem extraneous. While this is a minor change, it’s one of many things Twitter is tweaking in the hopes of making its service simpler and more approachable. It’s also running an experimental prototype app called twttr where it’s trying out new ideas around threaded conversations, like using color-coded replies or branching lines to connect tweets and their responses. A lot of these changes feel a little unnecessary. Twitter isn’t as difficult to understand as the company believes it is. At the end of the day, it’s a way to publish a public status update and reply to those others have posted. That’s its core value proposition — not live streaming video, not its clickable newsreels it calls “Moments,” and not its article bookmarking tools. Those are useful and fun additions, sure, but optional. Instead, Twitter’s challenges around user growth aren’t because the service is overly complex, but because a public platform like this is rife for issues around online bullying and abuse, disinformation and propaganda, hate speech, spambots, and everything else that an unmoderated forum would face. Twitter tests are live now, but not be showing for all users.

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Twitter’s self-service tools when it comes to blocking content you don’t want to see, as well as a growing tendency for users to delete a lot of the content they post, is making some of the conversations on the platform look like Swiss cheese. The company says it will introduce added “context” on content that’s unavailable in conversations in the next few weeks, however, to help make these gaps at least less mystifying. There are any number of reasons why tweets in a conversation you stumble upon might not be viewable, including that a poster has a private account, that the tweet was taken down due to a policy violation, that it was deleted after the fact or that specific keywords are muted by a user and present in those posts. We're fixing the issue where you see so many "This Tweet is unavailable" notices in conversations. This is usually due to deleted or protected Tweets, or muted keywords. In a few weeks, you'll start seeing more context on each notice to help explain why Tweets are unavailable. https://t.co/0iW8Eclwvg — Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) July 18, 2019 Twitter’s support account notes that the fix will involve providing “more context” alongside the notice that tweets in the conversation are “unavailable,” which, especially when presented in high volume, doesn’t really offer much help to a confused user. Last year, Twitter introduced a new process for adding additional context and transparency to why an individual tweet was deleted, and it generally seems interested in making sure that conversations on the platform are both easy to follow, and easy to access and understand for users who may not be as familiar with Twitter’s behind-the-scenes machinations.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Seems Hongmeng isn’t the Android replacement it’s been pitched as, after all. The initial story certainly tracked, as Huawei has been preparing for the very real possibility of life after Google, but the Chinese hardware giant says the operating system is primarily focused on industrial use. The latest report arrives courtesy of Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, which notes that the OS has been in development for far longer than the Trump-led Huawei ban has been in effect. Hongmeng is a relatively simple operating system compared to the likes of Android, according to SVP, Catherine Chen. The news echoes another recent report that Huawei had initially developed the software for use on IoT devices. None of this means that Huawei isn’t working on a full mobile operating system, of course. Or that the sees of this new OS couldn’t be adapted to do more. And given the recent news, such a move would be a pretty good use of the company’s vast resources. After all, it’s no doubt seen the writing on the wall for some time. While no one anticipated that such a ban would arrive so suddenly, questions about the company have been floated in security circles for years now. New restrictions from the Trump administration barred Huawei from working with American companies like Google, but temporary reprieves have allowed the smartphone maker to employ Android services — at least temporarily. Questions about the company’s health are still very much up in the air, however, as the ban ramps back up.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Chinese space station’s Tiangong-2 has officially ended its mission, and the orbital research facility’s entire existence. The platform de-orbited and burned up as planned at just after 9 AM ET on Friday, coming down over the South Pacific Ocean, as confirmed by the official Chinese space agency. The station weighed around 9 U.S. tons at the time it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, but even so it was small enough that it almost entirely burned up in the process. Tiangong-2 was relatively small for a space station (when measured against the ISS), consisting of just a research module with enough space on board for only two astronauts on board. After about 1,000 days in space, Tiangong-2 had exceeded its planned lifespan, and China’s space agency planned this de-orbit – in contrast to Tiangong-1’s de-orbit last year, which was not planned (though ultimately not a risk to anyone on the ground, either). Both of these, and the forthcoming Tiangong-3, are intended as temporary orbital stations designed for testing key technologies in pursuit of the ‘real’ Chinese space station – which is set to begin its mission life in 2020 with the launch of the Tianhe-1 core module.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
China is BMW’s largest market, and the German automaker knows in order to capture the country’s demanding consumers, its future models must support robust autonomous driving capability. But to build it itself in China is hardly possible. The success of autonomous driving relies in part on high-definition mapping, a process that requires an expansive collection of geographic information. By law, foreign entities can’t host China-based data without local partnerships. Apple noticeably works with a Chinese firm to store user emails, text messages and other forms of digital footprint in the country. That appears to be one of the catalysts for BMW’s new partnership with Tencent. The Chinese tech giant, which is best known for WeChat and runs an expanding cloud computing business, said on Friday it’s setting up a data computing and storage platform for the German premium carmaker. Reuters reported that the pair plans to launch the computing center by the end of this year in Tianjin, a port city near Beijing. The tie-up came months after BMW’s earlier data expansion in the world’s largest passenger car market. In February, Here — a Google Maps alternative partly owned by BWM — joined forces with Chinese navigation service Navinfo which would help Here collect data locally. It’s perhaps by no coincidence that Navinfo and Tencent both bought small shares in Here three years ago. As BMW gets more familiar with China’s road conditions, there’s no reason why it won’t apply those data to its freshly minted ride-hailing venture. BMW’s premium ride-hailing service is now live in China Teaming up with BMW can be a big win for Tencent, which has been placing more focus on enterprise-facing endeavors as its main gaming business copes with regulatory pressure. In the world of transportation, “Tencent is committed to assisting automotive companies in the digital transformation,” said Dowson Tong, the company’s president of Cloud and Smart Industry, in a statement. Another relationship BMW has previously sought after another Chinese tech leader to automate its vehicles. It has been working with Baidu, the country’s largest search engine provider with a growing list of artificial intelligence initiatives, on automated driving since 2014. Last October, the duo ramped up their alliance after the German automaker joined Baidu’s autonomous driving open platform Apollo . The deal carried larger diplomatic significance as it came about during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit in Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Baidu president Zhang Yaqin said at the time the deal was meant to “accelerate the development of autonomous driving technologies that align with the Chinese market.” BMW’s relationship with Tencent, on the other hand, has previously played out on other fronts including joint research into autonomous driving security and testing that involved Tencent’s noted Keen Security Lab. Baidu and Tencent don’t compete directly for their core businesses, but both are making a big push into the future of mobility, whether the effort pertains to in-car entertainment or self-driving. It’s not uncommon for tech rivals in China to target the same partner. A spokeswoman for BMW told TechCrunch that “there is no overlap in the collaboration” and the German firm is “cooperating with different top-notch Chinese companies in different fields.” Indeed, the setup with Tencent seems more comprehensive at first glance. The Chinese company is providing “IT architecture, tools and platforms supporting the entire process of [BMW’s] automated driving research and development,” according to the spokeswoman. When it comes to Baidu, she cited an example of the pair working on a self-driving safety white paper that also involved ten other partners. That might be a roundabout way of saying that the Baidu alliance is looser. It’s worth pointing out that BMW isn’t unique to Apollo, which bills itself as the “Android for autonomous cars” and now counts more than 100 auto partners from across the world. A large network helps generate conversations and potential leads down the road, but keeping it this way could compromise the depth of “collaboration” — a word that’s too often co-opted by publicists. As Cao Xudong, founder of Chinese autonomous driving unicorn Momenta, told TechCrunch earlier, collaboration in the auto sector “demands deep, resource-intensive collaboration, so less [fewer partnerships] is believed to be more.” What about the other heavyweight Alibaba, which also wants to own the future of driving? The Chinese e-commerce and cloud computing company has become pally with state-owned carmaker SAIC, with which it has set up a joint venture called Banma to create autonomous driving solutions. This existing marriage means BMW will unlikely tap Alibaba for automation, an employee at a major Chinese self-driving startup suggested to me.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Virgin Orbit, the small satellite launch company backed by billionaire Richard Branson, has signed an initial agreement to develop small satellite launch capabilities for the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF). The deal, which is part of the RAF’s Artemis project, will see Virgin Orbit aim to launch hardware provided by Guildford, UK-based Surrey Satellites in a demo mission. This is in keeping with Virgin Orbit’s stated hope to bring spacecraft launch capabilities to the UK. The closest the UK has come is when it launched a British satellite aboard a British rocket in 1971 – but that took off from a launchpad in Australia. Virgin Orbit announced a deal to build a new Spaceport from which its modified 747 launch aircraft will take-off in Cornwall, with a target open date of early next decade. Virgin Orbit’s method for launching doesn’t involve terrestrial rockets at all, which helps a lot with the cost of infrastructure (since you basically just need a traditional airfield). Basically, a smaller rocket is attached to the wing of a modified Boeing 747, which then separates at a high cruising altitude and blasts the rest of the relatively short way to low-Earth orbit carrying light payloads. The method doesn’t work to get big, heavy satellites into space (which, somewhat ironically in this case, are the kind typically sent up by government and military agencies). But it’s perfect for sending smaller satellites, which have become popular because of their cost benefits in terms of both construction and launch price.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. It’s a good week here at Equity HQ because our two co-hosts are both back at the same time! Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm, after each of them taking some time off, led the show today, digging into a wealth of news and happenings. Here’s a quick rundown of what happened on the show this week! Postmates is still working on its IPO! Despite some reports indicating that the popular on-demand delivery company was talking to rival players about a possible sale, the company’s CEO said this week that his firm is still looking to go public. (It’s also picking up money this year, and talent.) Selfishly we love this, as we want to read its S-1 and see its numbers, something that wouldn’t happen if it wound up subsumed into a larger company. Say, Uber for example. DouYu priced its IPO at the low-end of its range, but the offering did add lots of new capital to its coffers. Not every IPO raises its range and prices above the heightened interval, DouYu reminds us. But the company’s debut is yet another China-based unicorn going public on the U.S. markets, so we had no choice but to pay attention to the streaming and esports-themed company. Recall that Huya, a similar company, went public previously (more here). CrowdStrike’s first earnings report was a success. The cybersecurity business focused on endpoint protection posted revenues of $96.1 million on GAAP net losses of $26 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020. The company, if you remember, completed a $612 million NASDAQ initial public offering in June. The next unicorn list contains some obvious companies (Rothy’s, Next Trucking, etc.) and some surprise entries (Lattice?). 100 Thieves has lots of new money, and esports is cool. That’s a quick summary, but in detail, the firm added a $35 million Series B to its accounts less than a year after it raised a $25 million Series A. When a firm raises an extra round that quickly, it usually means things are going well. Patreon raised a big new round. You’re all familiar with Patreon, a platform that supports creators. Can a pivot toward SaaS accelerate its path toward a billion-dollar valuation? We think so. Substack, a plucky favorite of the journalist scene, has fresh capital! Because both Alex and Kate are authors of their very own newsletters (yes, they have a podcast too, sorry), they had plenty of thoughts about this one. Next week Kate and Alex are back and we may even have a special guest back with us. So make sure you are subscribed, and we’ll be right back in just seven days. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.  

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
It’s the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing, and Nvidia is using the anniversary to showing off the power of its current GPU technology. Using the RTX real-time ray tracing, which was the topic of the day at its recent GTC Conference. Nvidia employed its latest tech to make big improvements to the moon-landing demo it created five years ago and refined last year to demonstrate its Turing GPU architecture. The resulting simulation is a fully interactive graphic demo that models sunlight in real-time, providing a cinematic and realistic depiction of the Moon landing complete with accurate shadows, visor and metal surface reflections, and more. Already, Nvidia had put a lot of work into this simulation, which runs on some of its most advanced graphics hardware. When the team began constructing the virtual environment, they studied the lander, the actual reflectivity of astronaut’s space suits and the properties of the Moon’s surface dust and terrain. With its real-time ray-tracing, they can now scrub the sun’s relative position back and forth and have every surface reflect light the way it actually would. [gallery ids="1857795,1857794,1857793,1857792"] Idiot conspiracy theorists may still falsely argue that the original was a stage show, but Nvidia’s recreation is the real wizardry, potentially providing a ‘more real than archival’ look at something only a dozen people have actually experienced.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Contract management isn’t exactly an exciting subject, but it’s a real pain point for many companies. It also lends itself to automation, thanks to recent advances in machine learning and natural language processing. It’s no surprise then, that we see renewed interest in this space and that investors are putting more money into it. Earlier this week, Icertis raised a $115 million Series E round, for example, at a valuation of more than $1 billion. Icertis has been in this business for ten years, though. On the other end of the spectrum, contract management startup Lexion today announced that it has raised a $4.2 million seed round led by Madrona Venture Group and law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which was also one of the first users of the product. Lexion was incubated at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), one of the late Microsoft co-founders’ four scientific research institutes. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Gaurav Oberoi, is a bit of a serial entrepreneur, whose first startup, BillMonk, was first featured on TechCrunch back in 2006. His second go-around was Precision Polling, which SurveyMonkey then acquired shortly after it launched. Oberoi founded the company together with former Microsoft research software development engineering lead Emad Elwany, and engineering veteran James Baird. “Gaurav, Emad, and James are just the kind of entrepreneurs we love to back: smart, customer obsessed and attacking a big market with cutting edge technology,” said Madrona Venture Group managing director Tim Porter. “AI2 is turning out some of the best applied machine learning solutions, and contract management is a perfect example – it’s a huge issue for companies at every size and the demand for visibility into contracts is only increasing as companies face growing regulatory and compliance pressures.” Contract management is becoming a bit of a crowded space, though, something Oberoi acknowledge. But he argues that Lexion is tackling a different market from many of its competitors. “We think there’s growing demand and a big opportunity in the mid-market,” he said. “I think similar to how back in the 2000s, Siebel or other companies offered very expensive CRM software and now you have Salesforce — and now Salesforce is the expensive version — and you have this long tail of products in the mid-market. I think the same is happening to contracts. […] We’re working with companies that are as small as post-seed or post-Series A to a publicly-traded company.” Given that it handles plenty of highly confidential information, it’s no surprise that Lexion says that it takes security very seriously. “I think, something that all young startups that are selling into business or enterprise in 2019 need to address upfront,” Oberoi said. “We realized, even before we raised funding and got very serious about growing this business, that security has to be part of our DNA and culture from the get-go.” He also noted that every new feature and product iteration at Lexion goes through a security review. Like most startups at this stage, Lexion plans to invest the new funding into building out its product — and especially its AI engine — and go-to-market and sales strategy.

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
The UK’s next prime minister must prioritize a decision on whether or not to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to be a 5G supplier, a parliamentary committee has urged — warning that the country’s international relations are being “seriously damaged” by ongoing delay. In a statement on 5G suppliers, the Intelligence and Security committee (ISC) writes that the government must take a decision “as a matter of urgency”. Earlier this week another parliamentary committee, which focuses on science and technology, concluded there is no technical reason to exclude Huawei as a 5G supplier, despite security concerns attached to the company’s ties to the Chinese state, though it did recommend it be excluded from core 5G supply. The delay in the UK settling on a 5G supplier policy can be linked not only to the complexities of trying to weight and balance security considers with geopolitical pressures but also ongoing turmoil in domestic politics, following the 2016 EU referendum Brexit vote — which continues to suck most of the political oxygen out of Westminster. (And will very soon have despatched two UK prime ministers in three years.) Outgoing PM Theresa May, whose successor is due to be selected by a vote by Conservative Party members next week, appeared to be leaning towards giving Huawei an amber light earlier this year. A leak to the press from a National Security Council meeting back in April suggested Huawei would be allowed to provide kit but only for non-core parts of 5G networks — raising questions about how core and non-core are delineated in the next-gen networks. The leak led to the sacking by May of the then defense minister, Gavin Williamson, after an investigation into confidential information being passed to the media in which she said she had lost confidence in him. The publication of a government Telecoms Supply Chain Review, whose terms of reference were published last fall, has also been delayed — leading to carriers to press the government for greater clarity last month. But with May herself now on the way out, having agreed to step down as PM back in May, the decision on 5G supply is on hold. It will be down to either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining contenders to take over as PM, to choose whether or not to let the Chinese tech giant supply UK 5G networks. Whichever of the men wins the vote they will arrive in the top job needing to give their full attention to finding a way out of the Brexit morass — with a mere three months til a October 31 Brexit extension deadline looming. So there’s a risk 5G may not seem as urgent an issue and a decision again be kicked back. In its statement on 5G supply, the ISC backs the view expressed by the public-facing branch of the UK’s intelligence service that network security is not dependent on any one supplier being excluded from building it — writing that: “The National Cyber Security Centre… has been clear that the security of the UK’s telecommunications network is not about one company or one country: the ‘flag of origin’ for telecommunications equipment is not the critical element in determining cyber security.” The committee argues that “some parts of the network will require greater protection” — writing that “critical functions cannot be put at risk” but also that there are “less sensitive functions where more risk can be carried”, albeit without specifying what those latter functions might be. “It is this distinction — between the sensitivity of the functions — that must determine security, rather than where in the network those functions are located: notions of ‘core’ and ‘edge’ ate therefore misleading in this context,” it adds. “We should therefore be thinking of different levels of security, rather than a one size fits all approach, within a network that has been built to be resilient to attack, such that no single action could disable the system.” The committee’s statement also backs the view that the best way to achieve network resilience is to support diversity in the supply chain — i.e. by supporting more competition. But at the same time it emphasizes that the 5G supply decision “cannot be viewed solely through a technical lens — because it is not simply a decision about telecommunications equipment”. “This is a geostrategic decision, the ramifications of which may be felt for decades to come,” it warns, raising concerns about the perceptions of UK intelligence sharing partners by emphasizing the need for those allies to trust the decisions the government makes. It also couches a UK decision to give Huawei access a risk by suggesting it could be viewed externally as an endorsement of the company, thereby encouraging other countries to follow suit — without paying the full (and it asserts vitally) necessary attention to the security piece. “The UK is a world leader in cyber security: therefore if we allow Huawei into our 5G network we must be careful that that is not seen as an endorsement for others to follow. Such a decision can only happen where the network itself will be constructed securely and with stringent regulation,” it writes. The committee’s statement goes on to raise as a matter of concern the UK’s general reliance on China as a technology supplier. “One of the lessons the UK Government must learn from the current debate over 5G is that with the technology sector now monopolised by such a few key players, we are over-reliant on Chinese technology — and we are not alone in this, this is a global issue. We need to consider how we can create greater diversity in the market. This will require us to take a long term view — but we need to start now,” it warns. It ends by reiterating that the debate about 5G supply has been “unnecessarily protracted” — pressing the next UK prime minister to get on and take a decision “so that all concerned can move forward”.

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
A future where drones can easily and cheaply do many useful things such as deliver packages, undertake search and rescue missions, deliver urgent medical supplies, not to mention unclogging our roads with flying taxis seems like a future worth shooting for. But before all this can happen, we need to make sure the thousands of drones in the sky are operating safely. A drone needs to be able to automatically detect when entering into the flight path of another drone, manned aircraft or restricted area and to alter its course accordingly to safely continue its journey. The alternative is the chaos and danger of the recent incidences of drones buzzing major airports, for instance. There is a race on to produce just such a system. Wing LLC, an offshoot of the Alphabet / Google-owned X company, has announced a platform it calls OpenSky that it hopes will become the basis for a full-fledged air-traffic control system for drones. So far, it’s only been approved to manage drone flights in Australia, although it is also working on demonstration programs with the US Federal Aviation Administration. But this week Altitude Angel a UK-based startup backed by Seraphim Capital and with $4.9M in funding has launched it’s own UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) system. Its ‘Conflict Resolution System’ (anti-collision) system is basically an automatic collision avoidance technology. This means that any drone flying beyond the line of sight, will remain safe in the sky and not cross existing flight plans or into restricted areas. By being automated, Altitude Angel says this technology will prevent any mid-air collisions, simply because by knowing where everything else is in the sky, there’ll be no surprises. Altitude Angel’s CRS has both ‘Strategic’ and ‘Tactical’ aspects. The Strategic part happens during the planning stages of a flight, i.e. when someone is submitting flight plans and requesting airspace permission. The system analyses the proposed route and cross-references it with any other flight plans that have been submitted, along with any restricted areas on the ground, to then propose a reroute to eliminate any flight plan conflicts. Eventually, what happens is that a drone operator does this from an app on their phone, and the approval to flight is automated. The next stage is Tactical. This happens while the drone is actually in-flight. The dynamic system continuously monitors the airspace around the aircraft both for other aircraft or for changes in the airspace (such as a temporary flight restriction around police incident) and automatically adjusts the route. The key aspect of this CRS is that drones and drone pilots can store flight plans with a globally-distributed service without needing to exchange private or potentially sensitive data with each other while benefiting from an immediate pre-flight conflict resolution advice. Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder says: “The ability for drones and automated aircraft to strategically plan flights, be made aware of potential conflict, and alter their route accordingly is critical in ensuring safety in our skies. This first step is all about pre-flight coordination, between drone pilots, fleet operators and other UTM companies. Being able to predict and resolve conflict mid-flight by providing appropriate and timely guidance will revolutionize automated flight. CRS is one of the critical building blocks on which the drone and automated flight industries will grow.” Altitude Angel wone be the last to unveil a CRS of this type, but it’s instructive that there are startups confident of taking on the mighty Google and Amazon – which also has similar drone delivery plans – to achieve this type of platform.

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