posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Wyze first made a name for itself when it launched its $20 indoor security camera a few years ago. Since then, the company branched out into other smart home products, ranging from doorbells to scales. Today, it’s going back to its origins with the launch of the Wyze Cam V3, the third generation of its flagship camera. The new version is still $20 (though that’s without shipping unless there’s a free shipping promotion in the Wyze store), but the company redesigned both the outside and a lot of the hardware inside the camera, which is now also IP65 rated, so you can now use it outdoors, too. Image Credits: Wyze The Cam V3 now also features new sensors that enable color night vision, thanks to an F1.6 aperture lens that captures 40 percent more light than the previous version. That lens now also covers a 130-degree field of view (up from 110 degrees in V2) and the company pushed up the frames per second from 15 during the day and 10 at night to 20 and 15 respectively. The company also enhanced the classic black and white night vision mode — which you’ll still need when it’s really dark outside or in the room you are monitoring — by adding a second set of infrared lights to the camera. Other new features are an 80dB siren to deter unwanted visitors. This feature is triggered by Wyze’s AI-powered person-detection capability, but that’s a feature the company recently moved behind its $2/month CamPlus paywall, after originally offering it for free. That’s not going to break the bank (and you get a generous free trial period), but it’d be nice if the company could’ve kept this relatively standard feature free and instead only charged for extra cloud storage or more advanced features (though you do get free 14-day rolling cloud storage for 12-second clips). Wyze Cam V2 (left) and V3 (right). Wyze provided me with a review unit ahead of today’s launch (and a Cam V2 to compare them). The image quality of the new camera is clearly better and the larger field of view makes a difference, even though the distortion at the edges is a bit more noticeable now (but given the use case, that’s not an issue). The new night color vision mode works as promised and I like that you can set the camera to automatically switch between them based on the lighting conditions. The person detection has been close to 100% accurate — and unlike some competing cameras that don’t feature this capability, I didn’t get any false alarms during rain or when the wind started blowing leaves across the ground. If you already have a Wyze Cam V2, you don’t need to upgrade to this new one — the core features haven’t changed all that much, after all. But if you’re in the market for this kind of camera and aren’t locked into a particular security system, it’s hard to beat the new Wyze Cam. Wyze launches its $50 wire-free outdoor camera This $20 security camera is aiming for the Nest Cam’s throne

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Biotech can often, and sometimes literally, fly over our heads. However, the pandemic has shown an increased need for investment and focus on solutions that work on human and planetary health. For IndieBio, a science and biotech accelerator run by VC firm SOSV, this unprecedented year offered high stakes and new challenges. Today and tomorrow, the biotech accelerator is hosting its twice-annual demo day. Starting in 2015, IndieBio has provided resources to founders solving complex challenges with biotech, from fake meat to sustainability. Over the years, the accelerator has created a portfolio of biotech companies valued at over $3.2 billion, including companies like Memphis Meats, which develops cultured meat from animal cells; NotCo, a plant-based food brand; and Catalog, which uses organisms for data storage. Leaving the $3.2 billion portfolio he helped build at IndieBio, Arvind Gupta joins Mayfield to create the Genesis Consortium As part of the accelerator, each participating company receives $250,000 in capital, numerous other services and access to lab space. In July, the founder and head of IndieBio, Arvind Gupta, left his position to pursue a role at Mayfield. While Gupta remains an adviser, Po Bronson took the role as the new managing director. Bronson was immediately put to the test. This year, the program expanded from operating solely in San Francisco to also create a cohort based in New York. It also doubled the amount of companies it invested in, bringing this cohort to 20 companies. As you can imagine, lockdowns ultimately forced founders to delay key lab work in the beginning of the pandemic. Eventually, founders were able to partner with universities, contract research organizations or other biotech accelerators to begin their research, says Maya Lockwood, the head of investor relations at SOSV. The NYC class received a “golden ticket” for free lab space come November. And these dynamics make this cohort all the more fascinating to dive into. Watch the New York Stream here, which will happen on Tuesday October 27 from 1:00-3:00pm ET. Watch the San Francisco stream here, which will happen on Wednesday October 28 from 10:00-12:00pm PT. For those who can’t tune in, here’s a list of all the companies presenting in New York and San Francisco over the next two days. San Francisco cohort Reazent: Founded by Sumit Verma, Reazent has discovered and patented a way to manipulate soil bacteria into triggering crops to grow more. It works with 116 strains, from kale to potatoes, and wants to dig into the market of organic agricultural land. Image Credits: Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images Kraken Sense: Founded by Nisha Sarveswaran, Kraken Sense has created an in-line autonomous device to measure the concentration of pathogens in large-scale food and water systems. The product can be deployed in farms and kitchens and uses refillable single-use cartridges. Advanced Microbubbles: The startup, led by Jameel Feshitan, has created a platform that helps practitioners deliver drugs to complex and difficult tumors. The company collaborated with NIH NIDA and uses proprietary bubbles to deliver chemotherapeutics. Currently, Microbubbles is working to solve two types of cancers: neuroblastoma and pancreatic cancer. Cybele Microbiome: CEO Nicole Scott has created a direct-to-consumer skincare line with a focus on prebiotics. The line uses ingredients that work in tandem with the skin microbiome, even triggering it to express natural scents. Ivy Natal: Ivy Natal is developing a process to harvest healthy human egg cells from skin cells. CEO Colin Bortner is working on a treatment for infertility and plans to enable families to have genetic children who can’t otherwise with current solutions. Microgenesis: Led by Gabriela Gutierrez, Microgenesis has created a proprietary test and nutraceutical regiment (including probiotics) to help women who struggle with infertility get pregnant. The company worked with a cohort of 287 mothers, and with its product over 75% of patients became pregnant. Image Credits: Westend61 / Getty Images AsimicA: Led by Nikolai Mushnikov, Asmicia has created a new way to bring stem cells to microbes. The company could lengthen and grow the yields of bio-manufacturing, and is currently working to select the right fermentation partner. Liberum: CEO Aiden Tinafar is working to disrupt what they think could be a $400 billion market opportunity: recombinant proteins. Liberum has created a protein printer that could cut down the creation of custom recombinant proteins from weeks to a few hours. Khepra: Led by Julie Kring, Khepra is leveraging fuel production as a way to store extra renewable energy. The company is building a series of reactors that could take your old plastic bottles and cardboard boxes, extract chemicals and fuels, and sell that fuel to refineries. Carbix: Carbix, led by Quincy Sammy, takes enriched CO2 and converts it into raw material that can then be repurposed into industrial products. Spintext: CEO Alex Greenhalgh is creating a new, scalable way of making silk. The company mimics spider spinning and uses a natural protein, with an end product that they see as better than premium silk. New York cohort Biomage: CEO Adam Kurkiewicz wants to make single-cell sequencing data more accessible for research biologistics. The technology could help scientists explore human cells to enhance medicine and drug discovery. Diptera.ai: Vic Levitin is creating a scalable, affordable and sustainable way to fight mosquitoes and their diseases. Cayuga Biotech: Damien Kudela, CEO of Cayuga Biotech, has created a drug that could induce clots and stop severe bleeding situations. Brightcure: Chiara Heide, CEO of Brightcure, has created a bioactive cream that uses natural bacterium to restore a woman’s natural microbiome. Multus Media: CEO Cai Linton is producing an ingredient that hopes to make cultivated meat production affordable and accessible. Image Credits: Getty Images BioFeyn: The company uses nanotechnologies based on human medicine to deliver nutrients and disease prevention to fish. CEO Timothy Bouley is working to make eating healthy fish a sustainable practice. Halomine: Ted Eveleth, CEO, wants to turn every surface into an antimicrobial surface. Halomine’s product, Halofilm, can be used in tandem with any household bleach cleaner to enhance disinfection techniques. Allied Microbiota: Lauralynn Kourtz, CEO of Allied Microbiota, wants to use natural microbes to eliminate toxic waste. The company uses bacteria to clean contaminated soils. Scindo: Scindo, led by Gustaf Hemberg, uses enzymes to make plastic biodegradable. Synthetic biology startups are giving investors an appetite

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Ubisoft originally announced its subscription service back in June. Today, the company is rebranding the service from UPlay+ to Ubisoft+. The service is also on its way to Amazon’s Luna and Google’s Stadia. Ubisoft is betting on a multi-platform subscription, which means that you’ll be able to subscribe once and play Ubisoft+ games on PC, Amazon Luna and Stadia. Ubisoft+ is already available on PC. For $14.99 a month, you can download and play more than 100 games — the service includes both classics and newly released titles, such as games in the Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia franchises as well as the company’s upcoming releases. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs Legion and Immortals Fenyx Rising will be available in the Ubisoft+ library on their respective launch days. Ubisoft is trying to include premium editions of the games so that you don’t have to pay for game passes to access additional content. For instance, you can play the ultimate editions of Rainbow Six Siege, The Division 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, etc. On November 10, you’ll be able to access Ubisoft+ games on Amazon Luna is you’re beta testing Amazon’s cloud gaming service. And Google will also let you connect your Ubisoft+ account with Stadia by the end of the year. Interestingly, you don’t need to pay for Stadia Pro to access Ubisoft+ titles. Ubisoft is working on cross-platform progression, starting with upcoming titles. It’s a subscription focused on content, not platforms. As you can see, Microsoft and Sony don’t support Ubisoft+. It means that you won’t be able to subscribe and play on your Xbox or PlayStation. Console manufacturers take a cut on game purchases. That’s why negotiations between third-party game studios and console manufacturers are more complicated. Image Credits: Ubisoft

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
After spending a few hours with the PlayStation 5 and its completely redesigned DualSense controller, I can say with confidence that the new haptics and audio features certainly work — and could become integral to the gaming experience. But only if — and it’s a big if — developers truly embrace the tech. The DualSense controller replaces the extremely familiar and beloved design of the DualShock, which has remained largely the same shape since the first one shipped for the original PlayStation 25 years ago. While the general layout is the same, the feel of the new controller is significantly different and the appearance is aligned with the PS5’s distinctive but questionable hyper-futuristic look. I’m not entirely sold on the new shape but I’ve also had a long time to get used to the old one, so I’m withholding judgment while I work on the full review. Shipping with every PS5 is Astro’s Playroom, which like Nintendoland and Wii Sports is intended to provide a reference experience for all the controller’s new features. It may not be quite as original or persistently enjoyable as Nintendo’s pack-ins (which still number among the best games for their platforms), but it’s a fun little playroom that does a good job showing off the DualSense. Image Credits: Sony The first and perhaps most immediately compelling feature is the haptic feedback on the trigger buttons, L2 and R2. It’s one of those things that when you feel it working, you immediately start thinking about how it could be used. What it does is allow not just precision vibration but actual resistance to be added to the triggers, something that sounds vague in theory but is very easy to grasp, so to speak, in practice. For instance, in the setup process for Astro’s Playroom the feature is introduced by simply asking you to pull the triggers and feel it. You’ll certainly have pulled them before that, so you know that they’re nearly frictionless normally. But suddenly they’re pushing back against your finger — then a click, and the resistance is gone. “What is this sorcery?” I recall saying out loud at the time, or something like it but more profane. It really is that immediately compelling. Image Credits: Sony Later, in the first stage I tried of the game, your little robot jumps into a sort of spring suit (a metal spring, not a linen two-piece) and you have to pull the trigger to make it jump. The haptics in this case truly give a feel of compressing something (though, having played with springs before, I know they don’t feel like this), and importantly give you a non-visual, intuitive indicator of how far you’ve depressed the trigger. My brain was quicker to register how far I’d pulled it with the combination of sound, haptics and graphics than graphics alone. And because the feeling is localized to the trigger you’re using, there’s no confusion with the greater vibrations of the all-purpose rumble system. The Switch’s Joy-Cons have a sort of precision haptics in them, and while the demo of that feature was interesting — feeling little objects rattle around “inside” the controller — it’s actually quite hard to think of ways it could be used in gameplay. And indeed few games have done so, though to be fair rumble in general is probably better because of it. In the DualSense’s case, I was immediately thinking, “this would be great for…” and wishing I’d had it in this or that game in the past. It opens up possibilities I’ve never liked the idea of, like “pull the trigger halfway to do one thing, all the way to do another. It’s also potentially a great accessibility feature. Having a speaker and microphone in the controller is nothing new, though they appear to have been upgraded for the DualSense. Few games have been able to use these features properly, and Astro’s Playroom resorts to the old “blow on the controller to make a propeller go” thing. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do that in any real game — but why can’t I yell “Go, cyberdog! Attack the monster on the right” to direct my (sadly fictitious) companion, or something like that? Sony’s PlayStation 5 arrives November 12, priced at $500 Unfortunately that gets to the heart of what makes even the excellent haptic feature a potentially lost cause. Developers need to design for them in a big way, and that’s difficult when you can’t guarantee that people will want or be able to use them. Not only that, but if you want to release on Xbox and PC too, you have to remove them. So they become optional features… and since they’re optional, they can’t be integrated into the game as deeply to begin with, making them less compelling overall. It’s happened over and over with various innovations gaming companies have come up with over the years, and it may happen with this generation’s gimmicks as well. Sony’s best bet is to make integration painless and highly incentivized, though it’s hard to imagine how multi-platform developers like Ubisoft can do much more than the minimum. Serious use will likely be limited to a handful of top-shelf Sony-funded PS5 exclusives that players will marvel at. It’s an interesting new gameplay feature, but hardly one that screams “next-generation.” Indeed little about the next consoles from Sony or Microsoft screams that except the specs. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth buying — but don’t expect anything transformative.

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
SpaceX has debuted an official app for its Starlink satellite broadband internet service, for both iOS and Android devices. The Starlink app allows users to manage their connection – but to take part you’ll have to be part of the official beta program, and the initial public rollout of that is only just about to begin, according to emails SpaceX sent to potential beta testers this week. The Starlink app provides guidance on how to install the Starlink receiver dish, as well as connection status (including signal quality), a device overview for seeing what’s connected to your network, and a speed test tool. It’s similar to other mobile apps for managing home wifi connections and routers. Meanwhile, the emails to potential testers that CNBC obtained detail what users can expect in terms of pricing, speeds and latency. The initial Starlink public beta test is called the “Better than Nothing Beta Program,” SpaceX confirms in their app description, and will be rolled out across the U.S. and Canada before the end of the year – which matches up with earlier stated timelines. As per the name, SpaceX is hoping to set expectations for early customers, with speeds users can expect ranging from between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency of 20ms to 40ms according to the customer emails, with some periods including no connectivity at all. Even with expectations set low, if those values prove accurate, it should be a big improvement for users in some hard-to-reach areas where service is currently costly, unreliable and operating at roughly dial-up equivalent speeds. Image Credits: SpaceX In terms of pricing, SpaceX says in the emails that the cost for participants in this beta program will be $99 per moth, plus a one-time cost of $499 initially to pay for the hardware, which includes the mounting kit and receiver dish, as well as a router with wifi networking capabilities. The goal eventually is offer reliably, low-latency broadband that provides consistent connection by handing off connectivity between a large constellation of small satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX has nearly 1,000 of those launched, but it hopes to launch many thousands more before it reaches global coverage and offers general availability of its services. SpaceX confirms Starlink internet private beta underway, showing low latency and speeds over 100Mbps SpaceX has already announced some initial commercial partnerships and pilot programs for Starlink, too, including a team-up with Microsoft to connect that company’s mobile Azure data centers, and a project with an East Texas school board to connect the local community.

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Netflix announced this morning that it’s partnering with Ubisoft to adapt the game publisher’s “Assassin’s Creed” franchise into a live action series. The franchise jumps around in history, telling the story of a secret society of assassins with “genetic memory” and their centuries-long battle the knights templar. It has sold 155 million games worldwide and was also turned into a nearly incomprehensible 2016 film starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, which underperformed at the box office. The companies say that they’re currently looking for a showrunner. Jason Altman and Danielle Kreinik of Ubisoft’s film and television division will serve as executive producers. (In addition to working on adaptations of Ubisoft’s intellectual property, the publisher is also involved in the Apple TV+ industry comedy “Mythic Quest.”) “We’re excited to partner with Ubisoft and bring to life the rich, multilayered storytelling that Assassin’s Creed is beloved for,” said Netflix’s vice president of original series Peter Friedlander in a statement. “From its breathtaking historical worlds and massive global appeal as one of the best selling video game franchises of all time, we are committed to carefully crafting epic and thrilling entertainment based on this distinct IP and provide a deeper dive for fans and our members around the world to enjoy.” It sounds like there could be follow-up shows as well, with the announcement saying that Netflix and Ubisoft will “tap into the iconic video game’s trove of dynamic stories with global mass appeal for adaptations of live action, animated, and anime series.” Netflix recently placed an eight-episode order for “Resident Evil,” another video game franchise that was previously adapted for the big screen. And it also had a big hit with its adaptation of “The Witcher,” which is based on a fantasy book series that was popularized via video games. The team behind Apple’s ‘Mythic Quest’ says video games aren’t the punch line

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Facetune maker Lightricks is out today with a new app, Filtertune, designed to create a community around custom photo filters. With the app, creators can make their own personalized preset photos filters, then share them across social media as photos that have a special QR code attached. When others see a filter they like, they can screenshot it to import it back into the Filtertune app for their own use. While it would be easier to create some sort of in-app system for sharing filters — similar to Instagram’s “Effect Gallery,” for example — Lightricks’ user base isn’t concentrated in one single app. Instead, it offers an ever-expanding suite of mobile photo and video editing apps, including its flagship Facetune and sequel, Facetune2, as well as Facetune Video, Enlight Quickshot, Photofox, Videoleap, Pixaloop, Boosted, Seen, PosterBoost, Artleap, and Beatleap. Image Credits: Lightricks Combined, its collection of apps have seen over 400 million downloads to date, but its active user numbers are much smaller. Lightricks this summer said its collection of apps had 200 million registered users. Paid subscribers had reached 3 million as of last year. While these numbers and the apps’ growth helped to turn Lightricks into a unicorn, Instagram offers access to a much larger photo sharing community. That’s why it makes sense for Filtertune to provide tools that allow users to tap into existing social media platforms to share their filters and discover new ones. The maker of popular selfie app Facetune just landed $135 million at a unicorn valuation In fact, Lightricks says the idea for the app was actually prompted by social media trends where online influencers were posting “How I Edit My Photos,” and offering their own presets for fans to download or purchase. Filtertune, however, isn’t a marketplace for filters. It’s just a tool for creation, editing and sharing. Using the app, you can either edit an existing filter or create one of your own from scratch. The app focuses on realistic photo editing, not using overlays of digital assets to create new styles — like apps that swap out the background, for example, or those that use AR. When your filter is complete, you tap the sharing button which adds a banner to your photo that reads: “Get this filter,” and offers download instructions along with a QR code. You then save this image to your iPhone Camera Roll, then post it anywhere you want — like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, in an email, in a messaging app, or on your own website. When others see the shared image, they save it to their own Camera Roll by taking a screenshot. The next time those users open the Filtertune app, it will scan for new filters by looking for images with a QR code. When it finds them, the new filters will be added to the in-app collection. Image Credits: Lightricks Users can then use Filtertune to edit photos with any of the custom filters discovered from across social media. It is interesting to see how much Filtertune leans on Instagram to drive discovery here. Even the “Discover” button in the app, when tapped, takes you directly to the #filtertune hashtag on Instagram, instead of a dedicated section within its own app where users could find new filters to try. Facetune maker Lightricks brings its popular selfie retouching features to video “Filtertune represents a natural evolution of our growing product experiences, and with it, Lightricks will continue fostering a culture of online community, sharing, and collaboration that is necessary for young artists, creators, and anyone who enjoys social media,” said Zeev Farbman, co-founder and CEO at Lightricks, in a statement about the new app’s launch. Farbman also noted that Lightricks’ Facetune2 and Quickshot apps have seen a 30% increase and a 35% increase in users in 2020, respectively. The company also told TechCrunch that Ligthtricks, overall, has seen a 45% increase in monthly active users this year. The new app is a free download on iOS. 

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
I get to play with a lot of new hardware from startups and it runs the gamut from super polished to barely working, neither of which is a value judgement! But every once in a while I get to mess with a new piece of kit that is just so fully realized that I am literally shocked.  The Backbone One controller is one of those situations. It’s a game controller for iPhones that has slick ergonomics, solid button feel, sensitive analog triggers and great build quality. But what makes Backbone One special is the companion app and service that ships with it and enables a truly clever software layer enabling cross-app multiplayer, game recording, highlight editing and quick swap.  Designers from Ideo and Astro Studios helped realize Backbone and the pedigree of people who have crafted devices like the Xbox 360 controller really show here. Wide L1/R1 buttons make it easy to tap on mobile. Analog L2/R2 triggers feel deep but tight. The latest Lightning connector standard means extremely low latency for control signals.  The controller is around 7” long in its compact state and uses a clever sliding mechanism to expand outwards to up to 10” in size. It easily fits Apple’s “Plus” sized phones and when you’re using one of those it feels like a full on game console for the first time I can remember. There are acoustic tunneling scoops at the inside edges that direct sound forward from the phone speakers and there is work being done behind the scenes to cancel out the specific sounds the Backbone One’s buttons make so that you don’t hear those while you’re playing.  But it’s the software that makes Backbone One really special. To co-opt a biblical phrase, hardware without software is dead. And the Backbone One is really, really alive. Behind the Backbone One is Backbone itself, which is a ‘companion app’ but is really a live gaming service. It has integrated cross-game voice chat, game switching, parties and a friends list. It lets you get push notifications when your friends are on and slide right into a game with them with a single tap. It’s remarkably slick and feels as first-party as you could make something that is literally not first-party feel. Backbone was founded by Maneet Khaira in the summer of 2018 while interning at YouTube and wrapping up at Columbia.  Khaira notes that one of the biggest issues in mobile gaming is that there is a ton of activation energy when it comes to jumping in and playing with friends. The major games are there: Call of Duty, Fortnite (eventually, again), PUBG — but the last mile issue is major.  Khaira points out that while there are plenty of examples of top-tier gaming titles on iPhone, there is just a desert of content created on these platforms available to watch on Twitch or YouTube. He likens it to a hysteresis — a lagging behind of an effect from its cause. There are so many mobile gamers that there should be a ton of mobile content shared, but because the mechanisms to do so have been so poor and so under-crafted, we have next to nothing.  Backbone changes that completely.  Here are the basic pillars of Backbone: Gameplay has to feel good. The Backbone controller had to be best-in-class hardware. Content creation. It had to be easy and seamless to capture highlights, clips and footage and share them to your preferred platform.  Playing with friends has to be instantaneous. Backbone uses notifications about when friends start playing across any game and you can do so from one central friends list.  Because Backbone is a support app, it gets a bunch of special privileges that would normally not be granted to a ‘regular’ class of app. Backbone One is always on while it’s attached, which means that the app can do whatever it needs to do no matter what app you’re in or for how long. This is huge because it enables the Backbone button on the controller to add games to your dashboard, swap easily between them and lets you get at your friends list contained in Backbone. The stopwatch time for attaching the Backbone One to your phone and beginning to play a game in multiplayer is measured in seconds, not minutes. It’s exactly what you need in the mobile context. [gallery ids="2066280,2066277,2066262,2066265,2066258,2066259"] It also enables any-time recording of clips and highlights that store locally on your device but can be uploaded anywhere at 1080p/30fps HEVC. When you’re in game you can just smash the Capture button to start recording and tap it to screenshot. The Backbone app also has some ML work going on to identify highlight-worthy clips and mark them automatically. You can also tag them yourself while you play. And Backbone One does this on less power than the crap earbuds that (used to) come in an iPhone box. You won’t notice any major power drain from the accessory itself.  If Backbone can manage to get a partnership with one or two majors to have a built-in control scheme that takes advantage of the proper dead zones and timing it could be a real watershed moment for mobile gaming.  But right now it works with most games that have controller support right out of the box. No game needs to do anything special to take advantage of the majority of Backbone features. This basically adds on a layer of inter-game social and clip sharing.  It’s all of the basic features of Game Center, Twitch, PSN and Xbox Live rolled into one — but on iPhone. And, of course, the BackBone one works just fine with Xbox and PlayStation remote play apps. Sometimes a list of investors can tell you a lot about how serious a company is about getting the right kind of money. For a company building a gaming service and peripheral hardware, Backbone couldn’t have a more solid column. Backbone is backed by MrBeast, Preston, Kwebbelkop, Typical Gamer, Night Media, Nadeshot, and Ludlow Ventures, as well as Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures. Pretty much exactly the profile I would want to see for a company serious about social and mobile gaming.  In many ways, Backbone feels like a spiritual successor to OpenFeint. If you’re not familiar, OpenFeint was the first modern mobile gaming network. It launched the year after the iPhone App Store and was part of a game called Aurora Feint. It enabled multiplayer, scoreboards and messaging. The founder of OpenFeint? Jason Citron. Jason’s current startup, that also shares a lot of spiritual luggage with OpenFeint? Discord. It’s hard to overstate how important OpenFeint was at the time. As the app ecosystem was emerging it was clear that games would be a big part of what made the iPhone successful and this was the first cross-game network that allowed people to take advantage of one of the first phones to have a persistent, high-quality (ish) internet connection. Apple launched Game Center as a basic response to this need but it has never put any real investment behind it since. Backbone is so good that I could actually see Apple hauling out the repo and assigning engineering talent to get it working well again. The time has come for this idea and Backbone’s execution is so top notch here that it makes the case open and shut. I’ve been testing the controller for a few weeks now with a variety of games. I played a quick match of Call of Duty Warzone with Khaira and even though we didn’t secure the dub it was massively more playable than running with touch controls. My very first session of CoD I had a 28 kill game in cod mobile and, even though I was put into a lobby that prioritizes controller users the other players had like 5 kills each. Though you can now pair console controllers to iPhone, the Backbone is so much better than any of the other integrated controllers on the market that it will quickly become a must have for any mobile player that actually wants to be competitive. I have spent as much time with Apple mobile hardware and the people that have created it as probably anyone on the planet so please understand that I don’t say this lightly but this really feels like the game controller and network Apple would have made if it understood competitive games. The Backbone One controller runs $99 and can be purchased via the free Backbone app today.

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
The Los Angeles-based operations and security management software service, Replicated has raised $25 million to ramp up its staffing and scale its sales and marketing efforts. The funding, which was led by Two Sigma Ventures and included existing investors like Plexo Capital, Amplify, and BoldStart values the company at over $100 million. Replicated began as a developer of software security and management services for Docker containerized development tools, but as the market shifted to Kubernetes, the company shifted to service those applications. As developers embrace Kubernetes, Replicated launches tools to manage its deployments Last year, the company unveiled its tools for managing Kubernetes deployments and immediately saw sales increase. “That new offering changed the direction of the company and added velocity and customers and the market responded so well to it,” said Replicated chief executive, Grant Miller. “Once we started building on that success.. We brought on UIPath, Puppet, who created the software automation stuff, TripWire, and then these cool emerging software companies like FlatFile and Fishtown Analytics.” Replicated now counts 85 customers who pay for access to the platform and for every on-premise deployment that customers develop through the platform. “If you are a company like Puppet, you have hundreds of on-premise customers.” The company has already been staffing up with key c-suite hires including a chief product officer, a chief revenue officer and vice presidents of marketing and sales. Some of the money will support Replicated’s continued hiring push, while another chunk will go into product development. “We’re automating as much of the manual software processes that require IT admins to put their hands on keyboards to adjust and optimize things,” said Miller. “With Replicated, half of the services are for tooling for the software vendor to manage release and licensing and the other half is for the IT admin. It’s about how they automate the integration of the applications.”  The company, which currently has 28 employees expects to grow to 75 staff members by the end of 2021, Miller said. “The on-prem software market is four times larger than the SaaS market,” Miller said in a statement. “Replicated lets software vendors unlock the opportunity of the on-prem software category with lower engineering overhead and faster time to market. This is a market change made possible by the convergence of cloud native computing and Kubernetes.”

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Rockset, a cloud-native analytics company, announced a $40 million Series B investment today led by Sequoia with help from Greylock, the same two firms that financed its Series A. The startup has now raised a total of $61.5 million, according to the company. As co-founder and CEO Venkat Venkataramani told me at the time of the Series A in 2018, there is a lot of manual work involved in getting data ready to use and it acts as a roadblock to getting to real insight. He hoped to change that with Rockset. “We’re building out our service with innovative architecture and unique capabilities that allows full-featured fast SQL directly on raw data. And we’re offering this as a service. So developers and data scientists can go from useful data in any shape, any form to useful applications in a matter of minutes. And it would take months today,” he told me in 2018. In fact, “Rockset automatically builds a converged index on any data — including structured, semi-structured, geographical and time series data — for high-performance search and analytics at scale,” the company explained. It seems to be resonating with investors and customers alike as the company raised a healthy B round and business is booming. Rockset supplied a few metrics to illustrate this. For starters, revenue grew 290% in the last quarter. While they didn’t provide any foundational numbers for that percentage growth, it is obviously substantial. Cockroach Labs scores $86.6M Series D as scalable database resonates In addition, the startup reports adding hundreds of new users, again not nailing down any specific numbers, and queries on the platform are up 313%. Without specifics, it’s hard to know what that means, but that seems like healthy growth for an early stage startup, especially in this economy. Mike Vernal, a partner at Sequoia, sees a company helping to get data to work faster than other solutions, which require a lot of handling first. “Rockset, with its innovative new approach to indexing data, has quickly emerged as a true leader for real-time analytics in the cloud. I’m thrilled to partner with the company through its next phase of growth,” Vernal said in a statement. The company was founded in 2016 by the creators of RocksDB. The startup had previously raised a $3 million seed round when they launched the company and the $18.5 million A round in 2018. Rockset launches out of stealth with $21.5 M investment

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
It’s been a busy few weeks for the smart home race. Amazon, Google and Apple have all announced new smart speakers aimed at — among other things — cementing their respective positions at the center of users’ connected households. Adding onto the introduction of a whole bunch of new Echo devices, Amazon is also improving what its famously inexpensive Fire Tablets can do. Today the company will be rolling out a free software update to select slates that brings a smart home device dashboard. The system essentially serves as a one-stop shop for connected devices that work with Alexa. Amazon Echo review: Well-rounded sound It’s similar to the sorts of control centers Google and Apple offer with their respective Home apps, with access to things like smart lights, plugs, cameras, thermostats, you name it. Similar functionality can also be found on the Echo Show devices. Fire tablets offer a pretty cheap way in to that functionality (so, too, might Fire TVs, going forward). And, of course, Amazon has also made efforts to improve Alexa functionality on the devices, essentially letting them double as inexpensive smart displays. Perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle, however, is the addition of smart home hub functionality on the new Echo. The fact was a bit under reported (Amazon, after all, started adding this functionality with previous Echo Plus models), but adding zigbee functionality for the $99 device should go a ways toward lowering that barrier of entry. This is the newer, rounder $100 Amazon Echo      

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Last fall, social analytics startup SocialRank sold its product and business to Trufan, allowing the team to focus on something new: a professional social network. Today, they’re officially unveiling Upstream to the public. To be clear, CEO Alex Taub told me that he’s not trying to replace LinkedIn — he acknowledged that thanks to network effects,”If you want to go and try to take down LinkedIn, you’re not going to be able to take them down.” Instead, the goal is to create something that fulfills a different need. Where LinkedIn works primarily as an online résumé and rolodex, Upstream aims to help users build the connections and relationships that are important to their careers — something that’s sorely needed at a time when large-scale meetups and conferences aren’t really possible (though we’re certainly trying to create the virtual equivalent at TechCrunch). “This is the place for your professional social life,” Taub said. Upstream’s first product focused on professional groups and communities, allowing users to post what the company called Professional Asks, like if they’re looking to hire someone for a certain position or need an introduction at another company. Taub suggested that things really took off with Upstream’s next product, Upstream Events, where Upstream would host a guest speaker, then attendees were matched up for five-minute, one-on-one video chats with the other people at the event. Image Credits: Upstream Upstream says it’s already hosted more than 100 events, with 72% of people who who attend one event subsequently attending another. While the team has built multiple products (and we’ve covered some of them already), they’re outlining the broader vision today and launching some new features at the same time. For one thing, while communities were previously shared via a private, unlisted link, you can now browse all the different communities in a Discovery section. At the same time, community organizers will be still be able to control who joins by approving or rejecting new members. There’s also a new spin on Events called Office Hours, allowing users to set aside structured time for virtual one-on-one sessions with anyone who’s interested in speaking to them. These sessions can be listed publicly, or they can be unlisted, so that you only share them via email or within a certain community. Image Credits: Upstream In a blog post, Taub noted that he met his SocialRank/Upstream co-founder and CTO Michael Schonfeld via Ohours.org, and they’re trying to replicate that experience here: Let’s say you are the CMO of a large company and you want to give your people the opportunity to meet 1:1. The thought of coordinating the individual scheduling of ten minute blocks using your Outlook calendar and email is not attractive. But with Upstream, you are able to choose the 30min block you want to offer and how long you want the sessions to be. You decide you want to run your office hours every other Friday at 2pm ET for the rest of the year. The event is built and able to be shared seamlessly to whoever you choose to offer the Office Hours to. In fact, Taub’s post lists more than 30 different people who are already offering office hours on Upstream, including New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz, Foursquare co-founder/Expa partner Naveen Selvadurai and Amazon Photo Head of Product Nate Westheiemer. Upstream is also announcing that it has raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding from 8-Bit Capital, Human Ventures, Basement Fund, NYVP and various angel investors. Looking ahead, Taub said that the next big priority is launching a web version of Upstream (which is currently available via mobile app), and to continue building live experiences, asynchronous experiences and features that provide real utility. “We imagine a future when professionals come to Upstream for an event or Ask, and stay for the compelling opportunities that make Upstream an energizing and beneficial experience for them,” he wrote. SocialRank sells biz to Trufan, pivots to a mobile LinkedIn

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Panoply, a platform that makes it easier for businesses to set up a data warehouse and analyze that data with standard SQL queries, today announced that it has raised an additional $10 million in funding from Ibex Investors and C5 Capital. This brings the total funding in the San Francisco- and Tel Aviv-based company to $24 million. The company, which launched back in 2015, has mostly stuck to its original vision, which was always about democratizing access to data warehousing and the analytics capabilities that go hand-in-hand with that. Over the last few years, it also built more code-free data integrations into the platform that make it easier for businesses to pull in data from a wide variety of sources, including the likes of Salesforce, HubSpot, NetSuite, Xero, Quickbooks, Freshworks and others. It also integrates with other data warehousing services like Google’s BigQuery and Amazon’s Redshift and all of the major BI and analytics tools. The company says it will use the new funding to expand its sales and marketing efforts. “We aspire to make analysts’ lives simpler and more productive by making it easier for them to sync, store, and access their data, and this funding will go a long way toward that mission,” says CEO and co-founder Yaniv Leven in today’s announcement. In some ways, Panoply was maybe just a bit early to the market. Today, though, there can be little doubt that we’re in a booming market for data warehousing and analytics services. There’s nary a business left, after all, that isn’t looking to gain more insights from the copious amounts of data they gather every single day now. That market is now more competitive than ever, too, with incumbents like Snowflake, Databricks and others (including all of the hyper clouds) all aiming for their slice of the market. Panoply and its investors clearly believe that the company’s all-in-one platform gives it a competitive edge, though. Panoply.io Raises $1.3M Seed Round For Its Data Warehousing Platform Panoply.io raises $7M Series A for its data analytics and warehousing platform

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Anima, the company that turns design prototypes into code, has today announced the launch of Anima 4.0, which will allow designers to create prototypes in Figma that are translated into components in React with the click of a button. The company was founded by Or Arbel (cofounder of Yo!), Avishay Cohen (who led R&D at Mobli) and Michal Cohen. It launched three years ago with a platform that allowed designers in Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD to translate their designs into HTML code. With today’s launch, those designs (in Figma only, for the moment) can be turned into React components, giving developers the ability to tweak and polish individual components in a coding language that they’re already using. Enterprise design tools have absolutely blown up over the past several years. As opposed to a time where designers really only had the option to work in Photoshop and developers then had to spend time turning those static images into code, it’s fair to call the design landscape of 2020 crowded. Design may be the next entrepreneurial gold rush Platforms like Sketch, InVision, and Figma have aimed to close the gap between designers and developers, and in the lattermost case, designers and other designers, as well. Adobe has also answered the call of growing competition with the launch of Adobe XD. Anima 4.0 represents yet another shift. The company is riding the wave of enterprise design tool growth, while simultaneously positioning itself in the realm of no-code, another high-growth vertical. Tracking the growth of low-code, no-code startups Arbel told TechCrunch that, around the time that Yo was shuttering, he knew that his next venture would be a product that charges money from day one. He also said that he and his cofounders had been frustrated for a long time by the disconnect between designers and developers. Thus, Anima was born. It costs $40/month to use Anima, or approximately $370 annually. Arbel confirmed to TechCrunch that pricing wouldn’t change with the launch of Anima 4.0 but that it may in the future. The reason for that is that Anima originally took developers out of the picture, allowing designers to build out their designs and translate it automatically into running HTML code. With this launch, Anima is looking to bring developers back into the fold, speaking to them in React (their native tongue, if you will). That opens the door to charging more per seat or introducing new revenue streams. Arbel said that Anima was profitable before it ever received its first funding, which came in the form of a $120K check from Y Combinator in the summer of 2018. This year, the company raised $2.5 million in seed funding led by Hetz Ventures, Zohar Gilon, and Ed Lando. Yo Tries To Make Itself Useful With Photo And Link Alerts From 150 Sources Today, Anima is used by 300,000 designers, developers and product managers from companies like Google, Amazon, Starbucks, and Walmart, among others. Each week, the Anima community converts more than 4,000 designs into code. The Anima team has grown from four at the onset of the pandemic to 17 now, with a 70/30 split between men and women. “The greatest challenge is making developer-friendly code,” said Arbel. “Developers are not an easy audience — I know because I’m a developer myself. We’ve been hearing about code generation and. the like since the beginning of the internet, and endless amounts of products have tried and none of them have managed to produce developer-friendly code. They product huge amounts of code that is bloated and hard to understand. Now, there is finally technology can actually make that happen.”

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
If analysts from BloombergNEF are right, then all of the world’s most greenhouse gas polluting days are behind it, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. A sharp drop in energy demand caused by the global response to the coronavirus pandemic will remove 2.5 years of energy sector emissions between now and 2050, according to the latest New Energy Outlook from BloombergNEF. The latest models from the analysis firm tracking the evolution of the global energy system show that emissions from fuel combustion will likely have peaked in 2019. The company’s models show that global emissions declined roughly 20% as a result of the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while those emissions will rise again with economic recoveries, BloombergNEF’s models never see emissions reaching 2019 levels. And from 2027 emissions are projected to fall at a rate of 0.7% per year to 2050. Bloomberg New Energy Finance chart predicting declines in global emissions. Image Credit: BloombergNEF These rosy projections are based on the assumption of a massive construction boom for wind and solar power, the adoption of electric vehicles, and improved energy efficiency across industries. Together, wind and solar are projected to account for 56% of global electricity generation by mid-century, and along with batteries will gobble up $15.1 trillion invested in new power generation over the next 30 years. The firm also expects another $14 trillion to be invested in the energy grid by 2050. The rain on this new energy parade could come from India and China, which have long been reliant on coal power to keep their national economies humming. But even in these colossal coal consumers the Bloomberg report sees good news for people who like good news. They expect coal-fired power to peak in China in 2027 and in India in 2030. By 2050, coal is projected to account for only 12% of global electricity consumption. But even with the surge in renewables gas-fired power ain’t dead. It remains the only fossil-fuel to continue to grow until 2050, albeit at an anemic 0.5% per-year. No one should break out the champagne based on these projections, though, because the current trajectory still sees the globe on a course to hit a 3.3 degrees Celsius rise in temperature by 2100. “The next ten years will be crucial for the energy transition,” said Bloomberg New Energy Finance chief executive, Jon Moore. “There are three key things that we will need to see: accelerated deployment of wind and PV; faster consumer uptake in electric vehicles, small-scale renewables, and low-carbon heating technology, such as heat pumps; and scaled-up development and deployment of zero-carbon fuels.” And a three degree rise in temperature is bad. At that temperature huge swaths of the world would be unlivable because of widespread drought, rainfall in Mexico and Central America would decline by about half, Southern Africa could be exposed to a water crisis and large portions of nations would be covered by sand dunes (including chunks of Botswana and a large portion of the Western U.S.). The Rocky Mountains would be snowless and the Colorado River could be reduce to a stream, according to this description in Climate Code Red. “To stay well below two degrees of global temperature rise, we would need to reduce emissions by 6% every year starting now, and to limit the warming to 1.5 degrees C, emissions would have to fall by 10% per year,” Matthias Kimmel, a senior analyst and co-author of the latest report, said in a statement.  

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
SpaceX and orbital object tracking startup LeoLabs have announced a new commercial partnership that will see LeoLab track SpaceX’s Starlink satellites during their initial deployment and orbital travel. The arrangement means that LeoLabs will immediately start tracking new Starlink satellites once they’re released in space following a launch, giving SpaceX immediate info in terms of placement and trajectory during the crucial initial few days of any new batch launch. LeoLabs’ provides an advantage vs. any other options out there in terms of how fast it can acquire signal from a whole batch of newly orbital Starlink satellites, which SpaceX has been sending up in batches of 60. Here’s a brief synopsis of what exactly LeoLabs is doing for SpaceX through this arrangement, straight from the company itself: LeoLabs tracks all Starlink satellites (up to 60 per launch) and rapidly generates data products on the front and back of the cluster to provide a bounding box on the train of satellites. This begins within the first few hours following launch and deployment. We continue to monitor the satellites in the following hours and days as they disperse and begin their orbit raising sequences. The actual operational partnership has been active since March of this year, which means that LeoLabs has been tracking these deployments for a number of missions thus far. It’s also going to continue to do this for future launches going forward. Through their platform, SpaceX gets timely data on Starlink satellites and their orbits just a few hours post-launch, and the startup says it can typically deliver data within one hour of a Starlink satellite passing over one of its radar stations. Image Credits: LeoLabs LeoLabs has made headlines recently tracking potential collisions among objects in low Earth orbit, including most recently a near-collision with an 11-meter miss of two objects earlier this month. As low Earth orbit becomes more crowded – in no small part due to SpaceX’s planned massive increase in its Starlink fleet size – the company’s services are likely to only grow in demand in order to help with effective space traffic control.

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
If anyone knows early-stage investing and startups, it’s M.G. Siegler. As a general partner at GV, he’s personally invested in his fair share of rocket ship companies early on in their lifecycles, including Anchor, Slack, Medium and Stripe. He’s also a TechCrunch alum and a former startup operator himself as a web dev. We’re thrilled to have Siegler joining us to talk about his investment experience and how his early career as a writer influenced his thinking about startup success on Extra Crunch Live on today live at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT. Siegler’s career in startups began in 2005, working in web development at a startup agency focused on tech clients. He later reported on startups at both VentureBeat and later TechCrunch, before becoming a founded partner at CrunchFund and then eventually joining GV (then Google Ventures) to focus on early-stage companies. In addition to the companies listed above, Siegler has led investments in other successful early-stage companies including Universe, Giphy, The Players’ Tribune, CTRL-Labs and AltspaceVR. At the outset of the current global pandemic, Siegler chatted with our own Lucas Matney about GV’s investment in mobile website-builder Universe and about how managing a portfolio changes in light of travel and social distancing restrictions. We’ll find out from Siegler what the ensuing months of living and working in the context of COVID-19 have changed about his perspective and about the early-stage companies he’s working with and scouting for potential investment. More broadly, Siegler also has a unique perspective and ample experience when it comes to early-stage startups and storytelling. His work as a journalist focused specifically on looking at new and emerging technology companies and assessing their ability to communicate their ambitions, the problems they’re solving and the technology they’re building. He brings that experience to his assessment of the investment potential of startups and their founders, and their ability to tell good and compelling stories about what they’re doing and why. All these topics, plus more questions from you, our audience. So join us if you’re an Extra Crunch member and get caught up on all the fintech goodness going on. And if you aren’t an Extra Crunch member, be sure to check out subscription options before we get started. Meeting details are below the paywall. Announcing the Extra Crunch Live event series Meeting Details Date: October 27 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT Zoom info: https://zoom.us/j/91302536208 Add this event to your calendar Submit a question

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
What’s most remarkable about the push for 5G is how quickly the prices came down on handsets sporting the next-gen wireless technology. The push toward affordable 5G devices is clearly as much an indicator as the current state of the smartphone space as anything — people just aren’t upgrading devices as quickly as the used to. And even more to the point, they’re reluctant to pay $1,000 when they do. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G has been a piece of that puzzle. And unsurprisingly, the mid-tier chip in found in TCL’s new $400 5G handset. Of course, TCL is positioning it as “under-$400” with that $399.99 price tag, which is technically correct — the best kind of correct. Nord is OnePlus’s sub-$500 5G handset It’s also not really right to say that the TCL 10 5G UW’s a”premium blend of performance, power, stylish design and 5G connectivity that until now has only been available on more expensive flagship smartphones.” Affordable 5G handsets isn’t an entirely new phenomenon — nor are affordable 5G handsets with decent specs and design. But even so, the price point is still notable at this stage in the 5G upgrade cycle — which, frankly, is why we’re writing about it here. The price/5G combo is the main thing to like here, coming in at even less than, say, the OnePlus Nord, a recent high water mark in the 5G/price point combo. And there are a few other things that should appeal to potential buyers, as well, including a 4,500mAh battery coupled with reverse charging for other devices. There are three rear-facing cameras: a 48-megapixel main, an eight-megapixel ultra wide and a five-megapixel macro, the latter of of which is starting to appear on more phones. It arrives October 29, and is, notably, a Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent company) exclusive here in the U.S., using the carrier’s mmWave technology. Verizon’s 5G comes to (parts of) Los Angeles  

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
A few weeks back, The Exchange dug through a number of Techstars demo days and parsed a few dozen startups to find a few favorites. Today, we’re back for more of the same, albeit with a different set of accelerators’ results to examine. As a reminder, the last time we dug through the various cohorts, we liked YearOne, MyFavorito, Livelii, Albo, Space Products and Innovation GmbH and SATIM. The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday. This morning let’s take a look at the startups from Techstars’ Atlanta (full class here), Los Angeles (full class here), and New York City cohorts (full class here), with a final peek at what the so-called “Techstars & Western Union Accelerator” managed (full class here). TechCrunch has also taken looks at startups from the latest Y Combinator batch (parth one, part two), Acceleprise, Envision and others. It’s a time-honored tradition around here — we think startups are inherently interesting. With that, let’s begin. Favorites and standouts I wanted to kick off with Atlanta this morning, and not merely because the Falcons are somehow worse than my Eagles. A startup accelerator in Atlanta feels exciting because, while we know that there is lots of startup activity coming out of the city, it’s still not a place I know well. Unluckily for our goal of picking favorites, I liked nearly every startups’ demo. Meal Me is cool, and as a former San Francisco resident who didn’t cook, where was this when I lived there. Swivl is also worth checking out, because we should be able to expand who can really work with data. And Please Assist Me is pretty spot-on for my generation’s yuppies.

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Google today announced several updates related to how it’s helping direct people to the polls, provide election results, and help people access real-time election news across its platforms and services, like Search, Assistant and YouTube. The company said it will again partner with the Associated Press (AP) to deliver authoritative information on election results on both Google Search and Assistant. It also confirmed earlier reports that it won’t run political ads on its platform after the polls close on November 3. Axios had first reported on Google’s plans to ban political ads after election day, citing an email sent to advertisers. The email had told advertisers they would not be able to run ads “referencing candidates, the election, or its outcome, given that an unprecedented amount of votes will be counted after election day this year.” Google confirmed the move at the time of the original report by offering a statement. Today, Google published the details of its decision in a company blog post, saying it has chosen to enforce its Sensitive Events policy as soon as the polls close on Nov. 3, given the possibility of “delayed election results this year” and to “limit the potential for ads to increase confusion post-election.” The policy, specifically, says Google does not allow: Ads that potentially profit from or exploit a sensitive event with significant social, cultural, or political impact, such as civil emergencies, natural disasters, public health emergencies, terrorism and related activities, conflict, or mass acts of violence Google isn’t the only tech giant to take aim at political advertising in this heated election season. Facebook this month widened its ban on political ads, saying those ads would be blocked indefinitely after Nov. 3. Twitter made the decision to ban political ads last year. In Google’s case, it’s calling its political ad ban a “temporary pause,” and says it’s directed towards an ads referencing “the 2020 election, the candidates or its outcome.” The company also took the time today to note other voting and election-related initiatives it has underway, including its ongoing activities taking place in election seasons that help people find voter registration information and other election deadlines. It’s also directing users to voting locations and ballot drop boxes on Google Maps. On YouTube, it’s pointed users to relevant election-related search results, voter registration information, and details on how to vote. This year, Google noted it will partner with the AP to provide election results in Google Search and Assistant. The companies have worked together in the past elections, too. Users will encounter a new election module with data provided by the AP when they either search for “election results” on Google Search or ask, “Hey Google, what are the current election results?” The data will include both federal and state level races across more than 70 languages, Google says. YouTube, meanwhile, will feature real-time election streams from major news providers, and link to coverage on Google Search. Google News will also feature a 2020 U.S. Election section where users can follow both local and national news.

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Lightyear, a New York City startup that wants to make it easier for large companies to procure networking infrastructure like internet and SD-WAN, announced a $3.7 million seed round today. While it was at it, the company announced that it was emerging from stealth and offering its solution in public beta. Amplo led the round with help from Susa Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Mark Cuban, David Adelman and Operator Partners. Company CEO and co-founder Dennis Thankachan says that while so much technology buying has moved online, networking technology procurement still involves phone calls for price quotes that could sometimes take weeks to get. Thankachan says that when he was working at a hedge fund specializing in telecommunications he witnessed this first hand and saw an opportunity for a startup to fill the void. “Our objective is to make the process of buying telecom infrastructure, kind of like buying socks on Amazon, providing a real consumer-like experience to the enterprise and empowering buyers with data because information asymmetry and a lack of transparent data on what things should cost, where providers are available, and even what’s existing already in your network is really at the core of the problem for why this is frustrating for enterprise buyers,” Thankachan explained. The company offers the ability to simply select a service and find providers in your area with costs and contract terms if it’s a simple purchase, but he recognizes that not all enterprise purchases will be that simple and the startup is working to digitize the corporate buying process into the Lightyear platform. To provide the data that he spoke of, the company has already formed relationships with over 400 networking providers worldwide. The pricing model is in flux, but could involve a monthly subscription or a percentage of the sale. That is something they are working out, but they are using the latter during Beta testing to keep the product free for now. The company already has 10 employees and flush with the new investment, it plans to double that in the next year. Thankachan says as he builds the company, particularly as a person of color himself, he takes diversity and inclusion extremely seriously and sees it as part of the company’s core values. “Trying to enable people from non-traditional backgrounds to succeed will be really important to us, and I think providing economic opportunity to people that traditionally would not have been afforded several aspects of economic opportunity is the biggest ways to fix the opportunity gap in this country,” he said. The company, which launched a year ago has basically grown up during the pandemic. That means he has yet to meet any of his customers or investors in person, but he says he has learned to adapt to that approach. While he is based in NYC, his investors are are in the Bay Area and so that remote approach will remain in place for the time being. As he makes his way from seed to a Series A, he says that it’s up to him to stay focused and execute with the goal of showing product-market fit across a variety of company types. He believes if the startup can do this, it will have the data to take to investors when it’s time to take the next step.

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Vimeo Record is a new product that allows teams to communicate through video messages. Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud said that while the pandemic has prompted many offices to embrace digital communication tools like Zoom, “There’s a whole host of work communication that needs asynchronous messaging.” Besides, sometimes a video can get your message across more effectively, rather than “scheduling another call or writing a long email or Slack thread.” Sud said that since she became CEO of the IAC-owned video platform in 2017, Vimeo has shifted its focus from being a destination site that competed with YouTube to providing video tools for businesses: “We really want to be the single corporate video solution for the modern organization.” Vimeo Record is an extension of that strategy. During the pandemic, Vimeo’s revenue has already been growing 40% to 50% year-over-year each month, but Sud said this product been in the works since before then, reflecting the long-term trend that “more and more teams are distributed, and they need ways to communicate.” Collaborate better remotely with Vimeo Record from Vimeo Staff on Vimeo. So Vimeo created a Google Chrome extension that allows users to easily record their screen or their face, share and comment on those recordings, organize them into folders with different permissions and receive notifications when someone watches. Sud said around 400 companies have already been beta testing the feature. Teams are using it to review design and code, to work together to resolve customer support tickets, to share messages from company leadership and more. Asked whether there’s been a learning curve for recording effective video messages, Sud said, “The biggest barrier is just making it not feel intimidating. The easiest way [to do that] is for people to receive a video message themselves. If a colleague sends you something that’s not perfect, it lowers that intimidation factor.” She also noted that Vimeo Record fits into the company’s freemium business model. Anyone can send unlimited messages for free, but Vimeo will charge for premium features like the ability to host videos on a third-party, custom-branded video platform. “My team is using Vimeo Record to share product demos internally and to give our customers a preview of what’s launching soon,” said Mailchimp’s director of product marketing Trevor Wolfe in a statement. “We love it! It adds a personal touch that you just can’t replicate with email or a chatroom message.” Vimeo promotes Anjali Sud to CEO after canceling SVOD plans

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Deep tech. Hard tech. Or, as The Engine dubs it, Tough Tech. Venture investing today is essentially identical to what happens on Wall Street, focused on data rooms, spreadsheets, SaaS churn models and cohort analysis. Yet, the history of venture capital firms is heavily interwoven with universities and their research. Some of the most famous VC funds like Kleiner Perkins got their start funding compelling research projects out of laboratories and financing their commercialization toward scale. Technical risk is something many VCs like to avoid, but The Engine has built an entire brand and thesis around it. Centered around Kendall Square and the broader MIT ecosystem, The Engine debuted a couple of years ago with a focus on “tough tech” problems that are perhaps a touch too early for other VCs. That’s led to investments in companies like Boston Metal, which builds environmentally-friendly steel alloys, WoHo, which is rethinking modular building construction that we profiled last week, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which is developing fusion power. Indeed, the firm’s portfolio page has to be one of the most interesting in the industry today. The good news is that the firm’s ambitious funding strategy looks set to continue. It announced this morning that it has raised $230 million toward the firm’s second fund, which on top of the firm’s first fund brings it to a total of $435 million under management. In a press statement, the firm said that it has funded 27 portfolio companies out of its first fund. While MIT continues to be the anchor LP, Harvard joined for Fund 2, creating a cross-Cambridge, MA venture platform. Katie Rae remains CEO and managing partner of the fund, and her team has expanded over the past few years as the firm has scaled up. One interesting point that we haven’t noted previously is that MIT is building The Engine a 200,000 square foot building near its campus that will offer massive space for startups and portfolio companies to start and grow over time. That building is expected to open in 2022, hopefully when this whole pandemic situation allows for in-office collaboration again. Boston has become something of a hub for deeper technical projects. Local startup Desktop Metal, which builds 3D printers that can print metal, is going through a SPAC process that values the company at roughly $2.5 billion. With this latest news from The Engine, it seems clear that Boston’s tough tech ecosystem will continue to have a pipeline of interesting and compelling companies.

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techcrunch
Milan-headquartered scale-up Boom, which offers a two-sided tech platform to let companies book and manage commercial photo shoots, has raised $7 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Italy’s United Ventures, with the participation from Wellness Holding. It will be used to support the photo tech company’s next stage of growth as it sets its sights on “5% market share” of the $80bn global digital photography market. Specifically, Boom says it will invest in its proprietary plug & play technology for managing the commercial photography production pipeline, and build a presence in 180 countries, including opening offices and studios in London and New York. The platform combines a marketplace, logistics, photo online storage, APIs and a CRM, with Boom pitching itself as wanting to become the “Amazon for commercial photography”, “Today, visual content is more vital than ever,” says Boom co-founder and CEO Federico Mattia Dolci. “Data shows that photography is the second most important key driver for successful online commerce after online payments. This was our opportunity”. Dolci says that, while demand for high-quality content was huge, when the company was founded in 2008, “there was a lack of scalable solutions”. And scale is the name of the game, with estimates suggesting there was more than 2 trillion photos uploaded online in 2019. “The largest online sellers have massive, ever-growing image libraries,” says the Boom CEO. “And the faster the market grew, the more we recognised a major digital supply-and-demand gap. We could see that countless internet giants were changing the way people shopped online, uploading billions of pictures on their websites and platforms every day, but these same brands had no access to a content provider that could keep up with their scaled-up, global, fast-paced environment. The whole system was expensive and obsolete”. To address this, Boom has developed a “tech-first” oder system that enables companies and brands to easily commission “high quality, affordable content” on a global scale. The promise is that it offers a simple, streamlined, automated work-flow, coupled with a network of thousands of professional photographers, without compromising on quality. The platform matches a client photoshoot request with the best photographers in the area. It also employs automatic photo-editing to improve raw shots, so that if a brand wants to get access to photos instantly, the photographer can spend less time editing. Meanwhile, Boom’s order system doesn’t just manage photoshoots. Clients can also book videographers, drone pilots, designers, and other creative assets using the innovative platform. To that end, Boom claims in excess of 250 major corporate clients including the likes of Deliveroo, Vacasa, Uber Eats, OYO, Lavanda, Casavo, Westwing, Getyourguide and hundreds of SMEs across verticals. It has a presence in more than 80 countries and has processed 3 million images to date, averaging one shoot per minute, across real estate, travel, F&B, and e-commerce. Adds Dolci: “Our customers can place an order and expect a delivery 24h later, whether the photoshoots take place in Milan, New York, or Sydney, and whether the order calls for one photoshoot or a thousand! We guarantee speed, efficiency, and quality consistency every single time”. Noteworthy, Boom says it is profitable on a unit economics basis, bar re-investing in its tech and expansion plans, and aims to be fully profitable as early as 2022.

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techcrunch
Two automotive giants are teaming up to bring self-driving semi-trucks to market. Under this deal, Waymo and Daimler Trucks are partnering to build an autonomous version of the Freightliner Cascadia truck. This is Waymo’s first deal in the freight business. The truck would be equipped with level 4 autonomous technology, meaning it could drive itself without a human but only in pre-defined areas. It is expected to be available in the US “in the coming years.” “We have the highest regard for Daimler’s engineering skills and broad global truck product portfolio,” said John Krafcik, Waymo CEO, in a released statement, “and so we look forward to scaling the Waymo Driver, together with our new partner, to improve road safety and logistics efficiency on the worlds’ roadways.” This deal provides Daimler Trucks, the world’s largest maker of commercial vehicles, with Waymo Driver. This is a suite of vision sensors, software, and the computing system powering the platform. In March 2019, Daimler Trucks purchased a majority stake in Torc, another company developing Level 4 self-driving technology for semi-trucks. Martin Duaum, Chairman of Daimler Truck AG notes the new partnership with Waymo is part of Daimler’s “dual strategy approach” by working with two partners to bring customers different options. Numerous companies are approaching autonomous trucking as its seen as a massive opportunity ready for a technology overhaul. “The market is massive; I think in the United States, $700-$800 billion a year is spent on the trucking industry. It’s continuing to grow every single year,” said Boris Sofman, Waymo Director of Engineering and Head of Trucking, earlier this month at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility. “And there’s a huge shortage of drivers today, which is only going to increase over the next period of time. It’s just such a clear need. But it’s not going to be overnight — there’s still a really long tail of challenges that you can’t avoid. So the way we talk about it is the things that are hardest are just different.” Daimler Trucks buys a majority stake in self-driving tech company Torc Robotics Waymo and TuSimple autonomous trucking leaders on the difficulty of building a highway-safe AI

Read More...