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SignalfFire, a six-year-old, San Francisco-based venture firm that prides itself on mining what it says is more actionable data about, well, the world, has just raised a pair of funds that total $500 million in capital commitments. One of the vehicles is a $200 million “seed” fund that SignalFire will use to write checks up to $5 million in nascent startups; the other is a $300 million fund designed to invest in those of the firm’s portfolio companies that are beginning to pull away from the pack and need growth-stage funding. Both are a major step up for the young firm, which closed its debut fund with $53 million in 2015 before raising $330 million in capital across two funds in 2017. According to firm founder Chris Farmer — who founded SignalFire after logging several years at both Bessemer Venture Partners and General Catalyst — the firm also has many more people investing the money. Altogether, SignalFire now employs 30 people across an engineering and data science unit; a unit dedicated to portfolio operations; and a unit that does the actual venture investing. The latter now features three general partners in addition to Farmer. Among them: Ilya Kirnos, a former software engineer at Oracle, then Google, who joined Farmer at the outset and is also the firm’s CTO; Wayne Hu, who joined SignalFire in 2015 and today leads many of its seed-stage investments; and Walter Kortschak, who joined the firm in 2016 after spending 26 years at the private equity firm Summit Partners, where he establishing the firm’s West Coast investment practice. Others associated with the company include Alex Garden, the cofounder and CEO of the food-focused robotics company Zume, and Ross Mason, the British-born founder of Mulesoft, both of whom are venture partners. Even newer: Tani Pozirekides, who spent the last six years with Netflix, including as a manager of talent acquisition. She’s now an operating partner at SignalFire. (Another managing partner, Tony Huie, says on LinkedIn that he left the firm full-time to become the COO of one of its portfolio companies, an online privacy startup called Pango.) Certainly, SignalFire is a firm that trusts its instincts. Its bets “north of $20 million” or else “in that ballpark,” according to Farmer, include the push notification tools company OneSignal; Jyve, a company that connects retailers with on-demand workers who can stock their shelves; ClassDojo, which makes a communications app for primary schools; Stampli, which makes a cloud-based accounts payable system; and Grammarly, which makes a digital writing assistant. If you’re trying to suss out a theme among these, don’t bother. SignalFire claims to have access to 100 major data sets that its “competitive data nerds” pore over to figure out what’s happening in the world — and where things are moving (think talent flows and consumer spending, among other things). In short, doesn’t “invest in people” or else take a thematic approach, as do many of its venture peers. What SignalFire doesn’t have yet is a big exit. In fact, Farmer says its only notable exit to date was the sale early last year of TextRecruit, a text message, live online chat,  and AI platform for hiring, to iCIMS, an applicant tracking system. (Terms were undisclosed.) Then again, SignalFire looks to be just getting started, as do many of its startups, a growing number of which are highly valued by the private investors who’ve piled into them. Consider that Ro, the men’s health company, is not quite three year’s old, yet it was most recently valued at half a billion dollars, on roughly $175 million in funding. Zume, just four years old and backed by SignalFire, was reportedly valued at $2.25 billion when it closed on a giant round from SoftBank Vision Fund late last. It’s now reportedly in talks to close more funding at a $4 billion valuation.

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Mindstrong Health is tackling one one of the most difficult challenges in healthcare: Severe mental illness, commonly referred to as SMI in the healthcare industry. The startup, founded in 2013 by Paul Dagum, Richard Klausner and Thomas Insel, recently brought on former Uber VP of Product Daniel Graf as CEO, and is now announcing a number of new hires to its senior product leadership team as it moves to turn the technology and research it’s developed over the past six years into an even more compelling and user-friendly product. As mentioned, Graf was Mindstrong Health‘s first high-profile hire this year, when the former Uber, Twitter and Google product leader joined in October. Graf’s turn as the company’s chief executive is his return to the operational side after spending some time away from building product as an investor. He and Mindstrong have brought in four new c-suite execs to lead the company, including a new CPO, COO and CTO, as well as a new VP of Data Science and new VP of Marketing. The CPO role is the only one Mindstrong can’t yet disclose, bu the incoming person has been a product leader at large tech companies, Graf told me in an interview. Meanwhile, the company is revealing that Brandon Trew (ex Uber, Google) will join as COO, Erik Albair (ex Google Maps, DeepMind) will join as CTO, Kane Sweeney (ex Uber, StubHub) comes in as VP of Data Science and Dena Olyaie (ex Facebook, Oscar Health) joins as VP of Marketing. “The inflection point we’re going through now is really building out the whole foundation,” Graf told me. “If you look at our [current] app, it’s not an app, I would us as a consumer and from an experience point of view – it’s a science app. We basically have to build this whole foundation and platform, so for a technology person for a product person for a data scientist, for a marketing person, it’s kind of a dream. When you look at the planning stage, you look at the mission, with amazing investors, we don’t really have to worry about investments, and we can build this now. We can build this amazing platform and that’s why all these folks are joining.” Mindstrong Health’s primary product is a platform that provides remote care on-demand for patients dealing with SMI. This group in particular faces challenges with current health care options, because they often face long wait times for appointments with qualified medical professionals, but their issues are pressing, hard to predict and often immediate in nature. Traditional care is also very expensive, and Mindstrong’s model has been shown to drive better results for patients, and to lower cost for insurance companies and other payers. Backed by ARCH Venture Partners, General Catalyst, Bezos Expeditions and more, the company has a number of ongoing trials with healthcare providers and patients, and based on the positive outcomes they’ve seen from this work the goal now is to refine and prepare the product for commercial use. Graf’s new leadership team also shares a lot of experience building products that benefit from optimization based on interpretation of large data sets, and that’s also not a coincidence. Part of Mindstrong’s unique approach has been developing a way to quantify SMI issues in a way that makes it possible to anticipate problems based on signals from how a user is interacting with the app, including typing speed an other cues, as compared to an established personal baseline. It’s a big data problem, but instead of solving something like routing on-demand transportation, it’s tackling the issue of delivering reliable, quality care to individuals who are most in need.

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Google this morning announced the arrival of its first “feature drop.” The new offering will continue the company’s regular feature enhancements, now arriving every month, like clockwork. This first one brings a whole bunch of upgrades, including a few already noted by some eagle eye views. The call screen update is probably the biggest of the bunch. This one drops for Pixel 4 users in the U.S. to start, giving users screen unknown callers, filtering our robocalls in the process. When it’s not spam, users will get a notification shortly after featuring a transcript of the message. Google notes that all of that info is kept private to the the user, per the below gif.  The Photos app gets a handy update, making it possible to add a background faux-bokeh blur to portrait photos, for the those times you forget to turn the feature on while shooting. The Pixel 4 gets some key Duo improvements, as well, including auto framing, which keeps one or two people centered The feature appears to look similar to the more sophisticated versions found on the Nest Home Max (and Facebook’s Portal before it), zooming in and out to get people in frame. Duo calls on the Pixel 2-4 also get a bokeh effect to blur out the background during calls, along with Smooth Display, which should offer better playback on spotty connections. Also of note is the recently announced arrival of the extremely handy Recorder app on older Pixel models, along with the addition of Live Caption for the Pixel 3 and 3a. Users in UK, Canada, Ireland, Singapore and Australia, meanwhile, will be getting the updated version of Google Assistant soon, as well. 

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Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft maker Volocotper has received a Design Organization Approval (DOA) from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This is basically a recognition by the EU that the processes Volocopter has in place in developing and building its aircraft are of a high enough standard that it can expedite the process of deploying its eVTOLs for commercial use. That’s a big advantage for Volocopter as it moves forward with its commercialization plans. The German company announced plans this year to produce a cargo version of its vehicle designed for hauling goods, and also revealed it’ll be doing pilot of that vehicle in partnership with John Deere focused on testing its using in agriculture. Meanwhile, it’s also moving ahead with its plans for an ‘air taxi’ version that’s meant to transport people in urban environments. Volocopter has flown its personal transport with passengers on board in Singapore and Stuttgart so far, in tests designed to help demonstrate its feasibility ahead of a true commercial launch. The company announced a €50 million euro (around $55 million USD) funding round earlier this year, and it hopes to launch its service for the public in around two to three years’ time.

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Netflix and Apple TV+ have good news to report following this morning’s release of the Golden Globe nominations. Netflix landed on top with 34 nominations across film and TV, while Apple TV+ earned its first nods only weeks after the service’s launch. Despite lukewarm reviews from critics, Apple TV+ received multiple Golden Globe nominations for its flagship series “The Morning Show,” starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Whitherspoon, and Steve Carell. The show was nominated for best drama series and its two female stars, Aniston and Whitherspoon, were both nominated for lead actress in a drama series. Apple TV+ launched on November 1 with only a handful of shows, including fan-favorite “Dickinson,” space race drama “For All Mankind,” and dystopian drama “See,” among others. However, “The Morning Show” which deals with the aftermath of a sexual misconduct scandal in the world of morning TV, is easily the best Apple TV+ series thanks to its star power. Even reviewers who dinged the show for its sometimes overwrought dialogue admitted that Jennifer Aniston’s performance has been fantastic.  Following the launch of Apple TV+, many viewers found themselves at odds with the critics’ take, as they were actually enjoying many of the service’s shows. “The Morning Show” executive producers, Mimi Leder and Kerry Ehrin, later said they believed all the bad reviews were aimed more at Apple than at the shows themselves. The nominations are Apple’s first for the Golden Globes, though the company had dabbled in TV before the streaming service’s launch with shows like “Carpool Karaoke” and “Planet of the Apps.” Neither of those seemed to be award show-worthy series but the former did get (undeserved) Emmy attention in the variety special category. While Apple TV+ was having a breakout moment, Netflix was having an even bigger year. Netflix this year landed 34 nominations across film and TV, including six for Noah Baumach’s drama “Marriage Story,” five for Martin Scorses’s  “The Irishman,” and four each for its original series “The Crown” and “Unbelievable.” Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method and “The Politician” were also nominated for best TV series, musical or comedy and its film “The Two Popes” was nominated for best motion picture. “Marriage Story’s” nods included best picture, actor, actress and screenplay, while “The Irishman” snagged nominations for best director, best-supporting actors (Joe Pesci and Al Pacino) and best screenplay. In total, Netflix led all programmers with 17 Golden Globe TV nominations to HBO’s 15. HBO’s “Chernobyl,” “Barry,” “Succession” and “Big Little Lies,” also earned nods, as did Amazon’s “Fleabag.” Netflix and HBO were followed by Hulu (5), Prime Video (5) and Apple TV+ (3). Outside digital, FX scored 4 TV noms, followed by Showtime (3), BBC America (2) and USA Network (1). On the film side, Netflix landed 17 nominations, more than double the next nearest competitor Sony Pictures Releasing (8). Amazon Studios also scored 3.  

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It’s been nearly a year since a teaser trailer revealed a world weary Ecto-1 beneath a tarp in some mysterious barn. Now, a few days after getting its official name, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has its first full trailer. The forthcoming film is helmed by Jason Reitman, son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan (who is on board as producer). Afterlife, of course, is not to be confused with the 2016 reboot, Answer the Call, which was met with a lukewarm critical response and was generally consider a box office bomb (and then there’s the whole matter of the extremely angry, extremely online dudes, who were even less kind). The new film ignores the events of the McCarthy/Wiig/Jones/McKinnon film, instead serving as a continuation of the 1989 sequel to the original. Most of the primary original cast is back, including Bill Murray (whose voice can be heard toward the end), Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts. Harold Ramis passed away in 2014 (though one of the leads does appear to be Egon Spangler’s grand daughter) and Rick Moranis has been mostly retired for a couple of decades. Possible real life vampire Paul Rudd features heavily in the new trailer alongside a ghost trap. He plays a teacher of a group of students who bring some serious Stranger Things energy (including, fittingly, cast member Finn Wolfhard), thus completing the pop culture ouroboros. The nostalgia is going to be thick with this one.  The third film has had a fairly rocky path to existence in the 30 years since its predecessor, but it’s scheduled to finally arrive in theaters July 10.

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Video of Cybertruck driving on California highway reveals more questions A video just surfaced showing the Tesla Cybertruck driving around LA. Elon Musk is purportedly driving, but it’s not confirmed that he was behind the wheel while this video was filmed. However the video reveals several things. Who's driving @ElonMusk or the Auto-Pilot?$TSLA pic.twitter.com/xvmyHPG8Ol — GuruLeaks (@Guruleaks1) December 8, 2019 One, there are no mirrors yet. According to US regulations, passenger vehicles need to have a mirror inside and one on the driver’s side of the vehicle. The Cybertruck in this video does not have a driver’s side mirror. When Musk unveiled the Cybertruck, he stated that the vehicle used a video camera for the rear-view camera, which is something other automakers are trying as well. Cadillac has done this for years. It works. The lack mirror on the driver’s side is a bigger question. The vehicle used in the unveiling was missing exterior mirrors and the one in this video also lacks them. It’s possible it uses a camera for the side mirrors though it’s yet to be announced. Other automakers including Audi have turned to cameras for European-spec’d vehicles as US-based vehicles must have a physical mirror. Two, there’s a lot of body roll. The video shows the driver taking a wide turn onto the street. In doing so, the Cybertruck appears to experience a large amount of body roll. A surprising amount, too. The Cybertruck, like every other Tesla vehicle, has a bank of batteries on the bottom. Supposedly. If that’s the case, the bulk of the weight should be at the bottom, dropping the center of gravity and giving the vehicle a stable driving experience. In the Model X, this results in amazing protection from rolling over when impacted on the side. The Cybertruck experienced a large amount of body roll with a wider wheel base than what’s allowed. During the unveiling, it was clear the Cybertruck’s tires were wider than the fenders. This is also not allowed by US standards as tires must be covered by fenders. I assumed Tesla would correct this in the final version and did this for stage presence and to improve stability in testing. The latest video shows a Cybertruck with tires also sticking out from the fenders. It’s not clear how far the tires protrude but so much so that the driver hits a traffic cone when turning into traffic. If the Cybertruck’s stance is narrowed, will the body roll be worse? Also, the driver runs a red light because clearly the Cybertruck is living in a post-traffic light world. [gallery ids="1915573,1916231,1915811,1915673,1915672,1915671,1915668"]

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Instacart shoppers are continuing to hold the grocery startup accountable with their latest set of actions. Kicking off next Monday, Instacart shoppers plan to take one action per day, for six days in protest of Instacart. “We’re still just trying to get this one tiny thing: double the default tip percentage,” Instacart shopper and protest organizer Sarah (pseudonym) told TechCrunch. “We’ve tried endlessly to get them to raise the base guarantee pay. But we feel like, fine, at least give us the higher default tip.” Instacart currently suggests a default tip of 5% but workers want Instacart to increase it to 10%. Next week, Instacart shoppers plan to take a number of actions. including filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor as well as filing a wage claim. Sarah, who has been an Instacart shopper for four years in California, says shoppers have become furious because it’s clear Instacart does not respect them. “We’re trying to continuously show them that we do have power,” Sarah said. “I believe this protest of seven days is going to be the most powerful thing we’ve ever done because it has the ability to really fuck them up.” The full schedule is as follows: December 16: File complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, asking the department to audit Instacart’s previous practice of misappropriating tips December 17: Contact federal legislators and ask them to hold Instacart accountable to minimum wage laws and more December 18: File a wage claim regarding Instacart’s classification of shoppers as 1099 independent contractors December 19: Hand-deliver binders, filled with a letter and personal notes from workers, to CEOs of six partner stores. Workers want partner stores to help ensure minimum standards and earnings. December 20: Contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding how Instacart shoppers sometimes have to fulfill heavy orders, which can lead to injuries on the job. December 21: Contact state legislators This comes after Instacart shoppers organized a nationwide protest where they went on strike for 72 hours in demand of a better tip and fee structure. Following that protest, Instacart got rid of the $3 quality bonus. “When we did the walk-off, that required people to take off several days from work,” Sarah said. “We don’t want people to miss out on money so we’re doing something that will take less time.” So far, more than 300 workers have signed up to participate in the seven days of action. This upcoming action follows years’ worth of protesting. Back in 2016, Instacart removed the option to tip in favor of guaranteeing its workers higher delivery commissions. About a month later, following pressure from its workers, the company reintroduced tipping. Then, in April 2018, Instacart began suggesting a 5% default tip and reduced its service fee from a 10% waivable fee to a 5% fixed fee. Instacart has previously said it’s committed to providing its shoppers with an earnings structure that offers upfront pay and guaranteed minimums. “We respect the voices of all shoppers and take the feedback of our community very seriously,” an Instacart spokesperson previously said in a statement. “We will continue to listen and engage with shoppers to improve their experience.” Instacart is under fire for how it compensates shoppers

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Just two more days to go until Disrupt Berlin opens its doors to thousands of the top international early-stage startup founders, investors, movers and shakers. And we have good news for all you last-minute decision makers. You can attend Disrupt — and still save money — by taking advantage of our late registration pricing. Depending on which pass you buy, you can keep up to €200 in your wallet. But don’t put off this decision any longer. The late registration ends tomorrow, 10 December at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Buy your Disrupt Berlin pass now and save. Attending Disrupt Berlin is a terrific investment of money, time and energy. Connect with like-minded startuppers, learn about the newest tech trends and come away revitalized and inspired to take your slice of the startup world to the next level. We’ve packed the Disrupt Berlin agenda with presentations, workshops and Q&As featuring conversations with the top players in the startup world. Here’s just a taste of what’s to come. Investing in 2020: Nothing changes quite as rapidly as investment trends. Carolina Brochado (Softbank Investment Advisors) will offer perspective from her experience both on the ground in Europe and from 50,000 feet to talk about what 2020 has in store for startups. The Top Three Immigration Mistakes Startups Make: Learn how to troubleshoot the many snags that can affect startups trying to bring international talent into their organizations, with top Silicon Valley immigration expert Sophie Alcorn. Mobilizing Emerging Markets: As the mobility industry evolves rapidly, a huge opportunity lies in emerging markets. Sujay Tyle, serial entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Frontier Car Group, is looking to capitalize on that opportunity with its investments in used-car marketplaces. Don’t miss Startup Battlefield — our epic pitch competition returns with an outstanding cadre of early-stage startup founders from around the world. They’ll deliver a high-speed pitch to expert judges and compete for the Battlefield Cup, investor and media exposure and a $50,000 cash infusion. Kick your networking into high gear and use CrunchMatch to navigate the hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in Startup Alley — including the TC Top Picks. Our business-matching platform helps you find the people and startups most aligned with your business goals. You spend less time looking and more time connecting with the right people. This year, we’re holding the TC Hackathon finals on the Extra Crunch stage. Come on over and see the products 10 dedicated teams designed and built in 24 hours. Whether you’re looking for skilled coders or just appreciate the artistry, don’t miss this event. The countdown is on, people. Disrupt Berlin 2019 starts in just two days, and late registration pricing ends tomorrow, 10 December at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). If you want in on the action — and save up to €200 — go buy your pass before the deadline hits. Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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You know that feeling when you look at your bank statements and try to figure out what on earth is going on? Or when you do your taxes? It turns out this isn’t just an insignificant feeling, but a scientifically recognized anxiety. Mathematics Anxiety (MA) is defined in research literature as feelings of concern, tension or nervousness experienced in combination with math in ordinary life and in academic situations. And it is, in fact, a widespread worldwide problem which can cause damaging effects throughout life. If your population is too scared to add up and subtract, your economy will suffer. Badly. Some 17 million adults in the UK (49% of the working-age) have a numeracy level expected from primary school children. This results in a £20 billion loss to the UK economy a year, according to one study. If that’s just the UK, imagine what the figures must be for other countries? If people weren’t so anxious about doing math, then we’d probably also have more tech workers. More than three quarters (77%) of children with high math anxiety are – when tested – between normal to high achievers on curriculum math tests. So this anxiety prevents students from entering STEM fields when in fact they would be perfectly able to perform well in these fields. The problem is down to the amygdala, the same part of the brain that responds to fearful situations. It shows a heightened response in children with high math anxiety (as if it’s a physical danger) and triggers a fight-or-flight response. The origins of Math Anxiety are rooted in the prevalence of accumulated negative math learning experiences by the age around six years old. So if you could get kids comfortable with Math by age 6, then you’d boost the economy and society. Now, to address this problem, two young math-savvy mums have co-founded a startup, Funexpected, to tackle this worldwide problem. Their solution is a ‘multisensory’ iOS app offering a new approach to learning which has achieved significant early success. Inside the first month of its launch, Apple featured the app among its “Best of September” and “New Apps We Love” in the UK and ‘Best Apps for Kids,’ ‘Awesome Kids Apps’ categories in App Stores of more than 60 countries. By late October this year, the startup has been selected as an edtech innovator for the EDUCATE programme led by the UCL Institute of Education,  considered by many to be the leading UK research accelerator into EdTEch. And as of last week, Apple Stores will feature the Funexpected app on the stores’ native devices among Prisma, Alterlight, Headspace and other big names. Furthermore, next year, Dor Abrahamson, professor of cognition and development at the UC Berkeley School of Education, plans to create a game for the app. The bootstrapped startup, founded by Natalia Pereldik (after she left Investment Banking) together with friend Alexandra Kazilo, has now seen its app downloaded more than 35,000 times in over 50 countries in four weeks after the launch. So what does it do? The app itself is a collection of 11 games located across the landscapes of Japan, Egypt and Greenland. Children tap, cut, slide, grab, move animated on-screen objects to propel the story forward, such as by feeding a monkey with the correct amount of juicy berries gathered from various branches or learning logic by catching the right type of fish with a net and filling a fish pond. Parents can use it with their kids as well. The app runs a subscription-based model of £3.99 a month ($5.25) or £31.99 a year ($42.10) It’s tackling a big market. The global mobile learning market was valued at $10.93 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach $179.21 billion by 2025.

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Imaging is one of the key markets in the emerging space tech industry, and for good reason – there’s a proven and robust demand for imaging and Earth observation data among government, private and other clients. Orbital satellites satisfy some of this demand, and companies like Planet have grown sizeable businesses on building satellites that can provide this kind of data more affordably, but startup Near Space Labs is taking a different approach that provides imaging better suited to certain types of industries and uses. “We decided to start a company and approach this from a totally new angle, and utilize this gap in aerospace, which is the stratosphere – twice higher than where airliners fly,” said Near Space Labs CEO Remarriages Matevosyan in an interview. “So from that vantage point, we have a very nice view of a very large area, we still can be very high resolution like an airplane or a drone would be, and we can also be very frequent: Currently, we have a daily cadence of imagery, which is unprecedented in this industry at the resolutions that we provide.” This kind of data is very useful for insurance, real estate and logistics companies, as well as for local municipalities, since it can provide highly relevant and timely data, in the form of very detailed images, quickly. That means you can check progress on a large construction project from an overall perspective, monitor emerging traffic congestion issues or check operational efficiency at a port from a top-down view. Traditional satellites aren’t great at providing this easily and affordably to businesses of all sizes, either because high-resolution optics from that altitude require hugely expensive spacecraft to operate, or because the younger companies working with more affordable satellites can’t achieve the resolution needed from that operating height, or provide data that’s as timely or available on an on-demand basis. “Our platform is made to be scalable, and it’s made to be easy to launch in areas where people need it,” Matevosyan said. “And that’s an advantage that we have against solutions that aren’t able to be very reactive to say, a disaster. We can easily fly during and after wildfires for example, whereas others [like drones and airplanes] would have a hard time.” Matevosyan says Near Space Labs can deploy one of its weather balloon-based stratospheric imaging platforms every day, after which it’ll ascend to its operating height and focus on an area taking photographs while aloft for a couple of hours, then come back down and provide immediate access to the resulting high-resolution images. Near Space Labs has developed its own hardware and software in-house, resulting in a proprietary robotic platform that gathers the data it then provides to clients. In addition to data, Near Space is working on building analytics layers for the photography it gathers to provide its customers with more of a one-stop shop for both imaging and interpretation. Near Space Labs has investment from Draper Associates, Wireframe Ventures and the Urban-X accelerator run by automaker Mini. Urban-X is focused on companies that help alter the shape of urban living, and Matevosyan says they see very big opportunities in helping municipalities reimagine how their cities operate, given the type and immediacy of imaging they can provide. Check out this high-res, 33MB version of the featured image above for an idea of how much detail Near Space Labs can capture:  

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Neuron Mobility, a Singapore-based startup, has closed an $18.5 million new financing round as it looks to scale its e-scooter startup in international markets – a month after the nation introduced difficult regulatory changes. The new financing round, dubbed Series A, was funded by GSR Ventures, a venture capital firm that was the first institutional investor in Chinese ride-hailing giant DiDi Chuxing, and Square Peg, Australia’s largest venture capital firm. Existing investors SeedPlus and SEEDS Capital also participated in the round. The three-year-old startup has raised about $23.5 million to date. Neuron Mobility, which began its journey in Singapore, operates an eponymous e-scooters rental platform. In recent years and quarters, Neuron has expanded to cities in Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. Neuron’s e-scooters are affordable in every market where they are available. In Brisbane, Australia, for instance, anyone can begin a trip with a Neuron’s bike by paying one Australian Dollar (68 U.S. cents) and then 38 Australian cents for each minute of the ride, Zachary Wang, co-founder and chief executive of Neuron, told TechCrunch in an interview. These electric scooters can go as fast as 25 kilometre per hour (15.5 miles per hour), and automatically slow down at certain places such as near a school. Wang said the startup closely works with city councils to understand how these e-scooters should operate. In a statement, Square Peg’s Tushar Roy said, “the culture of collaboration with cities permeates through Neuron. Its entire DNA is built around working very closely with local leadership to bring new mobility solutions to citizens in a safe and sustainable way.” On a single charge, a Neuron scooter can travel up to 60 kilometres (37.2 miles). These e-scooters are equipped with a swappable battery. Once the ride is finished, a customer can drop the bike at any nearby parking station or any suitable location. Neuron works with a large number of people who actively swap the batteries on these scooters. Like India’s electric scooter and bike startups Bounce and Yulu, Neuron Mobility also designs its electric scooters, but relies on Chinese equipment manufacturer for producing them. (Yulu recently inked a strategic deal with Bajaj Auto to task the Indian auto manufacturing giant with the production job. Singapore turns its back on electric scooters As Neuron expands to international markets, it has had to halt its e-scooter rental service in the home market of Singapore. Last month, Singapore said e-scooters could no longer operate on footpaths, creating major challenges for all the players. Wang, as well as executives from other startups have expressed concerns over the decision. Telepod, which uses e-scooters to deliver food, GrabFood, another food delivery startup, and shared e-scooter service startup Beam said they could no longer offer the same level of customer service to their users, and had little choice but to focus on other markets. Wang said that Neuron still has teams that work from Singapore, but they have always focused on the larger Asia Pacific region and other markets. Besides, Neuron stopped its service in Singapore months before the nation passed any new law. (Prior to the recent order, Singapore had other issues with electric scooters.) Neuron will use the fresh capital to further its footprint in the markets where it operates and explore building new categories, Wang said. “We feel we are in the midst of a wave where a number of technologies are falling into place that could help us improve our electric scooter and build more mobility solutions.” The startup is also exploring new markets, though Wang declined to name them. Like in the United States, electric scooters and bikes have imploded in Southeast Asian markets, where a growing number of familiar brands such as Lime, Bird, Ofo, oBike and local players are increasingly expanding their presence.

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China has reportedly ordered all foreign PC hardware and operating systems to be replaced in the next three years, intensifying an ongoing tech war. The country has attempted this sort of thing before halfheartedly, but this is the most serious effort yet to isolate itself from the influence of the western technology sector. The order came from high up in the Chinese government earlier this year, according to a Financial Times report citing Chinese tech analysts. The goal is not simply to replace American and European software and operating systems with Chinese equivalents, but the hardware they run on as well. China has previously ordered purges of western software, but they were more limited or related to certain security issues; there were efforts five years ago to wean the country off Android and Windows, but ultimately they proved abortive. This time could very easily be different. The relationship between the U.S. and China has become strained, to say the least, especially in the world of tech, where the two countries have shifted from earnest rivals to real adversaries. The U.S. has recently moved to ban some large Chinese hardware providers, such as ZTE and Huawei, from use in American infrastructure (Huawei has called the ban “unconstitutional”), and miscellaneous other policy decisions have widened the rift. FCC bans spending on Huawei, ZTE and other ‘national security threats’ The apparently decisive nature of the order, then, should come as no surprise. The goal is reportedly to replace 30 percent of the computers and software by the end of 2020, an additional 50 percent in 2021, and the remaining 20 percent in 2022. The three year “3-5-2” plan is ambitious to say the least. Tens of millions of devices will need to be replaced, but it isn’t as simple as trading out HP machines for Chinese-manufactured ones. The components and software must be Chinese as well, so Intel and AMD processors are out, as are Nvidia GPUs, ARM architectures, Sony image processors, and so on. This won’t be quite the shock it seems, however, as many Chinese companies have been preparing for this eventuality for years. China has made its desire to establish independence from U.S. companies especially quite clear and many state-backed enterprises have been unable to use U.S. suppliers for some time. Even so, Chinese equivalents to products like Windows and Android have nowhere near the level of maturity and developer support necessary to swap them out with no consequences. And the ban may hamstring other major efforts like the country’s push to dominate the AI ecosystem. If Chinese government-backed researchers are unable to use the same tools as their academic and private counterparts elsewhere in the world, their results will almost certainly suffer. The specifics of the plan are still confidential but will likely trickle out as they begin to be enforced. But this is likely to be a major driver of industry dynamics for several years as suppliers, developers, and manufacturers all learn to navigate the divergent markets.

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Despite the financial success of of the goofily likable “Aquaman,” Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is probably still the biggest draw in DC’s Extended Universe. She’s returning to big screens next year in “Wonder Woman 1984”, and Warner Bros released the first trailer over the weekend. As its title suggests, the sequel jumps about 70 years ahead from its predecessor’s World War I setting, as the trailer makes clear with some obligatory ’80s fashion and music. The trailer features plenty of shots of Gadot in action, and she even gets to show off a new Wonder Woman costume. The film also brings back Chris Pine as Steve Trevor — fans will recall (spoiler!) that Trevor died at the end of the first film, but it seems that he’s back from the dead and back in the middle of the story. The trailer also provides glimpses of Kristen Wiig as an archeologist who eventually becomes the villainous Cheetah and Pedro Pascal as the tycoon Maxwell Lord. And there are new scenes set in Wonder Woman’s childhood home, the mythical island of Themyscira. “Wonder Woman 1984” is scheduled for release on June 5, 2020. Gadot and Pine aren’t the only “Wonder Woman” alums returning for the sequel — director Patty Jenkins is also back behind the camera. ‘Aquaman’ is a ridiculous superhero epic

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Jow, the French e-grocery app — which combines recipes, recommendations and online grocery ordering — has raised $7 million in new funding. The round is led by Stride.VC, alongside Caterina Fake and Jyri Engeström from Yes VC, and Shan-Lyn Ma, the co-founder and CEO of Zola. Previous seed backers, DST global partners and eVentures, also participated. Launched in 2018 and now supporting five of France’s leading grocery retailers (Monoprix, Carrefour, Auchan, Chronodrive, and E.Leclerc), Jow’s app claims to let you complete your weekly online food shop in as little as a minute (once you’ve been on-boarded, of course). It does this by creating customised menus, tailored to each user and household, and then automatically fills your online shopping cart with the required ingredients. The idea is to answer the question: “what’s for dinner tonight?” while providing a more cost-effective alternative to recipe kits such as Blue Apron or Hellofresh, and less reliance on take-outs from the likes of Deliveroo or Uber Eats. “Doing your weekly shopping online can take you up to one hour,” says Jow co-founder and CEO Jacques-Edouard Sabatier. “You waste a lot of time looking for the right product category, sub category, scrolling through hundreds of references, you finally find your product, put it in your cart, and repeat this process up to 40 times (the number of items in your cart)! It’s a horrendous experience, with no added value at all for the customer”. That’s in contrast to brick ‘n’ mortar grocery shopping, argues Sabatier, where there is an opportunity to “feel, taste and smell the products”. He says it’s the terrible user experience of grocery shopping online that has limited its e-grocery growth. Jow aims to change that. “Jow creates a customised menu, just for you, with simple and delicious recipes,” explains Sabatier. “Our food recommendation engine considers your tastes, your kitchen appliances, whether or not you have children and checks the availability of the ingredients in your supermarket. Jow then automatically fills your cart with all the ingredients you need to cook the meals”. In addition, Jow offers a customised list of your repeat purchases, and its recommendation engine claims to help you choose the exact quantities needed to avoid waste. You can also check out with a single click, and the app will synchronise with your chosen supermarket delivery or pick up service. Noteworthy is that the app’s recipe to cart feature represents on average 75% of the products Jow users add to their cart. Staple products such as toilet paper, beverages, toothpaste etc. make up the remaining 25%. The app is free for end users, seeing the Paris and New York-based startup generate affiliate revenue from supermarkets that want to use the service to acquire younger, mobile-first customers. The business model is asset light, too, since Jow is largely built on top of the existing infrastructure and capabilities of larger supermarkets. “Apart from the 50x improvement on the e-grocery funnel, it’s unbelievable to see that to date, in a world where you have tailored and recommended experiences around music, video etc., you have no strong recommendation engine or experiences around food,” adds Sabatier. In addition, the startup believes that more broadly it has created a mobile e-grocery experience that actually works. “E-grocery is one of the only e-commerce segments where desktop still prevails,” says Sabatier. “[Bucking this trend], 90% of Jow’s customers shop using their mobile devices, the experience is so smooth and fast that you can do your weekly shopping in just one minute on the subway or the bus”.

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By Miles, the U.K. pay-by-mile car insurance provider, is launching a “connected car” insurance policy specifically for Tesla drivers. The new insurance product pulls real-time mileage information directly from a car owner’s Tesla account and uses the distance they have driven to price their insurance each month. It claims to be the first car insurance policy to take data from a car without the need for a “black box” or aftermarket device. The new policy — created in partnership with digital insurer La Parisienne Assurances (backed by Swiss Re) — offers lower mileage Tesla owners in the U.K. (those that drive under 7,000 miles a year) the opportunity to save significantly on their annual car insurance, according to By Miles. More broadly, the insurtech says it is bucking the trend of car insurance not keeping pace with changes in technology, including the move to connected and electric cars. It cites industry figures that suggest 1 in 10 new cars sold in the U.K. are now electric. James Blackham, co-founder of By Miles, says the insurance industry needs to “catch up and launch policies as smart as the cars themselves”. To activate the pay-per-mile Tesla policy, drivers simply connect their Tesla with their By Miles account, with no need to install a separate so-called “black box”. Via the By Miles app, they are then able to instantly see the cost of each day’s miles and pay for what they’ve driven monthly. The new policy also claims to provide electric-first policy coverage, including covering items often not included on insurance policies as standard, such as “damage or theft of charging cables and accessories as well as electric car batteries”. Meanwhile, in other ways the By Miles connected car policy isn’t so much of a deviation from the company’s existing By Miles coverage. It first launched a pay-by-mile policy in July 2018 enabled by its “Miles Tracker” device that plugs into your car to count mileage, and now claims over 10,000 policyholders.

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Sign up here to receive Max Q weekly in your inbox, starting December 15. This week saw a ton of activity in the space industry, with multiple launches, key preparations for commercial crew missions, robots and much more. Besides all the real space news, there’s also some extreme fan service for Star Wars lovers, courtesy of Disney and Boeing. Now I’m one day closer to my lifelong dream of becoming a real X-Wing starfighter pilot. Rocket Lab completes key step towards reusable rockets Launch startup Rocket Lab has been successfully delivering payloads to orbit for a while now, but earlier this year they announced they’d be moving to a launch system in which the booster they use to propel their spacecraft to orbit is reusable. An Electron rocket launching during a previous test. During their 10th mission with their Electron rocket, they took a crucial first step – testing the re-entry systems to bring the booster back to Earth’s atmosphere. Rocket Lab says the test went better than expected, which bodes well from moving to an actual test of properly recovering and refurbishing the thing. SpaceX launches 19th Space Station resupply mission The other big launch this week was SpaceX’s CRS-19 launch, which delivered 5,200 lbs of experiments and supplies to the ISS. This launch used a brand new Falcon 9, which SpaceX recovered with a landing at sea, and it also employed a Dragon cargo capsule that the company has flown twice before. On board, there’s a load of amazing new equipment for the ISS, like a ‘robot hotel.’ Emotionally intelligent IBM-powered assistant robot is heading to space You may not have heard, but there’s an advanced Alexa for astronauts called CIMON, and after a successful first test, it’s headed back to the ISS aboard the above SpaceX launch with improvements. One of its key improvements is a new ability to detect and respond to human emotions, which is, you know, HAL territory. SpaceX completes 7th parachute test SpaceX is getting closer to a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to its ability to launch astronauts on its commercial crew spacecraft. The company needs to do at least 10 parachute tests in a row to get ship-shape for its crew launch, and it’s now pretty close to getting that done before year’s end. Boeing completes dress rehearsal of crew launch Boeing is also getting closer to its own commercial crew launch, and in fact completed an entire rehearsal of how the mission will go on on launch day when it does its uncrewed launch. This rehearsal including fully feeling the rocket, and next time that happens, it’ll be taking off. Real X-Wings fly for real (really) X-Wing starfighters ascended through the night sky over Orlando, Florida this week as Disney celebrated the opening of its new ‘Rise of the Resistance’ attraction at Disney World. The X-Wings (2 of them!) were modified versions of a large cargo drone that Boeing has been developing, but both companies are keeping mum on any further details right now. Here’s what’s up in the world of space startups and investing What’s going on with space tech, and why is it having a moment? What’s coming next, and where is the smart money going? The answers to those questions and more lie in Starburst founder and aerospace investor François Chopard’s informative deck about space and defense, available exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers.

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Snapchat is preparing to launch a big new feature that uses your selfies to replace the faces of people in videos you can then share. It’s essentially a simplified way to Deepfake you into GIFs. Cameos are an alternative to Bitmoji for quickly conveying an emotion, reaction, or silly situation in Snapchat messages. Some French users received a test version of the feature today, as spotted by Snap enthusiast @Mtatsis. Snapchat Cameo makes you the star of videos TechCrunch reached out to Snap, which confirmed Cameo’s existence, and that it’s currently testing in limited availability in some international markets. The company provided this statement: “Cameos aren’t ready to take the stage yet, but stay tuned for their global debut soon!” @snapologie Cette fonctionnalité viens d'apparaître sur mon Snap ça s'appelle Caméos pic.twitter.com/F8bIrhbptb — Arthur (@gartr268) December 6, 2019 Vous avez Cameo sur snap ou je suis la seule? Je pleure de rire pic.twitter.com/G7E3ZKAilz — Aca (•‿•) (@toddflanderrs) December 7, 2019 C’est la meilleure invention que snap est jamais faite #cameo #snapchat pic.twitter.com/EcRQmGoFsV — FiLiPpinHo QLF (@gregv_) December 7, 2019 With Cameo, you’ll take a selfie to teach Snapchat what you look like. Then you choose if you want a vaguely male or female body type (no purposefully androgenous option). Cameo then lives inside the Bitmoji button in the Snapchat messaging keyboard. Snapchat has made a bunch of short looping video clips with sound that you can choose from. Snapchat will then stretch and move your selfie to create different facial reactions that Cameo can apply to actors’ heads in the videos. You just pick one of these videos that now star you and send it to the chat. Cameo could help Snapchat keep messaging interesting, which is critical since that remains its most popular and differentiated feature. With Instagram and WhatsApp having copied its Stories to great success, it must stay ahead in chat. Though in this case, Snap could be accused of copying Chinese social app Zao which let users more realistically Deepfake their faces into videos. Then again, JibJab popularized this kind of effect many years ago to stick your face on dancing Christmas elves. Snap is only starting to monetize the messaging wing of its app with ads inside social games. Snap might potentially sell sponsored, branded Cameo clips to advertisers similar to how the company offers sponsored augmented reality lenses. Cameo could put a more fun spin on technology for grafting faces into videos. Deepfakes can be used as powerful weapons of misinformation or abuse. But by offering only innocuous clips rather than statements from politicians or pornography, Snapchat could turn the tech into a comedic medium. [Image Credit: Jeff Higgins]

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After more than a year of teasing, Apple finally unveiled the new Mac Pro at WWDC in June. The long wait was finally over — though Apple left out one key detail: when, precisely the high end desktop would arrive, beyond a purposefully vague fall timeframe Earlier this, however, the company began sending out pre-pre-order notifications to potential consumers (spotted by Marques Brownlee), noting the orders will open December 10. When, precisely, they’ll start shipping is another question entirely, of course, but at the very least, you can get a raincheck for the extremely exepsnive Christmas present. A closer look at Apple’s reinvented Mac Pro The system starts at $5,999, plus the $4,999 Pro Display XDR monitor. You should probably also factor in the much ballyhooed stand, which adds another $999 to the price tag. Of course, price has never been Apple’s main selling point — something that goes double for the Mac Pro line. And the company’s clearly not holding anything back with this system, as it recommits itself to creative professionals. Contrary to earlier rumors, Apple noted back in September that the new Pro will be built in the U.S., like its predecessor.

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It’s among the most iconic images of the last few decades — a picture of an unknown man standing before a line of tanks during the protests in 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In just one shot, the photographer, Jeff Widener, managed to convey a society struggling between the freedoms of individual citizens and the heavy hand of the Chinese militarized state. It’s also an image that few within China’s “great firewall” have access to, let alone see. For those who have read 1984, it can almost seem as if “Tank Man” was dropped into a memory hole, erased from the collective memory of more than a billion people. By now, it’s well-known that China’s search engines like Baidu censor such political photography. Regardless of the individual morality of their decisions, it’s at least understandable that Chinese companies with mostly Chinese revenues would carefully hew to the law as set forth by the Chinese Communist Party. It’s a closed system after all. What we are learning though is that it isn’t just Chinese companies that are aiding and abetting this censorship. It’s Western companies too. And Western workers aren’t pleased that they are working to enforce the anti-freedom policies in the Middle Kingdom. Take Shutterstock, which has come under great fire for complying with China’s great firewall. As Sam Biddle described in The Intercept last month, the company has been riven internally between workers looking to protect democratic values, and a business desperate to expand further in one of the world’s most dynamic countries. From Biddle: Shutterstock’s censorship feature appears to have been immediately controversial within the company, prompting more than 180 Shutterstock workers to sign a petition against the search blacklist and accuse the company of trading its values for access to the lucrative Chinese market. Those petitions have allegedly gone nowhere internally, and that has led employees like Stefan Hayden, who describes nearly ten years of experience at the company as a frontend developer on his LinkedIn profile, to resign: Today is my last day at Shutterstock. I’ve been here for nine years but when an ethical dispute remains unaddressed and I have the privilege of being able to move on and I am proud to. https://t.co/K5131k0UyL — Stefan Hayden (@StefanHayden) December 6, 2019 The challenge of these political risks is hardly unknown to Shutterstock. The company’s most recent annual financial filing with the SEC lists market access and censorship as a key risk for the company (emphasis mine): For example, domestic internet service providers have blocked and continue to block access to Shutterstock in China and other countries, such as Turkey, have intermittently restricted access to Shutterstock. There are substantial uncertainties regarding interpretation of foreign laws and regulations that censor content available through our products and services and we may be forced to significantly change or discontinue our operations in such markets if we were to be found in violation of any new or existing law or regulation. If access to our products and services is restricted, in whole or in part, in one or more countries or our competitors can successfully penetrate geographic markets that we cannot access, our ability to retain or increase our contributor and customer base may be adversely affected, we may not be able to maintain or grow our revenue as anticipated, and our financial results could be adversely affected. Thus the rub: market access means compromising the very values that a content purveyor like Shutterstock relies on to operate as a business. The stock image company is hardly unique to find itself in this position; it’s a situation that the NBA has certainly had to confront in the last few weeks: The NBA should learn from Google China It’s great to see Shutterstock’s employees standing up for freedom and democracy, and if not finding purchase internally with their values, at least walking with their feet to other companies who value freedom more reliably. Unfortunately, far too many companies — and far too many tech companies — blindly chase the dollars and yuans, without considering the erosion in the values at the heart of their own business. That erosion ultimately adds up — without guiding principles to handle business challenges, decisions get made ad hoc with an eye to revenues, intensifying the risk of crises like the one facing Shutterstock. The complexity of the Chinese market has only expanded with the country’s prodigious growth. The sharpness, intensity, and self-reflection of values required for Western companies to operate on the mainland has reached new highs. And yet, executives have vastly under-communicated the values and constraints they face, both to their own employees but also to their shareholders as well. As I wrote earlier this year when the Google China search controversy broke out, it’s not enough to just be militant about values. Values have to be cultivated, and everyone from software engineers to CEOs need to understand a company’s objectives and the values that constrain them. Google employees can’t just walk away from ethical tradeoffs like Dragonfly As I wrote at the time: The internet as independence movement is 100% dead. That makes the ethical terrain for Silicon Valley workers much more challenging to navigate. Everything is a compromise, in one way or another. Even the very act of creating value — arguably the most important feature of Silicon Valley’s startup ecosystem — has driven mass inequality, as we explored on Extra Crunch this weekend in an in-depth interview. I ultimately was in favor of Google’s engagement with China, if only because I felt that the company does understand its values better than most (after all, it abandoned the China market in the first place, and one would hope the company would make the same choice again if it needed to). Google has certainly not been perfect on a whole host of fronts, but it seems to have had far more self-reflection about the values it intends to purvey than most tech companies. It’s well past time for all American companies though to double down on the American values that underly their business. Ultimately, if you compromise on everything, you stand for nothing — and what sort of business would anyone want to join or back like that? China can’t be ignored, but neither should companies ignore their own duties to commit to open, democratic values. If Tank Man can stand in front of a line of tanks, American execs can stand before a line of their colleagues and find an ethical framework and a set of values that can work.

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Raysecur says at least ten times a day someone sends a suspicious package containing powder, liquid, or some other kind of hazard. The Boston, Mass.-based startup says its desktop-sized 3D real-time scanning technology, dubbed MailSecur, can intercept and detect threats in the mailroom before they ever make it onto the office floor. Mailroom security may not seem fancy or interesting, but they’re a common gateway into a corporate environment. They’re a huge attack vector for attackers — both physical and cyber. Earlier this year we wrote about warshipping, a “Trojan horse”-type attack that can be used as a way for hackers to ship hardware exploits into a business, break the Wi-Fi, and pivot onto the corporate network to steal data. Now, the company has raised $3 million in seed-round funding led by One Way Ventures, with participation from Junson Capital, Launchpad Venture Group, and also Dreamit Ventures, a Philadelphia-based early stage investor and accelerator, which last year announced it would move into the early-stage security space. Raysecur’s proprietary millimeter-wave scanner, MailSecur. (Image: supplied) Raysecur uses millimeter-wave technology — similar to the scanners you find at airport security — to examine suspicious letters, flat envelopes, and small parcels. Its technology can detect powders as small as 2% of a teaspoon or a single drop of liquid, the company claims. The startup said the funding will help expand its customer base. Although still in its infancy, the company has about ten Fortune 500 customers using its MailSecur scanner. Since it was founded in 2018, the company has scanned more than 9.2 million packages. Semyon Dukach, managing partner at One Way Ventures, said the funding will help “bring this compelling technology to an even broader market.” With warshipping, hackers ship their exploits directly to their target’s mail room

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“The Crown” has returned to Netflix with a new cast — Olivia Colman as a middle-aged Queen Elizabeth, Tobias Menzies as her husband Prince Philip and Helena Bonham Carter as her sister Princess Margaret. Loyal listeners of the Original Content podcast may recall that we reviewed the show’s first two seasons last year. We didn’t have particularly high hopes, but “The Crown” quickly won us over with its stunning sets and costumes, talented actors, and serious exploration of the role that the monarchy plays in an evolving England. As we explain in our latest episode, “The Crown” is both changed and unchanged in its third season. Anyone who’s watched past episodes will recognize the new season’s tone and preoccupations, but the characters have evolved — not just thanks to new actors, but also as the real-life monarchs they’re portraying become more settled in their roles. Plus, a new generation of royals (including Prince Charles) is entering adulthood. Our reactions to these changes were mixed. While Jordan enjoyed seeing a more recognizable period of history — one that foreshadows the dramas of the ’80s and ’90s — Anthony felt the show became a tiny bit less compelling. He had no complaints about Colman (who recently won an Oscar for playing a different English monarch in “The Favourite”), but he found the older Elizabeth less memorable than the young queen who was still struggling to define her role. As for Darrell, he only watched a couple episodes before giving up. But he still had plenty of thoughts about why he has no interest in continuing. In addition to reviewing “The Crown,” we also discuss Plex’s new ad-supported streaming service. You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!) And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down: 0:00 Intro 0:35 Plex discussion 8:40 “The Crown” season 3 spoiler-free review 38:33 “The Crown” spoiler discussion

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using? This week we look at how the Black Friday weekend played out on mobile (including which non-shopping category that saw a boost in revenue!), as well as a few security-related stories, TikTok’s latest bad press, plus Apple and Google’s best and most downloaded apps of 2019, and more. Headlines 80% of Android apps are encrypting traffic by default Google gave an update on Android security this week, noting that 80% of Android applications were encrypting traffic by default, and that percentage was higher for apps targeting Android 9 or higher, with 90% of them encrypting traffic by default. Android protects the traffic entering or leaving the devices with TLS (Transport Layer Security). Its new statistics are related to Android 7’s introduction of the Network Security Configuration in 2016, which allows app developers to configure the network security policy for their app through a declarative configuration file. Apps targeting Android 9 (API level 28) or higher automatically have a policy set by default that prevents unencrypted traffic for every domain. And since Nov. 1, 2019, all apps (including app updates) must target at least Android 9, Google says. That means the percentages will improve as more apps roll out their next updates. Black Friday boosted mobile game revenue to a record $70M U.S. sales holiday Black Friday wasn’t just good for online shoppers, who spent a record $7.4 billion in sales, $2.9 billion from smartphones. It also boosted iOS and Android mobile game revenue to a single-day record of $69.7 million in the U.S., according to Sensor Tower. This was the most revenue ever generated in a single day for the category, and it represents a 25% increase over 2018. Marvel Contest of Champions from Kabam led the day with approximately $2.7 million in player spending. Two titles from Playrix — Gardenscapes and Homescapes — also won big, with $1 million and $969,000 in revenue, respectively. These increases indicate that consumers are looking for all kinds of deals on Black Friday, not just those related to holiday gift-giving. They’re also happy to spend on themselves in games. Mobile publishers caught on to this trend and offered special in-game deals on Black Friday which really paid off. Did Walmart beat Amazon’s app on Black Friday? Sensor Tower and Apptopia said it did. App Annie also said it did, but then later took it back (see update). In any event, it must have been a close race. According to Sensor Tower, Walmart’s app reached No.1 on the U.S. App Store on Black Friday with 113,000 new downloads, a year-over-year increase of 23%. Amazon had 102,000 downloads, making it No. 2. Arguably, many Amazon shoppers already have the app installed, so this is more about Walmart’s e-commerce growth more so than some ding on Amazon. In fact, Apptopia said that Amazon still had 162% more mobile sessions over the full holiday weekend — meaning Amazon was more shopped than Walmart. More broadly, mobile shopping is still huge on Black Friday. The top 10 shopping apps grew their new installs by 11% over last year on Black Friday, to reach a combined 527,000 installs. Report: Android Advanced Protection Program could prevent sideloading Google’s Advanced Protection Program protects the accounts of those at risks of targeted attacks — like journalists, activists, business leaders, and political campaign teams. This week, 9to5Google found the program may get a new protection feature with the ability to block sideloading of apps, according to an APK breakdown. What’s not yet clear is if program members will have the option to disable the protection, but there are some indications that may be the case. Another feature the report uncovered appears to show that Play Protect will automatically scan all apps, including those from outside the Play Store. This won’t affect the majority of Android users, of course, but it is an indication of where Google believes security risks may be found: sideloaded apps. Bug hunter suggests Security.plist standard for apps

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Boeing might be taking the last crucial steps to prepare for its first crewed Starliner capsule spaceflight, but it’s also busy turning sci-fi into reality right here on Earth – by helping Disney build X-Wing large-scale starfighters to celebrate the opening of the ‘Rise of the Resistance’ ride at Disney World in Florida. Earlier this week when the ride opened during an evening ceremony, X-Wings “roughly the size of a family van” flew over the event, as described by The Drive, which first identified earlier spy shots of the vehicles as potentially being based on Boeing’s aerial cargo drone. Boeing has since confirmed its involvement, but they aren’t providing more info than that the X-Wings were indeed their aircraft. In the clip below, you can see the X-Wings ascend vertically into the night sky, then hover and rotate before heading out. Don’t go squinting to see if you can spot Poe Dameron at the controls, however – these are unpiloted drones based mostly likely on the Cargo Air Vehicle design Boeing has recently shown off, which sports six rotors (you can see them in close-ups of the X-Wing included in the gallery at the end of this post). Astute observers and Star Wars fans will note that the X-Wings feature the split-engine design introduced in the T-70 variant that are flown by the Resistance in the current trilogy, as opposed to the full cylinder engine design on the T-65 from the original trilogy. That makes perfect sense, since the Rise of the Resistance ride takes place during an encounter between the Resistance and the First Order during the current trilogy timeline. As for Boeing’s CAV, it recently completed a three-minute test flight during which it demonstrated forward movement, after flying outdoors during a hover test for the first time earlier this year. The cargo drone is designed for industrial applications, and can carry up to 500 lbs of cargo, but it’s still in the testing phase, which makes this Star Wars demonstration even more interesting. [gallery ids="1921346,1921347,1921348,1921349"]

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posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Chinese investor activity in Africa. Before that, I noted Airbnb’s issues. Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to [email protected] or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you’re new, you can subscribe to Startups Weekly here. Europe’s appeal This week I want to talk about Europe and not just because I’m in Europe prepping for TechCrunch’s annual conference, TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. But because of a new trend we’re seeing in which U.S. venture capital funds strike deals overseas—more than ever. Forbes wrote a piece on this trend this week alongside the release of their annual European Midas List, which ranks the top VCs on the continent. More and more, top funds, including the likes of Sequoia and Benchmark, are writing checks to companies in London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Stockholm and more.  Sequoia, for example, funded a teenager in Dublin, Ireland this year. Evervault is building a data protection solution aimed at developers, by way of an API, which aims to bake data protection into the app from the start. We hear a number of other top firms are sending partners over seas, too, or considering making such moves. Why? To search for companies to add to their global portfolios (in a region where they may also see a nice discount). As we prep for a new year, this is one of several trends in VC I’ll be keeping an eye on. Workplace toxicity If you didn’t log on to Twitter this week, you may have missed The Verge’s investigation into workplace toxicity at Away, a ‘unicorn’ travel company known for its lightweight, compact suitcases (full disclosure: I have an Away bag). Read that story first, then check out Winnie co-founder and chief executive officer Sara Mauskopf’s piece from this week, “The inevitable takedown of the female CEO,” in which she questions why we celebrate female-founded companies, until they rise too far. Here’s a passage: Aggressive. Blunt. Furious. These are words that have been used to criticize the behavior of female CEOs of prominent companies like Thinx, Cleo, Rent the Runway and ThirdLove, to name a few. Away is the latest female-led company to come under fire, in an article in The Verge on Thursday. First, let me be clear: A toxic work culture is never acceptable. Regardless of who started a company or what kind of stress the company is under, it’s never okay to mistreat employees. Some of the things that came to light in these pieces are particularly abhorrent: sexual harassment, lying about one’s credentials, creating an unsafe space for underrepresented groups, overworking employees. These are dynamics that need to be called out and eliminated at all companies, whether female or male-led. The Away example is no exception. The top VC deals of the week: Vroom nabs $254M to take its growth up a gear Flipkart leads $60M investment in logistics company Shadowfax Autonomous shuttle startup May Mobility gets $50M Fashion rental company Style Theory nabs $15M GitGuardian nabs $12M to help developers write more secure code Uniform Teeth gets $10M for its teeth-straightening operations Brazilian fintech startup Cora raises $10M Meatable, the startup developing tech for manufacturing cultured meat, raises $10M Reelgood raises $6.75M for its universal streaming guide Apostrophe secures $6M to let you see a dermatologist from your phone Plus, read my profile of VSCO, the photo-sharing and editing app you may have never heard of. That is, until the “VSCO girl” meme craze of 2019. Disrupt Berlin It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of the year again, but Disrupt Berlin is this week! I’m in Berlin this week to meet with Europe’s top VCs and some of the most promising founders in the region. If you’re here too, make sure to say hi. Here are a few things you can expect to hear about at the event: Learn how to win customers and influence consumers Three of the best tackle the thorny issue of Brexit for startups Learn how to raise your first Euros #Equity If you like this newsletter, you will definitely enjoy Equity, which brings the content of this newsletter to life — in podcast form! Join myself and Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm every Friday for a quick breakdown of the week’s biggest news in venture capital and startups. This week, we discussed Harlem Capital’s debut fund, a $40 million effort that will back minority entrepreneurs. On top of that, we shared thoughts on Figure’s latest funding, European venture capital activity and more. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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