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Space Force will be a Marines-like branch under Air Force authority

Posted by on Feb 19, 2019 in Air Force, america, army, department of defense, Donald Trump, military, pentagon, Space, Space Force, star wars, TC, trump, Trump administration, United States | 0 comments

President Trump is expected to sign into creation the Space Force today, as a special branch of the military overseen by the Air Force Department, according to a report in The Washington Post.

The president’s decision is considered a win for the Air Force and Defense Department broadly, which had argued against setting up an independent military department based on their concerns that it would add new layers of bureaucracy, according to the Pentagon .

Speaking at an event at The Brookings Institute, Air Force chief of staff Gen. David L. Goldfein discussed the decision-making process around the creation of the Space Force — saying that Defense Department officials had discussed a range of options, from creating an entire department to establishing a smaller, professional core of personnel, like the Army’s Medical Corps.

With the decision, the Trump Administration is likely to establish a service that looks more like the Marine Corps, which is part of the Navy but unique within it, than an entirely new branch of the military. The Space Force will be led by a four-star general who will have a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it will not have a secretary-level post, according to the Post report.

Perhaps more significantly, the Trump administration is reviving the U.S. Space Command, which will be headed by a four-star officer and will coordinate military operations in space.

These days, those operations consist of communications, surveillance and satellite defense, but as plans continue to set up more permanent bases on the Moon and eventually Mars, these efforts could expand to protect personnel as well.

The U.S. disestablished the Space Command in 2002 under the George W. Bush administration. Created in 1985 during the Reagan administration’s second term, when the “Star Wars” missile defense program was in full swing, the Space Command was tasked with defining strategic objectives for the U.S. in space, and executing them.

When President Trump announced the new Space Command in December, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that the surge in threats to America’s space program warranted the resurrection of the program.

“We are shifting to a war fighting culture at the explicit recognition that it is a war fighting domain,” Wilson was quoted by Space News as saying at the time. “Adversaries are developing capabilities to deny us the use of space in crisis or war. The creation of a unified command puts focus on the ability to protect our assets on orbit and prevail if called upon.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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FDA chief summons Altria and JUUL to Washington to discuss teen vaping

Posted by on Feb 8, 2019 in Altria, america, E-Cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, Food and Drug Administration, Government, head, juul, Social Media, Startups, TC, tobacco, Virginia | 0 comments

The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is calling Altria and Juul to meet in Washington to discuss their tie-up and how it impacts the companies’ plans to combat teen vaping. Earlier this year, Altria <a href=”https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/20/juul-labs-gets-12-8-billion-investment-from-marlboro-maker-altria-group/”>invested $12.8 billion investment in Juul.

“After Altria’s acquisition of a 35 percent ownership interest in JUUL Labs, Inc., your newly announced plans with JUUL contradict the commitments you made to the FDA,” Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote in a strongly worded letter addressed to Altria chairman and chief executive, Howard A. Willard III.

“When we meet, Altria should be prepared to explain how this acquisition affects the full range of representations you made to the FDA and the public regarding your plans to stop marketing e-cigarettes and to address the crisis of youth use of e-cigarettes,” Gottlieb wrote.

The commissioner sent a similarly worded message to Juul’s chief executive, Kevin Burns.

As part of that deal, Juul is getting access to Altria’s retail shelf space; the company is sending out direct communications pitching Juul to adult smokers through cigarette pack inserts and mailings to the company’s database of customers; and the two will combine the power of their respective sales and distribution backend which reaches roughly 230,000 retailers across America.

The recent deal comes only months after Juul released its plan to combat teen vaping — something the FDA had required of the company.

In the commitments it made last year, the vape manufacturer and retailer said it would expand its secret shopper program to make sure underage buyers weren’t getting access to its products; pull its campaigns from social media; and limit sales of non-traditional cigarette flavors (menthol, mint, Virginia tobacco, and “classic” tobacco) to the company’s website — which requires age verification.

Gottlieb isn’t the only one who has a problem with Juul. We’ve written about how the company has lowered the barrier to entry for nicotine addiction.

For Gottlieb, the addition of Altria’s marketing firepower and network of 230,000 retail locations likely isn’t an indicator of a company that’s willing to winnow down access to its products.

“I am aware of deeply concerning data showing that youth use of JUUL represents a significant proportion of the overall use of e-cigarette products by children. I have no reason to believe these youth patterns of use are abating in the near term, and they certainly do not appear to be reversing,” Gottlieb wrote. “Manufacturers have an independent responsibility to take action to address the epidemic of youth use of their products. My office will contact you to arrange a meeting to discuss these issues. Pursuant to your request, we intend to schedule this as a joint meeting with both Altria and JUUL.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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With its Greenlots acquisition, Shell is moving from gas stations to charging stations

Posted by on Jan 30, 2019 in america, bp, California, ceo, ChargePoint, charging stations, Chevron Technology Ventures, chief executive officer, electric car, electric vehicle, electric vehicles, Energy, Greenlots, inductive charging, Los Angeles, managing partner, New Jersey, New York, Software, TC, Technology, Tesla, transport, United States, volkswagen | 0 comments

In a bid to show that it’s getting ready for the electrification of American roads, Royal Dutch Shell is buying Greenlots, a Los Angeles-based developer of electric vehicle charging and energy management technologies.

Shell, which is making the acquisition through its Shell New Energies US subsidiary, snatched the company from Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech-focused investment firm.

“As our customers’ needs evolve, we will increasingly offer a range of alternative energy sources, supported by digital technologies, to give people choice and the flexibility, wherever they need to go and whatever they drive,” said Mark Gainsborough, Executive Vice President, New Energies for Shell, in a statement. “This latest investment in meeting the low-carbon energy needs of US drivers today is part of our wider efforts to make a better tomorrow. It is a step towards making EV charging more accessible and more attractive to utilities, businesses and communities.”

Courtesy of Ed Robinson/Shell

Since Greenlots raised its cash from Energy Impact Partners, the company has become the partner of choice for utilities for electric vehicle charging, according to the firm. Greenlots was selected as the sole software provider for VolksWagen’s “Electrify America” charging program  last January.

“Utilities are playing a pivotal role in accelerating the transition to a future electric mobility system that is safer, cleaner and more efficient,” said Greenlots CEO Brett Hauser, adding, “We look forward to now working with the resources, scale and reach of Shell to further accelerate this transition.”

“Greenlots is on an incredible trajectory and, in the hands of a company with the resources such as Shell, will be able to advance the important electrification of transportation even faster,” said EIP managing partner Hans Kobler in a statement.

For Shell, the deal adds to a portfolio of electric charging assets including the Dutch-based company, NewMotion.

Across the board energy companies are spending more time and money backing and deploying electric charging technology companies. ChargePoint, a Greenlots competitor, raised $240 million in a November financing that included Chevron Technology Ventures, while BP bought the UK-based public charging network Chargemaster last year.

Despite pushback in some corners of America to the increasing electrification of U.S. highways and byways, the future of mobility needs to be electric if there’s any hope of slowing (and ideally halting and reversing) climate change globally.

Some signs of hope can be found in the latest earnings statement from Tesla, which points to increased uptake of its electric vehicles.  The teased release of an electric truck could potentially even help win converts among those drivers who like to “roll coal” in the presence of hybrids or electric cars.

 

States are already investing heavily in electric infrastructure themselves to promote the adoption of vehicles. California, New York, and New Jersey announced last June a total of $1.3 billion in new infrastructure projects focused on electric vehicle charging.

That’s still not enough to meet the goals necessary to reduce greenhouse gases significantly enough. In all, the U.S. needs to put roughly 13 million electric vehicles on the road in order to meet the targets put forward in the Paris Accords climate treaty (which the U.S. walked away from last year).

According to estimates from the Center for American Progress, the U.S. needs to spend $4.7 billion through 2025 to buy and install the 330,000 public charging outlets the nation will need to meet that electric demand.

“As power and mobility converge, there will be a seismic shift in how people and goods are transported,” said Brett Hauser, Chief Executive Officer of Greenlots. “Electrification will enable a more connected, autonomous and personalized experience. Our technology, backed by the resources, scale and reach of Shell, will accelerate this transition to a future mobility ecosystem that is safer, cleaner and more accessible.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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With cybersecurity threats looming, the government shutdown is putting America at risk

Posted by on Jan 24, 2019 in agriculture, america, China, Column, computer security, cybercrime, Cyberwarfare, Department of Homeland Security, Federal government, Finance, Food, Government, Internal Revenue Service, Iran, national security, North Korea, presidential election, russia, Security, United States | 0 comments

Putting political divisions and affiliations aside, the government partially shutting down for the third time over the last year is extremely worrisome, particularly when considering its impact on the nation’s cybersecurity priorities. Unlike the government, our nation’s enemies don’t “shut down.” When our nation’s cyber centers are not actively monitoring and protecting our most valuable assets and critical infrastructure, threats magnify and vulnerabilities become further exposed.

While Republicans and Democrats continue to butt heads over border security, the vital agencies tasked with properly safeguarding our nation from our adversaries are stuck in operational limbo. Without this protection in full force acting around the clock, serious extraneous threats to government agencies and private businesses can thrive. This shutdown, now into its fourth week, has crippled key U.S. agencies, most notably the Department of Homeland Security, imperiling our nation’s cybersecurity defenses.

Consider the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which has seen nearly 37 percent of its staff furloughed. This agency leads efforts to protect and defend critical infrastructure, as it pertains to industries as varied as energy, finance, food and agriculture, transportation and defense.

As defined in the 2001 Patriot Act, critical infrastructure is such that, “the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” In the interest of national security, we simply cannot tolerate prolonged vulnerability in these areas.

Employees who are considered “essential” are still on the job, but the loss of supporting staff could prove to be costly, in both the short and long term. More immediately, the shutdown places a greater burden on the employees deemed essential enough to stick around. These employees are tasked with both longer hours and expanded responsibilities, leading to a higher risk of critical oversight and mission failure, as weary agents find themselves increasingly stretched beyond their capabilities.

The long-term effects, however, are quite frankly, far more alarming. There’s a serious possibility our brightest minds in cybersecurity will consider moving to the private sector following a shutdown of this magnitude. Even ignoring that the private sector pays better, furloughed staff are likely to reconsider just how valued they are in their current roles. After the 2013 shutdown, a significant segment of the intelligence community left their posts for the relative stability of corporate America. The current shutdown bears those risks as well. A loss of critical personnel could result in institutional failure far beyond the present shutdown, leading to cascading security deterioration.

This shutdown has farther-reaching effects for the federal government to attract talent in the form of recent college grads or those interested in transitioning from the private sector. The stability of government was once viewed as a guarantee compared to the private sector, but work could incentivize workers to take their talents to the private sector.

The IRS in particular is extremely vulnerable, putting America’s private sector and your average taxpayer directly in the cross-hairs. The shutdown has come at the worst time of the year, as the holidays and the post-holiday season tend to have the highest rates for cybercrime. In 2018, the IRS reported a 60 percent increase in email scams. Meanwhile, as the IRS furloughed much of its staff as well, cyber criminals are likely to ramp up their activity even more.

Though the agency has stated it will recall a “significant portion” of its personnel to work without pay, it has also indicated there will be a lack of support for much beyond essential service. There’s no doubt cybercriminals will see this as a lucrative opportunity. With tax season on the horizon, the gap in oversight will feed directly into cyber criminals’ playing the field, undoubtedly resulting in escalating financial losses due to tax identity theft and refund fraud.

Cyberwarfare is no longer some distant afterthought, practiced and discussed by a niche group of experts in a back room. Cyberwarfare has taken center stage on the virtual battlefield. Geopolitical adversaries such as North Korea, Russia, Iran and China rely on cyber as their most agile and dangerous weapon against the United States. These hostile nation-states salivate at the idea of a prolonged government shutdown.

From Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to Chinese state cybercriminals breaching Marriott Hotels, the necessity to protect our national cybersecurity has never been more explicit.

If our government doesn’t resolve this dilemma quickly, America’s cybersecurity will undoubtedly suffer serious deterioration, inevitably endangering the lives and safety of citizens across the nation. This issue goes far beyond partisan politics, yet needs both parties to come to a consensus immediately. Time is not on our side.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Video game revenue tops $43 billion in 2018, an 18% jump from 2017

Posted by on Jan 22, 2019 in america, computing, Earnings, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, entertainment software association, esa, fortnite battle royale, Gaming, HBO, Netflix, Reed Hastings, sensor tower, streaming services, TC, video game, YouTube | 0 comments

Video game revenue in 2018 reached a new peak of $43.8 billion, up 18 percent from the previous years, surpassing the projected total global box office for the film industry, according to new data released by the Entertainment Software Association and The NPD Group.

Preliminary indicators for global box office revenues published at the end of last year indicated that revenue from ticket sales at box offices around the world would hit $41.7 billion, according to comScore data reported by Deadline Hollywood.

The $43.8 billion tally also surpasses numbers for streaming services, which are estimated to rake in somewhere around $28.8 billion for the year, according to a report in Multichannel News.

Video games and related content have become the new source of entertainment for a generation — and it’s something that has new media moguls like Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings concerned. In the company’s most recent shareholder letter, Netflix said that Fortnite was more of a threat to its business than TimeWarner’s HBO.

“We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO,” the company’s shareholder letter stated. “When YouTube went down globally for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time…There are thousands of competitors in this highly fragmented market vying to entertain consumers and low barriers to entry for those with great experiences.”

“The impressive economic growth of the industry announced today parallels the growth of the industry in mainstream American culture,” said acting ESA president and CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis, in a statement. “Across the nation, we count people of all backgrounds and stages of life among our most passionate video game players and fans. Interactive entertainment stands today as the most influential form of entertainment in America.”

Gains came from across the spectrum of the gaming industry. Console and personal computing, mobile gaming, all saw significant growth, according to Mat Piscatella, a video games industry analyst for The NPD Group.

According to the report, hardware and peripherals and software revenue increased from physical and digital sales, in-game purchases and subscriptions.

U.S. Video Game Industry Revenue 2018 2017 Growth Percentage
Hardware, including peripherals $7.5 billion $6.5 billion 15%
Software, including in-game purchases and subscriptions  

$35.8 billion

 

$30.4 billion

18%
Total: $43.3 billion $36.9 billion 18%

Source: The NPD Group, Sensor Tower


Source: The Tech Crunch

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This wristband detects an opiate overdose

Posted by on Dec 28, 2018 in america, carnegie mellon, Gadgets, Health, medicine, pittsburgh, TC | 0 comments

A project by students at Carnegie Mellon could save lives. Called the HopeBand, the wristband senses low blood oxygen levels and sends a text message and sounds an alarm if danger is imminent.

“Imagine having a friend who is always watching for signs of overdose; someone who understands your usage pattern and knows when to contact [someone] for help and make sure you get help,” student Rashmi Kalkunte told IEEE. “That’s what the HopeBand is designed to do.”

The team won third place in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Opioid Challenge at the Health 2.0 conference in September and they are planning to send the band to a needle exchange program in Pittsburgh. They hope to sell it for less than $20.

Given the more than 72,000 overdose deaths in America this year a device like this could definitely keep folks a little safer.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Kencko wants to help you eat more fruit and vegetables

Posted by on Aug 26, 2018 in america, Apple Watch, bangkok, Blue Apron, Canada, China, Diets, eCommerce, Food, Fruit, Health, iOS, juice, London, New York, organic food, Portugal, Prevention, public health, TC, TechStars, United Kingdom, United States | 0 comments

People don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, that’s despite an embarrassment of options today that include fast grocery delivery and takeout services with a focus on health.

A study from the U.S-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last November found that just one in ten adults in America “meet the federal fruit or vegetable recommendations” each day. The bar isn’t that high. The recommendation is just 1.5-2 cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables per day, but failing to meet it can put people at risk of chronic diseases, the CDC said.

The problem is universal the world over, but perhaps most acute in the U.S, where finding healthy food is easier than ever. Amazon’s same-day grocery deliveries, make-it-at-home services like Blue Apron and various healthy takeout services have helped some people, but no doubt there’s much more to be done for standards to be raised across the nation and beyond.

That’s where one early-stage startup, Kencko, is aiming to make a difference by making fruit and vegetable more accessible. Its thesis is that wholly organic diets are daunting to most, but packaging the good parts in new ways can make it easier for anyone to be more healthy.

The company’s first offering is a fruit drink that can be made in minutes using just a sachet, water and its mixer bottle.

Kencko currently offers five different organic fruit and vegetable mixes

Just add water

Unlike other ‘instant’ mixer options, Kencko uses freeze-drying to turn fruit and vegetable mixes into powder without compromising on health. That process — which is similar to how NASA develops food for astronauts — retains minerals, protein, vitamins and all the other good stuff typically lost in healthy drinks, the startup said. The fruit and vegetables used are organic and sourced from across the world — that’s broken down into more details on the Kencko website — while the mixes don’t contain sugar or other additives.

Kencko customers make their drink by mixing the sachet with water and shaking for one minute. Each sachet is 20g and, when combined with water, that gets you a 160g serving. That’s around two daily portions, and it  has a 180-day shelf live so it can keep. There are six different combinations, each one is a mixture of six fruit and vegetables.

Unlike others that pair with water, Kencko actually includes fruit pieces and seeds — I tested a batch. That’s pretty unique, although it is worth noting that some of the more berry fruit heavy combinations mix less efficiently than the plant-based ones, at least from my experience. As someone who lives in a city where fresh fruit and vegetables are easily found — thank you, Bangkok — I’m not the target customer. But I can readily recall living the busy 9-6 office life in London a decade ago, and back then I’d have been curious enough to at least take Kencko for a spin in my quest to be a little healthier.

Kencko is also affordable when compared to most health food options, which tend to be positioned as premium.

Packs are priced at $29.90 for ten sachets, $74.50 for 30 and $123.50 for 60. The startup offers a ‘Lifetime Founding Member’ package that gives 30 percent off those prices for an initial charge. That’s $32 for those wanting 10 servinggs, $79.90 for 30 and $129 for 60.

Two of my Kencko mixes

More than pressed juice

Kencko — which means health in Japanese — is the brainchild of Tomás Froes, a former tech worker who got into veganism after being diagnosed with acute gastritis.

Froes, who is from Portugal and once ran an artisanal hot dog brand in China, was told that his ailment was treatable but that it would require a cocktail of pills for the rest of his life. Seeking an alternative, he threw himself into the world of alternative health and, after settling on a 90 percent fruit and vegetable diet, found that his condition had cleared without medicine.

Keen to help others enjoy the benefits of his journey, he began talking to nutritionists and experts whilst trying to figure out possible business options. In an interview with TechCrunch, Froes said he settled on a new take on the existing ‘health drink’ space that he maintains is inadequate in a number of ways.

“The end goal is to help consumers reach the recommendation of five servings/portions of fruit a day,” he explained. “That would be impossible to do if we excluded the seeds and bits of fruits like cold-pressed juice companies do. They press the juice out of the fruits, leaving the most nutritional part from pulp and the seeds out.”

“We blast freeze fruit and vegetables at -40 degrees which allows us to maintain the same nutritional properties as fresh fruit for longer periods. We then use a slow heat process of 60 degrees to evaporate only take the water-based parts without damaging nutrition,” Froes added.

Added that, Froes said, Kencko helps cut down on the use of plastic by using the same mixer, return customers only require new sachets.

As proof of Kencko’s versatility, he brought his mixer and sachets along to the vegan cafe we met at earlier this year when I visited London, putting me to shame for buying the cold pressed option — which was no doubt more expensive, to boot.

Kencko is based in New York but with a processing facility in Lisbon, Portugal. It is heavily focused on the U.S. market where it offers delivery in 24-48 hours, but it also covers the UK and Canada. There are plans to increase support, particularly in Asia.

Kencko’s Apple Watch app is in beta with selected users

Building a health food brand

Kencko was formed in 2017 and, after landing undisclosed seed funding, it launched its product in March of this year. Already it has seen progress; the startup recently entered the TechStars accelerator program in London as one of a batch of ten companies.

“I’m excited to work with Tomas and the Kencko team,” Eamonn Carey, who leads TechStars in London, told TechCrunch. “I first read about them on ProductHunt and bought into their mission straight away. Once I tasted the product for the first time, I was sold — both as a subscriber and an investor.”

Froes told TechCrunch that drinks are just the first phase of what Kencko hopes to offer consumers. He explained that he wants to move into other types of food and consumables in the future to help give people more options to get their daily portion of fruit and vegetables.

Up next could be Apple-based snacks. Foes shared — quite literally — a new batch of snack that’s currently in development and is made from the fruit. He believes it could be marketed a healthier option than crisps and other nibbles people turn to between meals. Further down the pipeline, he said, will be other kinds of food that maintain the 100 percent organic approach.

Beyond food, Kencko wants to build a close bond with its customers. It is developing iOS and Apple Watch apps that help its users to track their fruit and vegetable consumption, and more generally make their diet and routine healthier.

With the membership package and apps, it becomes clear that Kencko aspires to build a brand and not just sell a product online. That’s double the challenge (at least), and that makes the company one to watch.

Already it has found some success within tech circles such as TechStar’s Carey — people who aspire to eat and drink better but are pushed for time — but if Froes is to even begin to deliver on his mission then Kencko will need to go beyond the tech industry niche and attract mainstream consumers. For now though, the product is worth close inspection if you think your lifestyle is in need of a fruit boost.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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RideAlong is helping police officers de-escalate 911 calls with data designed for the field

Posted by on Aug 14, 2018 in america, Government, law enforcement, policing, policing tech, public health, San Francisco, Seattle, surveillance, TC, Y Combinator | 0 comments

RideAlong keeps people in mind, and that’s a good thing. The company, founded by Meredith Hitchcock (COO) and Katherine Nammacher (CEO), aims to make streets safer, not with expansive surveillance systems or high-tech weaponry but with simple software focused on the people being policed. That distinction sounds small, but it’s surprisingly revelatory. Tech so oftens forgets the people that it’s ostensibly trying to serve, but with RideAlong they’re front and center.

“The thing about law enforcement is they are interacting with individuals who have been failed by the rest of society and social support networks,” Nammacher told TechCrunch in an interview. “We want to help create a dialogue toward a more perfect future for people who are having some really rough things happen to them. Police officers also want that future.”

Ridealong is specifically focused on serving populations that have frequent interactions with law enforcement. Those individuals are often affected by complex forces that require special care — particularly chemical dependence, mental illness and homelessness.

“I think it is universally understood if someone has a severe mental illness… putting them through the criminal justice system and housing them in a jail is not the right thing to do,” Nammacher said. For RideAlong, the question is how to help those individuals obtain long-term support from a system that isn’t really designed to adequately serve them.

Made for field work, RideAlong is a mobile responsive web app that presents relevant information on individuals who frequently use emergency services. It collects data that might otherwise only live in an officer’s personal notebook or a police report, presenting it on a call so that officers can use it to determine if an individual is in crisis and if they are, the best way to de-escalate their situation and provide support. With a simple interface and a no-frills design, RideAlong works everywhere from a precinct laptop to a smartphone in the field to a patrol car’s dash computer.

Nammacher explains that any police officer could easily think of the five people they interact with most often, recalling key details about them like their dog’s name and whether they are close to a known family member. That information is very valuable for responding to a crisis but it often isn’t accessible when it needs to be.

“They’ve come up with some really smart manual workarounds for how to deal with that,” Nammacher says, but it isn’t always enough. That real-time information gap is where RideAlong comes in.

How RideAlong works

RideAlong is designed so that police officers and other first responders can search its database by name and location but also by gender, height, weight, ethnicity and age. When a search hits a result in the system, RideAlong can help officers detect subtle shifts from a known baseline behavior. The hope is that even very basic contextual information can provide clues that mean a big difference in outcomes.

So far, it seems to be working. RideAlong has been live in Seattle for a year, with the Seattle Police Department’s 1,300 sworn officers using the software every day. Over the course of six months with RideAlong, Seattle and King County saw a 35% reduction in 911 calls. That decrease, interpreted as a sign of more efficient policing, translated into $407,000 in deferred costs for the city.

“It really assists with decision making, especially when it comes to crisis calls,” Seattle Police Sergeant Daniel Nelson told TechCrunch. Officers have a lot of discretion to do what they think is best based on the information available. “There is so much gray space.”

Ridealong has also partnered with the San Francisco Department of Public Health where a street medicine team is putting it to use in a pilot. West of Seattle, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is looking at RideAlong for its team of 300 officers.

What this looks like in practice: An officer responds to a call involving a person they known named Suzanne. They might remember that normally if they ask her about Suzanne’s dog it calms her down, but today it makes her upset. Rather than assuming that her agitated behavior is coming out of the blue, the responding officer could address concerns around Suzanne’s dog and help de-escalate the situation.

In another example, an officer responds to someone on the street who they perceive to be yelling and agitated. Checking contextual information in RideAlong could clarify that an individual just speaks loudly because they are hard of hearing, not in crisis. If someone is actually agitated and drawing helps them calm down, RideAlong will note that.

“RideAlong visualizes that data, so when somebody is using the app they can see, ‘okay this person has 50 contacts, they’ve been depressed, sad, crying,’” Nelson said. “Cops are really good at seeing behavior and describing behavior so that’s what we’re asking of them.”

The idea is that making personalized data like this easy to see can reduce the use of force in the field, calm someone down and open the door to connecting them social services and any existing support network.

“I’ve known all along that we’ve got incredible data, but it’s not getting out to the people on the streets,” said Maria X. Martinez, Director of Whole Person Care at San Francisco Department of Public Health. RideAlong worked directly with her department’s street medicine on a pilot program that gave clinicians access to key data while providing medical care in to the city’s homeless population.

Traditionally, street medicine workers go do their work in the field and return to look up the records for the people they interacted with. Now, those processes are combined and 15 different sets of relevant data gets pulled together and presented in the field, where workers can add to and annotate it. “It’s one thing to tell people to come back and enter their data… you sort of hope that that does happen,” Martinez said. With RideAlong, “You’ve already done both things: documented and given them the info.”

Forming RideAlong

The small team at RideAlong began when the co-founders met during a Code for America fellowship in 2016. They built the app in 2016 under the banner of a data-driven justice program during the Obama administration. Interest was immediate. The next year, Nammacher and Hitchcock spun the project out into its own company, became part of Y Combinator’s summer batch of startups and by July they launched a pilot program with the entire Seattle police department.

Neither co-founder planned on starting a company, but they were inspired by what they describe as a “real-time information gap” between people experiencing mental health crises and the people dispatched to help them and the level of interest from “agencies across the country, big and small” who wanted to buy their product.

“There’s been more of a push recently for quantitative data to be a more central force for decision making,” Nammacher said. The agencies RideAlong has worked with so far like how user friendly the software is and how it surfaces the data they already collect to make it more useful.

“At the end of the day, our users are both the city staff member and the person that they’re serving. We see them as equally valid and important.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Your vegetables are going to be picked by robots sooner than you think

Posted by on Aug 8, 2018 in agriculture, america, Artificial Intelligence, Culture, Emerging-Technologies, executive, Food, harvard, neural network, Pennsylvania, robot, Robotics, Root AI, Soft Robotics, TC, Technology, United States, University of Pennsylvania, Walmart, whole foods | 0 comments

In the very near future, robots are going to be picking the vegetables that appear on grocery store shelves across America.

The automation revolution that’s arrived on the factory floor will make its way to the ag industry in the U.S. and its first stop will likely be the indoor farms that are now dotting the U.S.

Leading the charge in this robot revolution will be companies like Root AI, a young startup which has just raised $2.3 million to bring its first line of robotic harvesting and farm optimization technologies to market.

Root AI is focused on the 2.3 million square feet of indoor farms that currently exist in the world and is hoping to expand as the number of farms cultivating crops indoors increases. Some estimates from analysis firms like Agrilyst put the planned expansions in indoor farming at around 22 million square feet (much of that in the U.S.).

While that only amounts to roughly 505 acres of land — a fraction of the 900 million acres of farmland that’s currently cultivated in the U.S. — those indoor farms offer huge yield advantages over traditional farms with a much lower footprint in terms of resources used. The average yield per acre in indoor farms for vine crops like tomatoes, and leafy greens, is over ten times higher than outdoor farms.

Root AI’s executive team thinks their company can bring those yields even higher.

Founded by two rising stars of the robotics industry, the 36 year old Josh Lessing and 28 year old Ryan Knopf, Root is an extension of work the two men had done as early employees at Soft Robotics, the company pioneering new technologies for robotic handling.

Spun out of research conducted by Harvard professor George Whiteside, the team at Soft Robotics was primarily comprised of technologists who had spent years developing robots after having no formal training in robot development. Knopf, a lifetime roboticist who studied at the University of Pennsylvania was one of the sole employees with a traditional robotics background.

“We were the very first two people at Soft developing the core technology there,” says Lessing. “The technology is being used for heavily in the food industry. What you would buy a soft gripper for is… making a delicate food gripper very easy to deploy that would help you maintain food quality with a mechanical design that was extremely easy to manage. Like inflatable fingers that could grab things.”

Root AI co-founders Josh Lessing and Ryan Knopf

It was radically different from the ways in which other robotics companies were approaching the very tricky problem of replicating the dexterity of the human hand. “From the perspective of conventional robotics, we were doing everything wrong and we would never be able to do what a conventional robot was capable of. We ended up creating adaptive gripping with these new constructs,” Lessing said.

While Soft Robotics continues to do revolutionary work, both Knopf and Lessing saw an opportunity to apply their knowledge to an area where it was sorely needed — farming. “Ag is facing a lot of complicated challenges and at the same time we have a need for much much more food,” Lessing said. “And a lot of the big challenges in ag these days are out in the field, not in the packaging and processing facilities. So Ryan and I started building this new thesis around how we could make artificial intelligence helpful to growers.”

The first product from Root AI is a mobile robot that operates in indoor farming facilities. It picks tomatoes and is able to look at crops and assess their health, and conduct simple operations like pruning vines and observing and controlling ripening profiles so that the robot can cultivate crops (initially tomatoes) continuously and more effectively than people.

Root AI’s robots have multiple cameras (one on the arm of the robot itself, the “tool’s” view, and one sitting to the side of the robot with a fixed reference frame) to collect both color images and 3D depth information. The company has also developed a customized convolutional neural network to detect objects of interest and label them with bounding boxes. Beyond the location of the fruit, Root AI uses other, proprietary, vision processing techniques to measure properties of fruit (like ripeness, size, and quality grading).  All of this is done on the robot, without relying on remote access to a data-center. And it’s all done in real time.

Tools like these robots are increasingly helpful, as the founders of Root note, because there’s an increasing labor shortage for both indoor and outdoor farming in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the mounting pressures on the farm industry increasingly make robotically assisted indoor farming a more viable option for production. Continuing population growth and the reduction of arable land resulting from climate change mean that indoor farms, which can produce as much as twenty times as much fruit and vegetables per square foot while using up to 90% less water become extremely attractive.

Suppliers like Howling Farms, Mucci Farms, Del Fresco Produce and Naturefresh are already producing a number of fruits and vegetables for consumers, said Lessing. “They’ve really fine tuned agriculture production in ways that are meaningful to broader society. They are much more sustainable and they allow you to collocate farms with urban areas [and] they have a much more simplified logistics network.”

That ability to pare down complexity and cost in a logistics supply chain is a boon to retailers like Walmart and Whole Foods that are competing to provide fresher, longer lasting produce to consumers, Lessing said. Investors, apparently agreed. Root AI was able to enlist firms like First Round CapitalAccompliceSchematic Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures and Half Court Ventures to back its $2.3 million round.

“There are many many roles at the farm and we’re looking to supplement in all areas,” said Lessing. “Right now we’re doing a lot of technology experiments with a couple of different growers. assessment of ripeness and grippers ability to grab the tomatoes. next year we’re going to be doing the pilots.”

And as global warming intensifies pressures on food production, Lessing sees demand for his technologies growing.

“On a personal level I have concerns about how much food we’re going to have and where we can make it,” Lessing said. “Indoor farming is focused on making food anywhere. if you control your environment you have the ability to make food…. Satisfying people’s basic needs is one of the most impactful things i can do with my life.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Indian H-1B applicants face particular scrutiny in Trump’s work visa crackdown

Posted by on Jul 25, 2018 in america, China, executive, Government, H-1B visa, H1B, Hiring, immigration, India, Policy, TC, Trump administration, United States, Visas | 0 comments

Coming to the U.S. on a work visa is getting harder across the board, but workers from India in particular are feeling the effects of recent policy shifts from the Trump administration. A new report from the National Foundation for American Policy sheds light on how the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order from April 2017 has impacted H-1B applicants in the last year. The H-1B visa, popular in Silicon Valley, lets skilled foreign workers live and work in the U.S. for a six year term.

For the three months period starting in July 2017, H-1B denial rates went from 15.9% to 22.4%. In the same time period, Requests for Evidence seeking additional documentation in the fourth quarter of 2017 nearly equaled the total amount of Requests for Evidence from the year’s other three quarters combined (63,184 and 63,599 requests, respectively).

Drilling down, workers from India appear to be the most affected. From July to September 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) demanded additional documentation from 72% of Indian H-1B applications, compared to the 61% rate of other countries considered together. During that same three month period, 23.6% of Indian applications were rejected, up from 16.6% between April and June 2017.

“The increase in denials and Requests for Evidence of even the most highly skilled applicants seeking permission to work in America indicates the Trump administration is interested in less immigration, not ‘merit-based’ immigration,” the report adds.

“… U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has enacted a series of policies to make it more difficult for even the most highly educated scientists and engineers to work in the United States.”

In January, rumors of a ban on H-1B extensions for green card applicants had H-1B workers nervous. In June, new rules shortening visas for Chinese STEM students went into effect. While China only accounted for 9.4% of total H-1B visa applications in the 2017 fiscal year compared to India’s whopping 76%, the Trump administration will likely continue to tighten immigration policies targeting China as it obsessively tries to turn the screws on its perceived trade nemesis.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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