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Teams autonomously mapping the depths take home millions in Ocean Discovery Xprize

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Artificial Intelligence, conservation, Gadgets, Hardware, Robotics, Science, TC, XPRIZE | 0 comments

There’s a whole lot of ocean on this planet, and we don’t have much of an idea what’s at the bottom of most of it. That could change with the craft and techniques created during the Ocean Discovery Xprize, which had teams competing to map the sea floor quickly, precisely and autonomously. The winner just took home $4 million.

A map of the ocean would be valuable in and of itself, of course, but any technology used to do so could be applied in many other ways, and who knows what potential biological or medical discoveries hide in some nook or cranny a few thousand fathoms below the surface?

The prize, sponsored by Shell, started back in 2015. The goal was, ultimately, to create a system that could map hundreds of square kilometers of the sea floor at a five-meter resolution in less than a day — oh, and everything has to fit in a shipping container. For reference, existing methods do nothing like this, and are tremendously costly.

But as is usually the case with this type of competition, the difficulty did not discourage the competitors — it only spurred them on. Since 2015, then, the teams have been working on their systems and traveling all over the world to test them.

Originally the teams were to test in Puerto Rico, but after the devastating hurricane season of 2017, the whole operation was moved to the Greek coast. Ultimately after the finalists were selected, they deployed their craft in the waters off Kalamata and told them to get mapping.

Team GEBCO’s surface vehicle

“It was a very arduous and audacious challenge,” said Jyotika Virmani, who led the program. “The test itself was 24 hours, so they had to stay up, then immediately following that was 48 hours of data processing after which they had to give us the data. It takes more trad companies about 2 weeks or so to process data for a map once they have the raw data — we’re pushing for real time.”

This wasn’t a test in a lab bath or pool. This was the ocean, and the ocean is a dangerous place. But amazingly there were no disasters.

“Nothing was damaged, nothing imploded,” she said. “We ran into weather issues, of course. And we did lose one piece of technology that was subsequently found by a Greek fisherman a few days later… but that’s another story.”

At the start of the competition, Virmani said, there was feedback from the entrants that the autonomous piece of the task was simply not going to be possible. But the last few years have proven it to be so, given that the winning team not only met but exceeded the requirements of the task.

“The winning team mapped more than 250 square kilometers in 24 hours, at the minimum of five meters resolution, but around 140 was more than five meters,” Virmani told me. “It was all unmanned: An unmanned surface vehicle that took the submersible out, then recovered it at sea, unmanned again, and brought it back to port. They had such great control over it — they were able to change its path and its programming throughout that 24 hours as they needed to.” (It should be noted that unmanned does not necessarily mean totally hands-off — the teams were permitted a certain amount of agency in adjusting or fixing the craft’s software or route.)

A five-meter resolution, if you can’t quite picture it, would produce a map of a city that showed buildings and streets clearly, but is too coarse to catch, say, cars or street signs. When you’re trying to map two-thirds of the globe, though, this resolution is more than enough — and infinitely better than the nothing we currently have. (Unsurprisingly, it’s also certainly enough for an oil company like Shell to prospect new deep-sea resources.)

The winning team was GEBCO, composed of veteran hydrographers — ocean mapping experts, you know. In addition to the highly successful unmanned craft (Sea-Kit, already cruising the English Channel for other purposes), the team did a lot of work on the data-processing side, creating a cloud-based solution that helped them turn the maps around quickly. (That may also prove to be a marketable service in the future.) They were awarded $4 million, in addition to their cash for being selected as a finalist.

The runner up was Kuroshio, which had great resolution but was unable to map the full 250 km2 due to weather problems. They snagged a million.

A bonus prize for having the submersible track a chemical signal to its source didn’t exactly have a winner, but the teams’ entries were so impressive that the judges decided to split the million between the Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers and Ocean Quest, which amazingly enough is made up mostly of middle-schoolers. The latter gets $800,000, which should help pay for a few new tools in the shop there.

Lastly, a $200,000 innovation prize was given to Team Tao out of the U.K., which had a very different style to its submersible that impressed the judges. While most of the competitors opted for a craft that went “lawnmower-style” above the sea floor at a given depth, Tao’s craft dropped down like a plumb bob, pinging the depths as it went down and back up before moving to a new spot. This provides a lot of other opportunities for important oceanographic testing, Virmani noted.

Having concluded the prize, the organization has just a couple more tricks up its sleeve. GEBCO, which stands for General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, is partnering with The Nippon Foundation on Seabed 2030, an effort to map the entire sea floor over the next decade and provide that data to the world for free.

And the program is also — why not? — releasing an anthology of short sci-fi stories inspired by the idea of mapping the ocean. “A lot of our current technology is from the science fiction of the past,” said Virmani. “So we told the authors, imagine we now have a high-resolution map of the sea floor, what are the next steps in ocean tech and where do we go?” The resulting 19 stories, written from all 7 continents (yes, one from Antarctica), will be available June 7.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Amazon Fire TV tops 34 million users, potentially widening its lead over Roku

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Amazon, Amazon Fire TV, cord cutting, fire tv, Hardware, Media, roku, streaming, Streaming Media, streaming media players | 0 comments

Amazon Fire TV’s lead over rival streaming platform Roku is widening. In January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Amazon said it had “well over” 30 million Fire TV users compared with Roku’s then 27 million active users. In roughly four months’ time, Fire TV has grown to more than 34 million active users, according to new statements made by Amazon this week. Meanwhile, Roku grew its account base by 2 million in the first quarter of 2019, to reach 29.1 million active accounts, per its earnings report this month.

The new figures for Amazon Fire TV were shared yesterday by Fire TV GM and global head of Marketing, Growth & Engagement, Jen Prenner, at the Pay TV Show during a panel titled “The Battle for Your Living Room: Sticks, Boxes, and Smart TV Platforms.”

Amazon also claims that Fire TV has grown to become the No. 1 streaming media player platform in the U.S., U.K., Germany, India and Japan, thanks to its strong sales momentum.

When Amazon first announced its user number at CES, there was some question as to how those figures were calculated. Roku typically defines an “active” account as one that has streamed through its platform over the past 30 days. Amazon, at the time, had only spoken about users more generally, without characterizing them as “actives.”

However, yesterday’s comments referenced “active users,” Amazon says, not just a total number of users.

Roku notes that its active account figures may include a family with multiple people (i.e. several “users”) — something it wants to note because of how the newly reported growth figures make it look. And until Amazon chooses to define how it determines an active user, it’s not possible to fully understand how to compare the two. Update: However, Fire TV devices today are registered to one person’s Amazon user’s account information. Once set up, it’s certainly possible for multiple people to watch the same Fire TV device. And if they’re not switching profiles, then Amazon — like Roku — wouldn’t have a way to track individual user data either.

Update, 5/15/19 3:45 PM: Amazon confirmed it measures “users” the exact same way Roku measures “accounts.”

Roku dominated U.S. streaming player market share last year, but Fire TV has likely gained ground internationally. Today, the Fire TV ships worldwide to a wide range of countries, all of which can use the device to stream Prime Video content. Roku, meanwhile, ships to a couple dozen countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and parts of Latin America. However, Roku last year had to stop sales in Mexico until it addressed issues involving access to pirated content, which were only resolved in October.

Fire TV also benefits from Amazon’s frequent and steep discounts on its hardware devices — including those over the holiday shopping period, where Fire TV Stick became a best seller. It’s been known to sell devices at cost or below, in an effort to gain market share. Plus, today’s consumers may be drawn to Fire TV because of its built-in access to Alexa — something that makes it one of the cheapest ways to get the popular voice assistant into the home.

Amazon is focused this year on expanding access to content and Alexa voice controls on Fire TV. On the content front, it recently came to an agreement with Google that allows it to finally bring YouTube to Fire TV, and following that, YouTube TV and YouTube Kids. It also has plans to support both Disney+ and Apple TV+ later this year, the company says.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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HTC introduces a cheaper blockchain phone, opens Zion Vault SDK

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in blockchain, Hardware, HTC, Mobile | 0 comments

Happy Blockchain Week to you and yours. HTC helped kick off this important national holiday by announcing the upcoming release of the HTC Exodus 1s. The latest version of the company’s intriguing blockchain phone shaves some of price off the Exodus 1 — which eventually sold for $699 when the company made it available in more traditional currency.

HTC’s being predictably cagey about exact pricing here, instead simply calling it “a more value-oriented version” of the original. Nor is the company discussing the actions it’s taking to reduce the cost here — though I’d expect much of them to be similar to those undergone by Google for the Pixel 3a, which was built by the former HTC team. There, most of the hits were to processing power and building material. Certainly the delightfully gimmicky transparent rear was a nice touch on the Exodus 1.

Most interesting here is the motivation behind the price drop. Here’s HTC in the press release:

It will allow users in emerging economies, or those wanting to dip their toes into the crypto world for the first time, easier access to the technology with a more accessible price point. This will democratize access to crypto and blockchain technology and help its global proliferation and adoption. HTC will release further details on exact specification and cost over the coming months.

A grandiose vision, obviously, but I think there’s something to be said for the idea. Access to some blockchain technology is somewhat price-prohibitive. Even so. Many experts in the space agree that blockchain will be an important foundation for microtransactions going forward. The Exodus 1 wasn’t exactly a smash from the look of things, but this could be an interesting first step.

Another interesting bit in all of this is the opening of the SDK for Zion Vault, the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) product vault the company introduced with the Exodus 1. HTC will be tossing it up on GitHub for developers. “We understand it takes a community to ensure strength and security,” the company says, “so it’s important to the Exodus team that our community has the best tools available to them.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Notes from the Samsung Galaxy Fold: day four

Posted by on Apr 20, 2019 in galaxy fold, Hardware, Mobile, Samsung, samsung galaxy fold | 0 comments

Apologies for skipping day three. This kept me extremely busy yesterday. Though the Galaxy Fold remained a constant companion.

Before you ask (or after you ask on Twitter without having read beyond the headline), no it’s hasn’t broken yet. It’s actually been fairly robust, all things considered. But here’s the official line from Samsung on that,

A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.

Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.

I’ll repeat what I said the other day: breakages and lemons have been known to happen with preproduction units. I’ve had it happen with device in a number of occasions in my many years of doing this. That said, between the amount of time it took Samsung to let us reviewers actually engage with the device and the percentage of problems we’ve seen from the limited sample size, the results so far are a bit of a cause for a concern.

The issue with the second bit  is that protective layer looks A LOT like the temporary covers the company’s phones ship with, which is an issue. I get why some folks attempted to peel it off. That’s a problem.

At this point into my life with the phone, I’m still impressed by the feat of engineering went into this technology, but in a lot of ways, it does still feel like a very first generation product. It’s big, it’s expensive and software needs tweaks to create a seamless (so to speak) experience between screens.

That said, there’s enough legacy good stuff that Samsung has built into the phone to make it otherwise a solid experience. If you do end up biting the bullet and buying a Fold, you’ve find many aspects of it to be a solid workhorse and good device, in spite of some of the idiosyncrasies here (assuming, you know, the screen works fine).

It’s a very interesting and very impressive device, and it does feel like a sign post of the future. But it’s also a sometimes awkward reminder that we’re not quite living in the future just yet.

Day One

Day Two


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Google’s Ivan Poupyrev shows off Jacquard, which connects his Levi’s jacket to the cloud

Posted by on Apr 18, 2019 in Alphabet, Google, Hardware, Ivan Poupyrev, project jacquard, TC, ted | 0 comments

Ivan Poupyrev, the technical projects lead at Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects division, just gave a TED talk that was simultaneously a presentation and a demo of new technology.

Poupyrev was showing off Jacquard, a device that allowed him to use the sleeve of his jacket as a controller for his presentation slides. Google has talked about this work before, and there’s even a $350 Levi’s jacket available for purchase.

But today, Poupyrev actually used Jacquard to control his presentation, and laid out the vision behind the project. Although it didn’t quite work at first, once Poupyrev fixed things backstage and restarted his presentation, he could swipe forward on his sleeve to advance the presentation, or swipe back and revisit the previous slide.

Poupyrev didn’t offer many details about the Jacquard device itself, but he said it can be connected to clothing and other objects with just “a few electrodes,” and that it can recognize the object and then “reconfigure itself” to offer the right kinds of interaction.

The device he held up onstage was small and grey — I could have mistaken it for the key fob that I used to swipe into my old apartment. According to Poupyrev’s website, Jacquard also involves a conductive thread that can be woven on a standard loom.

Ivan Poupyrev

Ivan Poupyrev speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Why would you want to control a presentation from your jacket sleeve? Poupyrev (who’s also worked as a researcher for Walt Disney Imagineering and Sony) described our current options for computer interaction as “disappointing,” so he’s been looking to “hack into the things you use every day and make them interactive.”

“We need to make technology that changes makers of things into makers of smart things,” he said.

As these everyday objects become more interactive and connected, Poupyrev said it’s important to avoid fragmentation: “We have to create a single computing platform, which powers all those things.” In his view, the cloud is that platform, with Jacquard serving as the connection between everyday objects and the cloud.

Poupyrev suggested that Google could give Jacquard tags to manufacturers to incorporate into their products. It’s rolling out first through the aforementioned partnership with Levi’s, and Poupyrev was wearing a Jacquard-powered Levi’s jean jacket onstage.

“This jacket I’m wearing can control my mobile phone and presentation, but it remains a jacket,” he said. In other words, you can add new interactivity to clothing or furniture without interfering with their core function — just as a smartphone can now browse the internet, take photos, install apps and more, while still allowing you to make phone calls.

Ivan Poupyrev

Ivan Poupyrev speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

“We would like to let people who make those things — artists and engineers, brands and craftsmen — to imagine and create this new world where things are connected, where you don’t need keyboards and screens and mouses to interact with a computer,” he said.

After the presentation, TED’s Chris Anderson joined Poupyrev onstage. Anderson sounded impressed by the demo, but he also pointed out that it could “terrify some people,” since it potentially creates “the biggest ever surveillance network” for Google or another company.

When asked why Google would bring such a device to market, Poupyrev said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a researcher.” Anderson pressed him on whether there needs to be “some kind of contract” ensuring that this data isn’t abused, to which Poupyrev replied, “I completely agree.” He said that in Google’s initial partnerships, “the data is completely locked in.”

“We’re trying to figure out what exactly are we going to do with this data,” he said. “We’re sensitive to this particular concern.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Notes from the Samsung Galaxy Fold: day two

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in galaxy fold, Hardware, Samsung, samsung galaxy fold, Smartphones | 0 comments

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the technical difficulties multiple reviewers have been experiencing with their units. This sort of thing can happen with pre-production models. I’ve certainly had issues with review units in the past, but these reports are worth mentioning as a note of caution with a product, which we were concerned might not be ready for prime time only a couple of weeks ago.

At the very least, it’s as good a reason as any to wait a couple of weeks before more of these are out in the world before dropping $2,000 to determine how widespread these issues are.

All of that said, I’ve not had any technical issues with my Samsung Galaxy Fold. So far, so good. A day or so in does, however, tend to be the time when the harsh light of day starts to seep in on these things, after that initial novelty of the company’s admittedly impressive feat begins wane.

Using the device in the lead up to our big robotics event tomorrow, a number of TechCrunch co-workers have demanded a few minutes with the the device. The reviews so far have been mixed, with most calling out the thick form factor when closed, as well as the crease. The latter, at least, is really dependent on environmental lighting. In the case of the backstage area at this event, it’s harsh overhead office lighting, which tends to bring the crease out when the phone is facing the ceiling.

On the other hand, I used the phone to watch videos while using the elliptical at the gym this morning. Titled toward me, the crease wasn’t noticeable. It’s also one of the ideal use cases for the product.

Some more notes:

  • The company’s stated “day long” life is pretty on the money. I got just over 24 hours of standard use (subtracting my five hours on a plane).
  • The screen has a built-in protector that looks a lot like the kind of adhesive guard Samsung’s phones ship with. Don’t peel it off. You will damage the phone.
  • I accidentally (I swear) dropped it off a table. It survived unscathed.
  • So many fingerprints.
  • The green finish looks like gold under certain lights. I definitely would have gone in for blue.
  • We used the handset for a Google Hangout. It was kind of perfect. Kept open at an angle, it can prop itself up.
  • The snap to close is still satisfying.

Day One Notes 

 


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Mars helicopter bound for the Red Planet takes to the air for the first time

Posted by on Mar 28, 2019 in drones, Gadgets, Government, Hardware, jpl, mars 2020, mars helicopter, NASA, Robotics, Science, Space, TC, UAVs | 0 comments

The Mars 2020 mission is on track for launch next year, and nesting inside the high-tech new rover heading that direction is a high-tech helicopter designed to fly in the planet’s nearly non-existent atmosphere. The actual aircraft that will fly on the Martian surface just took its first flight and its engineers are over the moon.

“The next time we fly, we fly on Mars,” said MiMi Aung, who manages the project at JPL, in a news release. An engineering model that was very close to final has over an hour of time in the air, but these two brief test flights were the first and last time the tiny craft will take flight until it does so on the distant planet (not counting its “flight” during launch).

“Watching our helicopter go through its paces in the chamber, I couldn’t help but think about the historic vehicles that have been in there in the past,” she continued. “The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flown. To see our helicopter in there reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well.”

Artist’s impression of how the helicopter will look when it’s flying on Mars.

A helicopter flying on Mars is much like a helicopter flying on Earth, except of course for the slight differences that the other planet has a third less gravity and 99 percent less air. It’s more like flying at 100,000 feet, Aung suggested.

It has its own solar panel so it can explore more or less on its own.

The test rig they set up not only produces a near-vacuum, replacing the air with a thin, Mars-esque CO2 mix, but a “gravity offload” system simulates lower gravity by giving the helicopter a slight lift via a cable.

It flew at a whopping 2 inches of altitude for a total of a minute in two tests, which was enough to show the team that the craft (with all its 1,500 parts and four pounds) was ready to package up and send to the Red Planet.

“It was a heck of a first flight,” said tester Teddy Tzanetos. “The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter. We only required a 2-inch hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher.”

A few months the Mars 2020 rover has landed, the helicopter will detach and do a few test flights of up to 90 seconds. Those will be the first heavier-than-air flights on another planet — powered flight, in other words, rather than, say, a balloon filled with gaseous hydrogen.

The craft will operate mostly autonomously, since the half-hour round trip for commands would be far too long for an Earth-based pilot to operate it. It has its own solar cells and batteries, plus little landing feet, and will attempt flights of increasing distance from the rover over a 30-day period. It should go about three meters in the air and may eventually get hundreds of meters away from its partner.

Mars 2020 is estimated to be ready to launch next summer, arriving at its destination early in 2021. Of course in the meantime we’ve still got Curiosity and Insight up there, so if you want the latest from Mars, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Our 9 favorite startups from Y Combinator W19 Demo Day 2

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in Apps, Biotech, Food, funding, GreenTech, Hardware, Health, Logistics, Startups, TC | 0 comments

Heathcare kiosks, a home-cooked food marketplace, and a way for startups to earn interest on their funding topped our list of high-potential companies from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 Demo Day 2. 88 startups launched on stage at the lauded accelerator, though some of the best skipped the stage as they’d already raised tons of money.

Be sure to check out our write-ups of all 85 startups from day 1 plus our top picks, as well as the full set from day 2. But now, after asking investors and conferring with the TechCrunch team, here are our 9 favorites from day 2.

Shef 

Two months ago, California passed the first law in the country legalizing the sale of home cooked food. Shef creates a marketplace where home chefs can find nearby customers. Shef’s meals cost around $6.50 compared to $20 per meal for traditional food delivery, and the startup takes a 22 percent cut of every transaction. It’s been growing 50 percent week over week thanks to deals with large property management companies that offer the marketplace as a perk to their residents. Shef wants to be the Airbnb of home cooked food.

Why we picked Shef: Deregulation creates gold rush opportunities and Shef was quick to seize this one, getting started just days after the law passed. Food delivery is a massive megatrend but high costs make it unaffordable or a luxury for many. If a parent is already cooking meals for their whole family, it takes minimal effort to produce a few extra portions to sell to the neighbors at accessible rates.

Handle

This startup automates the collection process of unpaid construction invoices. Construction companies are often forced to pay for their own jobs when customers are late on payments. According to Handle, there are $104 billion in unpaid construction invoices every year. Handle launched six weeks ago and is currently collecting $22,800 in monthly revenue. The founders previously launched an Andreessen Horowitz-backed company called Tenfold.

Why we picked Handle: Construction might seem like an unsexy vertical, but it’s massive and rife with inefficiencies this startup tackles. Handle helps contractors demand payments, instantly file liens that ensure they’re compensated for work or materials, or exchange unpaid invoices for cash. Even modest fees could add up quickly given how much money moves through the industry. And there are surely secondary business models to explore using all the data Handle collects on the construction market.

Blueberry Medical

This pediatric telemedicine company provides medical care instantly to families. Blueberry provides constant contact, the ability to talk to a pediatrician 24/7 and at-home testing kits for a total of $15 per month. They’ve just completed a paid consumer pilot and say they were able to resolve 84 percent of issues without in-person care. They’ve partnered with insurance providers to reduce ER visits.

Why we picked Blueberry: Questionable emergency room visits are a nightmare for parents, a huge source of unnecessary costs, and a drain on resources for needy patients. Parents already spend so much time and money trying to keep their kids safe that this is a no-brainer subscription. And the urgent and emotional pull of pediatrics is a smart wedge into telemedicine for all demographics.

rct studio

Led by a team of YC alums behind Raven, an AI startup acquired by Baidu in 2017, rct studio is a creative studio for immersive and interactive film. The platform provides a real time “text to render “engine (so the text “A man sits on a sofa” would generate 3D imagery of a man sitting on a sofa) that supports mainstream 3D engines like Unity and Unreal, as well as a creative tool for film professionals to craft immersive and open-ended entertainment experiences called Morpheus Engine.

Why we picked rct studio: Netflix’s Bandersnatch was just the start of mainstream interactive film. With strong technology, an innovative application, and proven talent, rct could become a critical tool for creating this kind of media. And even if the tech falls short of producing polished media, it could be used for storyboards and mockups.

Interprime

Provides “Apple level” treasury services to startups. Startups are raising a lot of money with no way to manage it, says Interprime. They want to help these businesses by managing these big investments by helping them earn interest on their funding while retaining liquidity. They take a .25 percent advisory fee for all the investment they oversee. So far, they have $10 million in investment capital they are servicing.

Why we picked Interprime: The explosion of early stage startup funding evidenced by Y Combinator itself has created new banking opportunities. Silicon Valley Bank is ripe for competition and Interprime’s focus on startups could unlock new financial services. With Interprime’s YC affiliation, it has access to tons of potential customers.

 

Nabis

Nabis is tackling the cannabis shipping and logistics business, working with suppliers to ship out goods to retailers reliably. It’s illegal for FedEx to ship weed so Nabis has swooped in and is helping ship and connect while taking cuts of the proceeds, a price the suppliers are willing to pay due to their 98 percent on-time shipping record.

Why we picked Nabis: Quirky regulation creates efficiency gaps in the marijuana business where incumbents can’t participate since they’re not allowed to handle the flower. As more states legalize and cannabis finds its way into more products, moving goods from farm to processor to retailer could spawn a big market for Nabis with a legal moat. It’s already working with many top marijuana brands, and could sell them additional services around business intelligence and distribution.

WeatherCheck

This startup measures weather damage for insurance companies. WeatherCheck has secured $4.7 million in annual bookings in the five months since it launched to help insurance carriers reduce their overall claims expense. To use the service, insurers upload data about their properties. WeatherCheck then monitors the weather and sends notifications to insurance companies, if, for example, a property has been damaged by hail.

Why we picked WeatherCheck: Extreme weather is only getting worse due to climate change. With 10.7 million US properties impacted by hail damage in 2017, WeatherCheck has found a smart initial market from which to expand. It’s easy to imagine the startup working on flood, earthquake, tornado, and wildfire claims too. Insurance is a fierce market, and old-school providers could get a leg up with WeatherCheck’s tech.

 

Upsolve

Upsolve wants to help low-income individuals file for bankruptcy more easily. The non-profit service gets referral fees from pointing non low-income families to bankruptcy lawyers and is able to offer the service for free. The company says that medical bills, layoffs and predatory loans can leave low-income families in dire situations and that in the last 6 months, their non-profit has alleviated customers from $24 million in debt.

Why we picked Upsolve: Financial hardship is rampant. With the potential for another recession and automation threatening jobs, many families could be at risk for bankruptcy. But the process is so stigmatized that some people avoid it at all costs. Upsolve could democratize access to this financial strategy while inserting itself into a lucrative transaction type.

Pulse Active Stations Network

This startup makes health kiosks for India, meant to be installed in train stations. Co-founder Joginder Tanikella says that there are 600,000 preventable deaths in India as many in the region don’t get regular doctor checkups. “But everyone takes trains,” he says. Their in-station kiosk measures 21 health parameters. The company made $28,000 in revenue last month. Charging $1 per test, Tanikella says each machine pays for itself within 3 months. In the future, the kiosks will allow them to sell insurance and refer users to doctors.

Why we picked Pulse: Telemedicine can’t do everything, but plenty of people around the world can’t make it in to a full-fledged doctor’s office. Pulse creates a mid-point where hardware sensors can measure body fat, blood pressure, pulse, and bone strength to improve accuracy for diagnosing diabetes, osteoarthritis, cardiac problems, and more. Pulse’s companion app could spark additional revenue streams, and there’s clearly a much bigger market for this than just India.

Honorable Mentions

-Allo, a marketplace where parents can exchange babysitting and errand-running

-Shiok, a lab-grown shrimp substitute

-WithFriends, a subscription platform for small retail businesses

More Y Combinator coverage from TechCrunch:

Additional reporting by Kate Clark, Lucas Matney, and Greg Kumparak


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Drone analytics startup Aria Insights suddenly shutters

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in aria insights, Artificial Intelligence, CyPhy Works, drone, Hardware | 0 comments

Earlier this year, Helen Greiner-founded drone startup CyPhy Works announced a major change. The company was rebooting and renaming itself Aria Insights, a move that arrived with a newfound AI/data-driven focus. Now, just over two months later, the company is no more.

Reports that Aria had shuttered began surfacing earlier this week. Moments ago, the company confirmed the move in a tersely worded statement offered to TechCrunch:

Aria Insights has ceased operations effective March 21, 2019.

That’s the sum total of the insight provided by Lance VandenBrook, the former CyPhy CEO who resumed that role as the company transitioned back in January. The move appears to be an abrupt one, with little to no information offered to external parties. It brings to mind last year’s sudden closure of Rethink Robotics, another company launched by a former iRobot co-founder.

Full disclosure: We announced last month that the company’s CTO would be appearing onstage at our Robotics event next month. That, like everything else apart from Aria’s drones, appears to be up in the air at the moment.

More information as we get it.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Review: Apple’s new iPad mini continues to be mini

Posted by on Mar 21, 2019 in android, Apple, apple inc, Apple Pencil, Brazil, Hardware, ios 11, ipad, iPads, Portable Media Players, Real Estate, tablet computers, Touchscreens | 0 comments

The iPad mini is super enjoyable to use and is the best size tablet for everything but traditional laptop work. It’s very good and I’m glad Apple updated it.

Using Apple Pencil is aces on the smaller mini, don’t worry about the real estate being an issue if you like to scribble notes or make sketches. It’s going to fall behind a larger iPad for a full time artist but as a portable scratch pad it’s actually far less unwieldy or cumbersome than an iPad Pro or Air will be.

The only caveat? After using the brilliant new Pencil, the old one feels greasy and slippery by comparison, and lacks that flat edge that helps so much when registering against your finger for shading or sketching out curves.

The actual act of drawing is nice and zippy, and features the same latency and responsiveness as the other Pencil-capable models.

The reasoning behind using the old pencil here is likely a result of a combination of design and cost-saving decisions. No flat edge would require a rethink of the magnetic Pencil charging array from the iPad Pro and it is also apparently prohibitively expensive in a way similar to the smart connector. Hence its lack of inclusion on either Air or mini models.

Touch ID feels old and slow when compared to iPad Pro models, but it’s not that bad in a mini where you’re almost always going to be touching and holding it rather than setting it down to begin typing. It still feels like you’re being forced to take an awkward, arbitrary additional action to start using the iPad though. It really puts into perspective how fluidly Face ID and the new gestures work together.

The design of the casing remains nearly identical, making for broad compatibility with old cases and keyboards if you use those with it. The camera has changed positions and the buttons have been moved slightly though, so I would say your mileage may vary if you’re brining old stuff to the table.

The performance of the new mini is absolutely top notch. While it falls behind when compared to the iPad Pro it is exactly the same (I am told, I do not have one to test yet) as the iPad Air. It’s the same on paper though, so I believe it in general and there is apparently no ‘detuning’ or under-clocking happening. This makes the mini a hugely powerful tiny tablet, clearly obliterating anything else in its size class.

The screen is super solid, with great color, nearly no air gap and only lacking tap-to-wake.

That performance comes at a decently chunky price, $399. If you want the best you pay for it.

Last year I took the 12.9” iPad Pro on a business trip to Brazil, with no backup machine of any sort. I wanted to see if I could run TechCrunch from it — from planning to events to editorial and various other multi-disciplinary projects. It worked so well that I never went back and have not opened my MacBook in earnest since. I’ll write that experience up at some point because I think there’s some interesting things to talk about there.

I include that context here because, though the iPad Pro is a whole ass computer and really capable, it is not exactly ‘fun’ to use in non standard ways. That’s where the iPad mini has always shined and continues to do so.

It really is pocketable in a loose jacket or coat. Because the mini is not heavy, it exercises little of the constant torsion and strain on your wrist that a larger iPad does, making it one-handed.

I could go on, but in the end, all that can be said about the iPad mini being “the small iPad” has already been said ad nauseam over the years, beginning with the first round of reviews back in 2012. This really is one of the most obvious choices Apple has in its current iPad lineup. If you want the cheap one, get the cheap one (excuse me, “most affordable” one). And if you want the small one, get the iPad mini.

The rest of the iPads in Apple’s lineup have much more complicated purchasing flow charts — the mini does indeed sell itself.

Back even before we knew for sure that a mini iPad was coming, I wrote about how Apple could define the then very young small tablet market. It did. No other small tablet model has ever made a huge dent on the market, unless you count the swarm of super super crappy Android tablets that people buy in blister packs expecting them to eventually implode as a single hive-mind model.

Here’s how I saw it in 2012:

“To put it bluntly, there is no small tablet market…Two years ago we were talking about the tablet market as a contiguous whole. There was talk about whether anyone would buy the iPad and that others had tried to make consumer tablets and failed. Now, the iPad is a massive success that has yet to be duplicated by any other manufacturer or platform.

But the tablet market isn’t a single ocean, it’s a set of interlocking bodies of water that we’re just beginning to see take shape. And the iPad mini isn’t about competing with the wriggling tadpoles already in the ‘small tablet’ pond, it’s about a big fish extending its dominion.”

Yeah, that’s about right, still.

One huge difference, of course, is that the iPad mini now has the benefit of an enormous amount of additional apps that have been built for iPad in the interim. Apps that provide real, genuine access to content and services on a tablet — something that was absolutely not guaranteed in 2012. How quickly we forget.

In addition to the consumer segment, the iPad mini is also extremely popular in industrial, commercial and medical applications. From charts and patient records to point-of-sale and job site reference, the mini is the perfect size for these kinds of customers. These uses were a major factor in Apple deciding to update the mini.

Though still just as pricey (in comparison) as it was when it was introduced, the iPad mini remains a standout device. It’s small, sleek, now incredibly fast and well provisioned with storage. The smallness is a real advantage in my opinion. It allows the mini to exist as it does without having to take part in the ‘iPad as a replacement for laptops’ debate. It is very clearly not that, while at the same time still feeling more multipurpose and useful than ever. I’m falling in real strong like all over again with the mini, and the addition of Pencil support is the sweetener on top.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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