NASA and SpaceX practice Crew Dragon evacuation procedure with astronaut recovery vessel

NASA and SpaceX continue their joint preparations for the eventually astronaut crew missions that SpaceX will fly for the agency, with a test of the emergency evacuation procedure for SpaceX’s GO Searcher seaborne ship. The ship is intended to be used to recover spacecraft and astronauts in an actual mission scenario, and the rehearsals this week are a key part of ensuring mission readiness before an actual crewed SpaceX mission.

Photos from the dress rehearsal, which is the first coordinated end-to-end practice run involving the full NASA and SpaceX mission teams working in concert, saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken don SpaceX’s fancy new crew suits and mimic a situation where they needed to be removed from the returned Crew Dragon spacecraft and taken to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the GO Searcher by helicopter.

By all accounts, this was a successful exercise and seems to have left parties on both sides happy with the results. Check out photos released by NASA of the dry run below.

SpaceX and NASA continue to work towards a goal of launching Crew Dragon’s first actual crewed flight this year, though they’ve encountered setbacks that make that potentially impossible, including the explosion of a Crew Dragon test vehicle during a static test fire in April.


Source: Tech Crunch

Voyage’s driverless future, ghost work, B2B growth strategies, and Black Hat takeaways

Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future

In the autonomous vehicle space, startups have taken radically different strategies to building our AV future. Some companies like Waymo have driven all across different types of environments in order to rack up the datasets that they believe will be needed to effectively maneuver without a human driver.

That’s the opposite strategy of Voyage, where CEO and founder Oliver Cameron and his team have focused on driving safety in the incredibly constrained context of two retirement communities.

Our transportation editor Kirsten Korosec talked with the company and analyzes their approach in a new profile for Extra Crunch, and also drops some news about a partnership the company has brewing with a major automotive manufacturer.

Cameron, who shies away from discussing timelines, describes the company as inching toward driverless service.

Its self-driving software has now reached maturation in the communities it is testing in, and Voyage is now focusing on validation, according to Cameron.

Voyage has developed a few systems that will help push it closer to a commercial driverless service while maintaining safety, such as a collision mitigation system that it calls Rango, an internal nickname inspired by the 2011 computer-animated Western action-comedy about a chameleon.

This collision mitigation system is designed to be extremely fast-reacting, like a reptile — hence the Rango name. Rango, which has an independent power source and compute system and uses a different approach to perception than the main self-driving system, is designed to react quickly. If needed, it will engage the full force of the brakes.

Startup ads are taking over the subway

Public transit is just swimming in startup ads. From complete Brex takeovers of the San Francisco Caltrain station to the sleep puzzles posted by Casper across the New York City subway, startups have been taking advantage of this unique out-of-home advertising space. What’s the full story though? Our reporter Anthony Ha takes a look at how the subway ad market came to be in the past few years, and what the future holds for other marketers.


Source: Tech Crunch

Ikea doubles down on smart home tech with new business unit

Ikea’s smart home investments to date have been smart but scattered – now the Swedish home goods brand says it’s going to amp up its smart home bets with a brand new dedicated business unit.

The company’s smart home endeavors began in 2012, and focused on wireless charging and smart lighting. It’s iterated in both areas since, developing self-installed integrated wireless chargers for its furniture, as well as light/charger combos, and finally with a new partnership with Sonos that produced the Symfonisk line of wireless smart speakers.

Ikea also has its own ambitions in terms of being the hub for future smart home products, not only from a hardware perspective, but also via its Home smart app, which it rebranded from being more strictly focused on its Tradfri line of connected bulbs in June. During the Symfonisk launch, Ikea told me it has broader ambitions for the Home smart app as a central hub for connected home control for its customers.

“At IKEA we want to continue to offer products for a better life at home for the many people going forward. In order to do so we need to explore products and solutions beyond conventional home furnishing,” said Björn Block, Head of the new IKEA Home smart Business Unit at IKEA of Sweden, in a press release from the company.

Ikea also characterized this as its biggest new focus area in terms of the overall business and brand since it introduced its Children’s Ikea line.

The partnership between Sonos and Ikea that produced the Symfonisk line is a long-term one, and both companies told me to expect more products to come out of that team-up in future. But it sounds like Ikea intends to explore how smart home tech might touch all aspects of its business, so it’s fair to anticipate more partnerships and product categories to follow as a result of this new investment focus, too.


Source: Tech Crunch

SoftBank reportedly plans to lend employees as much as $20 billion to invest in its VC fund

SoftBank has a plant to loan up to $20 billion to its employees, including CEO Masayoshi Son, for the purposes of having that capital re-invested in SoftBank’s own Vision venture fund, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. That’s a highly unusual move that could be risky in terms of how much exposure SoftBank Group has on the whole in terms of its startup bets, but the upside is that it can potentially fill out as much as a fifth of its newly announced second Vision Fund’s total target raise of $108 billion from a highly aligned investor pool.

SoftBank revealed its plans for its second Vision Fund last month, including $38 billion from SoftBank itself, as well as commitments from Apple, Microsoft and more. The company also took a similar approach to its original Vision Fund, WSJ reports, with stakes from employees provided with loans totalling $8 billion of that $100 billion commitment.

The potential pay-off is big, provided the fund has some solid winners that achieve liquidation events that provide big returns that employees can then use to pay off the original loans, walking away with profit. That’s definitely a risk, however, especially in the current global economic client. As WSJ notes, the Uber shares that Vision Fund I acquired are now worth less than what SoftBank originally paid for them according to sources, and SoftBank bet WeWork looks poised to be another company whose IPO might not make that much, if any, money for later stage investors.


Source: Tech Crunch

Next Apple Watch could include new ceramic and titanium models

Apple’s next Apple Watch revision could include new materials for the case, including titanium and ceramic. That’s according to new assets pulled form the latest watchOS beta release, as uncovered by Brazilian site iHelp.br (via 9to5Mac). The new screens discovered in the beta show graphics used to pair the Apple Watch during setup, and list “Titanium Case” and “Ceramic Case” alongside model size identification info.

Apple has previously offered a ceramic Apple Watch, alongside its Series 2 and Series 3 models, with a premium price and white and black case options. The company hasn’t previously used titanium, but the lightweight, durable metal is popular among traditional watchmakers because it can really significantly reduce the heft of a watch case, while still providing a premium look and feel.

apple watch titanium ceramci

Last year’s Apple Watch Series 4 was the first significant change in body design for the wearable since its introduction in 2015, so it seems unlikely that Apple will change that this year again. The new physical design includes larger case sizes (40mm and 44mm, respectively, vs. 38mm and 42mm for previous generations), a thinner profile and a display with rounded corners and slimmer bezels.

Offering new materials is a way for Apple to deliver new hardware that is observably new on the outside, in addition to whatever processor and component improvements they make on the inside. Apple will likely also offer these alongside their stainless steel and aluminum models, should they actually be released this fall, and would probably charge a premium for these material options, too.

The Series 4 Apple Watch proved a serious improvement in terms of performance, and added features like the onboard ECG. Splashy new looks likely won’t be the extent of what Apple has planned for Series 5, however, especially since the company is revamping watchOS to be much more independent of the phone, which would benefit from more capable processors.


Source: Tech Crunch

Daily Crunch: Cloudflare is going public

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Cloudflare files for initial public offering

The web infrastructure company has recently found itself at the center of political debates around some of its customers, including social media networks like 8chan and racist media companies like the Daily Stormer. In fact, the company went so far as to cite 8chan as a risk factor in its public offering documents.

Even so, the company will likely be worth billions when it starts trading on the market. And we have to point out that Cloudflare actually made its debut on TechCrunch’s Battlefield stage back in 2010.

2. Apple is suing Corellium

Corellium allows customers to create and interact with virtual iOS devices — a software iPhone, for example, running actual iOS firmware, all within the browser. Apple says this is copyright infringement.

3. YouTube shuts down music companies’ use of manual copyright claims to steal creator revenue

Going forward, copyright owners will no longer be able to monetize creator videos with very short or unintentional uses of music via YouTube’s “Manual Claiming” tool. Instead, they can choose to prevent the other party from monetizing the video, or they can block the content.

sharechat team

4. Twitter leads $100M round in top Indian regional social media platform ShareChat

ShareChat serves 60 million users each month in 15 regional languages — but not English, which the company says is a deliberate choice.

5. Apple, Samsung continue growth as North American wearables market hits $2B

The numbers aren’t exactly earth-shattering, but they show significant growth for a category that felt almost dead in the water a year or two back.

6. Local governments are forcing the scooter industry to grow up fast

For scooter startups, city regulations can make or break their businesses across nearly every aspect of operations, especially in two key areas: ridership growth and the ability to attract investor dollars. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich will join us for TC Sessions: Enterprise on September 5

In a fireside chat, we’ll ask Russinovich about what Microsoft is doing to reduce the complexity of moving legacy systems to the cloud, and how enterprises can maximize their current cloud investments.


Source: Tech Crunch

How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray

The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” was originally meant sarcastically.

It’s not actually physically possible to do — especially while wearing Allbirds and having just fallen off a Bird scooter in downtown San Francisco, but I should get to my point.

This week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services Office, repeatedly referred to the notion of bootstraps in announcing shifts in immigration policy, even going so far as to change the words to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus:” no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

We’ve come to expect “alternative facts” from this administration, but who could have foreseen alternative poems?

Still, the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ is far from limited to the rhetorical territory of the welfare state and social safety net. It’s also a favorite term of art in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital circles: see for example this excellent (and scary) recent piece by my editor Danny Crichton, in which young VC firms attempt to overcome a lack of the startup capital that is essential to their business model by creating, as perhaps an even more essential feature of their model, impossible working conditions for most everyone involved. Often with predictably disastrous results.

It is in this context of unrealistic expectations about people’s labor, that I want to introduce my most recent interviewee in this series of in-depth conversations about ethics and technology.

Mary L. Gray is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. One of the world’s leading experts in the emerging field of ethics in AI, Mary is also an anthropologist who maintains a faculty position at Indiana University. With her co-author Siddharth Suri (a computer scientist), Gray coined the term “ghost work,” as in the title of their extraordinarily important 2019 book, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. 

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Image via Mary L. Gray / Ghostwork / Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography

Ghost Work is a name for a rising new category of employment that involves people scheduling, managing, shipping, billing, etc. “through some combination of an application programming interface, APIs, the internet and maybe a sprinkle of artificial intelligence,” Gray told me earlier this summer. But what really distinguishes ghost work (and makes Mary’s scholarship around it so important) is the way it is presented and sold to the end consumer as artificial intelligence and the magic of computation.

In other words, just as we have long enjoyed telling ourselves that it’s possible to hoist ourselves up in life without help from anyone else (I like to think anyone who talks seriously about “bootstrapping” should be legally required to rephrase as “raising oneself from infancy”), we now attempt to convince ourselves and others that it’s possible, at scale, to get computers and robots to do work that only humans can actually do.

Ghost Work’s purpose, as I understand it, is to elevate the value of what the computers are doing (a minority of the work) and make us forget, as much as possible, about the actual messy human beings contributing to the services we use. Well, except for the founders, and maybe the occasional COO.

Facebook now has far more employees than Harvard has students, but many of us still talk about it as if it were little more than Mark Zuckerberg, Cheryl Sandberg, and a bunch of circuit boards.

But if working people are supposed to be ghosts, then when they speak up or otherwise make themselves visible, they are “haunting” us. And maybe it can be haunting to be reminded that you didn’t “bootstrap” yourself to billions or even to hundreds of thousands of dollars of net worth.

Sure, you worked hard. Sure, your circumstances may well have stunk. Most people’s do.

But none of us rise without help, without cooperation, without goodwill, both from those who look and think like us and those who do not. Not to mention dumb luck, even if only our incredible good fortune of being born with a relatively healthy mind and body, in a position to learn and grow, here on this planet, fourteen billion years or so after the Big Bang.

I’ll now turn to the conversation I recently had with Gray, which turned out to be surprisingly more hopeful than perhaps this introduction has made it seem.

Greg Epstein: One of the most central and least understood features of ghost work is the way it revolves around people constantly making themselves available to do it.

Mary Gray: Yes, [What Siddarth Suri and I call ghost work] values having a supply of people available, literally on demand. Their contributions are collective contributions.

It’s not one person you’re hiring to take you to the airport every day, or to confirm the identity of the driver, or to clean that data set. Unless we’re valuing that availability of a person, to participate in the moment of need, it can quickly slip into ghost work conditions.


Source: Tech Crunch

Lumineye helps first responders identify people through walls

Any first responder knows that situational awareness is key. In domestic violence disputes, hostage rescue, or human trafficking situations, first responders often need help determining where humans are behind closed doors.

That’s why Megan Lacy, Corbin Hennen and Rob Kleffner developed Lumineye, a 3D printed radar device that uses signal analysis software to differentiate moving and breathing humans from other objects, through walls.

Lumineye uses pulse radar technology that works like echolocation (how bats and dolphins communicate). It sends signals and listens for how long it takes for a pulse to bounce back. The software analyzes these pulses to determine the approximate size, range and movement characteristics of a signal.

On the software side, Lumineye’s app that will tell a user how far away a person is when they’re moving and breathing. It’s one dimensional, so it doesn’t tell the user whether the subject is to the right or left. But the device can detect humans out to 50 feet in open air, and that range decreases depending upon the materials placed in between like drywall, brick or concrete.

One scenario the team gave to describe the advantages of using Lumineye was the instance of hostage rescue. In this type of situation, it’s crucial for first responders to know how many people are in a room and how far away they are from one another. That’s where the use of multiple devices and triangulation from something like Lumineye could change a responding team’s tactical rescue approach.

Machines that currently exist to make these kind of detections are heavy and cumbersome. The team behind Lumineye was inspired to manufacture a more portable option that won’t weigh teams down during longer emergency response situations that can sometimes last for up to 12 hours or overnight. The prototype combines the detection hardware with an ordinary smartphone. It’s about 10 x 5 inches and weighs 1.5 pounds.

Lumineye wants to grow out its functionality to become more of a ubiquitous device. The team of four is planning to continue manufacturing the device and selling it directly to customers.

 

Lumineye Device BreathingMode

Lumineye’s device can detect humans through walls using radio frequencies

Lumineye has just started its pilot programs, and recently spent a Saturday at a FEMA event testing out the the device’s ability to detect people covered in rubble piles. The company was born out of the Boise Idaho cohort of Stanford’s Hacking4Defense program, a course meant to connect Silicon Valley innovations with the U.S. Department of Defense and Intelligence Community. The Idaho-based startup is graduating from Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 class.

Lumineye TeamPicture 1

Megan Lacy, Corbin Hennen and Rob Kleffner


Source: Tech Crunch

Slack co-founder Cal Henderson and Spark Capital’s Megan Quinn are coming to Disrupt SF

If there was one company at the top of everyone’s mind this year, it was Slack.

The now-ubiquitous workplace messaging tool began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in June after taking an unusual route to the public markets known as a direct listing. Slack bypassed the typical IPO process in favor of putting its current stock on to the NYSE without doing an additional raise or bringing on underwriter banking partners.

Slack co-founder and chief technology officer Cal Henderson and Slack investor and Spark Capital general partner Megan Quinn will join us on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF to give a behind the scenes look at Slack’s banner year, the company’s origin story and what convinced Quinn to participate in the business’s funding round years ago.

Early in his career, Henderson was the technical director of Special Web Projects at Emap, a UK media company. Later, he became the head of engineering for Flickr, the photo-sharing tool co-founded by Slack chief Steward Butterfield. In April 2009, he was reported to be starting a new stealth social gaming company with Butterfield, a project that would ultimately become Slack.

Quinn, for her part, added Slack to the Spark Capital portfolio in 2015, participating in the company’s $160 million Series E at a valuation of $2.8 billion. No small startup at the time, Slack already had 750,000 daily users and backing from Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, GV and Kleiner Perkins.

Quinn is a seasoned investor, known for striking deals with Coinbase, Glossier, Rover and Wealthfront, among others. She first entered the venture capital scene in 2012 as an investment partner at Kleiner Perkins, where she invested in early to mid-stage consumer tech startups. Quinn joined Spark Capital in 2015 to make growth-stage investments in companies across the board.

Before trying her hand at VC, she spent seven years in product management and strategic partnership development at Google and one year as the head of product at payments company Square.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.

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Source: Tech Crunch

Google discloses its acquisition of mobile learning app Socratic as it relaunches on iOS

Google publicly disclosed its acquisition of homework helper app Socratic in an announcement this week, detailing the added support for the company’s AI technology and its relaunch on iOS. The acquisition apparently flew under the radar — Google says it bought the app last year.

According to one founder’s LinkedIn update, that was in March 2018. Google declined to comment when asked for specifics about the acquisition.

Socratic was founded in 2013 by Chris Pedregal and Shreyans Bhansali with the goal of creating a community that made learning accessible to all students.

Initially, the app offered a Quora-like Q&A platform where students could ask questions that were answered by experts. By the time Socratic raised $6 million in Series A funding back in 2015, its community had grown to around 500,000 students. The company later evolved to focus less on connecting users and more on utility.

It included a feature to take a photo of a homework question in order to get instant explanations through the mobile app launched in 2015. This is similar to many other apps in the space, like Photomath, Mathway, DoYourMath and others.

However, Socratic isn’t just a math helper — it can also tackle subjects like science, literature, social studies and more.

In February 2018, Socratic announced it would remove the app’s social features. That June, the company said it was closing its Q&A website to user contributions. This decision was met with some backlash from disappointed users.

Socratic explained the app and website were different products, and it was strategically choosing to focus on the former.

“We, as anyone, are bound by the constraints of reality—you just can’t do everything—which means making decisions and tradeoffs where necessary. This one is particularly painful,” wrote Community Lead Becca McArthur at the time.

That strategy, apparently, was to make Socratic a Google AI-powered product. According to Google’s blog post penned by Bhansali — now the engineering manager at Socratic — the updated iOS app uses AI technology to help users.

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The new version of the iOS app still allows you to snap a photo to get answers, or you can speak your question.

For example, if a student takes a photo from a classroom handout or asks a question like “what’s the difference between distance and displacement?,” Socratic will return a top match, followed by explainers, a Q&A section and even related YouTube videos and web links. It’s almost like a custom search engine just for your homework questions.

Google also says it has built and trained algorithms that can analyze the student’s question, then identify the underlying concepts in order to point users to these resources. For students who need even more help, the app can break down the concepts into smaller, easy-to-understand lessons.

googleai v2

In addition, the app includes subject guides on more than 1,000 higher education and high school topics, developed with help from educators. The study guides can help students prepare for tests or just better learn a particular concept.

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“In building educational resources for teachers and students, we’ve spent a lot of time talking to them about challenges they face and how we can help,” writes Bhansali. “We’ve heard that students often get ‘stuck’ while studying. When they have questions in the classroom, a teacher can quickly clarify—but it’s frustrating for students who spend hours trying to find answers while studying on their own,” he says.

This is where Socratic will help.

That said, the acquisition could help Google in other ways, too. In addition to its primary focus as a homework helper, the acquisition could aid Google Assistant technology across platforms, as the virtual assistant could learn to answer more complex questions that Google’s Knowledge Graph didn’t already include.

The relaunched, AI-powered version of Socratic by Google arrived on Thursday on iOS, where it also discloses through the app update text the app is now owned by Google.

The Android version of the app will launch this fall.

Updated, 8/16/19, 3:30 PM ET to note Google’s decline to comment. 

 


Source: Tech Crunch