Save with group discounts and bring your team to TechCrunch’s first ever Enterprise event Sept. 5 in SF

Get ready to dive into the fiercely competitive waters of enterprise software. Join more than 1,000 attendees for TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 on September 5 to navigate this rapidly evolving category with the industry’s brightest minds, biggest names and exciting startups.

Our $249 early-bird ticket price remains in play, which saves you $100. But one is the loneliest number, so why not take advantage of our group discount, buy in bulk and bring your whole team? Save an extra 20% when you buy four or more tickets at once.

We’ve packed this day-long conference with an outstanding lineup of presentations, interviews, panel discussions, demos, breakout sessions and, of course, networking. Check out the agenda, which includes both industry titans and boundary-pushing startups eager to disrupt the status quo.

We’ll add more surprises along the way, but these sessions provide a taste of what to expect — and why you’ll need your posse to absorb as much intel as possible.

Talking Developer Tools
Scott Farquhar (Atlassian)

With tools like Jira, Bitbucket and Confluence, few companies influence how developers work as much as Atlassian. The company’s co-founder and co-CEO Scott Farquhar will join us to talk about growing his company, how it is bringing its tools to enterprises and what the future of software development in and for the enterprise will look like.

Keeping the Enterprise Secure
Martin Casado (Andreessen Horowitz), Wendy Nather (Duo Security), Emily Heath (United Airlines)

Enterprises face a litany of threats from both inside and outside the firewall. Now more than ever, companies — especially startups — have to put security first. From preventing data from leaking to keeping bad actors out of your network, enterprises have it tough. How can you secure the enterprise without slowing growth? We’ll discuss the role of a modern CSO and how to move fast — without breaking things.

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course
Bill McDermott (SAP)

With over $166 billion in market cap, Germany-based SAP is one of the most valuable tech companies in the world today. Bill McDermott took the leadership in 2014, becoming the first American to hold this position. Since then, he has quickly grown the company, in part thanks to a number of $1 billion-plus acquisitions. We’ll talk to him about his approach to these acquisitions, his strategy for growing the company in a quickly changing market and the state of enterprise software in general.

The Quantum Enterprise
Jim Clarke (Intel), Jay Gambetta (IBM
and Krysta Svore (Microsoft)
4:20 PM – 4:45 PM

While we’re still a few years away from having quantum computers that will fulfill the full promise of this technology, many companies are already starting to experiment with what’s available today. We’ll talk about what startups and enterprises should know about quantum computing today to prepare for tomorrow.

TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 takes place on September 5. You can’t be everywhere at once, so bring your team, cover more ground and increase your ROI. Get your group discount tickets and save.

Source: Tech Crunch

Dreading 10x engineers, virtual beings, the fate of Netflix, and Salesforce’s acquisition

The dreaded 10x, or, how to handle exceptional employees

The reality (myth?) is that there are engineers who are ten times more productive than other engineers (some would argue 100x, but okay). Jon Evans, who is CTO at HappyFunCorp, dives into the strengths and weaknesses of these vaunted people and how to manage them and their relationships with other team members.

The anti-10x squad raises many important and valid — frankly, obvious and inarguable — points. Go down that Twitter thread and you’ll find that 10x engineers are identified as: people who eschew meetings, work alone, rarely look at documentation, don’t write much themselves, are poor mentors, and view process, meetings, or training as reasons to abandon their employer. In short, they are unbelievably terrible team members.

Is software a field like the arts, or sports, in which exceptional performers can exist? Sure. Absolutely. Software is Extremistan, not Mediocristan, as Nassim Taleb puts it.

A guide to Virtual Beings and how they impact our world

If your 10x engineers are too annoying to deal with, maybe consider just getting virtual beings instead. The inaugural Virtual Beings Summit was held recently in San Francisco, a conference designed to bring together storyline editors, virtual reality engineers, influencer marketers and more to consider the future of “virtual beings.”

Source: Tech Crunch

CRV hires Anna Khan as a general partner focused on enterprise

CRV, formerly known as Charles River Ventures, has hired Anna Khan as its 10th general partner. Khan joins from Bessemer Venture Partners where she’s served as a vice president since 2016.

CRV invests across industries, with a portfolio that includes Bird and Airtable, among others. The venture capital firm is currently investing out of its 17th fund, a $600 million vehicle that closed in 2018.

Founded in 1970, CRV is amongst the older VC firms. While Khan isn’t the firm’s first female GP — Annie Kadavy, now a general partner at Redpoint Ventures, joined CRV as a GP in 2012 — she will be the firm’s only current female GP.

Despite, an increasing number of firms tapping female talent, less than 10% of “decision-makers” at U.S. venture capital firms are female, according to Axios. Female founders, meanwhile, attract just over 2% of venture capital dollars.

Khan joins CRV alongside another new hire, former Social Capital partner Kristin Baker Spohn. Both Khan and Spohn, a venture partner, will focus on CRV’s enterprise practice, where they’ll work with Airtable, Drift, Iterable, SignalFx and more.

Kristin Baker Spohn

CRV’s newest venture partner Kristin Baker Spohn

“As is often the case, we were introduced to both [Khan and Spohn] through friends of CRV, and from our earliest conversations knew they would add tremendously to the firm,” CRV general partner Murat Bicer said in a statement. “Kristin brings an impressive depth of knowledge in healthcare and a charisma that speaks to early entrepreneurs and seasoned executives alike, while Anna has an immense understanding of the SaaS world and an energy that has seen her accomplish so much in a relatively short period of time.”

Khan, an investor in ScaleFactor, NewVoiceMedia and Intercom, previously founded Launch X, an accelerator that helps female entrepreneurs learn how to raise capital for their businesses.

Spohn’s been an active angel investor since leaving Social Capital. She exited the once high-flying venture capital fund last year following Social Capital co-founder Chamath Palihapitiya’s decision to no longer raise outside capital.

Source: Tech Crunch

Crowdfunded LightSail 2 spacecraft succeeds in flying on sunlight alone

Space exploration non-profit The Planetary Society is celebrating a stack of wins today, after announcing that its LightSail 2 spacecraft, which was funded in part through a crowdfunding campaign, has managed to successfully fly on the power of sunlight alone. It’s raised its orbit after initially being put into position by a Falcon Heavy launch and its own conventional thrusters, climbing by about two kilometres (about 1.2 miles) from its initial orbit using on the force exerted by photos from the sun bouncing off the surface of its mylar sail.

This is a huge achievement, which successfully demonstrates that the idea of flying CubeSats, or small satellites, in orbit with altitude adjustments powered by light alone is indeed a viable option. LightSail 2 is the first spacecraft to show that solar sailing works in EArth’s orbit, and only the second solar sail spacecraft flown ever, after 2010’s Ikaros which was operated by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on a very different mission.

This is indeed primary mission success, but LightSail 2’s voyage isn’t over – it’ll now continue to raise its orbit using the solar sail, with a goal of raising the overall apogee (or high point) of the spacecraft’s orbit over time. It’ll also seek to improve overall performance of solar sailing, by optimizing a required process called “desaturation” that temporarily takes the craft out of its target solar sailing orientation in order to bleed off accumulated momentum.

20190731 cam2 deploy grid 3 rows f840

In around a year from now, LightSail 2 will perform its planned deorbit and entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, at which point it’ll burn up.

This a also a big achievement for crowdfunded space exploration – around 50,000 people contributed to the LightSail funding campaign, from acrosss 100 countries, and contributed along with various foundations and corporate sponsor to raise the $7 million used to fund the spacecraft development project and launch.

“For me, it’s very romantic to be sailing on sunbeams,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye at an event on Wednesday to announce the achievement.

Data collected from LightSail 2 will be shared with other organizations including NASA, which intends to launch its own solar sail-powered small satellite on a mission to explore a near-Earth asteroid sometime in the near future.

Source: Tech Crunch

Amazon develops a new way to help Alexa answer complex questions

Amazon’s Alexa AI team had developed a new training method for the virtual assistant that could greatly improve its ability to handle tricky questions. In a blog post, team lead Abdalghani Abujabal details the new method, which combines both text-based search and a custom-built knowledge graph, two methods which normally compete.

Abujabal suggests the following scenario: You ask Alexa “Which Nolan films won an Oscar but missed a Golden Globe?” The answer to this question asks a lot – you need to identify that the ‘Nolan’ referred to is director Christopher Nolan, figure out which movie he’s directed (even his role as ‘director’ for the resulting list needs to be inferred) and then cross-reference those which have one an Oscar with a list of those which have also won a Golden Globe, and identify those that are present on List A but not on List B.

Amazon’s method to provide a better answer to this difficult question opts for first gathering the most complete data set possible, and then automatically building a curated knowledge graph out of an initially high volume and very noisy (ie., filled with unnecessary data) data set using algorithms that the research team custom-created to deal with cutting the chaff and arriving at mostly meaningful results.

The system devised by Amazon is actually relatively simple on its face – or rather, it combines two relatively simple methods, including a basic web search, that essentially just crawls the web for results using the full text of the question asked – just like if you’d typed “Which Nolan films won an Oscar but missed a Golden Globe?” into Google, for instance (researchers used multiple web engines in reality). The system then grabs the top ten ranked pages and breaks them down into identified names and grammar units.

On top of that resulting data set, Alexa AI’s approach then looks for clues in the structure of sentences to flag and weight significant sentences in the top texts, like “Nolan directed Inception,” and discounts the rest. This builds the ad-hoc knowledge graph, which they then asses to identify “cornerstones” within. A cornerstone is basically dead ringers for words in the original search string (ie., “Which Nolan films won an Oscar but missed a Golden Globe?”) and take those out, focusing instead of looking at the information in between as the source fo the actual answers to that question.

With some final weighting and sorting of the remaining data, the algorithm correctly returns “Inception” as the answer, and Amazon’s team found that this method actually beat out state-of-the-art approaches that were much more involved but that focused on just text search, or just building a curated knowledge graph in isolation. Still, they think they can tweak their approach to be even better, which is good news for Alexa users hoping their smart speakers will be able to settle heated debates about advanced Trival Pursuit questions.

Source: Tech Crunch

Apple, Microsoft and Google to test new standard for patient access to digital health data

A newly released data model and draft implementation guide for providing digital access to historical health insurance claims data directly to patients could mean you have better access to this info from the devices you use everyday. Called the CARIN Blue Button API, it’s a new model developed by private sector partners including consumer organizations, insurance providers, digital health app developers and more, this new draft implementation will be in testing beginning this year, with participating companies including a number of different state-specific BlueCross/BlueShield providers, the State of Washington – and Apple, Google and Microsoft.

The news was announced today at the White House Blue Button Developers Conference in Washington D.C., and builds on the work done last year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to launch Blue Button 2.0, a new standard aimed at providing Medicare beneficiaries in the U.S. access to all of their historical claims information in one place from whatever application they choose to use.

All of the organizations participating in the draft testing process will perform “real-world testing” of the CARIN model developed by the multi-disciplinary working group, with the aim of preparing for a broad, product launch of the data standard in 2020.

Seeing Apple, Google and Microsoft on that list along with a significant number of health care providers is a good sign, since it should mean more data portability and choice when it comes to how you access your own patient information, rather than it being decided on a platform-by-platform basis.

Apple already built a Health Records section into its own native Health app in iOS at the beginning of last year, and while it works with standards sometimes adopted by health care providers, it’s far from a universal, truly interoperable health care history feature on its own. Apple has been building partnerships with agencies and providers including Veterans’ Affairs and Aetna to flesh out its personal health data offering for users, and Microsoft has its own health records offering called HealthVault.

Source: Tech Crunch

Ford acquires software company Journey Holding

Ford has agreed to acquire Journey Holding Corporation, a company that has developed vehicle tracking software and app-based technology designed for public transportation, as the automaker seeks to scale up its new mobility business.

Journey Holding will be housed under Ford Smart Mobility, a Ford subsidiary that invests in and builds the automaker’s transportation services. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. In a separate announcement, Ford said Tuesday it acquired Quantum Signal, a small robotics company and defense contractor known for mobile robotics and real-time simulation.

The acquisition of Journey is part of broader vision laid out by CEO Jim Hackett more than a year ago to create an ecosystem of transportation-related services that people and cities need now and in the future. The Journey acquisition follows Ford’s purchase of Autonomic and Transloc in 2018.

Today, those services might include using an app to find a Ford-owned Spin scooter or schedule a bus or on-demand shuttle. In the future, it might include finding and hailing an autonomous vehicle.

Eventually, Journey will integrate into Transloc, a transit technology business that Ford bought in 2018. Transloc develops software that helps cities manage transit services including on-demand shuttles.

The name of the combined organization will be announced at a later date, Ford said.

Journey Holding Corporation was founded in 2018 through the merger of two companies, Indianapolis-based DoubleMap and Salt Lake City-based Ride Systems. Journey offers software to municipalities, universities and corporations to help manage their fleets. It also has developed apps that lets users schedule or track rides on shuttles, buses and other public transit.

Transloc CEO Doug Kaufman will leave the new company on Aug. 16. Journey Holding CEO Justin Rees, who founded Ride Systems in 2007 with Kelly Rees and Ben Haynie, will lead the new company.

Together, this newly formed company of about 200 people will serve nearly 1,200 cities, universities, corporate campuses and other enterprises with software solutions for fixed route transportation, microtransit on-demand transportation and other related areas.

“The combination of these transit technology companies will accelerate our efforts to help cities deliver more seamless, productive, and accessible transportation solutions to their citizens and visitors,” Brett Wheatley, vice president of Ford Mobility’s marketing and growth division, said in a statement. “It also will be key to connecting customers with the other mobility solutions in our portfolio, such as Spin e-scooters and our GoRide Health service.”

These services should eventually be part the Transportation Mobility Cloud, an open cloud-based platform that Ford developed for cities to use to orchestrate and manage all the disparate transportation modes happening at any given time.

Source: Tech Crunch

Apple is hosting augmented reality art walking tours in major cities

Apple is combining two long-standing major efforts in a new push, making AR more consumer-friendly and helping portray Apple Stores as civic centers where communities can come together.

The project, called [AR]T Walk, is a walking tour through various city centers around the globe aiming to help the digital art works of artists come alive in physical spaces. The tours are taking place in Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris, San Francisco and Tokyo through mid-August.

Showcasing digital art in geo-specific locations isn’t a new concept. In 2017, Snapchat debuted a partnership with Jeff Koons in Central Park, though the company had some issues with ensuring the tech worked reliably.

People looking to take part in the AR walking tours can sign up on Apple’s site. The tours seem to last a couple of hours and involve a 1.5-mile walk. The artists behind the work are Nick Cave, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Cao Fei, John Giorno, Carsten Höller and Pipilotti Rist.

Source: Tech Crunch

How the new ‘Lion King’ came to life

When I was told that I’d be visiting the production of Disney’s new “Lion King,” I had a hazy idea of what to expect — sets recreating the iconic landscapes of the animated film, maybe some actors in costumes or motion capture suits.

Instead, if you’ve seen the movie (which came out on July 19), you probably won’t be surprised to hear that there wasn’t a single set or costume in sight. After all, even though the film looks like a live action remake of “The Lion King,” every shot except for the first was created on a computer.

So what I visited in 2017 was a nondescript Los Angeles warehouse filled with computers. In the main room, almost everything was black — black padding on the walls, black VR headsets, black dolly tracks for the camera.

Director Jon Favreau explained to visiting journalists that the plan was to create a virtual Serengeti in the Unity game engine, then apply live action filmmaking techniques to create the film — the “Lion King” team described this as a “virtual production process.”

It started with a research trip to Kenya, with copious reference photos taken of the landscape and animals. Then the art department got to work creating sets — the aforementioned virtual Serengeti — which could be “filmed” by moving a real camera around the space (hence the need for real-world camera equipment like dolly tracks). Those shots are then edited together and handed over to the effects team at MPC to create the images you see in the final film.

TLK Caleb OnTheWheels StdyCamInBG L1002485

THE LION KING – (Pictured) Caleb Deschanel. Photo by: Michael Legato.
© Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“If you go back to ‘Avatar,’ ‘Avatar’ solved the problem of how do you film a movie that usually gets created with computer graphics, so we put computer graphics into the cinematographer’s monitor so that they could use more traditional equipment to see the movie” said virtual production supervisor Ben Grossman. “Fast forward to ‘Lion King’ and what we’re doing is we’re putting the filmmakers inside the monitor. So now, they can put on a VR headset and be in Africa or on the Empire State Building or on the surface of the Moon, so that they can walk around and see and feel the filmmaking process … as though they were there.”

That doesn’t just involve VR and computer animation, Grossman added. There’s also significant use of artificial intelligence in the virtual sets and characters. For example, the filmmakers could create a 3D model of a lion, and then teach the AI so that the lion can act hungry, or cold, or as if it’s looking for food: “We start telling the computer things like that and then it starts to associate behaviors with motivations and intents.”

Ultimately, Grossman suggested that this could lead to a situation where filmmaking is less about traditional “filmmaking or storytelling,” and more about “world-building”: “You create a world where characters have personalities and they have motivations to do different things and then essentially, you can throw them all out there like a simulation and then you can put real people in there and see what happens.”

And while the technology side sounds quite sophisticated, everyone emphasized that the goal was to give the filmmakers the tools they needed to feel like they were making a live action film.

The Lion King

In fact, director of photography Caleb Deschanel (whose career has been focused on live action, with credits like “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Right Stuff”) described himself as “the Luddite in this group,” whose goal was to “try to make it feel as film-y as possible.”

“I remember reading about Brad Bird … who had directed a lot of animation, obviously, and then when he was directing live action, he got very frustrated ’cause he couldn’t do all these sort of crazy things,” Deschanel said. “And we’re going in the opposite direction and taking the tools of normal filmmaking and bringing them into our world, and using that as a method to create a reality.”

He acknowledged that working with the technology has been a learning process — so much so that he spoke wistfully about starting over again once they’d finished the movie, so that he could apply all the lessons he’d learned.

“I mean, when we did the canyon chase with the wildebeests early on, and we were filming and I was struggling with getting light where I wanted it,” he said. “And then, weeks later, I discovered: Well, if you don’t like the light there, we can take these mountains, we can just drop them down and get the sun coming through where you want it.”

All of this speaks to the extraordinary amount of thought and technology that went into making a movie in a new way. But it also dances around the most basic question: Why remake “The Lion King” at all?

TLK Leg 0735 CR

THE LION KING – (L-R) Jon Favreau, Caleb Deschanel, James Chinlund, Robert Legato and Andy Jones. Photo by: Michael Legato.
© Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Favreau’s answer was that he wanted to take the story and themes that were so powerful in the original film (and in the subsequent Broadway musical), and then “create something that feels like a completely different medium than either of those two.”

The box office receipts offer another answer, with “The Lion King” on-track to become perhaps the highest-grossing movie of the summer and one of the biggest hits of the year.

Critics haven’t been quite as impressed, complaining that the “realistic” approach hampers the emotional expressiveness of the animals (not to mention the imagination and energy of the musical numbers). Why take such a fantastical story and go to all the effort to tell it in a photo-real way?

Back during the set visit, VFX Rob Legato said studio heads were asking something similar, namely: “Why would you go through the great expense to have everything under your control and then take your control away on purpose?”

The point, Legato argued, is to be true to “the artist’s idea” of creating a movie that “looks like a film” but could never be shot in real life. And his hope is that when audiences watch the new “Lion King,” they don’t see visual effects — similar to how most people don’t watch “The Godfather” and think “great sets, great costumes, interesting light.” Instead, “You just watch the film. You don’t really pick apart one of the disciplines, you just enjoy it.”

He added, “My viewpoint is, it’s not a visual effect anymore, if it’s just moviemaking.”

Source: Tech Crunch

LG’s smartphone sales dropped another 21%

Let’s start with the good news. LG actually had a pretty good quarter (on the strength of appliance sales). The LG Home Appliance & Air Solution division made $5.23 billion for Q2. Anyone who’s been following the company for the past several years can guess where the bad news comes.

Smartphone sales dipped 21.3% year over year for the South Korean company. The culprits are as you’d expect: an overall slowing of the smartphone market, coupled with aggressive undercutting from Chinese manufacturers. Huawei seems to lead the pack on that front, with a big increase in sales, in spite of a confluence of external factors.

The smartphone unit saw an operating loss of $268.4 million, in spite of a 6.8% increase in sales from the quarter prior. LG chalks up the loss to higher marketing on new models and April’s move from Seoul to Vietnam for smartphone production for longer-term cost cutting.

In spite of this, the company says it’s still bullish about smartphone sales for Q3. “The introduction of competitive mass-tier smartphones and growing demand for 5G products are expected to contribute to improved performance in the third quarter,” it writes in an earnings release.

LG is, of course, among the first companies to release a 5G handset, with the V50 ThinQ. The next-gen wireless technology is expected to increase stagnating global smartphone sales, though much of that will depend on the speed with which carriers are able to roll it out. It seems unlikely that 5G in and of itself will be a quick or even longer-term fix for a struggling category.

Source: Tech Crunch