The Station: The startups edition

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

For all the U.S. readers here, I hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend.

I am mixing up the format this week because I am in charge here, it’s a holiday and I don’t want this newsletter to get too formulaic. So today, the newsletter will highlight a few mobility startups as well as some of their ideas that don’t typically get a lot of attention.

RVshare -rvs

Image Credits: RVshare

For those who plan to road trip this summer — or perhaps you already have — I would love to hear what it’s like out there. Figures from peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace RVshare suggest it’s crowded.

Folks over at RVshare, a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, told me that rental bookings are three times higher than last summer and report a 1,600% increase since early April.

“July 4th weekend is on pace to be the biggest booking period in the history of the business, by a wide margin,” CEO Jon Gray said.

Remember please reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Alrighty then, vamos.

Bikes!

The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed startups and established companies alike. Others, like Lectric eBikes have had a more fortuitous couple of quarters thanks to spiking demand for bikes during the pandemic.

The one-year-old startup based in Arizona has been swept up in the electric bike craze. The company, co-founded by 24-year-olds Levi Conlow and Robby Deziel, has generated more than $14 million in sales of its Lectric XP ebike.

Now the startup is launching a new ebike called the ‘Lectric XP Step-Thru’. Pre-orders began last week. The $899 step-thru bike folds to less than half of its size, has a top speed of 28 miles per hour, an LCD display and a 25- to 50-mile range.

Lectric eBikes - step thru

Image Credits: Lectric eBikes

Meanwhile, the better-known Rad Power Bikes has unveiled a single-speed electric bike that starts at $999. The new product, called RadMission Electric Motor Bike, comes with a 500-watt motor that provides 50 pound feet of torque, a twist grip throttle, an integrated brake light that is powered using the main battery pack, 48-volt battery pack that can travel between 25 to 45-mile range.

It’s under 50 pounds, making it 30% lighter than Rad Power’s other bikes. The bike also comes with an LED control panel where riders can control lights and pedal assistance as well as view battery and assist levels. Pre-orders are open and the company says the first Rad Mission bikes will be delivered in October.

Rad Power Bikes RadMission

Image Credits: Rad Power Bikes

Zoov, a French electric bike-sharing platform, unveiled this week a new charging station that it says improves upon traditional docking systems. The station is designed to fit four bikes within one meter compared to other systems that can only fit one bike in the same amount of space. It can also charge bikes with or without a connection to the grid. The stations that are not tied to the grid use batteries that can be swapped out and can and be set up quickly, the company says.

One of the more interesting innovations is that the bikes create a shared power connection. As bikes are parked at the station they become connected and can deliver or receive power. The transfer of energy between the bikes is controlled by an algorithm that optimizes the bikes’ charge levels – the maximum charge range is about 45 kilometers.

Each station has the capacity for up to 15 bikes. The company said it has already installed 40 of these stations.

zoov electric bike station

Image Credits: Zoov

COVID-19 inspired

I’ve been tracking the ideas and little inventions that have popped up in the past several months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There are an abundance of little “solutions” out there, some better than others. I’ll call these out from time to time.

For instance, Nickelytics, a startup out of the latest TechStars Mobility cohort, has put a slightly modern spin on the old game of advertising on and in vehicles. The company puts ads on ride-share vehicles that travel at least 30 miles a day. It promises drivers can earn up to $500 a month. The startup’s pitch to companies is that it uses tracking technology to log each “impression,” meaning the passenger who hailed a ride. It takes that data and targets those consumers with digital ads.

The company has launched a new product that it calls “ad shield.” The idea is to protect ride-share drivers and passengers, while generating revenue. This isn’t a new idea. Anyone who has been in a taxicab in a dense urban area has certainly encountered the more permanent and robust shields set up between the front and back seats as a safety measure.

The Nickelytics ad shield is designed for ride-share, however. The plexiglass, which can be branded with a company logo or other marketing message, is flexible and can be quickly added or removed from a ride share vehicle.

nickelytics ad shield

Image Credits: Nickelytics

Apps!

A couple of transportation-related apps that are focused on safety caught my eye recently. The first is a company called !important that launched their safety app last month. The app markets itself as protection for pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, and motorcyclists from collisions with nearby connected vehicles.

Here’s the basic premise, which the app’s inventor Bastien Beauchamp, explained to me recently: the app runs in the background and acts as another sensor that will communicate with a nearby “connected car” to provide the exact location of a pedestrian or cyclist. The driver receives an alert of the approaching person. The app may even trigger the vehicle’s brakes automatically. There are a couple of catches here. The vehicle has to have an advanced driver assistance systems and the accompanying !important software for it to work. And for this to be really meaningful, Beauchamp will have to convince automakers to integrate the software into their vehicles as well as get pedestrians, cyclists and other folks to download the app.

It’s early days for !important. But Beauchamp has already made some progress. The app will be implemented starting in January 2021 in human-driven and autonomous vehicles in Reno as part of the Intelligent Mobility initiative in collaboration with the Nevada Center for Applied Research at the University of Nevada.

!Important is also in collaboration with 12 universities

Now let’s turn to the drivers. Openroad is a free app, which launched in January 2020. that detects car crashes and sends emergency responders if they’re needed. The app is only available on iOS and is coming to Android soon.

The app grew out of True Motion, a company founded in 2012 that developed a smartphone telematics platform for insurance companies. Insurance companies can use the platform to capture driving data and then offer their customers incentives for good driving behavior.

Open Road was designed as a consumer app. The app uses machine learning to detect crashes in real time and will reach out to trained responders who can send a 911 call for ambulance or police if that is needed. The data can also be used to speed up the insurance claims process for the user.

Open Road recently added an emergency contacts feature that’ll notify a  couple of designated people in the event of a crash as well as a Siri Shortcut. If a user says “Hey Siri, Request Crash Assistance” one of the Open Road trained agents will call the user immediately. The app also audio alert feature where if the user is in a crash, audio alert is triggered from their phone to let them know agents are calling.

Holiday roundup

Normally, I would break each of these out into different sections and provide some analysis and even original reporting. This week, I’m providing a mini version of my typical newsletter. Keep on reading for an overview of what happened this past week.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

The big micromobility news this week comes from the UK, where the Department for Transport announced that it allow e-scooter rental companies to legally operate across the country. This will be a pilot program that will start no later than August. Councils and other authorities, including across London and other major cities, are working on putting together trials that could run for as long as 12 months under guidelines provided by the government.

The regulations come into force on July 4, the DfT said, with the first trials expected to begin a week later.

European micromobility company Dott reached out to let me know that it has earned approval from UK regulators to participate in the e-scooter trial. Tier Mobility is also prepped and ready. The two-year-old startup has more than 1,000 scooters in its UK warehouse. It has also hired a general manager for the UK and a head of public policy for Northern Europe. Fred Jones is the general manager for the UK and Benjamin Bell will lead public policy for Northern Europe. Both Jones and Bell formerly worked at Uber . Jones will oversee the roll-out of TIER e-scooters in UK towns and cities. While, Bell will spearhead the company’s collaboration with central and local government in the run-up to trials.

lime-jump

Image Credits: Lime

Meanwhile, Jump bikes returned to London through its new owner Lime. London is the first city in Europe to see Jump bikes return since Uber offloaded the company to Lime in a complex deal that unfolded in May. Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber, along with other existing investors Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump, the electric bike and scooter division that Uber acquired in 2018 for around $200 million.

Earlier this year, thousands of Jump bikes were pulled off the streets in European cities such as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malaga, Munich, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. It’s unlikely that Lime will put Jump bikes back in all of these cities. Sources have said Lime plans to redeploy Jump scooters and bikes in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona.

AVs and connectivity

the station autonomous vehicles1

BMW showed off what its new Operating System 7 software can do. Some of its ideas around deploying upgrades and features has been a bit controversial. The company said all cars equipped with its newest “Operating System 7” software will be able to receive over-the air updates and plans to charge customers who want to upgrade certain features like adding heated seats or advanced driver assistance systems.

Lyft’s self-driving vehicle division has restarted testing on public roads in California, several months after pausing operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of its autonomous vehicles are back on the road in Palo Alto and at its closed test track. The company has not resumed a pilot program that provided rides to Lyft employees in Palo Alto.

TuSimple laid out a plan to create a mapped network of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which owns a minority stake in TuSimple, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. are the inaugural partners in this so-called autonomous freight network (AFN).

Velodyne Lidar, the leading supplier of a sensor widely considered critical to the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, struck a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. Yup, another SPAC!

It’s electric

the station electric vehicles1

Daimler deepened a strategic partnership with Chinese battery cell manufacturer Farasis Energy, a deal that includes taking an equity stake of about 3%. Daimler Greater China will investing a multi-million euro amount as part of Farasis’ IPO, as part of the agreement.

EV startups in China haven’t fared so well, Automotive News reported. In June alone, at least three startups ceased operations, including Bordrin and Byton.

Lucid Motors announced that its upcoming the Air vehicle will boast a drag coefficient of 0.21, which measures the resistance of an object moving through a fluid environment, CNET’s Roadshow reported.

Rivian released a few photos of its electric truck. I put this question to the Twitterverse: what color is this? What do you think? I think the best answer might have been Werther’s Original.

Image Credits: Rivian

Tesla has opened up reservations for its all-electric Cybertruck to customers in China, a move that will test the market’s appetite for a massive, futuristic truck. The Cybertruck, which was unveiled in November at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., isn’t expected to go into production until late 2022. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of U.S. consumers to plunk down a $100 refundable deposit for the truck. Now, Tesla is testing potential interest among Chinese consumers.

Tesla also reported its delivery and production numbers for the second quarter. Tesla delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, a 4.8% decline from the same period last year prompted by challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that included suspending production for weeks at its main U.S. factory. Tesla still managed to beat expectations despite the headwinds.

Chinese EV manufacturer Xpeng Motors has started nationwide delivery of its P7 electric sports sedan to customers. The automaker received its official production license May 19 from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology for its new factory, the Zhaoqing Xpeng Motors Intelligent Industrial Park, in Xpeng’s home Guangdong Province. Production of the P7 at Xpeng’s Zhaoqing plant has an annual capacity of 100,000 units.

Miscellaneous

Daimler is looking to sell its Smart car assembly plant in Hambach, France as part of a broad restructuring plan aimed at shoring up the company’s finances amid dampening demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sale will cause negative one-time effect of about 500 million euros ($562 million) in the second quarter.

Jaguar Land Rover set up a subscription service called Pivotal, which is backed by the automaker’s venture capital and mobility services arm called InMotion. The subscription will give customers access to Jaguar and Land Rover models, including the All-electric Jaguar I-PACE and the latest plug-in hybrids Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport.

Lincoln will end production of Continental at the end of the year.

“Lincoln is investing in growth segments and the brand will feature a full portfolio of SUVs, including a fully electric vehicle in the future,” the company said in a statement emailed to TechCrunch. “Lincoln will continue to keep its newest SUVs fresh and we will have more news to share later this year; however, as the full-size premium sedan segment continues to decline in the U.S., we plan to end production of the Lincoln Continental at the end of this year.”

To meet the needs of Chinese luxury customers, Lincoln China will offer a 2021 model year Continental next year, the company said.

Uber reportedly made an offer to buy food delivery service Postmates, reported The New York Times. Just a day after that news broke, other reports claimed that Postmates was reviving its IPO plans and possibly looking to go public with the help of a special purpose acquisition vehicle known as a SPAC.

For Postmates, a company caught somewhere between DoorDash’s cash-fueled rise and Uber’s ability to lose hundreds of millions on its Uber Eats delivery service every quarter, multiple options are likely welcome. Alex Wilhelm digs in.


Source: Tech Crunch

Original Content podcast: ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ is a goofy delight

The new Netflix comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”  should win anyone over, even if you’re not a huge Will Ferrell fan and have no idea what Eurovision is.

The film stars Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as the titular Icelandic musical duo, who are pursuing a lifelong dream of winning at the enormous international musical competition. The film features cameo appearances from past Eurovision performers, and it feels less like a parody and more like a celebration — albeit one that fully embraces the insane costumes and over-the-top production numbers.

The Icelandic accents fade in and out, while the script — written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele — can feel a bit by-the-numbers. But it’s all easy to forgive, thanks to the movie’s obvious goofiness.

“The Story of Fire Saga” also benefits from some memorable performances. McAdams, for one, brings a surprising conviction to her dramatic scenes and her (obviously lip synched) songs. The movie’s also a treat for Dan Stevens fans, as the “Legion” actor goes deliciously over-the-top as the Russian singer Alexander Lemtov.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:24 “Eurovision Song Contest” review
22:21 “Eurovision Song Contest” spoiler discussion


Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook makes education push in India

Facebook, which reaches more users than any other international firm in India, has identified a new area of opportunity to further spread its tentacles in the world’s second largest internet market.

On Sunday, the social juggernaut announced it had partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education, a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators in the country.

Through these subjects, Facebook and CBSE aim to prepare secondary school students for current and emerging jobs, and help them develop skills to safely browse the internet, make “well informed choices,” and think about their mental health, they said.

Facebook said that it will provide these training in various phases. In the first phase, more than 10,000 teachers will be trained; in the second, they will coach 30,000 students. The three-week training on AR will cover fundamentals of the nascent technology, and ways to make use of Facebook’s Spark AR Studio to create augmented reality experiences.

“I encourage the teachers and students to apply for the programs commencing on July 6, 2020,” said Ramesh Pokhriyal, Union Minister of Human Resources Development in India, in a statement.

Facebook has in recent years ramped up its efforts to create awareness about the ill side of technology as its platform confronts with misuse of its own services in the country. Last year it partnered with telecom giant Reliance Jio Platforms — in which it would eventually invest $5.7 billion — to launch “Digital Udaan,” the “largest ever digital literacy program” for first-time internet users in the country. India is the biggest market for Facebook by users count.

Instagram’s Guide for Building Healthy Digital Habits, which has been developed in collaboration with the Jed Foundation and Young Leaders for Active Citizenship, aims to help youngsters better understand the “socio-emotional space” they operate in and engage in health conversations.

“I am proud to share that CBSE is the only Board that has introduced the modules of Digital Safety and Online Well-being, Instagram Toolkit for Teens and Augmented Reality. Incorporating technology and digital safety into school curriculum will ensure students are not only gaining knowledge to succeed in the digital economy but also learning and collaborating in a safe online environment,” said Manoj Ahuja, Chairperson of CBSE, in a statement.

The announcement today caps a remarkable week in India that started with New Delhi blocking nearly 60 services developed by Chinese firms over cybersecurity concerns. TikTok, one of the services that has been hit by India’s order, identified Asia’s third-largest economy as its biggest market outside of China.

The service, run by Chinese giant ByteDance, reaches more than 200 million users in India, most of whom live in small towns and cities. TikTok began working with scores of content creators and firms in India last year to populate its short-form video service with educational videos.


Source: Tech Crunch

Rocket Lab launch fails during rocket’s second stage burn, causing a loss of vehicle and payloads

Rocket Lab’s ‘Pic or it didn’t happen’ launch on Saturday ended in failure, with a total loss of the Electron launch vehicle and all seven payloads on board. The launch vehicle experienced a failure during the second stage burn post-launch, after a lift-off from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

The mission appeared to be progressing as intended, but the launch vehicle appeared to experience unexpected stress during the ‘Max Q’ phase of launch, or the period during which the Electron rocket experiences the most significant atmospheric pressure prior to entering space.

Launch video cut off around six minutes after liftoff during the live stream, and rocket was subsequently shown to be falling from its current altitude before the web stream was cut short. Rocket Lab then revealed via Twitter that the Electron vehicle was lost during the second stage burn, and committed to sharing more information when it becomes available.

This is an unexpected development for Rocket Lab, which has flown 11 uneventful consecutive Electron missions since the beginning of its program.

Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck posted an apology to Twitter, noting that all satellites were lost, and that he’s “incredibly sorry” to all customer who suffered loss of payload today. That includes Canon, which was flying a new Earth imaging satellite with demonstration imaging tech on board, as well as Planet, which had five satellites for its newest and most advanced Earth imaging constellation on the vehicle.

We’ll update with more info about the cause and next steps from Rocket Lab when available.


Source: Tech Crunch

How to watch Rocket Lab launch satellites for Canon, Planet and more live

Rocket Lab is launching a rideshare mission today which includes seven small satellites from a number of different companies, including primary payload provider Canon, which is flying a satellite equipped with the camera-maker’s Earth imaging technology, including high-res photo capture equipment. The Electron rocket that Rocket Lab is flying today will also carry five Planet SuperDove Earth-Observation satellites, as well as a CubeSat from In-Space missions.

The launch, which is named ‘Pics or It Didn’t Happen’ is set to take place during a window which opens at 5:19 PM EDT (2:19 PM PDT) and extends until 6:03 PM EDT (3:03 PM EDT), lifting off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. To check it out live, tune in directly via Rocket Lab’s website here – the live stream should begin around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window.

This is Rocket Lab’s third flight this year, and while the company is still in the process of developing and testing its rocket booster recovery program, this mission won’t include any booster recovery attempt. This is the company’s 13th Electron flight, and the next planned test in that system’s development is set for flight 17.


Source: Tech Crunch

Startups Weekly: Tech unicorns look to IPOs as Lemonade, Accolade boom

Hundreds of tech-oriented startups worth a billion or more dollars had envisioned successful public offerings before the pandemic hit. But new tech listings slowed to nearly nothing this spring as companies have tried to adjust to the profound changes sweeping the world.

Today, more and more companies are back to their previous plans, with Lemonade and Accolade finding an enthusiastic public this week, following Agora’s pop last Friday, as Alex Wilhelm has been covering.

The first big tech IPO this week was in online insurance, the second in health, and despite both being in promising markets, the valuations are quite a bit higher than their business realities to date. Here’s more, from his analysis on Extra Crunch:

Lemonade is being valued at more than 15x the value of its annualized Q1 revenue despite not sporting the gross margins you might expect investors to demand for it to merit that SaaS valuation. And Accolade only expects to grow by about 20% in Q2 2020 compared to its year-ago results while probably losing more money.

But who cares? The IPO market is standing there with open arms today (there’s always another IPO cliché lurking).

The read of this is impossibly simple: However open we thought that the IPO market was before, it is even more welcoming. For companies on the sidelines, like Palantir, Airbnb, DoorDash and Asana, you have to wonder what they are waiting for. Sure, you can raise more private capital like Palantir and DoorDash have, but so what; if you want to defend your valuation, isn’t this the market that was hoped for?

He also takes a look at a few more companies getting ready to file, including banking software company nCino and GoHealth, an insurance portal that was bought by a private equity firm last year, as well as gaming company DoubleDown Interactive. The general trend seems to be that initial stock pricing has stayed more conservative than how public markets are feeling.

Startup survey shows remote is new normal already

“Early-stage startups are confident of re-opening their offices in the wake of the COVID-19 within the next six months,” writes Mike Butcher for TechCrunch this week. “But there will be changes.” Here’s more from our UK-based editor-at-large:

An exclusive survey compiled by Founders Forum, with TechCrunch, found 63% of those surveyed said they would only re-open in either 1-3 months or 3-6 months — even if the government advises [sic] that it is safe to do so before then. A minority have re-opened their offices, while 10% have closed their office permanently. The full survey results can be found here.

However, there will clearly be long-term impact on the model of office working, with a majority of those surveyed saying they would now move to either a flexible remote working model (some with permanent offices, some without), but only a small number plan a “normal” return to work. A very small number plan to go fully “remote.” Many cited the continuing benefits of face-to-face interaction when trying to build the team culture so crucial with early-stage companies.

Title insurance is getting the tech competition it deserves

A lot of people are thinking harder about homeownership as they wait out quarantines — but real estate is still an old-fashioned industry, layered with complexities and surprising costs that can keep a dream purchase out of reach. Title insurance is a great example. A one-time cost to protect buyers and sellers during the closing process, it can extend the purchase process by a month or two, in addition to potentially adding thousands of dollars in costs. But various new regulations and rulings have combined with the larger trends in SaaS to open up the market. Here’s more, in a detailed guest post for Extra Crunch from Ashley Paston of Bain Capital Ventures:

In a very short period of time, we’ve seen startups take advantage of this new, more competitive landscape by offering solutions to streamline the task of getting title insurance. Qualia, for example, offers an end-to-end platform that connects all parties involved in a real estate transaction, so title agents can manage and coordinate all aspects of the process in real time. San Francisco-based States Title, for example, uses a predictive underwriting engine that produces nearly instantaneous title assessment, dramatically reducing the cost and time required to issue a policy. Qualia and States Title are among several companies hoping to revolutionize title insurance and they reflect the two emerging meta-trends.

The first trend, enablement, consists of companies developing technology designed to integrate with incumbent real estate businesses… The second trend, disruption, consists of companies displacing incumbent real estate business altogether.

Image Credits: Black Innovation Alliance

Tech diversity stays in focus

The tech industry has talked about making its opportunities available to all for many years, and struggled to deliver. But more than a month after George Floyd was killed, this time is still feeling different. One example is 👁👄👁.fm, a viral sort of insidery prank from last weekend that a diverse small group of friends in tech created and turned into a successful grassroots fundraiser for racial justice organizations (it was not a VC fundraising stunt). “In one fell swoop,” veteran product leader Ravi Mehta wrote for TechCrunch, “the team chastised Silicon Valley’s use of exclusivity as a marketing tactic, trolled thirsty VCs for their desire to always be first on the next big thing, deftly leveraged the virality of Twitter to build awareness and channeled that awareness into dollars that will have a real impact on groups too often overlooked.”

Meanwhile, a group of Black startup founders and the Transparent Collective created a public spreadsheet to provide a comprehensive list of every VC who has backed a Black founder in the US, and the umbrella Black Innovation Alliance launched to help hundreds of related Black-focused tech and entrepreneurship organizations connect and support each other. Efforts like these, combined with a real generational willingness to address the structural problems, are what can make the difference finally.

Why AR has mostly failed (so far)

Augmented reality concepts may become a core part of how people live in the future, but the first wave of companies in the space have not fared well. Here’s why, from Lucas Matney on Extra Crunch:

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

Instead, he says success will come from nailing the use-cases first, and not messing around with complex developer platforms and expensive hardware.

Around TechCrunch

Hear Charles Hudson explain how to sell an idea (without a product) at Early Stage

Get your pitchdeck critiqued by Accel’s Amy Saper and Bessemer’s Talia Goldberg at Early Stage

Pioneering CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna is coming to Disrupt

One week only: Score 4th of July discounts on Disrupt 2020 passes

Sale: Save 25% on annual Extra Crunch membership

Extra Crunch is now available in Greece, Ireland and Portugal

Extra Crunch expands into Romania

Across the week

TechCrunch

Global app revenue jumps to $50B in the first half of 2020, in part due to COVID-19 impacts

Let’s stop COVID-19 from undoing diversity gains

Strap in — a virtual Tour de France is coming this weekend

US suspends export of sensitive tech to Hong Kong as China passes new national security law

India bans TikTok, dozens of other Chinese apps

Extra Crunch

Top LA investors discuss the city’s post-COVID-19 prospects

13 Boston-focused venture capitalists talk green shoots and startup recovery

How $20 billion health care behemoth Blue Shield of California sees startups

From napkin notes to term sheets: A chat with Inspired Capital’s Alexa von Tobel

Where to open a game studio

Are virtual concerts here to stay?

#EquityPod

From Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Before we dive in, don’t forget that the show is on Twitter now, so follow us there if you want to see discarded headline ideas, outtakes from the show that got cut, and more. It’s fun!

Back to task, listen, we’re tired too. But we didn’t let that stop us from packing this week’s Equity to the very gills with news and notes and jokes and fun. Hopefully you can chuckle along with myself and Natasha and Danny and Chris on the dials as we riffed through all of this:

Right, that’s our ep. Hugs from the team and have a lovely weekend. You are all tremendous and we appreciate you spending part of your day with the four of us.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.


Source: Tech Crunch

This Week in Apps: India bans Chinese apps, Apple freezes game updates in China, iOS developer backlash continues

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re tracking the continued ramifications of the in-app purchases incident ignited by Basecamp, which has emboldened more developers to voice their gripes with Apple publicly in the past few days. The app stores are also this week enmeshed in world of politics, ranging from the India-China border dispute to apps impacted by China’s big brother-esque regulations to the latest with Apple’s antitrust probe.

HEADLINES

Dozens of Chinese apps banned in India

In a major upset to mobile app businesses competing on a global stage, India this week blocked 59 apps developed by Chinese firms, due to concerns that the apps were engaging in activities that threatened the “national security and defense of India,” according to the Indian government.

The ban itself is a political power move as it follows deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along the disputed Himalayan border in June, which led to the death of at least 20 Indian soldiers on June 16. (China didn’t disclose its casualties.) Indian government officials claimed they had received reports of the apps stealing and transmitting user data in an unauthorized manner to servers outside the country. This is what necessitated the ban, they said.

India’s move could prove to have larger repercussions, as it sets the stage for a world where Chinese internet companies are excluded from key markets. This isn’t something that’s limited to apps, of course. For instance, the  U.S. is rallying its allies to stop using Huawei technologies for 5G. But China’s policies could mean its more successful apps, like TikTok, will lose key markets and therefore, forfeit revenue and power.

  • India’s ban threatens TikTok’s growth in a key market 

The move to ban the Chinese apps in India most notably impacts TikTok. To date, India had been the app’s largest overseas market until now, with some 200M+ users across around 611M lifetime downloads. In the most recent quarter, TikTok and the 58 other banned apps combined, had been downloaded around 330M times. The ban is estimated to impact roughly one in three smartphone users in India, according to research firm Counterpoint.

Google and Apple began to comply with New Delhi’s order on Thursday, to prevent Indian users from accessing the banned apps. In addition, India’s Department of Telecommunications ordered telecom networks and ISPs to block access to those 59 apps immediately.

Kevin Mayer, the chief executive of TikTok, said on Wednesday his app was in compliance with Indian privacy and security requirements and he was looking forward to meeting with various stakeholders in the Indian government to discuss.


Source: Tech Crunch

Tesla is taking reservations for its Cybertruck in China

Tesla has opened up reservations for its all-electric Cybertruck to customers in China, a move that will test the market’s appetite for a massive, futuristic truck.

The reservations page on Tesla’s China website was first posted in Reddit channel r/teslamotors by user u/aaronhry. Electrek also reported on the Reddit post.

The Cybertruck, which was unveiled in November at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., isn’t expected to go into production until late 2022. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of U.S. consumers to plunk down a $100 refundable deposit for the truck. Just weeks after the official unveiling, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that there were 250,000 reservations for the vehicle.

Tesla is now testing potential interest among Chinese consumers.

It’s impossible to predict how many of these reservations — in China and the U.S. — will convert to actual sales. It will be more than a year before there are any answers. Tesla hasn’t even finalized its decision of where it will build the vehicle.

Musk tweeted in March that Tesla was scouting locations for a factory that would be used to produce Model Y crossovers for the East Coast market as well as the Cybertruck.  At the time, Musk said that the factory would be located in the central part of the United States.

Initially, Tesla was eyeing Nashville and had been in talks with officials there. The company has since turned its attention to Austin and Tulsa. Talks in Austin have progressed rapidly and it appears likely that the factory will end up in a location just outside of the city. Although Tulsa officials have been quick to note that talks with Tesla have continued there as well.

Tesla has said it will offer three variants of the Cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.

The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.


Source: Tech Crunch

R&D Roundup: Tech giants unveil breakthroughs at computer vision summit

Computer vision summit CVPR has just (virtually) taken place, and like other CV-focused conferences, there are quite a few interesting papers. More than I could possibly write up individually, in fact, so I’ve collected the most promising ones from major companies here.

Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft all shared papers at the conference — and others too, I’m sure — but I’m sticking to the big hitters for this column. (If you’re interested in the papers deemed most meritorious by attendees and judges, the nominees and awards are listed here.)

Microsoft

Redmond has the most interesting papers this year, in my opinion, because they cover several nonobvious real-life needs.

One is documenting that shoebox we or perhaps our parents filled with old 3x5s and other film photos. Of course there are services that help with this already, but if photos are creased, torn, or otherwise damaged, you generally just get a high-resolution scan of that damage. Microsoft has created a system to automatically repair such photos, and the results look mighty good.

Image Credits: Google

The problem is as much identifying the types of degradation a photo suffers from as it is fixing them. The solution is simple, write the authors: “We propose a novel triplet domain translation network by leveraging real photos along with massive synthetic image pairs.” Amazing no one tried it before!


Source: Tech Crunch

We need a new field of AI to combat racial bias

Since widespread protests over racial inequality began, IBM announced it would cancel its facial recognition programs to advance racial equity in law enforcement. Amazon suspended police use of its Rekognition software for one year to “put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology.”

But we need more than regulatory change; the entire field of artificial intelligence (AI) must mature out of the computer science lab and accept the embrace of the entire community.

We can develop amazing AI that works in the world in largely unbiased ways. But to accomplish this, AI can’t be just a subfield of computer science (CS) and computer engineering (CE), like it is right now. We must create an academic discipline of AI that takes the complexity of human behavior into account. We need to move from computer science-owned AI to computer science-enabled AI. The problems with AI don’t occur in the lab; they occur when scientists move the tech into the real world of people. Training data in the CS lab often lacks the context and complexity of the world you and I inhabit. This flaw perpetuates biases.

AI-powered algorithms have been found to display bias against people of color and against women. In 2014, for example, Amazon found that an AI algorithm it developed to automate headhunting taught itself to bias against female candidates. MIT researchers reported in January 2019 that facial recognition software is less accurate in identifying humans with darker pigmentation. Most recently, in a study late last year by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), researchers found evidence of racial bias in nearly 200 facial recognition algorithms.

In spite of the countless examples of AI errors, the zeal continues. This is why the IBM and Amazon announcements generated so much positive news coverage. Global use of artificial intelligence grew by 270% from 2015 to 2019, with the market expected to generate revenue of $118.6 billion by 2025. According to Gallup, nearly 90% Americans are already using AI products in their everyday lives – often without even realizing it.

Beyond a 12-month hiatus, we must acknowledge that while building AI is a technology challenge, using AI requires non-software development heavy disciplines such as social science, law and politics. But despite our increasingly ubiquitous use of AI, AI as a field of study is still lumped into the fields of CS and CE. At North Carolina State University, for example, algorithms and AI are taught in the CS program. MIT houses the study of AI under both CS and CE. AI must make it into humanities programs, race and gender studies curricula, and business schools. Let’s develop an AI track in political science departments. In my own program at Georgetown University, we teach AI and Machine Learning concepts to Security Studies students. This needs to become common practice.

Without a broader approach to the professionalization of AI, we will almost certainly perpetuate biases and discriminatory practices in existence today. We just may discriminate at a lower cost — not a noble goal for technology. We require the intentional establishment of a field of AI whose purpose is to understand the development of neural networks and the social contexts into which the technology will be deployed.

In computer engineering, a student studies programming and computer fundamentals. In computer science, they study computational and programmatic theory, including the basis of algorithmic learning. These are solid foundations for the study of AI – but they should only be considered components. These foundations are necessary for understanding the field of AI but not sufficient on their own.

For the population to gain comfort with broad deployment of AI so that tech companies like Amazon and IBM, and countless others, can deploy these innovations, the entire discipline needs to move beyond the CS lab. Those who work in disciplines like psychology, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience are needed. Understanding human behavior patterns, biases in data generation processes are needed. I could not have created the software I developed to identify human trafficking, money laundering and other illicit behaviors without my background in behavioral science.

Responsibly managing machine learning processes is no longer just a desirable component of progress but a necessary one. We have to recognize the pitfalls of human bias and the errors of replicating these biases in the machines of tomorrow, and the social sciences and humanities provide the keys. We can only accomplish this if a new field of AI, encompassing all of these disciplines, is created.


Source: Tech Crunch