Daily Crunch: John Carmack steps down at Oculus

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1. John Carmack steps down at Oculus to pursue AI passion project ‘before I get too old’

Legendary coder John Carmack is leaving Facebook’s Oculus after six years to focus on a personal project — no less than the creation of Artificial General Intelligence, or “Strong AI.” He’ll remain attached to the company in a “Consulting CTO” position, but will be spending all his time working on, perhaps, the AI that finally surpasses humanity.

This follows the departure of Oculus’ founders and early executives. His plan is to pursue his research from home, “Victorian Gentleman Scientist” style, and make his kid help.

2. Fourteen years after launching, 1Password takes a $200M Series A

1Password has been around for 14 years, and the founders grew the company the old-fashioned way — without a dime of venture capital. But when they decided to take venture help, they went all in.

3. Instagram tests hiding Like counts globally

Instagram tells TechCrunch the hidden Likes test is expanding to a subset of users globally. The change could make those users more comfortable sharing what’s important to them without the embarrassment of receiving a tiny number of likes.

4. Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, sources told TechCrunch. In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns.

5. Apple Research app arrives on iPhone and Apple Watch with three opt-in health studies

In September, Apple announced its plans for a research app that would allow U.S. consumers to participate in health studies from their Apple devices. Users can currently opt to participate in three health studies, including a women’s health study, hearing study and a heart and movement study.

6. Eigen nabs $37M to help banks and others parse huge documents using natural language and ‘small data’

Eigen is working primarily in the financial sector, but the plan is to use the funding to continue expanding to cover other verticals, such as insurance and healthcare — two other big areas that deal in large, wordy documentation that is often inconsistent in how it’s presented, full of essential fine print, and typically a strain on an organization’s resources to handle correctly.

7. Micromobility’s next big opportunities

Despite the over-saturation of the market, there are still opportunities for new players. Currently, there are two key areas that have yet to see a lot of action and are therefore ripe for disruption. (Extra Crunch membership required.)


Source: Tech Crunch

California’s new data privacy law brings U.S. closer to GDPR

Data privacy has become one of the defining business and cultural issues of our time.

Companies around the world are scrambling to properly protect their customers’ personal information (PI). However, new regulations have actually shifted the definition of the term, making everything more complicated. With the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) taking effect in January 2020, companies have limited time to get a handle on the customer information they have and how they need to care for it. If they don’t, they not only risk being fined, but also loss of brand reputation and consumer trust — which are immeasurable.

California was one of the first states to provide an express right of privacy in its constitution and the first to pass a data breach notification law, so it was not surprising when state lawmakers in June 2018 passed the CCPA, the nation’s first statewide data privacy law. The CCPA isn’t just a state law — it will become the defacto national standard for the foreseeable future, because the sheer numbers of Californians means most businesses in the country will have to comply. The requirements aren’t insignificant. Companies will have to disclose to California customers what data of theirs has been collected, delete it and stop selling it if the customer requests. The fines could easily add up — $7,500 per violation if intentional, $2,500 for those lacking intent and $750 per affected user in civil damages.

Evolution of personal information

It used to be that the meaning of personally identifiable information (PII) from a legal standpoint was clear — data that can distinguish the identity of an individual. By contrast, the standard for mere PI was lower because there was so much more of it; if PI is a galaxy, PII was the solar system. However, CCPA, and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation GDPR, which went into effect in 2018, have shifted the definition to include additional types of data that were once fairly benign. The CCPA enshrines personal data rights for consumers, a concept that GDPR first brought into play.

The GDPR states: “Personal data should be as broadly interpreted as possible,” which includes all data associated with an individual, which we call “contextual” information. This includes any information that can “directly or indirectly” identify a person, including real names and screen names, identification numbers, birth date, location data, network addresses, device IDs, and even characteristics that describe the “physical, physiological, genetic, mental, commercial, cultural, or social identity of a person.” This conceivably could include any piece of information about a person that isn’t anonymized.

With the CCPA, the United States is playing catch up to the GDPR and similarly expanding the scope of the definition of personal data. Under the CCPA, personal information is “information that identifies, relates to, describes, is capable of being associated with, or could reasonably be linked, directly or indirectly, with a particular consumer or household.” This includes a host of information that typically don’t raise red flags but which when combined with other data can triangulate to a specific individual like biometric data, browsing history, employment and education data, as well as inferences drawn from any of the relevant information to create a profile “reflecting the consumer’s preferences, characteristics, psychological trends, preferences, predispositions, behavior, attitudes, intelligence, abilities and aptitudes.”

Know the rules, know the data

These regulations aren’t checklist rules; they require big changes to technology and processes, and a rethinking of what data is and how it should be treated. Businesses need to understand what rules apply to them and how to manage their data. Information management has become a business imperative, but most companies lack a clear road map to do it properly. Here are some tips companies can follow to ensure they are meeting the letter and the spirit of the new regulations.

  • Figure out which regulations apply to you

The regulatory landscape is constantly changing with new rules being adopted at a rapid rate.  Every organization needs to know which regulations they need to comply with and understand the distinctions between them. Some core aspects CCPA and GDPR share include data subject rights fulfillment and automated deletion. But there will be differences so having a platform that allows you to handle a heterogenous environment at scale is important.

  • Create a privacy compliance team that works well with others


    Source: Tech Crunch

The new AirFly Pro is the perfect travel buddy for your AirPods Pro

Accessory maker TwelveSouth has a solid lineup of gadgets, many of which fill a niche that their products uniquely address — and address remarkably well. The AirFly Pro ($54.99) is a new iteration on one of those, providing a way to connect Bluetooth headphones to any audio source with a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s being sold at Apple Stores, too, as part of its launch today — and there’s good reason for that: This is the ideal way to make sure you can use your AirPods Pro just about everywhere, including with airplane seatback entertainment systems.

The AirFly Pro will work with any Bluetooth headphones, not just AirPods Pro — but the latest noise-canceling earbuds from Apple are among the best available when it comes to both active noise cancellation and sound quality, both great assets for frequent travelers and people more likely to encounter an in-flight entertainment system. But the AirFly Pro has additional tricks up its sleeve that earn it the “Pro” designation.

This is the first version of the product from TwelveSouth that offers the ability to stream audio in, as well as out. That means you can use it with a car stereo system that only has auxiliary audio in, for instance, to stream directly from your iPhone to the vehicle’s sound system. The AirFly Pro can also serve that function for home stereo sound equipment, speakers or other audio equipment that accepts audio in, but not Bluetooth streaming connections.

One other neat trick the AirFly Pro packs: audio sharing, so that you can connect two pairs of headphones at once. This is similar to the native audio sharing feature that Apple introduced for its own AirPod line in the most recent iOS update, but it works through the AirFly with any audio source, and any Bluetooth headphones. That’s yet another great feature for when you’re traveling with a partner.

I’ve had a bit of time to spend with the AirFly Pro, and so far it has been rock solid, with easy pairing and setup, and a convenient keychain ring/3.5mm connector cap for making it easier to keep with you. It charges via USB-C, and there’s a USB-A to USB-C cable included, too. The on-board battery lasts for 16 or more hours, which is more than enough time for even the longest of flights, and again, you’re getting that audio sharing feature which is super handy even around the house for just checking something out on the iPad on your couch.

Alongside the AirFly Pro, TwelveSouth also introduced new AirFly Duo and AirFly USB-C models. The difference is that neither of these offer that wireless audio input mode — but you get up to four more hours of battery life for the trade-off. The USB-C model also offers USB-C audio compatibility, for connecting to devices that use that connection for sound instead of 3.5mm, and both of these still offer dual headphone connectivity, for $5 less, at $49.99 each.


Source: Tech Crunch

Netflix is making ‘Beverly Hills Cop 4’

Netflix has acquired the rights from Paramount to make “Beverly Hills Cop 4.”

Deadline, which broke the news, said the studio has been trying to restart the franchise in several forms, including a TV show.

Even with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Eddie Murphy attached to the sequel, Paramount might have been a little nervous about the film’s commercial prospects, especially because it has been 25 years since the release of “Beverly Hills Cop 3.” And the studio (which will soon be part of the reunited ViacomCBS) has had a tough few months at the box office, most recently with the disappointing performance of “Terminator: Dark Fate.”

Plus, Paramount and Netflix have already been working together, first with Netflix buying “The Cloverfield Paradox” and the international rights to “Annihilation,” and then with a multi-picture deal between the two companies announced at the end of last year.

Murphy, meanwhile, has been getting some of his best reviews in decades for his performance in the Netflix film “Dolemite Is My Name.”


Source: Tech Crunch

Lyft deploys 200 long-range EVs for its rideshare rental fleet in Colorado

Lyft is making 200 new long-range EVs available to rideshare drivers as part of its Express Drive program, the company revealed today. Express Drive is a program that Lyft offers to provide rental cars to drivers on its platform as an alternative to options like long-term leasing. Express Drive members get unlimited miles, as well as included insurance, maintenance and roadside service, with the ability to return the car after a rental period of as little as just a week.

These 200 new EVs (all Kia vehicles for this particular deployment, Lyft tells me) will be available to Express Drive Lyft drivers in December, and the rideshare company says that this is “the largest single deployment of EVs in Colorado’s history,” and there’s good financial reasoning for the timing of Lyft’s introduction of the program — in May, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill into law that provides rental programs for rideshare operators with the same incentives that it provides consumers at the state level: as much as $5,000 per car purchased.

EV deployments of this nature have benefits across all aspects of the rideshare economy: Lower operating costs for drivers are one immediate effect, for instance, and Lyft says that it has seen costs drop between $70 to $100 for drivers on average based on existing EV fleet deployments in both Seattle and Atlanta. For cities and residents, it’s obviously beneficial in terms of lowering net emissions resulting from cars on the road. The jury is still out on whether rideshare and ride-hailing programs ultimately decrease the total number of cars on the roads, but if programs like this can speed the adoption of EVs and ensure they represent a higher percentage of the mix of vehicles that are driving around cities, that’s a net win.

Large fleets of EVs in operation also provide incentives for infrastructure operators to ensure that there’s a good charging network on the ground for these vehicles to take advantage of. That, in turn, means the infrastructure is present for consumers to take advantage of, which helps with the general EV adoption curve.

Lyft also says it’s aiming to “electrify more of the Lyft fleet each year moving forward,” so expect additional cities and fleet deployments to follow as it works on those goals.


Source: Tech Crunch

FCC approves T-Mobile/Sprint merger despite serious concerns

The FCC has given its stamp of approval to T-Mobile and Sprint’s proposed merger, saying the deal will “enhance competition” and hasten 5G deployment. Those opposed say the merger defies common sense, creating a triumvirate of mobile giants that will “divide up the market, increase prices, and compete only for the most lucrative customers.”

The two mobile companies have been attempting to merge for years, ostensibly in order to compete with the considerably larger AT&T and Verizon. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media, but this does not affect our coverage in the slightest.)

Previous attempts at deals were blocked more or less on the grounds that while a consolidated market might make the new T-Mobile/Sprint entity more competitive, it would be a net negative for consumers, who would have less choice than ever. The announcement of a $60 million FTC settlement over anti-consumer business practices by AT&T when they had the leverage to carry them out is a timely reminder of the general temperament of mobile carriers.

This latest attempt by the two companies (and backers like Softbank, which stands to make a bundle on the deal) has met with more success, and the Department of Justice approved it in July. The DoJ’s proposed remedies for competition problems created by the merge apparently gave the FCC “further confidence” in its approval, which Chairman Ajit Pai signaled earlier this year — interestingly, before those remedies were proposed.

Among other things, Sprint must sell its Boost Mobile brand, and T-Mobile must sell its interest in Dish Network. The hope is that Dish, Boost, and a few other players will somehow band together to form a new insurgent wireless network that will rise to compete with its former masters.

Sound a bit far-fetched? FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel thinks so as well.

Commissioner Rosenworcel at her confirmation hearing.

“Instead of promoting vigorous competition among providers, today’s order justifies increased concentration by jerry-rigging a new provider dependent on the government dictating who sells what to whom and when,” she said in a statement.”

Commissioner Starks indicated his dissent on other grounds as well, specifically recent charges that Sprint has been irresponsibly deploying funds from the Commission’s Lifeline program for low-income mobile subscribers.

“Sprint may be responsible for the most egregious violations of our Lifeline rules in FCC history,” Starks wrote in a statement. “Our review should have been held in abeyance following the Chairman’s recent announcement of an investigation into Sprint’s alleged misappropriation of Lifeline support for 885,000 ineligible accounts. If substantiated, this would represent the misuse of nearly 10 percent of the funds for the entire program.”

More than anything else, though, critics remain skeptical of the basic idea that consolidation will produce increased competition. In fact the Justice Department even thinks that may happen, which is why it is requiring the carriers to hastily assemble a new competitor out of whatever parts are left laying around, including some still being used by T-Mobile and others.

“The proposed transaction is exactly the type of merger that the Justice Department and the Commission have discouraged and rejected in the past: one that would harm competition and result in higher prices and poorer service, particularly for the most vulnerable consumers,” wrote Starks.

Others are concerned that the deal seemed to be a done deal even before Justice handed down its recommendations to improve competition following the merger.

“The FCC majority prejudged the merits of this merger two months before the Justice Department found the combination of T-Mobile and Sprint to be anticompetitive and required the creation of a new fourth competitor to pass legal muster. Despite this radical change in the merger, Chairman Pai has refused to put the new arrangement out for public comment,” noted Gigi Sohn, who was counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

“Three of my colleagues agreed to this transaction months ago without having any legal, engineering, or economic analysis from the agency before us,” wrote Rosenworcel. “The procedural irregularities that have plagued the FCC’s review of this transaction make it difficult to ensure this agency’s findings are credible—especially when in so many key respects they are at odds with the findings of the Department of Justice.”

Proponents of the deal lean heavily on promises being made that “New T-Mobile,” as it is referred to in the decision, will use its new position to quickly and efficiently deploy 5G to many markets it might not otherwise have reached.

“This transaction will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States,” said Chairman Pai in his statement regarding the decision. “New T-Mobile will make the mobile broadband market more competitive in large swaths of rural America where neither Sprint nor T-Mobile is currently a strong competitor to AT&T and Verizon.”

Pai says that the idea that reducing the number of major carriers from four to three will be harmful to competition is a “simplistic, backward-looking claim.” The truth, he says, is that in many places this merger will increase the number of competitors from two (Verizon and AT&T) to three as T-Mobile enters the market. That’s fair speculation to be sure, but as Commissioner Starks points out, that idea too is simplistic. The truth is that reducing the number of major carriers will likely have serious and immediate negative effects as well as well as Pai’s imagined long-term benefits.

“In the short term, this merger will result in the loss of potentially thousands of jobs. In the long term, it will establish a market of three giant wireless carriers with every incentive to divide up the market, increase prices, and compete only for the most lucrative customers,” Starks writes.

While Justice and FCC approval were the largest obstacles to the proposed merger, much still has to occur before Sprint customers find their phones switching over to the T-Mobile network. More than a dozen states have opposed the merger and filed lawsuits, though those might be mooted under the new proposed scheme. Still, state-level challenges are no joke and may further delay the merger, especially if they are elevated to the federal level.

This story is developing; check back for updates.


Source: Tech Crunch

CTO.ai’s developer shortcuts eliminate coding busywork

There’s too much hype about mythical “10X developers.” Everyone’s desperate to hire these “ninja rockstars.” In reality, it’s smarter to find ways of deleting annoying chores for the coders you already have. That’s where CTO.ai comes in.

Emerging from stealth today, CTO.ai lets developers build and borrow DevOps shortcuts. These automate long series of steps they usually have to do manually, thanks to integrations with GitHub, AWS, Slack and more. CTO.ai claims it can turn a days-long process like setting up a Kubernetes cluster into a 15-minute task even sales people can handle. The startup offers both a platform for engineering and sharing shortcuts, and a service where it can custom build shortcuts for big customers.

What’s remarkable about CTO.ai is that amidst a frothy funding environment, the 60-person team quietly bootstrapped its way to profitability over the past two years. Why take funding when revenue was up 400% in 18 months? But after a chance meeting aboard a plane connected its high school dropout founder Kyle Campbell with Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, CTO.ai just raised a $7.5 million seed round led by Slack Fund and Tiger Global.

“Building tools that streamline software development is really expensive for companies, especially when they need their developers focused on building features and shipping to customers,” Campbell tells me. The same way startups don’t build their own cloud infrastructure and just use AWS, or don’t build their own telecom APIs and just use Twilio, he wants CTO.ai to be the “easy button” for developer tools.

Teaching snakes to eat elephants

“I’ve been a software engineer since the age of 8,” Campbell recalls. In skate-punk attire with a snapback hat, the young man meeting me in a San Francisco Mission District cafe almost looked too chill to be a prolific coder. But that’s kind of the point. His startup makes being a developer more accessible.

After spending his 20s in software engineering groups in the Bay, Campbell started his own company, Retsly, that bridged developers to real estate listings. In 2014, it was acquired by property tech giant Zillow, where he worked for a few years.

That’s when he discovered the difficulty of building dev tools inside companies with other priorities. “It’s the equivalent of a snake swallowing an elephant,” he jokes. Yet given these tools determine how much time expensive engineers waste on tasks below their skill level, their absence can drag down big enterprises or keep startups from rising.

CTO.ai shrinks the elephant. For example, the busywork of creating a Kubernetes cluster such as having to the create EC2 instances, provision on those instances and then provision a master node gets slimmed down to just running a shortcut. Campbell writes that “tedious tasks like running reports can be reduced from 1,000 steps down to 10,” through standardization of workflows that turn confusing code essays into simple fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions.

The CTO.ai platform offers a wide range of pre-made shortcuts that clients can piggyback on, or they can make and publish their own through a flexible JavaScript environment for the rest of their team or the whole community to use. Companies that need extra help can pay for its DevOps-as-a-Service and reliability offerings to get shortcuts made to solve their biggest problems while keeping everything running smoothly.

5(2X) = 10X

Campbell envisions a new way to create a 10X engineer that doesn’t depend on widely mocked advice on how to spot and capture them like trophy animals. Instead, he believes one developer can make five others 2X more efficient by building them shortcuts. And it doesn’t require indulging bad workplace or collaboration habits.

With the new funding that also comes from Yaletown Partners, Pallasite Ventures, Panache Ventures and Jonathan Bixby, CTO.ai wants to build deeper integrations with Slack so developers can run more commands right from the messaging app. The less coding required for use, the broader the set of employees that can use the startup’s tools. CTO.ai may also build a self-service tier to augment its seats, plus a complexity model for enterprise pricing.

Now it’s time to ramp up community outreach to drive adoption. CTO.ai recently released a podcast that saw 15,000 downloads in its first three weeks, and it’s planning some conference appearances. It also sees virality through its shortcut author pages, which, like GitHub profiles, let developers show off their contributions and find their next gig.

One risk is that GitHub or another core developer infrastructure provider could try to barge directly into CTO.ai’s business. Google already has Cloud Composer, while GitHub launched Actions last year. Campbell says its defense comes through neutrally integrating with everyone, thereby turning potential competitors into partners.

The funding firepower could help CTO.ai build a lead. With every company embracing software, employers battling to keep developers happy and teams looking to get more of their staff working with code, the startup sits at the intersection of some lucrative trends of technological empowerment.

“I have a three-year-old at home and I think about what it will be like when he comes into creating things online,” Campbell concludes. “We want to create an amazing future for software developers, introducing automation so they can focus on what makes them such an important aspect. Devs are defining society!”

[Image Credit: Disney/Pixar via WallHere Goodfon]


Source: Tech Crunch

Ben Horowitz on shocking rules and dramatic object lessons

Ben Horowitz, co-founder of venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, has a new book out titled “What You Do Is Who You Are,” which takes a look at how to create culture at a company.

We sat down with Horowitz last month to discuss some of the lessons he aims to impart and why he felt compelled to write about culture now — including whether it has to do with the growing tech backlash against once-small companies that have taken over the world, and whose cultures are magnified exponentially as a result.

We published parts of our chat here, where we talked about Uber and WeWork specifically. The rest, which dives more into practical advice for founders, follows. Our conversation has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Extra Crunch: One of the problems we’re dealing with right now, that’s driving this big tech backlash in ways, has a lot to do with just how empowered founders are. And that seemingly goes back to them having more say than other shareholders via dual-class shares. How much power should these founders have?

Ben Horowitz: I think it’s pretty important for tech companies to have some sort of long-term view of the business. Now, fast forward and Eric Ries has this new idea of a Long Term Stock Exchange, which basically says, okay, founders won’t have to have dual-class shares, but the shareholders and the founders will be in it together. So the shareholders have to vest their shares to get voting rights and if you hold the stock for years, and you can get some power, but you don’t get it right off the bat.

I think that that’s probably the optimal model. But I would say that, at least in my view, dual-class is still better than activist investors going after tech companies, because you can’t get to the next product. It’ll just make the company very short-term.

Also, and maybe I’m talking like an old CEO, but I think one of the things that gets lost in the kind of conversation between founders and shareholders is employees. It’s very bad for employees when activist investors get control of the company and drive it toward short-term returns because often, everybody ultimately loses their job in those scenarios.

What about phasing out those dual-class shares over time, though, maybe over five, or seven, or 10 years, which is a decent amount of time for founders to transition their startups to publicly-traded companies?

I think that that would make sense if the people who got power were long-term investors. I just think that if you have short-term investors, making decisions about [a] technology company, the easier way to expand profits is to stop doing R&D because it’s not going to show up in the next two years. But long-term, that’ll spell doom. And I think that’s kind of the way these proxy battles have gone. It’s been like, ‘Okay, stop spending, stop investing.’

I don’t think the kind of cultural issues that companies have run into have much to do with voting power. I think it just has more to do some combination of lack of skill and how fast the companies are growing.

Going back to the book, why weave in the cultural figures that you have — Toussaint Louverture, Genghis Khan and Shaka Senghor [a contemporary who served time for murder and today is a criminal justice reform advocate]. There are so many people you could have included, and you focused on these three individuals.

It’s a weird origin story, but Prince years ago put out an album called 3121, and he opened this club in Vegas called the 3121, and he would perform there, like, every weekend. And the show would start at 10 and he would show up at midnight or 1 a.m., but during that time in between, he would show these old films with these really interesting dancers in these elaborate clothes. And you’d just be watching these old guys, and then Prince would start to splice in [his own movies, including] “Under the Cherry Moon” and “Purple Rain,” and you’d go, ‘well those are the dance moves from those guys [in the older films] and that’s a quote from those guys,’ and you realize: that was what he was trying to express. And I thought, you know, I finally really understand him. And I thought, you know, [these three] have really influenced my views on culture [for a variety of reasons] and it would be a good way to tell this story.

It’s fascinating how it comes together. Were you ever a teacher?

When I was in graduate school, I was a computer science kind of TA, so I taught the freshmen computer science, programming languages, and whatnot.

My grandfather was a teacher — he was fired actually during the McCarthy era for being a communist teacher; he was teaching junior high.

He was a communist. So at least McCarthy got that part right. But it makes me very nervous, people wanting to remove people from their positions these days because of their points of view. My grandfather supported Stalin, and, like, Stalin was really bad. But I don’t think he should have been fired for being a teacher. I just don’t think it’s very good for society. Everybody’s got to be able to have a bad point of view. When you go, ‘You have a bad point of view and that’s illegal, to think that, and now we’re going to take away your job from you, make you not a legitimate person . . .’

We just saw that in the sports world, which was pretty crazy. Speaking of which, in the book you talk about the need to create shocking rules as part of establishing a company culture. As part of that section, you reference former New York Giants coach Tom Coughlan, who started meetings five minutes early and fined players $1,000 for every minute they were late. Doesn’t Andreessen Horowitz do something like that, penalize people for being late?


Source: Tech Crunch

SpaceX achieves key milestone in safety testing of Crew Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX has managed to run 13 successful parachute tests in a row of the third major revision of the parachute system it’s planning to use for its Crew Dragon spacecraft. The most recent test, which SpaceX shared a shorted edited video clip of on Twitter, involved using the system with one of the parachutes intentionally not deploying, to prove that it can land the crew craft safely even in case of a partial failure.

This is a big step for SpaceX’s plan to launch NASA astronauts aboard Crew Dragon. Last month, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, where he and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk held a press conference to discuss their progress on the commercial crew program. At that event, Musk said that he felt SpaceX was aiming to do “at least” 10 successful tests of its revised ‘Mark 3’ parachute system in a row before any astronauts fly with the system in use.

“We certainly want to get […] at least on the order of 10 successful tests in a row before, before launching astronauts,” Musk said at the time. “So that seems like where the the behavior of the parachutes is consistent, is across 10 successful tests.”

At the time, Musk added that they were anticipating get to at least 10 successful test prior to the end of the year, so managing 13 definitely fits with that schedule, and in fact seems to be a rare occasion where SpaceX is actually ahead of the often optimistic timelines that Musk sets as targets.

This third generation of parachute being used for Crew Dragon uses Zylon in place of nylon, which is a polymer material originally developed by SRI and that provides the lines used in the parachute around three times the strength of nylon. SpaceX also updated the stitching pattern to optimize the load balance on the new parachutes.

Next up for SpaceX is a launch aboard test that should happen as early as this coming week. SpaceX’s test will be a ground-baed test filing of the Crew Dragon’s abort engines, which is set to happen as early as Wednesday. After that, it’s still hoping to get an in-flight abort test done before year’ send, which will show how the Crew Dragon can jettison from a Falcon 9 rocket after lift-off in case of emergency.

Both NASA and SpaceX have expressed optimism about getting an actual crewed flight off the ground early next year, provided everything else in terms of testing requirements goes smoothly between now and then.


Source: Tech Crunch

China Roundup: TikTok stumbles in the US and Huawei shipments continue to surge

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. It’s been a very busy last week of October for China’s tech bosses, but first, let’s take a look at what some of them are doing in the neck of your woods.

TikTok’s troubles in the U.S.

The challenge facing TikTok, a burgeoning Chinese video-sharing app, continues to deepen in the U.S. Lawmakers have recently called for an investigation into the social network, which is operated by Beijing-based internet upstart ByteDance, over concerns that it could censor politically sensitive content and be compelled to turn American users’ data over to the Chinese government.

TikTok is arguably the first Chinese consumer app to have achieved international scale — more than 1 billion installs by February. It’s done so with a community of creators good at churning out snappy, light-hearted videos, highly localized operations and its acquisition of rival Musical.ly, which took American teens by storm. In contrast, WeChat has struggled to build up a significant overseas presence and Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Financial has mostly ventured abroad through savvy investments.

TikTok denied the American lawmakers’ allegations in a statement last week, claiming that it stores all U.S. user data locally with backup redundancy in Singapore and that none of its data is subject to Chinese law. Shortly after, on November 1, Reuters reported citing sources that the U.S. government has begun to probe into ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly and is in talks with the firm about measures it could take to avoid selling Musical.ly . ByteDance had no further comment to add beyond the issued statement when contacted by TechCrunch.

The new media company must have seen the heat coming as U.S.-China tensions escalate in recent times. In the long term, TikTok might have better luck expanding in developing countries along China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s ambitious global infrastructure and investment strategy. The app already has a footprint in some 150 countries with a concentration in Asia. India accounted for 44% of its total installs as of September, followed by the U.S. at 8%, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower.

lark

ByteDance is also hedging its bets by introducing a Slack-like workplace app and is reportedly marketing it to enterprises in the U.S. and other foreign countries. The question is, will ByteDance continue its heavy ad spending for TikTok in the U.S., which amounted to as much as $3 million a day according to a Wall Street Journal report, or will it throttle back as it’s said to go public anytime soon? Or rather, will it bow to U.S. pressure, much like Chinese internet firm Kunlun selling LGBTQ dating app Grindr (Kunlun confirmed this in a May filing), to offload Musical.ly?

Huawei is still selling a lot of phones

The other Chinese company that’s been taking the heat around the world appears to be faring better. Huawei clung on to the second spot in global smartphone shipments during the third quarter and recorded the highest annual growth out of the top-5 players at 29%, according to market analytics firm Canalys. Samsung, which came in first, rose 11%. Apple, in third place, fell 7%. Despite a U.S. ban on Huawei’s use of Android, the phone maker’s Q3 shipments consisted mostly of models already in development before the restriction was instated, said Canalys. It remains to be seen how distributors around the world will respond to Huawei’s post-ban smartphones.

Another interesting snippet of Huawei handset news is that it’s teamed up with a Beijing-based startup named ACRCloud to add audio recognition capabilities to its native music app. It’s a reminder that the company not only builds devices but has also been beefing up software development. Huawei Music has a content licensing deal with Tencent’s music arm and claims some 150 million monthly active users, both free and paid subscribers.

Co-living IPOs

danke apartment

China’s modern-day nomads want flexible and cost-saving housing as much as their American counterparts do. The demand has given rise to apartment-rental services like Danke, which is sometimes compared to WeLive, a residential offering from the now besieged WeWork that provides fully-furnished, shared apartments on a flexible schedule.

Four-year-old Danke has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and listed its offering size at $100 million, typically a placeholder to calculate registration fees. Backed by Jack Ma-controlled Ant Financial, the loss-making startup is now leasing in 13 Chinese cities, aggressively growing the number of apartments it operated to 406,746 since 2015. Its smaller rival Qingke has also filed to go public in the U.S. this week. Also operating in the red, Qingke has expanded its available rental units to 91,234 since 2012.

Apartment rental is a capital-intensive game. Services like Danke don’t normally own property but instead lease from third-party apartment owners. That means they are tied to paying rents to the landlords irrespective of whether the apartments are ultimately subleased. They also bear large overhead costs from renovation and maintenance. Ultimately, it comes down to which player can arrange the most favorable terms with landlords and retain tenants by offering quality service and competitive rent.

Also worth your attention

  • WeChat has been quite restrained in monetization but seems to be recently lifting its commercial ambitions. The social networking giant, which already sells in-feed ads, is expanding its inventory by showing users geotargeted ads as they scroll through friends’ updates, Tencent announced (in Chinese) in a company post this week.
  • Alibaba reported a 40% revenue jump in its September quarter, beating analysts’ estimates despite a cooling domestic economy. Its ecommerce segment saw strong user growth in less developed areas where it’s fighting a fierce war with rival Pinduoduo to capture the next online opportunity. Users from these regions spent about 2,000 yuan ($284) in their first year on Alibaba platforms, said CEO Daniel Zhang in the earnings call.
  • Walmart’s digital integration is gaining ground in China as it announced that online-to-offline commerce now contributes 30% sales to its neighboorhood stores. Last November, the American retail behemoth began testing same-day delivery in China through a partnership with WeChat.


Source: Tech Crunch