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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Companies take baby steps toward home robots at CES

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 03:19 PM PST

"I think there are fewer fake robots this year." I spoke to a lot of roboticists and robot-adjacent folks at this year's CES, but that comment from Labrador Systems co-funder/CEO Mike Dooley summed up the situation nicely. The show is slowly, but steadily, starting to take robotics more seriously.

It's true that words like "fake" and "seriously" are quite subjective; surely all of those classified by one of us as the former would take great issue with the tag. It's also true that there are still many devices that fit firmly within the realm of novelty and hypothetical, both on the show floor and in press conferences, but after a week at CES — including several behind-the-scenes conversations with investors and startups — the consensus seems to be that the show is slowly embracing the more series side of robotics.

I believe the reason for this shift is two-fold. First, the world of consumer robotics hasn't caught on as quickly as many had planned/hoped. Second, enterprise and industrial robotics actually have. Let's tackle those points in order.

As my colleague Darrell pointed out in a recent piece, consumer robotics were showing signs of life at this year's event. However, those who predicted a watershed for the industry after the Roomba's arrival on the scene some 18 years ago have no doubt been largely disappointed with the ensuing decades.

Joby Aviation raises $590 million led by Toyota to launch an electric air taxi service

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 03:10 PM PST

Joby Aviation has raised a $590 million Series C round of funding, including $394 million from lead investor Toyota Motor Corporation, the company announced today. Joby is in the process of developing an electric air taxi service, which will make use of in-house developed electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that will in part benefit from strategic partner Toyota’s vehicle manufacturing experience.

This brings the total number of funding in Joby Aviation to $720 million, and its list of investors includes Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures and more. Alongside this new round of funding, Joby gains a new board member: Toyota Motor Corporation EVP Shigeki Tomoyama.

Founded in 2009, Joby Aviation is based in Santa Cruz, California. The company was founded by JoeBen Bevirt, who also founded consumer photo and electronics accessory maker Joby. Its proprietary aircraft is a piloted eVTOL, which can fly at up to 200 miles per hour for a total distance of over 150 miles on a single charge. Because it uses an electric drivetrain and multi rotor design, Joby Aviation says it’s “100 times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing, and near-silent when flying overhead.”

These benefits make eVTOL craft prime candidates for developing urban aerial transportation networks, and a number of companies, including Joby as well as China’s EHang, Airbus and more are all working on this type of craft for use in this kind of city-based short-hop transit for both people and cargo.

The sizeable investment made by Toyota in this round is a considerable bet for the automaker on the future of air transportation. In a press release detailing the round, Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda indicated that the company is serious about eVTOLs and air transport in general.

"Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky," Toyoda is quoted as saying. "As we take up the challenge of air transportation together with Joby, an innovator in the emerging eVTOL space, we tap the potential to revolutionize future transportation and life. Through this new and exciting endeavor, we hope to deliver freedom of movement and enjoyment to customers everywhere, on land, and now, in the sky."

Joby Aviation believes that it can achieve significant cost benefits vs. traditional helicopters for short aerial flights, eventually lowering costs through maximizing utilization and fuel savings to the point where it can be “accessible to everyone.” To date, Joby has completed sub-scale testing on its aircraft design, and begun full flight tests of production prototypes, along with beginning the certification process for its aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the end of 2018.

Apple buys edge-based AI startup Xnor.ai for a reported $200M

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 02:54 PM PST

Xnor.ai, spun off in 2017 from the nonprofit Allen Institute for AI (AI2), has been acquired by Apple for about $200 million. A source close to the company corroborated a report this morning from GeekWire to that effect.

Apple confirmed the reports with its standard statement for this sort of quiet acquisition: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” (I’ve asked for clarification just in case.)

Xnor.ai began as a process for making machine learning algorithms highly efficient — so efficient that they could run on even the lowest tier of hardware out there, things like embedded electronics in security cameras that use only a modicum of power. Yet using Xnor’s algorithms they could accomplish tasks like object recognition, which in other circumstances might require a powerful processor or connection to the cloud.

CEO Ali Farhadi and his founding team put the company together at AI2 and spun it out just before the organization formally launched its incubator program. It raised $2.7M in early 2017 and $12M in 2018, both rounds led by Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, and has steadily grown its local operations and areas of business.

The $200M acquisition price is only approximate, the source indicated, but even if the final number were less by half that would be a big return for Madrona and other investors.

The company will likely move to Apple’s Seattle offices; GeekWire, visiting the Xnor.ai offices (in inclement weather, no less), reported that a move was clearly underway. AI2 confirmed that Farhadi is no longer working there, but he will retain his faculty position at the University of Washington.

An acquisition by Apple makes perfect sense when one thinks of how that company has been directing its efforts towards edge computing. With a chip dedicated to executing machine learning workflows in a variety of situations, Apple clearly intends for its devices to operate independent of the cloud for such tasks as facial recognition, natural language processing, and augmented reality. It’s as much for performance as privacy purposes.

Its camera software especially makes extensive use of machine learning algorithms for both capturing and processing images, a compute-heavy task that could potentially be made much lighter with the inclusion of Xnor’s economizing techniques. The future of photography is code, after all — so the more of it you can execute, and the less time and power it takes to do so, the better.

 

It could also indicate new forays in the smart home, toward which with HomePod Apple has made some tentative steps. But Xnor’s technology is highly adaptable and as such rather difficult to predict as far as what it enables for such a vast company as Apple.

Save over $200 with discounted student tickets to Robotics + AI 2020

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 02:30 PM PST

If you're a current student and you love robots — and the AI that drives them — you do not want to miss out on TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020. Our day-long deep dive into these two life-altering technologies takes place on March 3 at UC Berkeley and features the best and brightest minds, makers and influencers.

We've set aside a limited number of deeply discounted tickets for students because, let's face it, the future of robotics and AI can't happen without cultivating the next generation. Tickets cost $50, which means you save more than $200. Reserve your student ticket now.

Not a student? No problem, we have a savings deal for you, too. If you register now, you’ll save $150 when you book an early-bird ticket by February 14.

More than 1,000 robotics and AI enthusiasts, experts and visionaries attended last year's event, and we expect even more this year. Talk about a targeted audience and the perfect place for students to network for an internship, employment or even a future co-founder.

What can you expect this year? For starters, we have an outstanding lineup of speaker and demos — more than 20 presentations — on tap. Let's take a quick look at just some of the offerings you don't want to miss:

  • Saving Humanity from AI: Stuart Russell, UC Berkeley professor and AI authority, argues in his acclaimed new book, "Human Compatible," that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.
  • Opening the Black Box with Explainable AI: Machine learning and AI models can be found in nearly every aspect of society today, but their inner workings are often as much a mystery to their creators as to those who use them. UC Berkeley's Trevor Darrell, Krishna Gade of Fiddler Labs and Karen Myers from SRI International will discuss what we're doing about it and what still needs to be done.
  • Engineering for the Red Planet: Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades and is about to send its fifth robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA's Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian, general manager of robotics at Maxar, will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets.

That's just a sample — take a gander at the event agenda to help you plan your time accordingly. We'll add even more speakers in the coming weeks, so keep checking back.

TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 takes place on March 3 at UC Berkeley. It's a full day focused on exploring the future of robotics and a great opportunity for students to connect with leading technologists, founders, researchers and investors. Join us in Berkeley. Buy your student ticket today and get ready to build the future.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

The US government should stop demanding tech companies compromise on encryption

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 02:12 PM PST

In a tweet late Tuesday, President Trump criticized Apple for refusing “to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements.” Trump was specifically referring to a locked iPhone that belonged to a Saudi airman who killed three U.S sailors in an attack on a Florida base in December.

It’s only the latest example of the government trying to gain access to a terror suspect’s device it claims it can’t access because of the encryption that scrambles the device’s data without the owner’s passcode.

The government spent the past week bartering for Apple’s help. Apple said it had given to investigators “gigabytes of information,” including “iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts.” In every instance it received a legal demand, Apple said it “responded with all of the information” it had. But U.S. Attorney General William Barr accused Apple of not giving investigators “any substantive assistance” in unlocking the phone.

23andMe co-founder’s new startup, Precise.ly, brings genomics to India through Narayana partnership

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 02:03 PM PST

Precise.ly, the new genomics startup launched by 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey and Aneil Mallavarapu, is taking its spin on direct to consumer personalized genomics to India through a partnership with Naryana Health, one of India’s leading specialty hospital networks.

Narayana, a company that operates a network of 24 hospitals serving 2.5 million patients, is one of the most fascinating stories in healthcare. By emphasizing efficiencies and cost savings, the hospital network has managed to bring costs down dramatically for many procedures — including providing cancer surgeries for as little as $700 and heart bypass surgeries for $3,000 (as this fascinating article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek illustrates).

Precise.ly’s mission — to collect and analyze genetic data from populations that typically haven’t had access to the services — is one that resonates in a world where the majority of research has been conducted on wealthier populations in wealthy countries. Other startups, like 54Gene, are trying to bring a similar message to the African continent.

"To date, most human genetics research has focused on European populations. But genetic insights need to be tuned to the rest of the world,” said Mallavarapu, in a statement. “We've assembled a team of experts who are pioneering advances in genetic analysis and its application to the huge populations of people in south Asia and beyond." 

Some of that work is being done in concert with Narayana health, the hospital network founded by Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty nearly twenty years ago. Dr. Shetty is initially hoping that Precise.ly’s genetic database will be able to help his hospitals build out a stem cell donor registry that could help hundreds of thousands of Indians who need transplants.

"Personal genetic testing is recognized by the U.S. FDA to test genetic risk for Parkinsonism, late onset Alzheimer's disease and celiac disease. It is only a matter of time before most diseases get added to the list,” Dr. Shetty said in a statement. “Because of the simplicity of genetic testing from saliva samples, it's possible to conduct large-scale population screening at a reasonable cost. We are working with Precise.ly's team of researchers to add HLA typing, which has the potential to transform cancer and other disease treatments in India.”

The path to entering the Indian market was slightly circuitous for Precise.ly. When Avey first left 23andMe, she went to RockHealth (an investor in the company’s $1 million seed round), and began exploring ways to organize and store more of a patient’s quantified health data.

As that company failed to gain traction, Avey took another look at the genetics market and found that there were significant opportunities in underserved markets — and that India, with its rising middle class and burgeoning healthcare industry would be a good target.

“We decided we would build on this Helix platform all kinds of apps for people who had specific diagnosis,” says Avey. But the market was already chock full of startups (including 23andMe), so an early investor in the company from, Civilization Ventures, and its founder Shahram Seyedin-Noor suggested that they begin to look globally for growth.

"Precise.ly's mission is to deliver validated genetic insights to the billions of people living outside the western world. We're initially focused on India where there are urgent health issues readily addressable through access to personal genomic data," said Avey, the chief executive officer of Precise.ly, in a statement. "Our partnership with Narayana is vital to delivering on the promise of precise, data-driven health." 

Mobileye takes aim at Waymo

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 01:39 PM PST

Mobileye has built a multi-billion-dollar business supplying automakers with computer vision technology that powers advanced driver assistance systems. It’s a business that last year generated nearly $1 billion in sales for the company. Today, 54 million vehicles on the road are using Mobileye’s computer vision technology.

In 2018, the company made what many considered a bold and risky move when it expanded its focus beyond being a mere supplier to becoming a robotaxi operator. The upshot: Mobileye wants to compete directly with the likes of Waymo and other big players aiming to deploy commercial robotaxi services.

TechCrunch sat down with Amnon Shashua, Mobileye's president and CEO and Intel senior vice president, to find out why and how — yep, acquisitions are in the future — the company will hit its mark.

Accel-backed Clockwise launches an AI assistant for Google Calendar

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 01:02 PM PST

Startups are paying for more subscription services than ever to drive collaboration during working hours, but–whether or not the Slack-lash is indeed a real thing–the truth is that filling your day with meetings can sometimes be detrimental to actually… working.

Time management software and daily planners put the accountability on the individual, but when you’re in several hours of meetings per day, there’s a lot that’s out of your control. I recently met with Matt Martin, the CEO of Accel-backed Clockwise. His startup has a really interesting pitch for taking a look at individual employee schedules through the lens of the entire team and moving meetings around to maximize “focus time,” which Martin defines as blocks of at least 2 uninterrupted hours during your day.

Clockwise’s customers already include Lyft, Asana, Strava and Twitter, they’ve been aiming to build out a wide footprint of customers by offering their product for free at first. They’ve raised more than $13 million over two rounds from investors including Accel, Greylock and Slack Fund.

The startup’s software which integrates with Google Calendar has been bringing people into the fold for shifting these meetings around, but their latest update aims to give teams the option to let its Clockwise Calendar Assistant do some of the heavy-lifting automatically.

Managing calendars en masse obviously has the potential to piss people off. Clockwise has tried to build in certain accommodations to keep friction low and they’ve gotten good feedback from early testers.

Certain employees like engineers likely benefit more time to work uninterrupted time to work, so Clockwise gave employees a way to designate how much “focus time” they generally need per week. They’ve also added the ability to bring personal calendars into the mix so that users can designate time where they have unmovable personal conflicts. Not every meeting is in your office, when there are locations in the invites, Clockwise will account for travel between the two addresses inside your calendar.

Some meetings can’t be moved, others rely on off-site folks in different time zones, sometimes a high-level exec needs to be in a meeting and their schedule is all that matters. Not all meetings need to be flexible, but Clockwise hopes that by automatically resolving conflicts for team meetings, they can leave employees with fewer useless half-hour chunks of time during their day.

Alongside today’s Assistant update, Clockwise is also boosting its compatibility with Slack. Users have the ability to let Clockwise turn on do-not-disturb automatically during designated “focus time” and can let the app populate their Slack status with the current meeting they’re in.

When you think about how much energy has been spent by startups looking to reinvent email or chat, it’s fascinating that there hasn’t been more energy fixed on the humble calendar. Anecdotally, there seems to be plenty of demand for a “luxury” Google Calendar and yet there hasn’t seemed to be a proportional amount of action. Clockwise has one of the more interesting offerings, though I’m sure more will be popping up alongside it soon.

NextNav raises $120M to deploy its indoor positioning tech to find people in skyscrapers

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 12:55 PM PST

NextNav LLC has raised $120 million in equity and debt to commercially deploy an indoor-positioning system that can pinpoint a device’s location — including what floor it’s on — without GPS .

The company has developed what it calls a Metropolitan Beacon System, which can find the location of devices like smartphones, drones, IoT products or even self-driving vehicles in indoor and urban areas where GPS or other satellite location signals cannot be reliably received. Anyone trying to use their phone to hail an Uber or Lyft in the Loop area of Chicago has likely experienced spotty GPS signals.

The MBS infrastructure is essentially bolted onto cellular towers. The positioning system uses a cellular signal, not line-of-sight signal from satellites like GPS does. The system focuses on determining the “altitude” of a device, CEO and co-founder Ganesh Pattabiraman told TechCrunch.

GPS can provide the horizontal position of a smartphone or IoT device. And wifi and Bluetooth can step in to provide that horizontal positioning indoors. NextNav says its MBS has added a vertical or “Z dimension” to the positioning system. This means the MBS can determine within less than 3 meters the floor level of a device in a  multi-story building.

It’s the kind of system that can provide emergency services with critical information such as the number of people located on a particular floor. It’s this specific use-case that NextNav is betting on. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission issued new 911 emergency requirements for wireless carriers that mandates the ability to determine the vertical position of devices to help responders find people in multi-story buildings.

Today, the MBS is in the Bay Area and Washington D.C. The company plans to use this new injection of capital to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement.

The technology has other applications. For instance, this so-called Z dimension could come in handy for locating drones. Last year, NASA said it will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation facilities at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The round was led by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group . Existing investors Columbia Capital, Future Fund, Telcom Ventures, funds managed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, NEA and Oak Investment Partners also participated.

XM Satellite Radio founder Gary Parsons is executive chairman of the Sunnyvale, Calif-based company.

Collaborative Fund just hired a former top Goldman Sachs investor to do later-stage deals

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 12:20 PM PST

Collaborative Fund emerged on the scene nearly 10 years ago to fund seed-stage and, as time passed, early-stage startups, many of them in New York, where the firm is based.

Apparently, the firm has ambitions to do more later-stage investing, too. It just brought aboard Ian Friedman, former co-head of Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Venture Capital & Growth Equity, as a general partner.

We spoke yesterday with Friedman, a Canadian who graduated from the University of Western Ontario before heading to sunny LA to work for the Boston Consulting Group. After that, he moved to Bain Capital in Boston, followed by a stint at Stanford to get his MBA, where he was recruited by Goldman to work in New York, where he still lives.

Mozilla lays off 70 as it waits for new products to generate revenue

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 12:03 PM PST

Mozilla laid off about 70 employees today, TechCrunch has learned.

In an internal memo, Mozilla chairwoman and interim CEO Mitchell Baker specifically mentions the slow rollout of the organization’s new revenue-generating products as the reason for why it needed to take this decision. The overall number may still be higher, though, as Mozilla is still looking into how this decision will affect workers in the UK and France. In 2018, Mozilla Corporation (as opposed to the much smaller Mozilla Foundation) said it had about 1,000 employees worldwide.

“You may recall that we expected to be earning revenue in 2019 and 2020 from new subscription products as well as higher revenue from sources outside of search. This did not happen,” Baker writes in her memo. “Our 2019 plan underestimated how long it would take to build and ship new, revenue-generating products. Given that, and all we learned in 2019 about the pace of innovation, we decided to take a more conservative approach to projecting our revenue for 2020. We also agreed to a principle of living within our means, of not spending more than we earn for the foreseeable future.”

Baker says laid-off employees will receive “generous exit packages” and outplacement support. She also notes that the leadership team looked into shutting down the Mozilla innovation fund but decided that it needed it in order to continue developing new products. In total, Mozilla is dedicating $43 million to building new products.

“As we look to the future, we know we must take bold steps to evolve and ensure the strength and longevity of our mission,” Baker writes. “Mozilla has a strong line of sight to future revenue generation, but we are taking a more conservative approach to our finances. This will enable us to pivot as needed to respond to market threats to internet health, and champion user privacy and agency.”

The organization last reported major layoffs in 2017.

Over the course of the last few months, Mozilla started testing a number of new products, most of which will be subscription-based once they launch. The marquee feature here is including its Firefox Private Network and a device-level VPN service that is yet to launch but will cost around $4.99 per month.

All of this is part of the organization’s plans to become less reliant on income from search partnerships and to create more revenue channels. In 2018, the latest year for which Mozilla has published its financial records, about 91 percent of its royalty revenues came from search contracts.

We have reached out to Mozilla for comment and will update this post once we hear more.

Update (1pm PT): In a statement posted to the Mozilla blog, Mitchell Baker reiterates that Mozilla had to make these cuts in order to fund innovation. “Mozilla has a strong line of sight on future revenue generation from our core business,” she writes. “In some ways, this makes this action harder, and we are deeply distressed about the effect on our colleagues. However, to responsibly make additional investments in innovation to improve the internet, we can and must work within the limits of our core finances”


Here is the full memo:

Office of the CEO <officeoftheceo@mozilla.com>
to all-moco-mofo

Hi all,

I have some difficult news to share. With the support of the entire Steering Committee and our Board, we have made an extremely tough decision: over the course of today, we plan to eliminate about 70 roles from across MoCo. This number may be slightly larger as we are still in a consultation process in the UK and France, as the law requires, on the exact roles that may be eliminated there. We are doing this with the utmost respect for each and every person who is impacted and will go to great lengths to take care of them by providing generous exit packages and outplacement support. Most will not join us in Berlin. I will send another note when we have been able to talk to the affected people wherever possible, so that you will know when the notifications/outreach are complete.

This news likely comes as a shock and I am sorry that we could not have been more transparent with you along the way. This is never my desire. Reducing our headcount was something the Steering Committee considered as part of our 2020 planning and budgeting exercise only after all other avenues were explored. The final decision was made just before the holiday break with the work to finalize the exact set of roles affected continuing into early January (there are exceptions in the UK and France where we are consulting on decisions.) I made the decision not to communicate about this until we had a near-final list of roles and individuals affected.

Even though I expect it will be difficult to digest right now, I would like to share more about what led to this decision. Perhaps you can come back to it later, if that's easier.

You may recall that we expected to be earning revenue in 2019 and 2020 from new subscription products as well as higher revenue from sources outside of search. This did not happen. Our 2019 plan underestimated how long it would take to build and ship new, revenue-generating products. Given that, and all we learned in 2019 about the pace of innovation, we decided to take a more conservative approach to projecting our revenue for 2020. We also agreed to a principle of living within our means, of not spending more than we earn for the foreseeable future.

This approach is prudent certainly, but challenging practically. In our case, it required difficult decisions with painful results. Regular annual pay increases, bonuses and other costs which increase from year-to-year as well as a continuing need to maintain a separate, substantial innovation fund, meant that we had to look for considerable savings across Mozilla as part of our 2020 planning and budgeting process. This process ultimately led us to the decision to reduce our workforce.

At this point, you might ask if we considered foregoing the separate innovation fund, continuing as we did in 2019. The answer is yes but we ultimately decided we could not, in good faith, adopt this. Mozilla's future depends on us excelling at our current work and developing new offerings to expand our impact. And creating the new products we need to change the future requires us to do things differently, including allocating funds, $43M to be specific, for this purpose. We will discuss our plans for making innovation robust and successful in increasing detail as we head into, and then again at, the All Hands, rather than trying to do so here.

As we look to the future, we know we must take bold steps to evolve and ensure the strength and longevity of our mission. Mozilla has a strong line of sight to future revenue generation, but we are taking a more conservative approach to our finances. This will enable us to pivot as needed to respond to market threats to internet health, and champion user privacy and agency.

I ask that we all do what we can to support each other through this difficult period.

Mitchell

Cloudinary passes $60M ARR without VC money

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 11:43 AM PST

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we're continuing our exploration of companies that have reached material scale, usually viewed through the lens of annual recurring revenue (ARR). We've looked at companies that have reached the $100 million ARR mark and a few that haven't quite yet, but are on the way.

Today, a special entry. We're looking at a company that isn't yet at the $100 million ARR mark. It's 60% of the way there, but with a twist. The company is bootstrapped. Yep, from pre-life as a consultancy that built a product to fit its own needs, Cloudinary is cruising toward nine-figure recurring revenue and an IPO under its own steam.

Check out the view from inside Boeing’s crew spacecraft during its orbital flight test

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 11:05 AM PST

Late last year, Boeing flew a key orbital flight test of its Starliner commercial crew spacecraft, a key test prior to the vehicle being able to actually carry astronauts on board. That test didn’t go exactly as planned, as the Starliner didn’t rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station as outlined in the actual mission specs, due to a mission timer error, but a lot still went right, and cameras on board captured the whole flight.

Boeing cut together footage from each part of the flight (including immediately following the timer mishap), from cameras both trained on one of the capsule’s windows for an outside look, as well as interior angles that show the dummy astronaut used on the mission to see how a real human would fare on board. You also can see the secured cargo, as well as the Snoopy doll that acted as a “zero-G indicator” within the cabin.

Eventually, Boeing says it’ll release all of the footage capture on board during the mission, a good measure of transparency and the right move, given that the provider has to convince NASA and the general public that its commercial crew craft is totally safe for astronauts to climb aboard for their first orbital flight, which will hopefully take place sometime later this year.

Buttigieg’s CISO resigns, leaving no known cybersecurity chiefs among the 2020 candidates

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 10:49 AM PST

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has lost his campaign’s chief information security officer, citing “differences” with the campaign over its security practices.

Mick Baccio, who served under the former South Bend mayor’s campaign for the White House, left his position earlier this month.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news. TechCrunch also confirmed Baccio’s resignation, who left less than a year after joining the Buttigieg campaign.

“I had fundamental philosophical differences with campaign management regarding the architecture and scope of the information security program,” Baccio told TechCrunch.

“We thank him for the work he did to protect our campaign against attacks,” said Buttigieg spokesperson Chris Meagher. The spokesperson said that the campaign had retained a new security firm, but would not say which company.

Baccio was the only known staffer to oversee cybersecurity out of all the presidential campaigns. News of his departure comes at a time just months to go before millions of Americans are set to vote in the 2020 presidential campaign.

But concerns have been raised about the overall security posture of the candidates’ campaigns, as well as voting and election infrastructure across the United States, ahead of the vote.

A report from a government watchdog last March said Homeland Security “does not have dedicated staff” focused on election infrastructure. Since then, security researchers found many of the largest voting districts are vulnerable to simple cyberattacks, such as sending malicious emails designed to look like a legitimate message, a type of tactic used by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential election.

In October, Iran-backed hackers unsuccessfully targeted President Trump’s re-election campaign.

Google Cloud gets a premium support plan with 15-minute response times

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 10:29 AM PST

Google Cloud today announced the launch of its premium support plans for enterprise and mission-critical needs. This new plan brings Google’s support offerings for the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in line with its premium G Suite support options.

“Premium Support has been designed to better meet the needs of our customers running modern cloud technology,” writes Google’s VP of Cloud Support, Atul Nanda. “And we’ve made investments to improve the customer experience, with an updated support model that is proactive, unified, centered around the customer, and flexible to meet the differing needs of their businesses.”

The premium plan, which Google will charge for based on your monthly GCP spent (with a minimum cost of what looks to be about $12,500 per month), promises a 15-minute response time for P1 cases. Those are situations when an application or infrastructure is unusable in production. Other features include training and new product reviews, as well as support for troubleshooting third-party systems.

Google stresses that the team that will answer a company’s calls will consist of “content-aware experts” that know your application stack and architecture. As with similar premium plans from other vendors, enterprises will have a Technical Account manager who works through these issues with them. Companies with global operations can opt to have (and pay for) technical account managers available during business hours in multiple regions.

The idea here, however, is also to give GCP users more proactive support, which will soon include a site reliability engineering engagement, for example, that is meant to help customers “design a wrapper of supportability around the Google Cloud customer projects that have the highest sensitivity to downtime.” The Support team will also work with customers to get them ready for special events like Black Friday or other peak events in their industry. Over time, the company plans to add more features and additional support plans.

As with virtually all of Google’s recent cloud moves, today’s announcement is part of the company’s efforts to get more enterprises to move to its cloud. Earlier this week, for example, it launched support for IBM’s Power Systems architecture, as well as new infrastructure solutions for retailers. In addition, it also acquired no-code service AppSheet.

Formlabs CEO on the state of 3D printing and its remaining challenges

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 10:21 AM PST

3D printing isn’t the buzzy, hype-tastic topic it was just a few years ago — at least not with consumers. 3D printing news out of CES last week seemed considerably quieter than years prior; the physical booths for many 3D printing companies I saw took up fractions of the footprints they did just last year. Tapered, it seems, are the dreams of a 3D printer in every home.

In professional production environments, however, 3D printing remains a crucial tool. Companies big and small tap 3D printing to design and test new concepts, creating one-off prototypes in-house at a fraction of the cost and time compared to going back-and-forth with a factory. Sneaker companies are using it to create new types of shoe soles from experimental materials. Dentists are using it to create things like dentures and bridges in-office, in hours rather than days.

One of the companies that has long focused on pushing 3D printing into production is Formlabs, the Massachusetts-based team behind the aptly named Form series of pro-grade desktop 3D printers. The company launched its first product in 2012 after raising nearly $3 million on Kickstarter; by 2018, it was raising millions at a valuation of over a billion dollars.

YouTube launches Profile cards that show a user’s comment history

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 10:06 AM PST

Last September, YouTube began testing a new feature called profile cards, which showed a user’s public information and comment history on the current channel. The feature was touted as a way for creators to more easily identify their biggest fans by offering easy access to their past comments. Now, YouTube is launching the product to the general public, initially on Android.

YouTube hopes the new feature will help users “explore comments, build connections with others, and contribute to a more welcoming YouTube overall,” the company explains.

To use Profile cards, you’ll just tap on the profile picture of anyone who’s commenting to view their card. Here, information like their name, profile photo, subscriptions, subscriber counts, and recent comments will appear in a pop-up card. All this information is publicly available on YouTube, but the Profile card consolidates it in one place.

If you’re already subscribed to the commenter’s channel, the Profile card will indicate this; otherwise, you can click the red “Subscribe” link to start following the commenter on YouTube.

To be clear, the comment history that displays isn’t a user’s full YouTube comment history (though that would be interesting!). Instead, the Profile card only shows the comments on the channel you’re viewing when you click to view the card.

A link to the commenter’s channel is also included, towards the bottom.

While YouTube has promoted the feature as a way to connect with community members and identify a channel’s best commenters, it could also be useful for identifying trolls. Being able to see the commenter’s history on the channel can help creators or moderators make more informed decisions about whether future comments from the same users should be hidden, or if the user is trustworthy enough to earn a spot on the “approved users” list, for example.

When the feature launched into testing this fall, feedback was largely positive — especially since some see it as a way to help raise their own channel’s profile by being an active commenter. More recent feedback, however, has a few users asking for an opt-out option so their comments aren’t shown, citing concerns about out-of-context remarks or privacy issues.

YouTube says the feature is available now on Android and will launch on other devices in the future.

Profile cards are one of a few changes launching on YouTube. Also new are optional topics in the Subscriptions feed on iOS, which make it easier for subscribers to filter their subscriptions by topics like “Today,” “Unwatched,” “Live,” “Posts,” “Continue Watching,” and more.

Daily Crunch: Goodbye Hipmunk

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 09:58 AM PST

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

1. Four years after being acquired, Hipmunk is shutting down

Founded by Adam J. Goldstein and Reddit co-founder Steve "spez" Huffman, Hipmunk was one of the first well-made "metasearch" travel sites. It scrounged up flights (and hotels/car rentals/etc.) from across myriad services like Expedia, Priceline, etc., presenting all the times and prices in one big, skimmable interface.

Now the Hipmunk team says the website and app are both shutting down. Oh, and we’ve confirmed that Goldstein and Huffman tried to buy the company back from SAP Concur, but that doesn’t seem to have panned out.

2. Google finally brings its security key feature to iPhones

Google said it'll bring the feature to iPhones in an effort to give at-risk users, like journalists and politicians, access to additional account and security safeguards, effectively removing the need to use a physical security key like a Yubico or a Google Titan key.

3. Obvious Ventures closes an irrationally sized third fund

The firm co-founded by Medium CEO and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams announced that it has closed its third fund, "OV3," at $271,828,182 — a number that the graphing calculator-owning among us may recognize as e, or Euler's number.

4. Don't be a selfless startup

It might sound strange to describe WeWork or MoviePass as “selfless,” but Danny Crichton argues that despite their failures, they successfully introduced new and popular business models. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

5. Microsoft and NSA say a security bug affects millions of Windows 10 computers

Microsoft has released a security patch for a dangerous vulnerability affecting hundreds of millions of computers running Windows 10. The bug could allow attackers to spoof legitimate software, potentially making it easier to run malicious software on a vulnerable computer.

6. Dear Spotify, add rabbits to your pet playlists

Spotify is introducing pet playlists, but Brian Heater has a very important request on behalf of his rabbit, Lucy.

7. Announcing the agenda for Robotics+AI — March 3 at UC Berkeley

For months we've been recruiting speakers from the ranks of the most innovative founders, top technologists and hard-charging VCs working in robotics and AI, and the speaker line-up will capture the remarkable acceleration across the field in the past year. Also: 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the first use of the word "robot."

Plant-based milk substitute market gets frothy with $225 million for Califia Farms

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 09:30 AM PST

The market for companies developing dairy substitutes is really getting frothy.

In December, the startup Perfect Day Foods announced it had raised $110 million in financing for its dairy replacement and now Califia Farms, the producer of a range of oat and almond milk products (along with a slew of coffees, juices and non-dairy snacks) has raised $225 million in fresh financing.

Investors in the round include the Qatar Investment Authority, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, Canada’s Claridge and Hong Kong-based Green Monday Ventures (among others).

For Temasek, the deal comes on the heels of an incredibly successful investment in Beyond Meat, the plant-based meat substitute that has partnership agreements with food chains like Dunkin’, McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr., and whose meteoric rise in its public offering was one of the most successful IPOs of the last year.

Money from the new investor base, which joins previous investors Sun Pacific, Stripes and Ambrosia in backing the company, will be used to expand its oat-based suite of products and to launch other new product lines. The company said it also will use the money to increase its production capacity, research and development efforts, and geographical expansion.

Founded in 2010, Califia Farms is one of several startups making dairy replacements — either using plant-based ingredients or genetically modified organisms to produce the proteins and sugars that make dairy what it is.

Other companies like Perfect Day, Ripple Foods and Oatly have all raised capital to capture some aspect of the over $1 trillion dairy market.

“The more than $1 trillion global dairy and ready-to-drink coffee industry is ripe for continued disruption with individuals all over the world seeking to transform their health & wellness through the adoption of minimally processed and nutrient rich foods that are better for both the planet and the animals,” said Greg Steltenpohl, Califia founder and chief executive, in a statement.

Barclays served as the financial advisor and placement agent for Califia on the capital raise.

Here is the first stable release of Microsoft’s new Edge browser

Posted: 15 Jan 2020 09:00 AM PST

Right on schedule, Microsoft today released the first stable version of its new Chromium-based Edge browser, just over a year after it first announced that it would stop developing its own browser engine and go with what has, for better or worse, become the industry standard.

You can now download the stable version for Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as macOS, directly. If you are on Windows 10, you can also wait for the automatic update to kick in, but that may take a while.

Because all of the development has happened in the open, with various pre-release channels, there are no surprises in this release. Some of the most interesting forward-looking features, like Collections, Microsoft’s new take on bookmarking, are still only available in the more experimental pre-release channels. That will quickly change, though, as Edge is now on a six-week release cycle.

As I’ve said throughout the development cycle, Edge is a competent Chrome challenger and I have no hesitations to recommend it to anybody who is looking for a browser alternative. It’s still missing a few features, most importantly the ability to sync your browser history and extensions between devices. I’ve never found that to be much of a roadblock to using Edge as my main browser, but your mileage may vary.

Like all modern browsers, Edge features various options for protecting you from online trackers, support for extensions (both from the Chrome Web Store and Microsoft’s own extension repository), reader mode, the ability to switch profiles and pretty much everything else you would expect.

What it doesn’t have yet is a killer feature or something that really makes it stand out from the rest. While Microsoft seems quite excited about Collections, I admit that it’s not something I’ve found all that useful for my own workflow. But the team now has a stable platform in place to start innovating on, so we’ll likely see a stronger focus on new features going forward.

With Firefox going through its own renaissance, the Edge team may have trouble convincing people that they should switch back to a Microsoft browser, no matter how good it is. For most users, switching browsers isn’t a casual thing, after all.

Either way, if you were hesitant to try out the new Edge, now is the time to give it a shot. The easiest way to do so is to download the update directly. If you’re on Windows 10, the new Edge will replace the old Edge over time through the usual Windows OS update channel, but Microsoft is making this a very gradual rollout that it expects to last several months (and once it’s installed, it will update independently, outside of the Windows Update system).

Enterprise users get a choice for how and when they want to make the move, of course, which Microsoft detailed here and here. Because Edge features an Internet Explorer mode, I would assume that a lot of businesses will quickly move to Edge.