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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Samsung invests $500M to set up a smartphone display plant in India

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 03:00 PM PST

Samsung, which once led India's smartphone market, is investing $500 million in its India operations to set up a manufacturing plant at the outskirts of New Delhi to produce displays.

The company disclosed the investment and its plan in a filing to the local regulator earlier this month. The South Korean giant said the plant would produce displays for smartphones as well as a wide-range of other electronics devices.

In the filing, the company disclosed that it has allocated some land area from its existing factory in Noida for the new plant.

In 2018, Samsung opened a factory in Noida that it claimed was the world's largest mobile manufacturing plant. For that factory, the company had committed to spend about $700 million.

The new plant should help Samsung further increase its capacity to produce smartphone components locally and access a range of tax benefits that New Delhi offers.

Those benefits would come in handy to the company as it faces off Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone vendor that put an end to Samsung's lead in India.

Samsung is now the second largest smartphone player in India, which is the world's second largest market with nearly 500 million smartphone users. The company in recent months has also lost market share to Chinese brand Realme, which is poised to take over the South Korean giant in the quarter that ended in December last year, according to some analysts.

TechCrunch has reached out to Samsung for comment.

In Los Angeles, the Women’s March embraces technology to organize and inspire

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 12:30 PM PST

The roughly 300,000 marchers that filled the streets of downtown Los Angeles for the third annual Women’s March received more than just an opportunity to hear from some of the state’s high powered politicians, they were also part of a new experiment from local March organizers in bringing technology into the movement.

Using an organizational tool called SameSide, whose launch coincided with the Women’s March and a joint effort with RockTheVote, Women’s March organizers are hoping to transfer excitement about the march into broader political engagement with local and national women’s issues in this Presidential election year.

At the same time, the March organizers were trying to find a way to incorporate art and artists into the event, while being respectful of public spaces. That’s where a new, pre-launch application called Mark came into the picture.

Mark, a joint venture between the Danish game development firm Sybo and the Chinese mobile game publisher iDreamSky, uses augmented reality to create permanent installations of digital street art. The two year old company is still in beta, but decided to work with the Women’s March as an initial test of its product.

The company agreed to donate up to $300,000 in total, and up to $100 per person for new users who downloaded the application. Mark donated $1 per download and initial share by a user for an account created during the march. Subsequent donations will be made for consecutive days in app and multiple shares of posts made using Mark, according to the company. Login for 60 straight days and share 20 Mark AR posts and the company agreed to donate $100 to The Women’s March.

Image courtesy of Mark

“Any movement encompasses art,” says Women’s March Los Angeles Foundation executive director Emiliana Guereca. “Social justice art and technology and the movement really melded for us. Even though it’s technology, it’s organic.”

Using Google’s persistent cloud anchors in ARCore, Mark users are able to create permanent images that can be viewed and modified through the company’s app. In Los Angeles, the company worked with American and international artists Amy Sol, Sam Kirk , Faith XLVIILedania, and Fatma Al-Remaihi to create pieces that would be available at specific sites throughout the march route.

Though the Women’s March may serve as Mark’s debut, the company intends to avoid picking political sides. “We want to be as politically neutral as possible,” says Mark’s chief executive Jeff Lyndon Ko. The former founder of the publicly traded Shenzhen-based gaming publisher iDreamSky, acknowledged that his new company couldn’t work in China’s tightly controlled social media market.

“This project will have a lot more legs outside of the Greater China reach,” Ko said.  As for the company’s Chinese shareholders (iDreamSky is an investor in Mark), the politics of the women’s movement in the U.S. were a foreign concept. “MyChina team was like, ‘What is that?'” Ko said.

If the collaboration with Mark was designed to inspire, the work that The Women’s March Foundation Los Angeles is doing with SameSide is intended to incite action.

A graduate of the politically focused accelerator, Higher Ground Labs, Sameside is the work of Nicole a’Beckett and her brother, a former Navy Seal. Together the two worked to create a social network that would combine political engagement and social activities to develop communities built around shared ideologies and purpose.

The company offers push notifications and reminders of important dates as well as a database of potentially engaged activists who could be organized around social events. It’s kind of like a politically focused “Meetup” with the added ability to message members about important dates and include calls to action for future activity.

“The Women’s March is the unofficial launch of SameSide, and is making the Women’s March in Los Angeles a catalyst for action by providing a platform for people everywhere to set up affiliated events — things like sign making parties, meet-up coffee parties the morning of the march, house parties for those who can’t attend a march — and delivering a voter registration action kit powered by Rock the Vote to everyone who RSVPs to any affiliated events or the Los Angeles Women’s March,” wrote a’Beckett in an email.

The Women’s March Foundation Los Angeles organizers view political engagement as a crucial next step for march participants. “There is a ‘to-do’ list after marching,” says Guereca. “The draw to Sameside is now people can plug in. How to continue the movement via your phone is critical.”

China Roundup: Tencent’s new US gaming studio and WeChat’s new paywall

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 11:03 AM PST

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.

The spotlight this week is back on Tencent, which has made some interesting moves in gaming and content publishing. There will be no roundup next week as China observes the Lunar New Year, but the battle only intensifies for the country’s internet giants, particularly short-video rivals Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) and Kuaishou, which will be vying for user time over the big annual holiday. We will surely cover that when we return.

‘Honor of Kings’ creator hiring for U.S. studio

Tencent’s storied gaming studio TiMi is looking to accelerate international expansion by tripling its headcount in the U.S. in 2020, the studio told TechCrunch this week, though it refused to reveal the exact size of its North American office. Eleven-year-old TiMi currently has a team working out of Los Angeles on global business and plans to grow it into a full development studio that “helps us understand Western players and gives us a stronger global perspective,” said the studio’s international business director Vincent Gao.

Gao borrowed the Chinese expression “riding the wind and breaking the wave” to characterize TiMi’s global strategy. The wind, he said, “refers to the ever-growing desire for quality by mobile gamers.” Breaking the wave, on the other hand, entails TiMi applying new development tools to building high-budget, high-quality AAA mobile games.

The studio is credited for producing one of the world’s most-played mobile games, Honor of Kings, a mobile multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, and taking it overseas under the title Arena of Valor. Although Arena of Valor didn’t quite take off in Western markets, it has done well in Southeast Asia in part thanks to Tencent’s publishing partnership with the region’s internet giant Garena.

Honor of Kings and a few other Tencent games have leveraged the massive WeChat and QQ messengers to acquire users. That raises the question of whether Tencent can replicate its success in overseas markets where its social apps are largely absent. But TiMi contended that these platforms are not essential to a game’s success. “TiMi didn't succeed in China because of WeChat and QQ. It's not hard to find examples of games that didn't succeed even with [support from] WeChat and QQ.”

Call of Duty: Mobile is developed by Tencent and published by Activision Blizzard (Image: Call of Duty: Mobile via Twitter) 

When it comes to making money, TiMi has from the outset been a strong proponent of game-as-a-service whereby it continues to pump out fresh content after the initial download. Gao believes the model will gain further traction in 2020 as it attracts old-school game developers, which were accustomed to pay-to-play, to follow suit.

All eyes are now on TiMi’s next big move, the mobile version of Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty. Tencent, given its experience in China’s mobile-first market, appears well-suited to make the mobile transition for the well-loved console shooter. Developed by Tencent and published by Blizzard, in which Tencent owns a minority stake, in September, Call of Duty: Mobile had a spectacular start, recording more worldwide downloads in a single quarter than any mobile game except Pok√©mon GO, which saw its peak in Q3 2016, according to app analytics company Sensor Tower.

The pedigreed studio has in recent times faced more internal competition from its siblings inside Tencent, particularly the Lightspeed Quantum studio, which is behind the successful mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). While Tencent actively fosters internal rivalry between departments, Gao stressed that TiMi has received abundant support from Tencent on the likes of publishing, business development and legal matters.

WeChat erects a paywall – with Apple tax

Ever since WeChat rolled out its content publishing function — a Facebook Page equivalent named the Official Account — back in 2012, articles posted through the social networking platform have been free to read. That’s finally changing.

This week, WeChat announced that it began allowing a selected group of authors to put their articles behind a paywall in a trial period. The launch is significant not only because it can inspire creators by helping them eke out additional revenues, but it’s also a reminder of WeChat’s occasionally fraught relationship with Apple.

WeChat launched its long-awaited paywall for articles published on its platform 

Let’s rewind to 2017 when WeChat, in a much-anticipated move, added a “tipping” feature to articles published on Official Account. The function was meant to boost user engagement and incentivize writers off the back of the popularity of online tipping in China. On live streaming platforms, for instance, users consume content for free but many voluntarily send hosts tips and virtual gifts worth from a few yuan to the hundreds.

WeChat said at the time that all transfers from tipping would go toward the authors, but Apple thought otherwise, claiming that such tips amounted to “in-app purchases” and thus entitled it to a 30% cut from every transaction, or what is widely known as the “Apple tax.”

WeChat disabled tipping following the clash over the terms but reintroduced the feature in 2018 after reaching consensus with Apple. The function has been up and running since then and neither WeChat nor Apple charged from the transfers, a spokesperson from WeChat confirmed with TechCrunch.

If the behemoths’ settlement over tipping was a concession on Apple’s end, Tencent has budged on paywalls this time.

Unlike tipping, the new paywall feature entitles Apple to its standard 30% cut of in-app transactions. That means transfers for paid content will go through Apple’s in-app purchase (IAP) system rather than WeChat’s own payments tool, as is the case with tipping. It also appears that only users with a Chinese Apple account are able to pay for WeChat articles. TechCrunch’s attempt to purchase a post using a U.S. Apple account was rejected by WeChat on account of the transaction “incurring risks or not paying with RMB.”

The launch is certainly a boon to creators who enjoy a substantial following, although many of them have already explored third-party platforms for alternative commercial possibilities beyond the advertising and tipping options that WeChat enables. Zhishi Xingqiu, the “Knowledge Planet”, for instance, is widely used by WeChat creators to charge for value-added services such as providing readers with exclusive industry reports. Xiaoe-tong, or “Smart Little Goose”, is a popular tool for content stars to roll out paid lessons.

Not everyone is bullish on the new paywall. One potential drawback is it will drive down traffic and discourage advertisers. Others voice concerns that the paid feature is vulnerable to exploitation by clickbait creators. On that end, WeChat has restricted the application to the function only to accounts that are over three months old, have published at least three original articles and have seen no serious violations of WeChat rules.

SpaceX could catch future Crew Dragons with astronauts onboard using ships at sea

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 09:36 AM PST

SpaceX demonstrated a safety system that will protect astronauts in the case of any unfortunate unforeseen accidents in future Crew Dragon flights, which included the spacecraft splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. But during a post-mission press conference, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk suggested future return trips for the human-rated spacecraft could look very different.

Musk suggested that SpaceX could eventually seek to recover the Crew Dragon capsule using ships at sea that ‘catch’ the spacecraft as it lands, rather than allowing it to splash down and recover it from the water. SpaceX is in the process of testing a similar system to recover the fairings (large protective covers) it uses to enclose cargo during its existing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches.

“This requires ongoing discussions with with with NASA, but I think it’d be quite quite cool to use the boats that we are using to catch the fairing,” Musk said. “Once that is really well-established, [we could attempt] to catch the catch Dragon as it’s coming in from orbit, and then that would alleviate some of the constraints around a water landing.”

This could be a major advantage for SpaceX in terms of cost and reusability of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, which it eventually hopes to be able to fly both for NASA and for other commercial clients. Still, Musk emphasized that this is a goal for considerably further out beyond Crew Dragon’s actual start of service life, since it both requires NASA’s buy-in and certification, and also requires that SpaceX actually demonstrate their ability to reliably catch the cargo fairing first. So far, it’s caught one half of one fairing, but has also had a number of failed attempts.

“We obviously need to recover [the fairing] very reliably before we we consider trying to catch the catch the Dragon,” he added. “But I think that would be also an improvement, as opposed to lightning in the water.”

First crewed SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launch could happen in Q2 this year

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 09:14 AM PST

SpaceX and NASA hosted a press conference following their successful test of the Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort system on Sunday to discuss the mission and next steps. The first question asked by media in attendance was about what this means for the timeline for a mission with actual crew on board, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk provided an answer sketching out a rough schedule of events.

“The hardware necessary for the first crewed launch, we believe will be ready by the end of February,” he said. “However, there’s still a lot of work once the hardware is ready to just cross-check everything, triple-check, quadruple-check, go over everything everything again until every every stone has been turned over three or four times. And then there’s also the schedule for getting to the Space Station, because the Space Station has a lot of lot of things going to it, so what’s the right timing because, and the collective wisdom at this point is that we think that hardware will be ready in q1, most likely in February, but no later than March, and that we think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine followed up with additional perspective from the agency’s side, noting that there could be some shifting mission parameters for that first trip that change the timing of when it actually goes up.

“I think, I think that’s a very fair assessment,” Bridenstine said. “I would also say we have to make some decisions on our end from a NASA perspective. Do we want that first crew to be a short duration, or do we want it to be a longer duration? If it’s going to be a longer duration, then we have to have some additional training for our astronauts to actually be prepared to do things on the International Space Station that we weren’t planning to have that initial test crew necessarily do.”

Bridenstine added that those decisions will be made in the “coming weeks,” and depending on whether they opt to make this first mission a quick trip, or a longer duration mission with more objectives, it could change their timing due to scheduling and training requirements for the astronauts actually going up aboard Crew Dragon.

Shadows’ Dylan Flinn and Kombo’s Kevin Gould on the business of ‘virtual influencers’

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 08:24 AM PST

In films, TV shows and books — and even in video games where characters are designed to respond to user behavior — we don't perceive characters as beings with whom we can establish two-way relationships. But that’s poised to change, at least in some use cases.

Interactive characters — fictional, virtual personas capable of personalized interactions — are defining new territory in entertainment. In my guide to the concept of "virtual beings," I outlined two categories of these characters:

  • virtual influencers: fictional characters with real-world social media accounts who build and engage with a mass following of fans.
  • virtual companions: AIs oriented toward one-to-one relationships, much like the tech depicted in the films “Her” and “Ex Machina.” They are personalized enough to engage us in entertaining discussions and respond to our behavior (in the physical world or within games) like a human would.

Part 2 of 3: the business of virtual influencers

Today’s discussion focuses on virtual influencers: fictional characters that build and engage followings of real people over social media. To explore the topic, I spoke with two experienced entrepreneurs:

  • Dylan Flinn is CEO of Shadows, an LA-based animation studio that’s building a roster of interactive characters for social media audiences. Dylan started his career in VC, funding companies such as Robinhood, Patreon and Bustle, and also spent two years as an agent at CAA.
  • Kevin Gould is CEO of Kombo Ventures, a talent management and brand incubation firm that has guided the careers of top influencers like Jake Paul and SSSniperWolf. He is the co-founder of three direct-to-consumer brands — Insert Name Here, Wakeheart and Glamnetic — and is an angel investor in companies like Clutter, Beautycon and DraftKings.

SpaceX successfully completes key test of its Crew Dragon human spacecraft

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 07:41 AM PST

SpaceX completed a crucial test of a key safety system of its Crew Dragon spacecraft today. The test involved launching its Crew Dragon using a Falcon 9, though without any actual crew on board. The launch was then intentionally cut short, with the In-Flight Abort (IFA) system triggered to separate the Crew Dragon from the rocket about about a minute and a half into the launch process.

As intended, the Dragon capsule used its eight Super Draco engines to quickly move itself away from the rocket, which in a real mission would ensure the safety of the astronauts on board the vehicle in case of any unexpected failure of the rocket. The Crew Dragon’s engines can propel it half a mile in just 7.5 seconds, exerting up to 4 Gs (4x the force of Earth’s gravity) on astronauts during this acceleration.

The Crew Dragon then deployed its parachutes once it reached a safe distance, and descended to the Atlantic Ocean for splashdown, where crews are in the process of recovering the capsule. In a real emergency scenario, an elite Air Force rescue team would deploy as quickly as possible to rescue the crew, for but this demo, the recovery could take two hours or more since the main objective is recovering the capsule intact, safely.

The Falcon 9 rocket used her had flown on three previous missions, and was in fact the first booster produced as part of SpaceX’s run of human-rated variants of the Falcon 9 design. As intended, the Falcon 9 broke up once the Crew Dragon ejected, with the on-board fuel generating a pretty impressive explosion.

This isn’t the first time SpaceX has demonstrated that its Crew Dragon system is nearly ready for human flight. It performed a successful pad abort test in 2015, which demonstrated that it could cancel the launch as intended before actual liftoff, in a safe manner. The Crew Dragon’s Super Dracos were also successfully tested in November of last year with a static test fire on the ground. SpaceX also encountered a fatal error during an earlier test of the Super Draco in 2019, but subsequently identified the cause working with NASA and has made changes to ensure that fault isn’t repeated.

SpaceX also performed a full ucnrewed demo mission with Crew Dragon last year, which saw the capsule launch atop a Falcon 9, deploy to orbit, rendez-vous and dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on its own, and then return to Earth. That means it’s checked a lot of the boxes required for actually flying its first astronauts for an initial demonstration mission before it begins commercial service – and that should take place later this year.

During a press conference hosted by NASA and SpaceX following the mission, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the test went basically exactly to plan, which is good news for that timeline for an actual crewed launch remaining on track.

‘Overall, it was a picture perfect mission,” Musk said. “It went as well as we could possibly expect. I’m super fired up. This is great. It’s really great.’

“It all looks perfect as least as far as we’ve seen thus far,” he added later. “But we need to physically recover the spacecraft and and confirm that there’s not something that’s not an issue that that wouldn’t show up on telemetry.”

TechCrunch’s Top 10 investigative reports from 2019

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 06:30 AM PST

Facebook spying on teens, Twitter accounts hijacked by terrorists, and sexual abuse imagery found on Bing and Giphy were amongst the ugly truths revealed by TechCrunch’s investigating reporting in 2019. The tech industry needs more watchdogs than ever as its size enlargens the impact of safety failures and the abuse of power. Whether through malice, naivety, or greed, there was plenty of wrongdoing to sniff out.

Led by our security expert Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch undertook more long-form investigations this year to tackle these growing issues. Our coverage of fundraises, product launches, and glamorous exits only tell half the story. As perhaps the biggest and longest running news outlet dedicated to startups (and the giants they become), we’re responsible for keeping these companies honest and pushing for a more ethical and transparent approach to technology.

If you have a tip potentially worthy of an investigation, contact TechCrunch at tips@techcrunch.com or by using our anonymous tip line’s form.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Here are our top 10 investigations from 2019, and their impact:

Facebook pays teens to spy on their data

Josh Constine’s landmark investigation discovered that Facebook was paying teens and adults $20 in gift cards per month to install a VPN that sent Facebook all their sensitive mobile data for market research purposes. The laundry list of problems with Facebook Research included not informing 187,000 users the data would go to Facebook until they signed up for “Project Atlas”, not receiving proper parental consent for over 4300 minors, and threatening legal action if a user spoke publicly about the program. The program also abused Apple’s enterprise certificate program designed only for distribution of employee-only apps within companies to avoid the App Store review process.

The fallout was enormous. Lawmakers wrote angry letters to Facebook. TechCrunch soon discovered a similar market research program from Google called Screenwise Meter that the company promptly shut down. Apple punished both Google and Facebook by shutting down all their employee-only apps for a day, causing office disruptions since Facebookers couldn’t access their shuttle schedule or lunch menu. Facebook tried to claim the program was above board, but finally succumbed to the backlash and shut down Facebook Research and all paid data collection programs for users under 18. Most importantly, the investigation led Facebook to shut down its Onavo app, which offered a VPN but in reality sucked in tons of mobile usage data to figure out which competitors to copy. Onavo helped Facebook realize it should acquire messaging rival WhatsApp for $19 billion, and it’s now at the center of anti-trust investigations into the company. TechCrunch’s reporting weakened Facebook’s exploitative market surveillance, pitted tech’s giants against each other, and raised the bar for transparency and ethics in data collection.

Protecting The WannaCry Kill Switch

Zack Whittaker’s profile of the heroes who helped save the internet from the fast-spreading WannaCry ransomware reveals the precarious nature of cybersecurity. The gripping tale documenting Marcus Hutchins’ benevolent work establishing the WannaCry kill switch may have contributed to a judge’s decision to sentence him to just one year of supervised release instead of 10 years in prison for an unrelated charge of creating malware as a teenager.

The dangers of Elon Musk’s tunnel

TechCrunch contributor Mark Harris’ investigation discovered inadequate emergency exits and more problems with Elon Musk’s plan for his Boring Company to build a Washington D.C.-to-Baltimore tunnel. Consulting fire safety and tunnel engineering experts, Harris build a strong case for why state and local governments should be suspicious of technology disrupters cutting corners in public infrastructure.

Bing image search is full of child abuse

Josh Constine’s investigation exposed how Bing’s image search results both showed child sexual abuse imagery, but also suggested search terms to innocent users that would surface this illegal material. A tip led Constine to commission a report by anti-abuse startup AntiToxin (now L1ght), forcing Microsoft to commit to UK regulators that it would make significant changes to stop this from happening. However, a follow-up investigation by the New York Times citing TechCrunch’s report revealed Bing had made little progress.

Expelled despite exculpatory data

Zack Whittaker’s investigation surfaced contradictory evidence in a case of alleged grade tampering by Tufts student Tiffany Filler who was questionably expelled. The article casts significant doubt on the accusations, and that could help the student get a fair shot at future academic or professional endeavors.

Burned by an educational laptop

Natasha Lomas’ chronicle of troubles at educational computer hardware startup pi-top, including a device malfunction that injured a U.S. student. An internal email revealed the student had suffered a “a very nasty finger burn” from a pi-top 3 laptop designed to be disassembled. Reliability issues swelled and layoffs ensued. The report highlights how startups operating in the physical world, especially around sensitive populations like students, must make safety a top priority.

Giphy fails to block child abuse imagery

Sarah Perez and Zack Whittaker teamed up with child protection startup L1ght to expose Giphy’s negligence in blocking sexual abuse imagery. The report revealed how criminals used the site to share illegal imagery, which was then accidentally indexed by search engines. TechCrunch’s investigation demonstrated that it’s not just public tech giants who need to be more vigilant about their content.

Airbnb’s weakness on anti-discrimination

Megan Rose Dickey explored a botched case of discrimination policy enforcement by Airbnb when a blind and deaf traveler’s reservation was cancelled because they have a guide dog. Airbnb tried to just “educate” the host who was accused of discrimination instead of levying any real punishment until Dickey’s reporting pushed it to suspend them for a month. The investigation reveals the lengths Airbnb goes to in order to protect its money-generating hosts, and how policy problems could mar its IPO.

Expired emails let terrorists tweet propaganda

Zack Whittaker discovered that Islamic State propaganda was being spread through hijacked Twitter accounts. His investigation revealed that if the email address associated with a Twitter account expired, attackers could re-register it to gain access and then receive password resets sent from Twitter. The article revealed the savvy but not necessarily sophisticated ways terrorist groups are exploiting big tech’s security shortcomings, and identified a dangerous loophole for all sites to close.

Porn & gambling apps slip past Apple

Josh Constine found dozens of pornography and real-money gambling apps had broken Apple’s rules but avoided App Store review by abusing its enterprise certificate program — many based in China. The report revealed the weak and easily defrauded requirements to receive an enterprise certificate. Seven months later, Apple revealed a spike in porn and gambling app takedown requests from China. The investigation could push Apple to tighten its enterprise certificate policies, and proved the company has plenty of its own problems to handle despite CEO Tim Cook’s frequent jabs at the policies of other tech giants.

Bonus: HQ Trivia employees fired for trying to remove CEO

This Game Of Thrones-worthy tale was too intriguing to leave out, even if the impact was more of a warning to all startup executives. Josh Constine’s look inside gaming startup HQ Trivia revealed a saga of employee revolt in response to its CEO’s ineptitude and inaction as the company nose-dived. Employees who organized a petition to the board to remove the CEO were fired, leading to further talent departures and stagnation. The investigation served to remind startup executives that they are responsible to their employees, who can exert power through collective action or their exodus.

If you have a tip for Josh Constine, you can reach him via encrypted Signal or text at (585)750-5674, joshc at TechCrunch dot com, or through Twitter DMs

Watch SpaceX launch its Crew Dragon astronaut spacecraft for a key safety test

Posted: 19 Jan 2020 04:40 AM PST

SpaceX is looking to launch its Crew Dragon spacecraft using a Falcon 9 rocket today, in a crucial test of the human-rated spacecraft’s In-Flight Abort (IFA) system. This safety feature will separate the Crew Dragon from the Falcon 9 rocket early, propelling the spacecraft (and any astronauts who would be on board, during a real mission) to a safe distance at extremely high speed.

The test was originally scheduled for Saturday, but weather prevented that from being a workable option. Now, SpaceX’s launch window opens today at 8 AM EST (5 AM PST) and lasts for six hours. SpaceX and NASA are currently aiming for a 10:30 AM EST (7:30 AM PST) liftoff time during that window, in order to ensure that weather both for launch and for recovery of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean are optimal. Depending on conditions, that time could slip again, or if they exceed the launch window, push to a backup date on Monday.

SpaceX and NASA are making sure everything is as good as it can be for this mission in terms of weather conditions, so it’s subject to stricter criteria than SpaceX’s average cargo launch. This reflects what the private space company and its government agency partner would do were their actual astronauts on board, too, since astronaut safety is the number one priority to consider when performing crewed launches.

During the mission, the In-Flight Abort process is set to trigger automatically at about 84 seconds into the launch, when the rocket and its payload are roughly 60,000 feet above the Earth. In real crewed mission conditions, this would be used in case something was going wrong with the rocket, in order to give the astronauts on board the best possible chance to escape in the unlikely event of anything potentially dangerous happening like a rocket exploding within the atmosphere.

The goal here is to study the Crew Capsule, and to recover it quickly in order to gather the data that’s being collected on board, which should provide key info about what a human astronaut would’ve experienced were they inside during the IFA process. That means conditions on the ocean are pretty much as important as conditions on the launch pad, since recovery crews will be working to retrieve the capsule and NASA and SpaceX want to ensure their safety, too.

The broadcast should begin about 15 minutes prior to the target liftoff time, so currently that means 10:15 AM EST (7:15 AM PST). We’ll update this post if weather conditions cause further delays.

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