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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Relativity Space could change the economics of private space launches

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 03:25 PM PST

The private launch market is an area of a lot of focus in the emerging space startup industry, not least because it unlocks the true potential of most of the rest of the market. But so far, we can count on one hand the number of new, private space launch companies that have actually transported payloads to orbit. Out of a number of firms racing to be the next to actually launch, LA-based Relativity Space is a prime contender, with a unique approach that could set it apart from the crowd.

I spoke to CEO Tim Ellis about what makes his company different and about what kind of capabilities it will bring to the launch market once it starts flying, something the company aims to do beginning next year. Fresh off a $140 million funding round in October 2019, Relativity’s model could provide another seismic shift in the economics of doing business in space, and has the potential to be as disruptive to the landscape — if not more so — as SpaceX.

“We built the largest metal 3D printers in the world, which we call a ‘Stargate,’ ” Ellis said. “It’s actually replacing a whole factory full of fixed tooling — and having all of our processes being 3D printing, we really view that as being the future because that lets us automate almost the entire rocket production, and then also reduce part count for much larger launch vehicles so our rocket can carry a 1,250-kg payload to orbit.” Because Relativity Space’s launch vehicle is nearly 10 times larger than those made by Rocket Lab or Orbex, “it’s a totally different payload class.”

That difference is crucial, and represents the paradigm shift that Relativity Space could engender once its products are introduced to the commercial market. The company knows first-hand how its approach fundamentally differs from existing launch providers like Blue Origin and SpaceX — Ellis previously worked as a propulsion engineer at Blue Origin, and co-founder and CTO Jordan Noone worked on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule program. Ellis said Relativity’s approach won’t just unlock cost savings due to automation, it will also provide clients with the ability to launch payloads that weren’t possible with previous launch vehicle design constraints.

Wikipedia now has more than 6 million articles in English

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 03:19 PM PST

Wikipedia has surpassed a notable milestone today: The English version of the world's largest online encyclopedia now has more than six million articles.

The feat, which comes roughly 19 years after the website was founded, is a testament of "what humans can do together," said Ryan Merkley, chief of staff at Wikimedia, the nonprofit organization that operates the omnipresent online encyclopedia.

The 6 millionth article is about Maria Elise Turner Lauder, a 19th-century Canadian school teacher, travel writer and fiction writer. The article was written by Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, a longtime editor of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is available in dozens of languages, but its English-language version has the most number of articles. Following the English edition, which hit 5 million articles in late 2015, are the German version, with about 2.3 million articles, and the French version, which has about 2.1 million articles.

The English edition is also the most visited project on the website. According to publicly disclosed figures, the English version of the website averages about 255 million pageviews a day. According to web analytics firm SimilarWeb, Wikipedia overall is the eighth most visited website.

Over the years, Wikipedia has conducted seminars in many nations to encourage more people to become contributors in their own local languages, and has also improved its tools to make it easier for them to write, publish and cite items.

When Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia, he said his goal was to provide “free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” According to one estimate, the sum of human knowledge would require 104 million articles — and we will need 20 more years to get there.

Playing traffic cop for drones in cities and towns nets Airspace Link $4 million

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 02:27 PM PST

As the number of drones proliferates in cities and towns across America, government agencies are scrambling to find ways to manage the oncoming traffic that’s expected to clog up their airspace.

Companies like Airmap and KittyHawk have raised tens of millions to develop technologies that can help cities manage congestion in the friendly skies, and now they have a new competitor in the Detroit-based startup, Airspace Link, which just raised $4 million from a swarm of investors to bring its services to the broader market.

The financing for Airspace Link follows the company’s reception of a stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for low-altitude authorization and notification capabilities, according to chief executive Michael Healander.

According to Healander, what distinguishes Airspace Link from the other competitors in the market is its integration with mapping tools used by municipal governments to provide information on ground-based risk.

“We’re creating the roads based on ground-based risk and we push that out into the drone community to let them know where it’s okay to fly,” says Healander.

That knowledge of terrestrial critical assets in cities and towns comes from deep integrations between Airspace Link and the mapping company ESRI, which has long provided federal, state and local governments with mapping capabilities and services.

We've just spent the past month understanding what regulation is going to be around to support it. In two years from now every drone will be live tracked in our platform,” says Healnder. “Today we're just authorizing flight plans.”

As drone operators increase in number, the autonomous vehicles pose more potential risks to civilian populations in the wrong hands.

Parking lots, sporting events, concerts — really any public area — could be targets for potential attacks using drones.

“Drones are becoming more and more powerful and smarter,” EU Security Commissioner Julian King warned in a statement last summer, “which makes them more and more attractive for legitimate use, but also for hostile acts.”

Already roughly half of the population of the U.S. lives in controlled airspace where drones flying with more than a half a pound of weight require flight plan authorization, according to Healander.

“We build out population data and give state and local governments a tool to create advisories for emergency events or any areas where high densities of people will be,” says Healander. “That creates an advisory that goes through our platform to the drone industry.”

Airspace Link closed a $1 million pre-seed round in September 2019 with a $6 million post-money valuation. The current valuation of the company is undisclosed, but the company’s progress was enough to draw the attention of investors led by Indicator Ventures with participation from 2048 Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners and Invest Detroit.

For Healander, Airspace Link is only the latest entrepreneurial venture. He previously founded GeoMetri, an indoor GPS tracking company, which was acquired by Acuity Brands.

I've been a partner of ESRI my entire life,” says Healander. “I've been in the geospatial industry for four or five companies with them.”

The company has four main components of its service. There’s AirRegistry, where people can opt-in or out of receiving drone deliveries; AirInspect, which is a service that handles city and state permitting for drone operators; AirNetm, which works with the FAA to create approved air routes for drones; and AirLink, an API that connects drone operators with local governments and collects fees for registering drones.

Aki acquires Eyeview’s ad personalization tech

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 02:26 PM PST

Video advertising company Eyeview shut down in December, but its technology will live on thanks to an acquisition by Aki Technologies.

Aki CEO Scott Swanson told me that he’s anticipating serious growth in the demand for ad personalization, particularly as consumers see personalization everywhere else online.

Swanson argued that Eyeview’s technology stands out thanks to its focus on video, with “the ability to generate millions of permutations of a video creative and store them in the cloud.” It offers even more opportunities when combined with Aki’s existing platform, which delivers ads targeted for specific “mobile moments,” like whether the viewer is relaxing at home or out running errands.

Plus, the acquisition allows Aki to expand beyond mobile advertising to desktop and connected TV.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Swanson said that in addition to acquiring the technology, he’s also working to bring on old Eyeview clients and hire Eyeview team members (he estimated that he’s hired nearly 15 so far and is aiming for around 20). At the same time, he acknowledged that there are challenges in resurrecting a business that had been shut down.

“The technology itself was decommissioned, it was taken down, it was backed up in the cloud,” Swanson said. “As the acquisition proceeds, we'll literally be taking the code base and relaunching it in the cloud … Hiring the people was super important, and then because it's not a traditional acquisition where we get customers and stuff, we have to go call up all the customers one-by-one, just as we have to hire people one-by-one.”

Eyeview had raised nearly $80 million in funding before running out of cash and laying off a team of around 100 employees. (Aki, meanwhile, has raised only a seed round of $3.75 million back in 2016; Swanson said the company has grown organically since then.) The news came only a few months after digital media veteran Rob Deichert took over as CEO.

“While it was disappointing to have to shut down the Eyeview business, I’m very happy that the technology assets have found a home with Aki,” Deichert told me via email. “Their business is a logical fit for the technology.”

And despite Eyeview’s misfortunes, Swanson said he’s confident that the company still works as a standalone business: “Look, these guys have been running a business that was full of really happy customers who were seeing good results and seem to have been disappointed when they shut down.”

The bigger issue, he suggested, is the adtech industry as a whole, with advertisers feeling fatigued “with having too many options,” along with a lack of “appetite on the large exit side.”

“The broader trend here is for companies that operate profitably and can support themselves effectively to become a little bit more tech-enabled managed services business,” Swanson said.

Goldman Sachs says it won’t take companies public without at least one ‘diverse’ director; it should have gone further

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 02:17 PM PST

Some of the biggest banks in the United States are among the most powerful institutions in the world. But like every incumbent, they still have to hustle to stay relevant. Morgan Stanley has increasingly gotten behind investors who say they want to see more direct listings, for example. Some of those investors wield a lot of influence after all, and if you can’t beat them (and you want to stay ahead of the competition), you’d better join them.

Now Goldman Sachs has made an announcement of its own that’s very much a part of the times: its CEO, David Solomon, today told CNBC that beginning this year, Goldman will no longer take companies public if they don’t have at least one “diverse” member on its board of directors.

"Starting on July 1st in the U.S. and Europe, we're not going to take a company public unless there's at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women," Solomon said specifically on the network’s "Squawk Box."

Some will, perhaps rightly, see the announcement as little more than marketing. After all, it’s already widely viewed as unacceptable for a company to go public without at least one female board member and preferably far more “diversity” than that. WeWork, for example, tried to go public last year with an all-male board, only to realize soon after that if it wanted to pursue an initial public offering, it had better mix it up a bit. (Of course, by the time it amended its S-1 to name Harvard professor Frances Frei as its first female board member, its offering was already starting to implode.)

Adding one’s first female board member ahead of an IPO is such a cliche at this point that the more interesting question is how close to the filing a related announcement will be made.

Airbnb, founded in 2008, brought aboard its first female board member in 2018, so let’s call it two years ahead of its presumed 2020 IPO. A decade is a long time to go without any diversity on a board, but it’s also not atypical. Slack’s first female board member, Sarah Friar, joined the company in March 2017, roughly two years before the company — eight years old at the time — staged its direct listing last year. Similarly, Peloton, the fitness company, now eight years old, brought aboard its first female board director, Pamela Thomas-Graham, in the spring of 2018; in September of last year, it went public.

Important to note at all three companies is what’s gone on at the employee level. Slack, for years, has made diversity core to its operations. Airbnb has also made gains in terms of employing a more diverse workforce.  Peloton, which was roundly heckled for a recent “sexist,” “dystopian” advertisement, has a highly diverse management team.

Indeed, we’re not criticizing Solomon — when it comes to diversity, every little bit helps. But if Goldman Sachs really wants to maintain its place in the banking hierarchy, a much bolder stance would be to only take public companies that have diverse workforces, which is far more important — and beneficial to all stakeholders — than adding a woman and/or person of color to a board of directors as part of preparing an IPO.

Let’s be real here. Directors of public companies typically meet just four times a year to review quarterly results. It’s important and necessary, sure. But beyond ensuring that strategic objectives are being met and hopefully making useful introductions to the company, these roles are assigned more importance by industry watchers than they should. (They often pay ludicrous amounts, too.)

Even pledging that Goldman is only going to take public companies that give back — say 1% of future profits to the NAACP, as one idea — would instantly put it in pole position for those founders and investors who truly want to be progressive. Goldman might miss out on a lot of business in the immediate term, we realize, but we’re guessing it’s a gamble that would pay off over time.

In the meantime, institutionalizing a process that’s already happening and doesn’t have nearly enough real-world impact may be better, just barely, than not institutionalizing that process. Though it’s shocking to note, according to Solomon, about 60 companies in the U.S. and Europe have gone public recently with all-white, male boards.

When we reached out to other big banks today to see if they might make a public commitment of their own regarding pre-IPO companies — we wrote to Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and JPMorgan — each of them, which have said in various ways that they are committed to diversity, declined to comment.

US regulators need to catch up with Europe on fintech innovation 

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 02:12 PM PST

Fintech companies are fundamentally changing how the financial services ecosystem operates, giving consumers powerful tools to help with savings, budgeting, investing, insurance, electronic payments and many other offerings. This industry is growing rapidly, filling gaps where traditional banks and financial institutions have failed to meet customer needs.

Yet progress has been uneven. Notably, consumer fintech adoption in the United States lags well behind much of Europe, where forward-thinking regulation has sparked an outpouring of innovation in digital banking services — as well as the backend infrastructure onto which products are built and operated.

That might seem counterintuitive, as regulation is often blamed for stifling innovation. Instead, European regulators have focused on reducing barriers to fintech growth rather than protecting the status quo. For example, the U.K.'s Open Banking regulation requires the country's nine big high-street banks to share customer data with authorized fintech providers.

The EU's PSD2 (Payment Services Directive 2) obliges banks to create application programming interfaces (APIs) and related tools that let customers share data with third parties. This creates standards that level the playing field and nurture fintech innovation. And the U.K.'s Financial Conduct Authority supports new fintech entrants by running a "sandbox" for software testing that helps speed new products into service.

Regulations, if implemented effectively as demonstrated by those in Europe, will lead to a net positive to consumers. While it is inevitable that regulations will come, if fintech entrepreneurs take the action to engage early and often with regulators, it will ensure that the regulations put in place support innovation and ultimately benefit the consumer.

Uber’s Shin-pei Tsay is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 01:26 PM PST

Government and policy experts are among the most important people in the future of transportation. Any company pursuing the shared scooters and bikes business, ride-hailing, on-demand shuttles and eventually autonomous vehicles has to have someone, or a team of people, who can work with cities.

Enter Shin-pei Tsay, the director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber . TechCrunch is excited to announce that Tsay will join us onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day conference dedicated to the future of mobility and transportation.

If there’s one person who is at the center of this universe, it’s Tsay. In her current role at Uber, she leads a team of issues experts focused on what Uber calls a “sustainable multi-modal urban future.”

Tsay is also a founder. Prior to Uber, she founded a social impact analysis company called Make Public. She was also the deputy executive director of TransitCenter, a national foundation focused on improving urban transportation. She also founded and directed the cities and transportation program under the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

For the past four years, Shinpei has served as a commissioner for the City of New York Public Design Commission. She is on the board of the national nonprofit In Our Backyard.

Stay tuned, we’ll have more speaker announcements in the coming weeks. In case you missed it, TechCrunch has already announced Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Waymo’s head of trucking Boris Sofman and Trucks VC’s Reilly Brennan will be participating in TC Sessions: Mobility.

Don’t forget that $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.

Firefly Aerospace investigating a fire that resulted from a test of its Alpha rocket’s engines

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 01:25 PM PST

Space launch startup Firefly Aerospace encountered a setback as it kicked off the first “hot” tests of its Alpha launch vehicle’s engines — a fire resulted from its first test-engine fire. The fire occurred at 6:23 PM local time on Wednesday during the first planned five-second fire in a series of test firings Firefly intended to run for Alpha at its Briggs, Texas facility. The fire was located “in the engine bay at the base of the rocket’s stage,” Firefly has said in a new statement about the incident.

Firefly’s engineers immediately stopped the engine test, and the facility’s fire suppression system put out the fire, the company says. The team is currently reviewing data around the test to identify the cause, and will perform a complete investigation to figure out what’s going on and then report those results, according to the statement. Firefly also says that “at no time during the test were Firefly operations personnel or the public in danger” and adds that it’s working with local emergency response and governing authorities throughout the investigation.

The launch startup has encountered setbacks before, though its biggest previous hurdle was of a different nature: Firefly Space Systems filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017, before returning with a slightly different corporate identity as Firefly Aerospace later that year, still under the leadership of founder and current CEO Tom Markusic. Firefly was rescued at least in part thanks to a lifeline investment from Noosphere Ventures, and said at the time it had enough runway to fund it fully through development and flight of Alpha, an expendable launch vehicle that will be able to deliver as much as a metric ton to low-Earth orbit.

This fire is a setback, but it does appear that it was at least quickly contained and didn’t result in any kind of explosion or total destruction of the test launch vehicle. It’s too soon to say what this will mean for Firefly’s timelines, which at the end of last year, anticipated a first launch of Alpha sometime between this February and March.

Anomalies are part of the process of developing new launch systems and spacecraft, so this isn’t necessarily a major blow for Firefly — depending, of course, on what the investigation reveals regarding the ultimate cause.

Firefly’s statement on the incident is included in full below.

Firefly Aerospace maintains a 200-acre manufacturing and test facility in Briggs, Texas, 27 miles north of its headquarters.

On January 22, 2020, test engineers were conducting a planned test of the first stage of the company's "Alpha" launch vehicle. The test was to be the first in a series of propulsion tests to verify design and operation of the stage, and involved a short, 5-second firing of the stage's four engines.

At 6:23 pm local time, the stage's engines were fired, and a fire broke out in the engine bay at the base of the rocket's stage. The 5-second test was immediately aborted and the test facility's fire suppression system extinguished the fire. The cause of the anomaly is under investigation. Firefly engineers are reviewing test data from the stage to identify potential causes for the test failure, and Firefly will share results of that investigation once it is complete.

Firefly is committed to workplace safety, and at no time during the test were Firefly operations personnel or the public in danger. Firefly is coordinating closely with local authorities and emergency response personnel as it investigates the anomaly and refines its contingency procedures.

It’s time for tech startups to get political

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 01:17 PM PST

Between 2005 and 2018, the five biggest U.S. tech firms collectively spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying federal policymakers. But they shelled out even more in 2019: Facebook boosted its lobbying budget by 25%, while Amazon hiked its political outlay by 16%. Together, America's biggest tech firms spent almost $64 million in a bid to shape federal policies.

Clearly, America's tech giants feel they're getting value for their money. But as CEO of Boundless, a 40-employee startup that doesn't have millions of dollars to invest in political lobbying, I'm proposing another way. One of the things we care most about at Boundless is immigration. And while we've yet to convince Donald Trump and Stephen Miller that immigrants are a big part of what makes America great — hey, we're working on it! — we've found that when you have a clear message and a clear mission, even a startup can make a big difference.

So how can scrappy tech companies make a splash in the current political climate? Here are some guiding principles we've learned.

1) Speak out

You can't make a difference if you don't make some noise. A case in point: Boundless is spearheading the business community's pushback against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "public charge rule." This sweeping immigration reform would preclude millions of people from obtaining U.S. visas and green cards — and therefore make it much harder for American businesses to hire global talent — based on a set of new, insurmountable standards. We're doing that not by cutting checks to K Street but by using our own expertise, creativity and people skills — the very things that helped make our company a success in the first place.

By leveraging our unique strengths — including our own proprietary data — we've been able to put together a smart, business-focused amicus brief urging courts to strike down the public charge rule. And because we combine immigration-specific expertise with a real understanding of the issues that matter most to tech companies, we've been able to convince more than 100 other firms  — such as Microsoft, Twitter, Warby Parker, Levi Strauss & Co. and Remitly — to cosign our amicus brief. Will that be enough to persuade the courts and steer federal policy in immigrants' favor? The jury's still out. But whatever happens, we take satisfaction in knowing that we're doing everything we can on behalf of the entire immigrant community, not just our customers, in defense of a cause we're passionate about.

2) Take a stand

Taking a stand is risky, but staying silent is a gamble, too: Consumers are increasingly socially conscious, and almost nine out of 10 said in one survey that they prefer to buy from brands that take active steps to support the causes they care about. It depends a bit on the issue, though. One survey found that trash-talking the president will win you brownie points from millennials but cost you support among Baby Boomers, for instance.

So pick your battles — but remember that media-savvy consumers can smell a phony a mile off. It's important to choose causes you truly stand behind and then put your money where your mouth is. At Boundless, we do that by hiring a diverse workforce — not just immigrants, but also women (we're over 60%), people of color (35%) and LGBTQ+ (15%) — and putting time and energy into helping them succeed. Figure out what authenticity looks like for your company, and make sure you're living your values as well as just talking about them.

3) Band together

Tech giants might have a bigger megaphone, but there are a lot of startups in our country, and quantity has a quality all its own. In fact, the Small Business Administration reported in 2018 that there are 30.2 million small businesses in the United States, 414,000 of which are classified as "startups." So instead of trying to shout louder, try forging connections with other smart, up-and-coming companies with unique voices and perspectives of their own.

At Boundless, we routinely reach out to the other startups that have received backing from our own investor groups — national networks such as Foundry Group, Trilogy Equity Partners, Pioneer Square Labs, Two Sigma Ventures and Flybridge Capital Partners — in the knowledge that these companies will share many of our values and be willing to listen to our ideas.

For startups, the venture capitalists, accelerators and incubators that helped you launch and grow can be an incredible resource: Leverage their expertise and Rolodexes to recruit a posse of like-minded startups and entrepreneurs that can serve as a force multiplier for your political activism. Instead of taking a stand as a single company, you could potentially rally dozens of companies — from a range of sectors and unique weights in their fields — on board for your advocacy efforts.

4) Use your superpowers

Every company has a few key superpowers, and the same things that make you a commercial success can help to sway policymakers, too. Boundless uses data and design to make the immigration process more straightforward, and number-crunching and messaging skills come in handy when we're doing advocacy work, too.

Our data-driven report breaking down naturalization trends and wait times by location made a big splash, for instance, and not just in top-ranked Cleveland. We presented our findings to Congress, and soon afterward some Texas lawmakers began demanding reductions in wait times for would-be citizens. We can't prove our advocacy was the deciding factor, but it's likely that our study helped nudge them in the right direction.

5) Work the media

Whether you're Bill Gates or a small-business owner, if you're quoted in The New York Times, then your voice will reach the same people. Reporters love to feel like they're including quotes from the "little guy," so make yourself accessible, and learn to give snappy, memorable quotes to reporters, and you'll soon find that they keep you on speed dial.

Our phones rang off the hook when Trump tried to push through a healthcare mandate by executive order, for instance, and our founders were quoted by top media outlets — from Reuters to Rolling Stone. It takes a while to build media relationships and establish yourself as a credible source, but it's a great way to win national attention for your advocacy.

6) Know your lawmakers

To make a difference, you'll need allies in the corridors of power. Reach out to your senators and congresspeople, and get to know their staffers, too. Working in politics is often thankless, and many aides love to hear from new voices, especially ones who are willing to stake out controversial positions on big issues, sound the alarm on bad policies or help move the Overton window to enable better solutions.

We've often found that prior to hearing from us, lawmakers simply hadn't considered the special challenges faced by smaller tech companies, such as lack of internal legal, human and financial resources, to comply with various regulations. And those lawmakers come away from our meetings with a better understanding of the need to craft straightforward policies that won't drown small businesses in red tape.

Political change doesn't just happen in the Capital Beltway, so make a point of reaching out to your municipal and state-level leaders, too. In 2018, Boundless pitched to the Civic I/O Mayors Summit at SXSW because we knew that municipal leaders played a critical role in welcoming new Americans into our communities. Local policies and legislation can have a big impact on startups, and the support of local leaders remains a critical foundation for the kinds of change we want to see made to the U.S. immigration system.

Take the next step

It's easy to make excuses or expect someone else to advocate on your behalf. But if there's something you think the government could be doing better, then you have an obligation to use your company's energy, talent and connections to push back and create momentum for reform. Sure, it would be nice to splash money around and hire a phalanx of lobbyists to shape public policy — but it's perfectly possible to make a big difference without spending a dime.

But first, figure out what you stand for and what strengths and superpowers you can leverage to bear the problems you and your customers face. Above all, don't be afraid to take a stand.

Apple TV+ show ‘Little America’ to get a companion podcast, exec producer says

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 01:01 PM PST

A recent report from Bloomberg claimed Apple was considering making original podcasts related to its Apple TV+ streaming service shows. Now we have further confirmation that these companion podcasts are indeed in the works. In an interview with Forbes, an executive producer of the Apple TV+ anthology series “Little America,” Lee Eisenberg, talks about the benefits of working with Apple — noting, by the way, that the show will have a podcast as well as a playlist featuring music from the series.

Neither of these has yet to launch, but are in line with what Bloomberg claimed Apple has been planning.

The audio programs — basically Apple’s own original podcasts — would help to market some of Apple TV+’s more high-profile shows. “Little America” was mentioned in Bloomberg’s report as one possibility, given the rave reviews it received from critics. Golden Globe nominee “The Morning Show,” which also won Jennifer Aniston a best actress award at the Screen Actor Guild Awards, was another.

Eisenberg, speaking to Forbes, confirmed the plans to cross-promote the new show across Apple’s platform.

“Apple is such a worldwide and multi-faceted brand,” he said. “We're doing a podcast to delve more into the stories and the music on the show. There'll also be a playlist for every episode. We're putting out a book too. Apple has an infrastructure that just felt like it would be able to touch all of the different pieces that we wanted,” he added.

The comment was meant to highlight one of the benefits of working with a company like Apple, in a piece that laid out how different Apple’s approach is from rival networks and streaming services. For example, Apple was passionate about “Little America,” which focuses on the immigrant experience in America, even when traditional networks had passed with concerns over subject matter and lack of star power. In fact, Apple sold itself and its streaming service to “Little America’s” producers and creators, not the other way around.

It’s unclear when the “Little America” podcast or episode playlists will go live or to what extent Apple will be involved when they do. Apple has not responded to requests for comment on the matter.

Such a move would represent a big jump by Apple into the world of original podcasts, if and when it comes to pass. Today, the company’s selection of Apple-produced podcasts are limited to things like Apple keynotes, special events and quarterly earnings calls — not really what you think of as original audio programming.

Apple is alone among the top streaming services in terms of not having some sort of original audio programming play. Spotify has heavily invested in podcasts, and now has hundreds of originals and exclusives available to its users. It also acquired several podcast networks and podcast startups, including GimletParcast and Anchor. It’s now said to be in discussions with The Ringer. 

Pandora is leveraging the assets of new parent SiriusXM to turn its talk shows into podcasts and develop a new podcast-and-audio format, called Pandora Stories.

Meanwhile, Amazon Music — now close to Apple in user numberswraps in a premium collection of Audible podcasts with its Prime membership. That means Amazon Prime subscribers get both free music as well as exclusives audio shows from Audible.

Even a smaller player, Stitcher, offers its own network of originals.

It seems original audio programming is something that’s now becoming table-stakes in the streaming music wars. Apple’s entry may be belated, but it will at least be differentiated as its podcasts will promote its shows and vice versa, instead of only being connected to music.

Layoffs hit Q&A startup Quora

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 12:56 PM PST

Quora, a 10-year-old question-and-answer startup based in Mountain View, is laying off staff in its Bay Area and New York offices, the company’s CEO announced on the site today.

Like other startup leaders being pushed by investors to focus more heavily on cash flow, CEO Adam D’Angelo wrote that the layoffs and “organizational changes” were being pursued in order to focus on “scaling the organization in a financially responsible way.”

D’Angelo did not disclose the scale of the layoffs. Recode reported last year that Quora was locking down $60 million at a $2 billion valuation, noting at the time that the startup had around 200 employees. The company has publicly disclosed $225 million to date according to Crunchbase, from investors including Benchmark, Peter Thiel and Y Combinator.

We’ve reached out to the company for additional comment.

“[W]e need to reduce our burn rate to a sustainable level from which we can focus on pursuing the mission and growing the business over the long term. We do not want to be dependent on outside capital, so self-reliance and careful management of our resources are crucial to our future,” D’Angelo wrote.

Over the past several weeks, layoffs have been hitting startups, including several in SoftBank’s portfolio as well as Mozilla and, just today, genetic testing startup 23andMe.

Uber’s self-driving unit starts mapping Washington, D.C. ahead of testing

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 12:53 PM PST

Uber Advanced Technologies Group will start mapping Washington, D.C., ahead of plans to begin testing its self-driving vehicles in the city this year.

Initially, there will be three Uber vehicles mapping the area, a company spokesperson said. These vehicles, which will be manually driven and have two trained employees inside, will collect sensor data using a top-mounted sensor wing equipped with cameras and a spinning lidar. The data will be used to build high-definition maps. The data will also be used for Uber’s virtual simulation and test track testing scenarios.

Uber intends to launch autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C. before the end of 2020.

At least one other company is already testing self-driving cars in Washington, D.C. Ford announced in October 2018 plans to test its autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C. Argo AI is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford's self-driving vehicles.

Argo, which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen, started mapping the city in 2018. Testing was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2019.

Uber ATG has kept a low profile ever since one of its human-supervised test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. in March 2018. The company halted its entire autonomous vehicle operation immediately following the incident.

Nine months later, Uber ATG resumed on-road testing of its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, following a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation decision to authorize the company to put its autonomous vehicles on public roads. The company hasn’t resumed testing in other markets, such as San Francisco.

Uber is collecting data and mapping in three other cities: Dallas, San Francisco and Toronto. In those cities, just like in Washington, D.C., Uber manually drives its test vehicles.

Uber spun out the self-driving car business in April 2019 after closing $1 billion in funding from Toyota, auto-parts maker Denso and SoftBank's Vision Fund. The deal valued Uber ATG at $7.25 billion at the time of the announcement. Under the deal, Toyota and Denso are providing $667 million, with the Vision Fund throwing in the remaining $333 million.

Google’s Dataset Search comes out of beta

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 12:28 PM PST

Google today announced that Dataset Search, a service that lets you search for close to 25 million different publicly available data sets, is now out of beta. Dataset Search first launched in September 2018.

Researchers can use these data sets, which range from pretty small ones that tell you how many cats there were in the Netherlands from 2010 to 2018 to large annotated audio and image sets, to check their hypotheses or train and test their machine learning models. The tool currently indexes about 6 million tables.

With this release, Dataset Search is getting a mobile version and Google is adding a few new features to Dataset Search. The first of these is a new filter that lets you choose which type of data set you want to see (tables, images, text, etc.), which makes it easier to find the right data you’re looking for. In addition, the company has added more information about the data sets and the organizations that publish them.

A lot of the data in the search index comes from government agencies. In total, Google says, there are about 2 million U.S. government data sets in the index right now. But you’ll also regularly find Google’s own Kaggle show up, as well as a number of other public and private organizations that make public data available, as well.

As Google notes, anybody who owns an interesting data set can make it available to be indexed by using a standard schema.org markup to describe the data in more detail.

Xerox wants to replace HP board that rejected takeover bid

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 12:25 PM PST

In Xerox’s latest effort to get HP to bend to its will and combine the two companies, it announced its intent today to try to replace the entire HP board of directors at the company’s stockholder’s meeting in April. That would be the same board that unanimously rejected Xerox’s takeover bid.

Xerox and HP have been playing a highly public game of tit for tat in recent months. Xerox wants very much to combine with HP, and offered $34 billion, an offer HP summarily rejected at the end of last year. Xerox threatened to take it to shareholders.

Now it wants to take over the board, announcing today that it had nominated 11 people to replace the current slate of directors.

As you might imagine, HP was none too pleased with this latest move by Xerox. “We believe these nominations are a self-serving tactic by Xerox to advance its proposal, that significantly undervalues HP and creates meaningful risk to the detriment of HP shareholders,” HP fired back in a statement today emailed to TechCrunch.

It went on to blame Xerox shareholder Carl Icahn for the continued pressure. “We believe that Xerox's proposal and nominations are being driven by Carl Icahn, and his large ownership position in Xerox means that his interests are not aligned with those of other HP shareholders. Due to Mr. Icahn's ownership position, he would disproportionately benefit from an acquisition of HP by Xerox at a price that undervalues HP,” the company stated.

The two companies exchanged increasingly harsh letters in November as Xerox signaled its intent to take over the much larger HP. HP questioned Xerox’s ability to raise the money, but earlier this month it announced had in fact raised the $24 billion it would need to buy the company. HP was still not convinced.

Today’s exchange is just the latest between the two companies in an increasingly hostile bid by Xerox to combine the two companies.

Waymo’s self-driving trucks and minivans are headed to New Mexico and Texas

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 11:55 AM PST

Waymo said Thursday it will begin mapping and eventually testing its autonomous long-haul trucks in Texas and parts of New Mexico, the latest sign that the Alphabet company is expanding beyond its core focus of launching a robotaxi business.

Waymo said in a tweet posted early Thursday it had picked these areas because they are “interesting and promising commercial routes.” Waymo also said it would “explore how the Waymo Driver” — the company’s branded self-driving system — could be used to “create new transportation solutions.”

Waymo plans to mostly focus on interstates because Texas has a particularly high freight volume, the company said. The program will begin with mapping conducted by Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

The mapping and eventual testing will occur on highways around Dallas, Houston and El Paso. In New Mexico, Waymo will focus on the southern most part of the state.

Interstate 10 will be a critical stretch of highway in both states — and one that is already a testbed for TuSimple, a self-driving trucking startup that has operations in Tucson and San Diego. TuSimple tests and carries freight along the Tucson to Phoenix corridor on I-10. The company also tests on I-10 in New Mexico and Texas.

Waymo, which is best known for its pursuit of a robotaxi service, integrated its self-driving system into Class 8 trucks and began testing them in Arizona in August 2017. The company stopped testing its trucks on Arizona roads sometime later that year. The company brought back its truck testing to Arizona in May 2019.

Those early Arizona tests were aimed at gathering initial information about driving trucks in the region, while the new round of truck testing in Arizona marks a more advanced stage in the program’s development, Waymo said at the time.

Waymo has been testing its self-driving trucks in a handful of locations in the U.S., including Arizona, the San Francisco area and Atlanta. In 2018, the company announced plans to use its self-driving trucks to deliver freight bound for Google's data centers in Atlanta.

Waymo’s trucking program has had a higher profile in the past year. In June, Waymo brought on 13 robotics experts, a group that includes Anki's co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, to lead engineering in the autonomous trucking division.

Layoffs reach 23andMe after hitting Mozilla and the Vision Fund portfolio

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 11:10 AM PST

Layoffs in the technology and venture-backed worlds continued today, as 23andMe confirmed to CNBC that it laid off around 100 people, or about 14% of its formerly 700-person staff. The cuts would be notable by themselves, but given how many other reductions have recently been announced, they indicate that a rolling round of belt-tightening amongst well-funded private companies continues. (TechCrunch confirmed the numbers with the company.)

Mozilla, for example, cut 70 staffers earlier this year. As TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois reported earlier in January, the company’s revenue-generating products were taking longer to reach market than expected. And with less revenue coming in than expected, its human footprint had to be reduced.

23andMe and Mozilla are not alone, however. Playful Studios cut staff just this week, 2019 itself saw more than 300% more tech layoffs than in the preceding year and TechCrunch has covered a litany of layoffs at Vision Fund-backed companies over the past few months, including:

Scooter unicorns Lime and Bird have also reduced staff this year. The for-profit drive is firing on all cylinders in the wake of the failed WeWork IPO attempt. WeWork was an outlier in terms of how bad its financial results were, but the fear it introduced to the market appears pretty damn mainstream by this point. (Forsake hope, alle ye whoe require a Series H.)

The money at risk, let alone the human cost, is high. Zume has raised more than $400 million. 23andMe has raised an even sharper $786.1 million. Rappi? How about $1.4 billion. And Oyo? $3.2 billion so farEvery company that loses money eventually dies. And every company that always makes money lives forever. It seems that lots of companies want to jump over the fence, make some money and rebuild investor confidence in their shares.

It’s just too bad that the rank-and-file are taking the brunt of the correction.

Cortex Labs helps data scientists deploy machine learning models in the cloud

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 10:32 AM PST

It’s one thing to develop a working machine learning model, it’s another to put it to work in an application. Cortex Labs is an early-stage startup with some open-source tooling designed to help data scientists take that last step.

The company’s founders were students at Berkeley when they observed that one of the problems around creating machine learning models was finding a way to deploy them. While there was a lot of open-source tooling available, data scientists are not experts in infrastructure.

CEO Omer Spillinger says that infrastructure was something the four members of the founding team — himself, CTO David Eliahu, head of engineering Vishal Bollu and head of growth Caleb Kaiser — understood well.

What the four founders did was take a set of open-source tools and combine them with AWS services to provide a way to deploy models more easily. “We take open-source tools like TensorFlow, Kubernetes and Docker and we combine them with AWS services like CloudWatch, EKS (Amazon’s flavor of Kubernetes) and S3 to basically give one API for developers to deploy their models,” Spillinger explained.

He says that a data scientist starts by uploading an exported model file to S3 cloud storage. “Then we pull it, containerize it and deploy it on Kubernetes behind the scenes. We automatically scale the workload, and let you switch to GPUs if it’s compute intensive. We stream logs and expose [the model] to the web. We help you manage security around that, stuff like that,” he said.

While he acknowledges this is not unlike Amazon SageMaker, the company’s long-term goal is to support all of the major cloud platforms. SageMaker, of course, only works on the Amazon cloud, while Cortex will eventually work on any cloud. In fact, Spillinger says the biggest feature request they’ve gotten to this point is to support Google Cloud. He says that and support for Microsoft Azure are on the road map.

The Cortex founders have been keeping their head above water while they wait for a commercial product with the help of an $888,888 seed round from Engineering Capital in 2018. If you’re wondering about that oddly specific number, it’s partly an inside joke — Spillinger’s birthday is August 8th — and partly a number arrived at to make the valuation work, he said.

For now, the company is offering the open-source tools, and building a community of developers and data scientists. Eventually, it wants to monetize by building a cloud service for companies that don’t want to manage clusters — but that is down the road, Spillinger said.

As autonomy stalls, lidar companies learn to adapt

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 10:32 AM PST

Lidar sensors are likely to be essential to autonomous vehicles, but if there are none of the latter, how can you make money with the former? Among the industry executives I spoke with, the outlook is optimistic as they unhitch their wagons from the sputtering star of self-driving cars. As it turns out, a few years of manic investment does wonders for those who have the wisdom to apply it properly.

The show floor at CES 2020 was packed with lidar companies exhibiting in larger spaces, seemingly in greater numbers than before. That seemed at odds with reports that 2019 had been a sort of correction year for the industry, so I met with executives and knowledgeable types at several companies to hear their take on the sector’s transformation over the last couple of years.

As context, 2017 was perhaps peak lidar, nearing the end of several years of nearly feverish investment in a variety of companies. It was less a gold rush than a speculative land rush: autonomous vehicles were purportedly right around the corner and each would need a lidar unit… or five. The race to invest in a winner was on, leading to an explosion of companies claiming ascendancy over their rivals.

Unfortunately, as many will recall, autonomous cars seem to be no closer today than they were then, as the true difficulty of the task dawned on those undertaking it.

NBC partners with Snapchat on four daily shows for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 10:02 AM PST

Snapchat and NBC Olympics are again teaming up to produce customized Olympics content for users in the U.S. — this time, for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer. The companies had previously worked together during the Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. The PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games in 2018 reached over 40 million U.S. users, up 25% from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In addition, 95% of those users were under the age of 35.

This younger demographic is getting harder to reach in the cord-cutting era, as many people forgo pay-TV subscriptions and traditional broadcast networks in favor of on-demand streaming services, like Netflix. That limits the reach of advertisers, impacting NBC’s bottom line.

The Snap partnership helps to fix that, as it offers NBC Olympics a way to sell to advertisers who want to reach younger fans who don’t watch as much — or any — TV. Snapchat today reaches 90% of all 13 to 24-year-olds in the U.S., and 75% of all 13 to 34-year-olds; 210 million people now use Snapchat daily.

NBC Olympics says it’s the exclusive seller of all the new customized content associated with the Games, working in partnership with Snap.

This year, it’s also putting out more content than before.

The company plans to release more than 70 episodes across four daily Snapchat shows leading up to and during the Games. That’s triple the number of episodes it offered in 2018.

For the first time, it’s creating two daily Highlight Shows for Snapchat, which will be updated in near real-time. The shows will include the must-see moments from the day in Tokyo.

In addition, two unscripted shows will air during the Games, each with two episodes per day. One, “Chasing Gold,” which first debuted during PyeongChang 2018, will follow the journeys of Team USA athletes. The second show is new this year, and will be a daily recap of the most memorable moments curated especially for Snapchat users. Both are being produced by The NBCUniversal Digital Lab.

The deal will also see Snap curating daily Our Stories during the Games, as it has done in previous years. The stories will include photos and videos from fans as well as content from the NBC Olympics.

“We know the audience on Snap loves the Olympic Games," said Gary Zenkel, president, NBC Olympics, in a statement. “After two successful Olympics together, we're excited to take the partnership to another level and produce even more content and coverage from the Tokyo Olympics tailored for Snapchatters, which also will directly benefit the many NBC Olympics advertisers who seek to engage further with this young and active demographic.”

Snapchat isn’t the only digital destination for Olympics content, however. NBC and Twitter teamed up to stream limited live event coverage, highlights and a daily Olympics show from the Tokyo Games. It was unclear at the time the deal was announced if NBC had opted for Twitter over Snapchat. Now we know that’s not the case — in fact, Snap’s deal with NBC is even bigger than before.

NBCU said earlier it expected to exceed $1.2 billion in ad sales for the 2020 Games, which are also presented on NBC, NBCSN, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports’ digital platforms.

One Medical targets IPO valuation of up to $2B as we unpack its Q4 results

Posted: 23 Jan 2020 09:02 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 digging into One Medical’s updated IPO filing released this week. The document contains directional pricing information that will help us understand where the tech-enabled medical care startup expects the market to value itself and also details its Q4 2019 Preliminary Estimated Unaudited Financial Results, which gives us a fuller picture of its financial health.

As we’ll see, One Medical’s expected valuation matches secondary-market transactions in the firm’s equity, and, at the upper-end of its proposed IPO range, represents a solid boost to its final private valuation. Afterwards, we’ll dig back through the company’s numbers, figure out its implied revenue multiple and make a bullish and bearish argument for the company’s hoped-for IPO valuation.

It’s going to be fun! (For a general dive into the company’s IPO filing, head here.)