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Monday, January 6, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Qualcomm unveils its Snapdragon Ride platform for all levels of automated driving

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 04:30 PM PST

Qualcomm today unveiled a new automotive platform called Snapdragon Ride that’s designed to power all levels of automated driving from today’s active safety systems in passenger cars to the robotaxis that may someday ply city streets.

The scalable platform consists of a Snapdragon Ride system-on-chip, accelerator and autonomous stack.

Qualcomm might be best known for supporting mobile phones, but it also has a family of automotive products, including semiconductors for the telematics systems in cars. Snapdragon Ride is the latest — and perhaps most notable effort to date — to carve out more market share in the already crowded ADAS and automated driving industries. It also puts Qualcomm in competition, once again, with the likes of Nvidia and Intel’s Mobileye subsidiary.

The Snapdragon Ride platform is designed to support the top three industry segments in automated driving, Nakul Duggal, senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm told TechCrunch in a recent interview. It can handle the hardware requirements for the active safety advanced driver assistance systems found in today’s passenger vehicles, including lane keeping, traffic sign recognition and automatic emergency braking. But Duggal says it can also manage the more intensive hardware requirements in so-called Level 2+ systems such as automated highway driving and self-parking as well as Level 4, which is a designation given to autonomous urban driving applications like robotaxis.

The platform is built on modular multi-core CPUs, energy-efficient AI and computer vision engines and a GPU, the company said. It’s also thermally efficient and can offer 30 tera operations per second (TOPS) for the lower level active safety systems up to more than 700 TOPS at 130W for autonomous driving. This means, the platform can operate at these various levels without requiring additional liquid-cooled systems, which helps lower the cost and boost reliability, Duggal said, adding it can be particularly useful in electric vehicles.

Snapdragon Ride is expected to be available for pre-development to automakers and Tier-1 suppliers in the first half of 2020. Snapdragon Ride-enabled vehicles are expected to be in production in 2023.

Study associates frequency, quality of monthly reports with startup success

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 04:00 PM PST

“Despite a lot of publicity and social media, number of sign-ups were modest,” reads one of the last monthly reports I sent to my VCs before my startup ceased to exist. “After the initial wave, sign-ups have slowed right down to near pre-launch levels. User acquisition is our number-one priority and my biggest headache.”

Like, I suspect, many other early-stage founders, I hated the monthly chore of writing a short report for investors. We used the PPP format (progress, problems and plans) for these regular missives, but progress was almost always slow and most of the time, problems far outstripped plans.

On good months, I was far more motivated to file our monthly report — it is a very human thing to want to deliver good news — and on bad months I had a million other more important things I thought a CEO should be spending their time on.

However, according to a research conducted by Jan Luca Ernst, a masters student at The University of St. Gallen, I may have been misguided. In his thesis, supported by Prof. Dr. Elgar Fleisch (Professor of Technology Management at University of St. Gallen) and Florian Schweitzer (a partner at VC firm btov), he writes “startups that submit regular, high-quality reports are shown by the statistics to be better investments than other startups.”

The research was based on analysis of hundreds of monthly startup reports submitted to btov Partners by portfolio companies out of its first two funds, which ran between 2006 to 2014. Specifically, researchers looked at 64 startups, covering the performance of startups during the first two years after initial investment from the first fund, and the performance during a single year, 2015, for the second fund.

“Hypotheses on the positive effects of monthly startup reports were tested, using several multivariate regressions,” write the paper’s authors. “As a result, several initial assumptions were discarded.”

For example, the punctuality of startup reports did not appear to indicate whether a startup would be more successful. In contrast, the frequency of reporting (at a confidence level of 95%), as well as the quality of the reporting (at a confidence level of 99%), were identified as contributors to success.

“Overall, the findings emphasize the importance of the post-investment phase and the value added by venture capitalists beyond financial support,” say Ernst, Fleisch and Schweitzer. “One main implication of the findings has an impact on subsequent investment rounds. Startups that submit regular, high-quality reports are shown by the statistics to be better investments than other startups. This may be an indicator that justifies further investment, that, in turn, leads to better performance.”

The authors also suggest that, in the future, investors may ask for “full, unfiltered access” to all past reporting of a startup, including evidence on the quality of reports and regularity of submission. “This would increase transparency and therefore eventually lead to better investment decision making,” they write.

With that said, during a call with btov’s Florian Schweitzer, he conceded that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean cause, but argued that there are many softer, and sometimes hidden, positive outcomes from monthly reports — especially when a founder does them honestly and whole heartedly.

Extra Crunch: What should a monthly report contain?

Florian Schweitzer: We always define what we would like or what we think would be sensible, because for each startup, of course, it is different. In general, the idea is that the founders can do the report in half an hour. Usually, it contains something like eight KPIs, and then some bullet points reflecting on what went well, and what are the challenges right now. And those challenges are a superb opportunity to understand where the founder is struggling, and where we can support them. So it can be a very, very productive agenda for a discussion, which we usually have regularity.

I think it is very good that founders sit back and think for half an hour: what happened during the last 30 days? What did I want to achieve? What did I not achieve? And to be honest about the progress and challenges.

Watch Intel’s CES press conference live right here

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 03:48 PM PST

Intel is holding its CES press conference today at 4 PM Pacific, 7 PM Eastern. The company will talk about what to expect when it comes to CPU innovation. We could also get an early look at the company's first standalone GPUs.

We'll have a team on the ground, so you should also check out our full CES coverage.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

The Guild, which turns apartments into short-term rentals, has nabbed $25 million in Series B funding

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 02:20 PM PST

The Guild, a nearly four-year-old, Austin, Texas-based startup that turns apartments into comfortable short-term accommodations for business and other travelers, has landed $25 million in Series B funding from some of its earlier investors, including Maveron and Convivialite, along with real estate companies like the Nicol Investment Company, which owns some of the buildings in which The Guild has units.

The 171-person company — started by two University of Texas grads who met in 2015 through their overlapping interests (one worked in boutique hotel development and the other is a co-founder of the apartment marketplace Apartment List) — has plenty of competition. Lyric, Domio and Sonder are but three of the many other well-funded companies now in the business of gussying up apartments and renting them out like hotel rooms.

The competition is so stiff, in fact, that all are fast adding other services to their offerings. All promise around-the-clock support, for example, so if the Wi-Fi goes down, there’s someone to scream at, no matter the hour. Lyric also offers its customers “curated in-suite art, music and coffee programs.” The Guild touts its personal approach, like adding a Christmas tree to a room for a family that is temporarily displaced during the holidays. Meanwhile, among its offerings, Sonder offers “pre-stay cleaning.”

The last seems less like a perk than a necessity, but in the race to capture mindshare, no detail is too small to promote, apparently.

As for its part, The Guild is now operating 565 units, with another 235 units in the “final stages of development,” the company tells us. It’s also operating in six cities currently — Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Miami and Nashville — but it plans to land in six more in the next 12 to 24 months. (If you’re curious about how long it takes for a unit to become profitable, the company says the investment payback is traditionally within 12 months.)

As for how it’s breaking through the noise of its competitors, the company has a corporate sales team that works with companies like McKinsey, Google and Whole Foods, and it partners with travel companies, including Concur, Airbnb and Expedia.

Certainly, investors see promise in its strategy — and its momentum.

The Guild, which says it generated $10 million in revenue in 2018, tells us it generated more than $20 million in 2019 and that it expects to maintain 100% growth in 2020, thanks in part to its new round of funding.

Royole looks to move flexible displays beyond the foldable phone

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 02:19 PM PST

If nothing else, Royole grabbed our attention a couple of years back by bringing the first foldable smartphone to market. There's something to be said for being first, I suppose. It raised the profile of a largely unknown name in amongst the tech press, even if it didn't exactly kickstart a form-factor revolution. Among other things, the FlexPai seemed firmly stuck in the prototype stage, to be perfectly honest.

But, okay, fine. Royole, you've got our attention. I've seen your foldable phone tree firsthand at the Shenzhen airport. So, what do have for us now? More interesting stuff, surely. The company was showcasing a pair of new devices at CES this week, all seemingly filling a similar function as the FlexPai: demonstrating the potential for flexible display technology. That, in fact, seems to be Royole's primary M.O.

Leading the bunch is the Mirage Smart Speaker. It's basically an Amazon echo with an eight-inch flexible AMOLED wrapped around the body. So, a flexible display that can't be actively flexed by the user — though honestly, the act of flexing it tends to be where we start running into trouble. Instead, it offers a wraparound visual, so, like a built-in Winamp visualizer on your device. Kind of fun.

There's also a camera built-in, which, I don't know. Maybe smart speakers don't need cameras? Maybe that's just me?

There's a new version of the company's RoWrite, which is basically a standard pad of paper with sensors embedded that let you digitize your writing and drawing. The idea is to give the feel of paper with the benefits of digital. The new RoWrite is significantly smaller and lighter, with better battery.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Pollen Robotics is selling a $17,000 robot torso for researchers and startups

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 02:18 PM PST

CES has never been a great show for serious robotics. It's not a phenomenon I expect to change at any point in the near future, though things do seem to get slightly better each year. Pollen Robotics is an interesting addition to the mix that largely revolves around things like companion and smart home robotics.

Pollen Robotics certainly stands out from that crowd, offering a robotic torso named Reachy. The two arms, chest and a head are an open-source platform designed for prototyping and research purposes. The system just went up for sale this week as either a standalone arm ($9,000) or full half-body ($17,000), but the three-year-old French startup says it already has clients.

"We are working with a lab in France that works on prosthetics," a staff member told me at CES. "We're also working with an engineering school to teach mechanics, robotics and AI. There are big innovation labs that want to explore robotics for service and start prototyping service robotics."

It's a broad range of potential applications, starting with the simple tic-tac-toe game Reachy was playing at the show. That was designed for a company with presentation needs. In this case, the robot fills a similar need as Pepper, essentially using the technology to draw people in to something like a convention booth. It certainly worked in this case.

Research robots, meanwhile, are a needed, but difficult to monetize, category. Prominent companies like Willow Garage and Rethink Robotics have classroom mainstays, but have ultimately faded away. Reachy doesn't look to have quite the sophistication as those systems, but the (relatively) low price point could certainly hold some appeal.

The project's open-source nature, too, could ultimately be a benefit for researchers and startups alike.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Toyota is building a tiny utopian prototype city filled with people, robots and AI

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 02:14 PM PST

Toyota researches and tests robotics, material science, automated driving and alternative fuel technology in labs all around the world. Now the automaker is trying a new and far more ambitious project: build a prototype city on a 175-acre site at the foot of Mount Fugi in Japan, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota’s projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots.

This won’t be another test site, Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda said Monday during a press conference ahead of CES 2020. Construction on the first phase of the city — which will be designed by acclaimed Danish architect Bjarke Ingels — will begin in 2021.  His firm, Ingels Group (BIG) has designed high-profile projects such as 2 World Trade Center in New York, the Lego House in Denmark and Google’s Mountain View and London headquarters.

This is a passion project of Toyoda’s, several executives said after the press conference. And it was evident on stage.

“It’s my personal fields of dreams,” Toyoda said. “If they build it, they will come.”

“Imagine a fully controlled site that will allow researchers, engineers and scientists the opportunity to freely test technology such as autonomy, mobility-as-a-service, robotics, smart home-connected technology, AI and more, in a real-world environment,” Toyoda said.

This so-called Woven City will be a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells, according to Toyota.

The homes will be equipped with human support technologies, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily living. Sensor-based AI will be sprinkled throughout to be able to check on occupants’ health and take care of basic needs.

Forget driving around a Toyota Camry or even Prius on the main streets there. Only fully-autonomous, zero-emission vehicles will be allowed on the main thoroughfares, according to the company. Autonomous Toyota e-Palettes will be used for transportation and deliveries as well as for changeable mobile retail.

To break away from D2C crowd, SmileDirectClub announces retail partnership with Walmart

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 02:02 PM PST

Today, SmileDirectClub announced a partnership with Walmart to sell a new line of oral care products, including toothbrushes, teeth whitening treatments, a water flosser and more. For one of the top teledentistry companies, this represents a move to make its business more compelling to customers and investors alike.

Following news of the deal this morning, SmileDirectClub shares spiked, with the stock currently trading up about 21% at $10.19. That’s significant for a company that had one of the worst first-day performances of any initial public offering over $1 billion in the U.S. since 2007. Still, SmileDirectClub’s stock is nowhere near its IPO price of $23.

SmileDirectClub’s entrance into the more traditional dental care space is clearly a move to try to differentiate itself from the likes of smaller startups like Uniform Teeth and Candid, while also creeping into oral healthcare startup Quip’s territory. As the dental care space gets more crowded, it’s no wonder why SmileDirectClub is looking to expand into already-proven business models.

SmileDirectClub’s main competitor in the more traditional dental care space — other than legacy brands like Crest and Colgate — is Quip . The New York-based startup has raised more than $60 million in funding and has sold its oral care products at Target since October 2018.

Mophie’s newest battery pack ships with jumper cables to start your car

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 12:10 PM PST

As of this week's CES, Mophie can add cars to the growing list of things powered with its battery line. It was a matter of time, I suppose. Certainly the company's not the first to offer this level of charge in a portable power bank, but the new Powerstation Go brings an extra level of juice to its offerings.

The new brick is also unique in the Mophie line in its inclusion of mini jumper cables, which harness the weighty 44,400mWh of charge to jump start a car or SUV. Sounds like a pretty handy thing to toss in the back of a car, in case of emergency. And, honestly, the $160 price tag isn't crazy, given Mophie's usual premium over lesser-known battery companies.

But its position as a consumer electronics brand means the product is also focused on smartphones and the like. There's a Qi charging pad up top for convenience. Obviously that's not going to charge up your devices as quickly as wired methods, so there are two USB-A ports and an AC outlet so you can plug directly in.

Strangely, there are no USB-C ports on board. That certainly seems like an odd omission in 2020 — especially on a device that very much has a kitchen-sink approach to charging everything from phones to SUVs.

The bank is available online this week.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

TCL teases a 5G device, headset and its first foldable at CES

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 12:00 PM PST

TCL is hardly a household name in the smartphone space. That's hardly surprising, however, as the Chinese electronics company is better known for sub-brands like Alcatel and BlackBerry (hardware, not software — long story). Late last year, the company began really pushing its branded devices in Europe, a strategy it's set to expand upon with some more cutting-edge devices.

The company's been teasing the launch of both 5G and foldable handsets since last year, and is finally offering a little more info — on the former, at least. The TCL 10 5G will be its first 5G handset, following the release of an Alcatel-branded router last year. The device is set for a Q2 launch in the U.S. and Canada.

It's one of three TCL 10 devices set for launch, with pricing on the line starting at less than $500. It's clear that budget will continue to be a primary selling point for the line, though one assumes the 5G model will carry a not-insignificant premium on top of that. The device will be powered by Qualcomm's 5G SoC line. The chipmaker introduced the 765 late last year, with the intent of offering a more affordable entry-point for the next-gen wireless technology.

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And then there's the matter of the foldable. At press time, we don't have much information about the device, first alluded to at last year's Mobile World Congress. What we do have, however, are a lot more renders. The fact that it's still listed as "Foldable Smartphone Concept" doesn't give one a lot of confidence that it's ready for prime time.

The images do, however, point to a form factor similar to Samsung's Galaxy Fold, along with what appears to be a quartet of rear-facing cameras. More information, one assumes, at Mobile World Congress late next month. So, something to look forward to in Barcelona, I guess.

And who can forgot Project Archery? Just kidding. Forgetting it would require that you've heard about it in the first place. I'm going to go out on a limb and say probably you have not. The device was announced — or, rather, alluded to — at last year's IFA. It's a wearable display with a "cinematic viewing experience." We've seen those come and go over the years. TCL's shown off the 2.0 version of the product, but offered up no additional information.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

As NIO and Tesla rally, Chinese EV company Lixiang said to file for US IPO

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 11:53 AM PST

The recovery in value of several high-profile electric car companies could help move yet-private EV manufacturers out of the pit lane and onto the IPO track.

On the heels of NIO’s shocking value appreciation after its recent earnings report, and Tesla’s own public market run, China-based Lixiang Automotive is reported to have filed privately for an IPO in the United States.

Lixiang Automotive is a Beijing-based company that was founded in 2015, according to Crunchbase data. The company has raised north of $1 billion while private, and is said to be valued at just under $3 billion. It most recently raised a $530 million round led by Xing Wang, of Meituan-Dianping fame.

It would not be the first Chinese EV company to go public in the United States, as NIO managed the feat in 2018. But the reported filing shows newfound confidence concerning investor sentiment by the alternative car market’s players and bankers.

To understand the news, we’ll first look at recent happenings from Lixiang’s public peers, and then examine the company itself.

A month ago, the Lixiang Automotive confidential IPO filing would have appeared quixotic. After all, its closest market comparable was flirting with penny-stock status.

NIO was in the tank more than a year after an IPO that proved far from smooth. After going public at $6.26 per share, its equity had traded down to nearly the $1 mark, setting a 52-week low at the terrifying figure of $1.19 per share. However, since then, shares of the unprofitable, cash-strapped EV manufacturer have recovered, trading for $3.84 per share today. Still down from its IPO price, yes, but up more than 200% from its recent all-time lows (a more than tripling in value).

That likely cleared a path for Lixiang Automotive to file, albeit privately. Reuters broke the news of its IPO prospects.

Tesla’s ascent also helped. After some oddly normal (for Tesla) drama cooled, the company’s shares have come back a long way. From 52-week lows of $176.99, Elon’s car company is now worth $445.25. Shares of Tesla are up 150% from their lows, a more than doubling in market cap. Investors appeared to find its earnings and delivery totals (and progress on its Chinese factory) heartening.

For Lixiang Automotive, the moves showed that U.S. equity markets were warming waters worth testing. Given that it is certainly unprofitable, the opening of a new funding avenue was welcome.

Notably, similar to NIO when it went public, the company is set to debut while its history of actually delivering cars is nascent. NIO went public having delivered cars in the mere hundreds. The firm did note at the time that it had commits north of 10,000 for its cars. During the early days of its IPO I wrote that the company’s limited history of revenue generation made its shares a gamble.

Lixiang is set to go public at a similar level of immaturity. According to Equal Ocean, Lixiang now delivers cars, though it began to ship them just last month:

Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer Lixiang Automotive, formerly known as CHJ, has announced that its EV project ‘Lixiang ONE 2020’ is officially mass-produced at the Changzhou factory and will start mass delivery in early December.

Pre-sales for the car took place in Q4 2019, as well, meaning that the company’s pre-Q4 2019 revenue should wind up looking very light.

If Lixiang does successfully go public it will show that corporate maturity is not a requirement for an IPO. When we do get to see Lixiang’s F-1 filing, we won’t see the history of a company with an obvious path to profits amid quick growth — we’ll see a deeply unprofitable company in the early motion of generating material revenue.

A little bit ago I would have given such an offering slim chance of success. But with NIO on the bounce and Tesla back on form, who knows?

Watch AMD’s CES press conference live right here

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 11:40 AM PST

AMD is holding its CES press conference today at 2 PM Pacific, 5 PM Eastern. Expect some news when it comes to consumer CPUs (Ryzen), enterprise CPUs (Epyc) as well as ray tracing-enabled GPUs. It should give us some hints about what to expect from the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, as both of those consoles will be powered by AMD chips.

We'll have a team on the ground, so you should also check out our full CES coverage.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

The ThinkPad X1 Fold is Lenovo’s first foldable screen PC

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 11:30 AM PST

I know, I know. Laptops fold. Convertibles fold. I get it, you're being pedantic. So let's just move past all of that and talk about this funky new thing from Lenovo. The company just announced the ThinkPad X1 Fold — the delivery of the device it teased back in May of last year.

The product is probably best described as the lovechild of a foldable phone and a laptop. You've got to hand it to Lenovo — while it's true not every device is a runaway success, the company is more than happy to experiment with interesting concepts in between more straight-laced office-minded offerings.

More than anything, the X1 Fold is the latest in a long line of convertible form factors attempting to bring the best of tablets and laptops to a single form factor. Maybe there's a seed of an idea here. We'll see the thing in person, soon, but if early foldable phones are any indication, it could be a bit rough going at first. That said, Lenovo's new Motorola Razr might be the closest of all to sticking the landing.

The laptop has a 13.3-inch display when unfolded, making it fairly compact. There's also a magnetic Bluetooth keyboard that can sit on the bottom half of the screen for a full laptop effect, or be detached to be used with the fully unfolded screen (the $24 stand is not included). When the system's not in use, it sits in the middle, charging wirelessly. I'm not sure how practical any of this is until I get a chance to try it out, but honestly, it's pretty cool.

The screen is pOLED, manufactured by LG. Lenovo says the durability tests have been "extensive," though if past is prologue, sometimes some real-world testing is required to really put a system through its paces. The folding mechanism is reinforced with a carbon fiber plate.

The Fold is expected to drop at some point in the middle of the year, priced at around $2,499, with Windows 10. There's a Windows 10X version that will be available down the road, as well.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Qualcomm promises better voice calls over Bluetooth with aptX Voice

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 11:30 AM PST

Chances are, your phone and carrier now support HD voice quality for those few times you still make a call. Those calls sound significantly better than regular calls, but if you’re using a Bluetooth headset to make those calls, you don’t get any of the benefits of HD voice because those devices don’t support that codec. Now, with aptX Voice, an evolution of its existing aptX codec, Qualcomm wants to bring high-quality calls to your Bluetooth devices, too.

With aptX Voice, devices will get 32kHz samples audio with a flat 16kHz frequency response quality as part of the Bluetooth Handsfree Profile that accessories use to connect to your phone. That makes for greater call quality, even when somebody is using a speakerphone or talking quietly.

“aptX technology revolutionized the Bluetooth stereo listening experience by bringing unprecedented wireless audio quality, and aptX Voice is set to do the same for voice calls," said James Chapman, the vice president and general manager for Voice, Music and Wearables at Qualcomm . “As consumers increasingly use wireless headsets and earbuds for making and receiving calls, aptX Voice is the answer to ensuring higher clarity and quality of call experience.”

AptX Voice is now available on the Snapdragon 865 and 765 mobile platforms and will become available for accessories based on Qualcomm’s upcoming range of Bluetooth Audio SoC that will launch in 2020. Until then, you’ll just have to speak a little bit louder.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Qualcomm launches a car-to-cloud service for over-the-air updates and telemetrics

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 11:30 AM PST

Qualcomm today announced its Car-to-Cloud service, which does exactly what the name implies: it helps car companies connect their cars to their clouds. It’s the companies first product that integrates its automotive cockpit platform and Snapdragon automotive platforms with 4G and 5G support.

The platform will help automakers keep their cars up to date and allow them to update their infotainment platforms over the air. In addition, they also can use the service to gather vehicle and usage analytics, which Qualcomm argues will allow them to unlock new revenue streams as it allows carmakers to market pay-as-you-go services and unlockable features to their drivers.

As car ownership is changing, so are drivers’ expectations. Having an updatable infotainment system is pretty standard on new cars these days, but those updates usually happen over Wi-Fi (or at the dealership). Qualcomm argues that this service helps to make cars future proof and will lead to faster deployment time frames for updates, as well as more cost-efficient operations. It also notes that this technology will provide for new connected services and better on-demand services for car sharing as Car-as-a-Service companies.

For drivers, it’ll lead to more personalized experiences, which today are normal in the high-end market but are only slowly trickling down to more affordable cars. But Qualcomm is definitely also pushing the fact that this will allow car companies to sell bundled content, apps and services to drivers, creating new revenue streams for them.

“The Qualcomm Car-to-CloudService, when combined with our Snapdragon Automotive 4G and 5G Platforms, and our Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platforms, empowers automakers and tier-1 suppliers to address new expectations of the modern and discerning car owner who is used to flexible and continuously updating technologies, while also unlocking new features capabilities over the course of a vehicle's lifetime," said Nakul Duggal, senior vice president, product management, Qualcomm Technologies.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Antonia Rojas Eing joins ALLVP as the youngest female VC partner in Latin America

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 10:53 AM PST

Antonia Rojas Eing, the youngest female partner of Latin America's major VCs, has joined ALLVP as a partner. 

Twenty-nine-year-old Rojas Eing first entered the investment world in Germany (she is half Chilean, half German), but with a real estate angle. "I learned the discipline and analysis needed to make an investment decision, and how to see the world from an international perspective," she noted. 

Good VCs are often founders-turned-investors. Rojas Eing has worked on the startup side as well, as she pursued an entrepreneurial project with an ed tech startup a few years ago, although that company is no longer in existence. She experienced how hard it was to raise early-stage capital in Chile — a problem she is back now to solve. After some time in the Bay Area pursuing a master’s degree in social entrepreneurship, she returned to Chile to invest in seed-stage startups with a fund called Manutara. Now, after months of mentorship with ALLVP, she will be joining the Mexico-based fund as their third partner. 

Rojas Eing says her first focus will be on enterprise SaaS in Colombia, Mexico and Chile. "Latin America is the biggest untapped VC opportunity in the world, and ALLVP is all about transforming and improving the way Latin Americans lead daily lives." Indeed, Latin American startups can get funding if they're solving serious pain points for the region’s massive, digitally engaged middle class. 

ALLVP is one of the most active new wave funds in Spanish-speaking Latin America right now. The firm, which was founded in 2012, was an early backer of Cornershop, the Chilean grocery delivery startup that raised $31.7 million (mostly from Silicon Valley's Accel) and exited to Uber (after a $225 million deal with Walmart unraveled after being blocked by antitrust regulators in Mexico). ALLVP has also invested in Colombian cloud kitchen MUY and Mexican Opendoor clone Flat. The firm has more than $200 million in assets under management across three portfolios, having closed its third $100 million fund in 2018. 

The relationship between Rojas Eing and ALLVP serendipitously began at the TechCrunch São Paulo Battlefield event in 2018, when Rojas Eing and ALLVP general partner Fernando Lelo de Larrea judged a Startup Battlefield session together. 

Antonia Rojas Eing and Fernando Lelo de Larrea judge Startup Battlefield São Paulo in November 2018.

Toward the end of 2019, SoftBank began rapidly deploying its $5 billion Latin America-focused Innovation Fund, enabling growth-stage financing for companies like Brazil's QuintoAndar, Mexico's Konfio and Argentina's Uala. "SoftBank is a confirmation that Latin America is going through a special moment, and it allows us to think big. SoftBank has already transformed the region and will continue to do so," says Rojas Eing.  

As the youngest female partner in this part of the globe, one can't help asking what it's like to compete in a male-dominated field, let alone in a region that has historically been socially and politically hostile to women.

For example, Magma Partners’ Sophia Wood points out that “married women in Chile could not purchase real estate or open a credit card without their husband's permission until 1977, and divorce was only legalized in 2004. As recently as 2018, Chile's ‘sociedad conyugal’ marriage law still prohibited women from managing joint financial accounts — up to 50% of Chileans are currently married under this law. Similar laws have restricted women's access to credit, capital and even education across Latin America until the recent past.”

Undoubtedly, sexist rhetoric has bled into the tech scene in regards to funding female-led companies. "Only .4 percent of the $400 billion in venture capital funding deployed between 2009 and 2017 went to Latin American women," details the same report

"You cannot be moving with doubt," remarks Rojas Eing. From her vantage point as a 29-year-old female partner, she feels responsibility to surface conversations about gender imbalance and inclusivity in her work. 

"Women entrepreneurs and investors represent the largest untapped pool of talent in the world. Working in a relatively young ecosystem such as Latin America provides us with the unique opportunity of creating a more inclusive entrepreneurial and VC community from the start," says ALLVP partner Federico Antoni.  

In an industry historically dominated by toxic masculinity, sexist frameworks of thinking and extreme gender imbalance, there's an opportunity to grow the inverse of these worldviews. Hopefully, leaders in Latin American tech will instate tactical measures to encourage positive masculinity in its rapidly expanding startup culture, and we will see more women assigned into leadership roles at startups and funds.

Perhaps as Latin America's nascent tech revolution explodes, founders and investors can learn from Silicon Valley's pioneering mistakes in blitzscaling, valuing profitability over growth and startup culture that have kept women underrepresented and unsafe at work for over a decade. 

As far as ALLVP's track record goes, partner Federico Antoni says that female founders made up 33% of their first fund, and that 20% of the companies in their second portfolio were co-founded or founded by a woman. The third fund has yet to invest in a female entrepreneur. 

Expanding the pipeline to reach more female entrepreneurs is a focus for ALLVP, and the fund says that while the ALLVP team meets with only a third of pipeline opportunities, they offer meetings with any female founder. 

More funds are diving into content marketing. Sites and blogs leverage SEO to widen the top of the funnel. Podcasts and newsletters help funds establish themselves as thought leaders and grow interest from the brightest founders. ALLVP is tapping into the content opportunity with a monthly podcast series that educates around the gender imbalance in tech, too. 

Representation matters, and women fund women. ALLVP hopes that bringing Antonia on to the team will help the fund be a better partner to women. "Having her on board is not a box we checked but part of a process that will ultimately lead us to a more balanced team, portfolio, and better returns," Antoni said.

Assigning more women to leadership roles is certainly one step in the right direction. 

FPV Robotics debuts Waver drone to inspect infrastructure on land, on water and in the air

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 10:36 AM PST

Japanese startup FPV Robotics is leveraging drone technology to address a growing global need: inspecting aging infrastructure in an effort to avoid major issues like unexpected bridge collapses. FPV Robotics CEO and founder Masaki Komagata showed me his company’s production Waver drone, which is debuting for the first time ever at CES 2020 in Las Vegas this week.

Waver is an amphibious drone, which can fly thanks to eight rotors, and also speed along the surface of bodies of water using its floats. This dual nature makes it particularly well-suited to solving a very specific task — a problem Komagata set out specifically to solve after observing that Japan Railways (JR) needed this addressed.

This specific problem was rail bridge collapse, including damaged and destroyed bridges along the Tadami River in 2011 due to floods in Niigata and Fukushima. Many of the spans that JR relies upon for its Shinkansen and other local trains in Japan are considerably old, and beginning to show their age. That wear can be further exasperated by environmental disasters — which are occurring with greater frequency as a result of climate change.

FPV Robotics can’t magically repair this aging infrastructure or prevent natural disasters, but it can deliver on-demand, flexible monitoring and inspection at a greatly reduced cost compared to current methods. Komagata partnered with JR and with sensor company OKI on development of the Waver to custom-design it specifically for this use, which is where it got its amphibious abilities and attached multibeam sensor array.

This multibeam technology, provided by OKI, is installed on the bottom of the Waver drone and provides sonar imaging capabilities that allow the drone to accurately map the bottom of a river or seabed from the water’s surface. This information, Komagata tells me, can be used to help predict when infrastructure, including bridges and roads, might need to be replaced or reinforced, prior to any actual collapse or damage.

Waver can autonomously map a predetermined section of riverbed, moving like a Roomba across the water in segment sweeps to build the full picture. It’s also equipped with eight rotors, more than your average VTOL drone, which Komagata tells me is for added redundancy so that it can continue to operate effectively even in the unlikely event that it loses power to multiple rotors at once.

In addition to the sea and river bed inspection, the Waver can do a visual inspection of the bridge itself from up close using a more traditional camera, as well as the supporting land from which it extends. Komagata points out that this kind of multi-part inspection can require specialized boats, many hours of trained personnel time, things like temporary scaffolding for a close-up eyes-on approach and a lot more. He estimates based on studies FPV has done that their drone could reduce inspection costs to as little as 1/20th the cost of existing methods. That means it would be possible to monitor much more frequently than can be done currently, and in circumstances where risk to human inspectors on the ground might be a necessary component of using more traditional means.

Waver estimates that just taking into account bridges alone, there’s a roughly $25 million per year total addressable market, and it’s aiming to acquire around 4% of that (roughly $1 million in revenue) in 2020, and then to grow that by about $2 million per year in the next two fiscal years. It’s currently mostly bootstrapped, with 90% of the startup’s existing ¥30,700,000 ($300,000) in seed funding coming from Komagata himself. With that capital, the company has already gone from working prototype (which you can see in the GIF above) to the much more polished production version debuted at CES.

Komagata, an engineer with a focus in drone development, envisions Waver being able to address challenges with aging infrastructure not just in Japan, but globally, though FPV’s initial focus is on the market opportunity at home. Ultimately, he hopes that Waver and other drone technology FPV Robotics brings to market helps to “make the world a better place,” and addressing challenges like infrastructure inspection is definitely a good place to start.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Echodyne steers its high-tech radar beam on autonomous cars with EchoDrive

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 10:36 AM PST

Echodyne set the radar industry on its ear when it debuted its pocket-sized yet hyper-capable radar unit for drones and aircraft. But these days all the action is in autonomous vehicles — so they reinvented their technology to make a unique sensor that doesn’t just see things but can communicate intelligently with the AI behind the wheel.

EchoDrive, the company’s new product, is aimed squarely at AVs, looking to complement lidar and cameras with automotive radar that’s as smart as you need it to be.

The chief innovation at Echodyne is the use of metamaterials, or highly engineered surfaces, to create a radar unit that can direct its beam quickly and efficiently anywhere in its field of view. That means that it can scan the whole horizon quickly, or repeatedly play the beam over a single object to collect more detail, or anything in between, or all three at once for that matter, with no moving parts and little power.

But the device Echodyne created for release in 2017 was intended for aerospace purposes, where radar is more widely used, and its capabilities were suited for that field: a range of kilometers but a slow refresh rate. That’s great for detecting and reacting to distant aircraft, but not at all what’s needed for autonomous vehicles, which are more concerned with painting a detailed picture of the scene within a hundred meters or so.

“They said they wanted high-resolution, automotive bands [i.e. radiation wavelengths], high refresh rates, wide field of view, and still have that beam-steering capability — can you build a radar like that?,” recalled Echodyne co-founder and CEO Eben Frankenberg. “And while it’s taken a little longer than I thought it would, the answer is yes, we can!”

The EchoDrive system meets all the requirements set out by the company’s automotive partners and testers, with up to 60hz refresh rates, higher resolution than any other automotive radar and all the other goodies.

An example of some raw data — note that Doppler information lets the system tell which objects are moving which direction.

The company is focused specifically on level 4-5 autonomy, meaning their radar isn’t intended for basic features like intelligent cruise control or collision detection. But radar units on cars today are intended for that, and efforts to juice them up into more serious sensors are dubious, Frankenberg said.

“Most ADAS [advanced driver assist system] radars have relatively low resolution in a raw sense, and do a whole lot of processing of the data to make it clearer and make it more accurate as far as the position of an object,” he explained. “The level 4-5 folks say, we don’t want all that processing because we don’t know what they’re doing. They want to know you’re not doing something in the processing that’s throwing away real information.”

More raw data, and less processing — but Echodyne’s tech offers something more. Because the device can change the target of its beam on the fly, it can do so in concert with the needs of the vehicle’s AI.

Say an autonomous vehicle’s brain has integrated the information from its suite of sensors and can’t be sure whether an object it sees a hundred meters out is a moving or stationary bicycle. It can’t tell its regular camera to get a better image, or its lidar to send more lasers. But it can tell Echodyne’s radar to focus its beam on that object for a bit longer or more frequently.

The two-way conversation between sensor and brain, which Echodyne calls cognitive radar or knowledge-aided measurement, isn’t really an option yet — but it will have to be if AVs are going to be as perceptive as we’d like them to be.

Some companies, Frankenberg pointed out, are putting on the sensors themselves the responsibility for deciding which objects or regions need more attention — a camera may very well be able to decide where to look next in some circumstances. But on the scale of a fraction of a second, and involving the other resources available to an AV — only the brain can do that.

EchoDrive is currently being tested by Echodyne’s partner companies, which it would not name but which Frankenberg indicated are running level 4+ AVs on public roads. Given the growing number of companies that fit those once-narrow criteria, it would be irresponsible to speculate on their identities, but it’s hard to imagine an automaker not getting excited by the advantages Echodyne claims.

Despite JEDI loss, AWS retains dominant market position

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 10:31 AM PST

AWS took a hard blow last year when it lost the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract to rival Microsoft. Yet even without that mega deal for building out the nation’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, the company remains fully in control of the cloud infrastructure market — and it intends to fight that decision.

In fact, AWS still owns almost twice as much cloud infrastructure market share as Microsoft, its closest rival. While the two will battle over the next decade for big contracts like JEDI, for now, AWS doesn’t have much to worry about.

There was a lot more to AWS’s year than simply losing JEDI. Per usual, the news came out with a flurry of announcements and enhancements to its vast product set. Among the more interesting moves was a shift to the edge, the fact the company is getting more serious about the chip business and a big dose of machine learning product announcements.

The fact is that AWS has such market momentum now, it’s a legitimate question to ask if anyone, even Microsoft, can catch up. The market is continuing to expand though, and the next battle is for that remaining market share. AWS CEO Andy Jassy spent more time than in the past trashing Microsoft at 2019’s re:Invent customer conference in December, imploring customers to move to the cloud faster and showing that his company is preparing for a battle with its rivals in the years ahead.

Numbers, please

AWS closed 2019 on a $36 billion run rate, growing from $7.43 billion in in its first report in January to $9 billion in earnings for its most recent earnings report in October. Believe it or not, according to CNBC, that number failed to meet analysts expectations of $9.1 billion, but still accounted for 13% of Amazon’s revenue in the quarter.

Regardless, AWS is a juggernaut, which is fairly amazing when you consider that it started as a side project for Amazon .com in 2006. In fact, if AWS were a stand-alone company, it would be a substantial business. While growth slowed a bit last year, that’s inevitable when you get as large as AWS, says John Dinsdale, VP, chief analyst and general manager at Synergy Research, a firm that follows all aspects of the cloud market.

“This is just math and the law of large numbers. On average over the last four quarters, it has incremented its revenues by well over $500 million per quarter. So it has grown its quarterly revenues by well over $2 billion in a twelve-month period,” he said.

Dinsdale added, “To put that into context, this growth in quarterly revenue is bigger than Google's total revenues in cloud infrastructure services. In a very large market that is growing at over 35% per year, AWS market share is holding steady.”

Dinsdale says the cloud infrastructure market didn’t quite break $100 billion last year, but even without full Q4 results, his firm’s models project a total of around $95 billion, up 37% over 2018. AWS has more than a third of that. Microsoft is way back at around 17% with Google in third with around 8 or 9%.

While this is from Q1, it illustrates the relative positions of companies in the cloud market. Chart: Synergy Research

JEDI disappointment

It would be hard to do any year-end review of AWS without discussing JEDI. From the moment the Department of Defense announced its decade-long, $10 billion cloud RFP, it has been one big controversy after another.

Brilliant adds a dimmer switch and smart plug to its smart home ecosystem

Posted: 06 Jan 2020 10:13 AM PST

Until now, Brilliant only offered its relatively high-end smart switches with a touchscreen, but at CES this week, the company is expanding its product lineup with a new dimmer switch and smart plug. Both require that you already own at least one Brilliant Control, so these aren’t standalone devices but instead expansions to the Brilliant Control system.

The main advantage here is that once you have bought into the Brilliant system for your smart home setup, you won’t need to get a new Brilliant Control for every room. Because the Controls start at $299 for a single switch, that would be a very pricey undertaking. At $69.99, the dimmer is competitively priced (and offers a discount for bundles with multiple switches), as is the plug, at $29.99. This will surely make the overall Brilliant system more attractive to a lot of people.I’ve tested the Control in my house for the last few weeks and came away impressed, mostly because it brings a single, flexible physical control system to the disparate smart plugs, locks and other gadgets I’ve accumulated over the last year or so. I couldn’t imagine getting one for every room, though, as that would simply be far too expensive. Brilliant’s system works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and includes third-party integrations with companies like Philips Hue, LIFX, TP-Link Lutron, Wemo, Ecobee, Honeywell, August, Kwikset, Schlage, Ring, Sonos and others. The different Brilliant devices communicate over a Bluetooth Mesh and connect to the internet over Wi-Fi.

“Before Brilliant, an integrated whole-home smart home and lighting system meant either spending tens of thousands of dollars on an inflexible home automation system, or piecing together a jumble of disparate devices and apps," said Aaron Emigh, co-founder and CEO of Brilliant. “With our new smart switch and plug-in combination with the Brilliant Control, we are realizing our mission to make it possible for every homeowner to experience the comfort, energy efficiency, safety and convenience of living in a true smart home.”

One nice feature of the dimmer is that it includes a motion sensor, which will allow for a lot of interesting usage scenarios. You’ll also be able to double-tap the switch to trigger a smart home or lighting scene.

The plug is obviously more straightforward. It’s a Wemo-style plug that you simply plug in. Unlike Brilliant’s devices, which require that you either have to be comfortable with doing some very basic electrical work yourself (and Brilliant offers very straightforward instructions) or have somebody install it for you, this one is indeed plug and play.

Both the plug and dimmer switch are now available for pre-order and will ship in Q1 2020.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch