Journey Clinical raises $3M to allow psychotherapists to prescribe psychedelics

Psychedelics companies are all the rage right now. Compass Pathways is working with the magic mushroom compound psilocybin to treat depression. It’s has raised $290 million in total. Atai Life Sciences — backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel — brought in $258 million from its IPO. In the tech space, this has not gone unnoticed and the same business models that have been used in other platforms for health and wellness startups are coming to psychedelics.

The latest is Journey Clinical, based out of NYC, which has raised a $3 million seed round led by San Francisco VC firm Fifty Years. Also participating were Neo Kuma Ventures, Palo Santo, PsyMed Ventures, Lionheart Ventures, Christina Sass co-founder of Andela, ​​Edvard Engesæth, MD co-founder of Nurx and, Hans Gangeskar co-founder of Nurx.

Journey joins other startups in the space looking at psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, where ketamine is used to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, and trauma, known as ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP). Miami-based startup NUE Life Health raised a $3.3 million seed round for the same purpose back in June. There is also Field Trip and Mindbloom playing in this space.

These startups are pushing at an open door on depression and anxiety. Pre-COVID-19, the National Center for Health Statistics estimated some 50 million Americans were fighting the afflictions. The pandemic has of course exacerbated this issue, with those figures doubling, by some estimates.

It’s still an early market. Journey says the market landscape for legal psychedelic therapies is very disparate, with over a million licensed mental health professionals lacking the infrastructure to offer these treatments as they lack access to prescribing clinicians. On the flip side, patients struggle to find psychotherapists who can prescribe psychedelics as treatment.

Journey says it has a “decentralized clinic model” that allows psychotherapists to offer legal psychedelic therapy treatments in their practice, starting with ketamine. The way it works is that Journey takes care of the pharmacology side, while psychotherapists that sign up to the platform take care of the psychotherapy of the patient. The treatment plans are then customized to meet the patient’s needs.

Jonathan Sabbagh, co-founder and CEO, was previously diagnosed with PTSD, but after discovering psychedelics, he went back to school to study clinical psychology, and went on to co-found Journey. He said: “We are on the verge of a paradigm shift in the field of mental health. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapies are one of the most promising new means of treatment available; they will allow clinicians to tackle the growing global mental health crisis we are facing.”

Speaking to TechCrunch he added: “When we asked what was the main bottleneck for therapists to offer KAP to their patients, the #1 response was access to a prescribing doctor. Our alpha test group confirmed that guaranteeing access to a trained medical team and building a robust care management system would solve an essential bottleneck of mainstream adoption for KAP.”

Journey has two revenue streams. Psychotherapists pay them a $200 monthly membership fee which gives them access to a number of services including and access to the prescriber, an EHR (achieved through a white label), a KAP training (training materials created by a specialized training company), a profile on Journey’s directory, and a community of peers. Patients pay journey for medical services. They pay $250 for the intake consultation and $150 for follow-up consultations.

Ela Madej, Founding Partner at Fifty Years, said: “I dream of a world where those of us affected by trauma, anxiety, or depression don’t have to fall into learned helplessness. We’re lucky that powerful psychedelic treatments for the mind exist, but they need to be delivered responsibly, with proper screening, protocols, and follow-up. We’ve been incredibly impressed by Journey Clinical’s ambitious plan to empower psychotherapists to better treat their existing patients.”

The team also comprises Kyle Lapidus MD, Ph.D., who has over 20 years as a board-certified psychiatrist and has extensive experience working with ketamine; and Brigitte Gordon DNP a professor at Columbia University and also works for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS.)

#alpha, #andela, #atai-life-sciences, #christina-sass, #co-founder, #columbia-university, #compass-pathways, #depression, #drug-discovery, #drugs, #ela-madej, #fifty-years, #medicine, #mental-health, #miami, #multidisciplinary-association-for-psychedelic-studies, #nue-life-health, #nurx, #partner, #paypal, #peter-thiel, #ptsd, #tc

Seqera Labs grabs $5.5M to help sequence Covid-19 variants and other complex data problems

Bringing order and understanding to unstructured information located across disparate silos has been one of more significant breakthroughs of the big data era, and today a European startup that has built a platform to help with this challenge specifically in the area of life sciences — and has, notably, been used by labs to sequence and so far identify two major Covid-19 variants — is announcing some funding to continue building out its tools to a wider set of use cases, and to expand into North America.

Seqera Labs, a Barcelona-based data orchestration and workflow platform tailored to help scientists and engineers order and gain insights from cloud-based genomic data troves, as well as to tackle other life science applications that involve harnessing complex data from multiple locations, has raised $5.5 million in seed funding.

Talis Capital and Speedinvest co-led this round, with participation also from previous backer BoxOne Ventures and a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan’s effort to back open source software projects for science applications.

Seqera — a portmanteau of “sequence” and “era”, the age of sequencing data, basically — had previously raised less than $1 million, and quietly, it is already generating revenues, with five of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies part of its customer base, alongside biotech and other life sciences customers.

Seqera was spun out of the Centre for Genomic Regulation, a biomedical research center based out of Barcelona, where it was built as the commercial application of Nextflow, open-source workflow and data orchestration software originally created by the founders of Seqera, Evan Floden and Paolo Di Tommaso, at the CGR.

Floden, Seqera’s CEO, told TechCrunch that he and Di Tommaso were motivated to create Seqera in 2018 after seeing Nextflow gain a lot of traction in the life science community, and subsequently getting a lot of repeat requests for further customization and features. Both Nextflow and Seqera have seen a lot of usage: the Nextflow runtime has been downloaded over 2 million times, the company said, while Seqera’s commercial cloud offering has now processed more than 5 billion tasks.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a classic example of the acute challenge that Seqera (and by association Nextflow) aims to address in the scientific community. With Covid-19 outbreaks happening globally, each time a test for Covid-19 is processed in a lab, live genetic samples of the virus get collected. Taken together, these millions of tests represent a goldmine of information about the coronavirus and how it is mutating, and when and where it is doing so. For a new virus about which so little is understood and that is still persisting, that’s invaluable data.

So the problem is not if the data exists for better insights (it does); it is that it’s nearly impossible to use more legacy tools to view that data as a holistic body. It’s in too many places, and there is just too much of it, and it’s growing every day (and changing every day), which means that traditional approaches of porting data to a centralized location to run analytics on it just wouldn’t be efficient, and would cost a fortune to execute.

That is where Segera comes in. The company’s technology treats each source of data across different clouds as a salient pipeline which can be merged and analyzed as a single body, without that data ever leaving the boundaries of the infrastructure where it already exists. Customised to focus on genomic troves, scientists can then query that information for more insights. Seqera was central to the discovery of both the alpha and delta variants of the virus, and work is still ongoing as Covid-19 continues to hammer the globe.

Seqera is being used in other kinds of medical applications, such as in the realm of so-called “precision medicine.” This is emerging as a very big opportunity in complex fields like oncology: cancer mutates and behaves differently depending on many factors, including genetic differences of the patients themselves, which means that treatments are less effective if they are “one size fits all.”

Increasingly, we are seeing approaches that leverage machine learning and big data analytics to better understand individual cancers and how they develop for different populations, to subsequently create more personalized treatments, and Seqera comes into play as a way to sequence that kind of data.

This also highlights something else notable about the Seqera platform: it is used directly by the people who are analyzing the data — that is, the researchers and scientists themselves, without data specialists necessarily needing to get involved. This was a practical priority for the company, Floden told me, but nonetheless, it’s an interesting detail of how the platform is inadvertently part of that bigger trend of “no-code/low-code” software, designed to make highly technical processes usable by non-technical people.

It’s both the existing opportunity, and how Seqera might be applied in the future across other kinds of data that lives in the cloud, that makes it an interesting company, and it seems an interesting investment, too.

“Advancements in machine learning, and the proliferation of volumes and types of data, are leading to increasingly more applications of computer science in life sciences and biology,” said Kirill Tasilov, principal at Talis Capital, in a statement. “While this is incredibly exciting from a humanity perspective, it’s also skyrocketing the cost of experiments to sometimes millions of dollars per project as they become computer-heavy and complex to run. Nextflow is already a ubiquitous solution in this space and Seqera is driving those capabilities at an enterprise level – and in doing so, is bringing the entire life sciences industry into the modern age. We’re thrilled to be a part of Seqera’s journey.”

“With the explosion of biological data from cheap, commercial DNA sequencing, there is a pressing need to analyse increasingly growing and complex quantities of data,” added Arnaud Bakker, principal at Speedinvest. “Seqera’s open and cloud-first framework provides an advanced tooling kit allowing organisations to scale complex deployments of data analysis and enable data-driven life sciences solutions.”

Although medicine and life sciences are perhaps Seqera’s most obvious and timely applications today, the framework originally designed for genetics and biology can be applied to are a number of other areas: AI training, image analysis and astronomy are three early use cases, Floden said. Astronomy is perhaps very apt, since it seems that the sky is the limit.

“We think we are in the century of biology,” Floden said. “It’s the center of activity and it’s becoming data-centric, and we are here to build services around that.”

Seqera is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

#alpha, #articles, #barcelona, #big-data, #bioinformatics, #ceo, #chan-zuckerberg-initiative, #computing, #data-analysis, #databases, #dna-sequencing, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #health, #machine-learning, #mark-zuckerberg, #north-america, #pharmaceutical, #priscilla-chan, #science, #talis-capital, #tc

TikTok’s new Creator Marketplace API lets influencer marketing companies tap into first-party data

TikTok is making it easier for brands and agencies to work with the influencers using its service. The company is rolling out a new “TikTok Creator Marketplace API,” which allows marketing companies to integrate more directly with TikTok’s Creator Marketplace, the video app’s in-house influencer marketing platform.

On the Creator Marketplace website, launched in late 2019, marketers have been able to discover top TikTok personalities for their brand campaigns, then create and manage those campaigns and track their performance.

The new API, meanwhile, allows partnered marketing companies to access TikTok’s first-party data about audience demographics, growth trends, best-performing videos, and real-time campaign reporting (e.g. views, likes, shares, comments, engagement, etc.) for the first time.

They can then bring this data back into their own platforms, to augment the insights they’re already providing to their own customer base.

TikTok is not officially announcing the API until later in September, but it is allowing its alpha partners to discuss their early work.

One such partner is Capitv8, which tested the API with a NRF top 50 retailer on one of their first TikTok campaigns. The retailer wanted to discover a diverse and inclusive group of TikTok creators to partner with on a new collaboration and wanted help with launching its own TikTok channel. Captiv8 says the branded content received nearly 10 million views, and the campaign resulted in a “significant increase” in several key metrics, which performed about the Nielsen average. This included familiarity (+4% above average), affinity (+6%), purchase intent (+7%) and recommendation intent (+9%).

Image Credits: TikTok Creator Marketplace website

Capitv8 is now working with TikTok’s API to pull in audience demographics, to centralize influencer offers and activations, and to provide tools to boost branded content and monitor campaign performance. On that last front, the API allows the company to pull in real-time metrics from the TikTok Creator Marketplace API — which means Capitv8 is now one of only a handful of third-party companies with access to TikTok first-party data.

Another early alpha partner is Influential, who shared it’s also leveraging the API to access first-party insights on audience demographics, growth trends, best-performing videos, and more, to help its customer base of Fortune 1000 brands to identify the right creators for both native and paid advertising campaigns.

One partner it worked with was DoorDash, who launched multiple campaigns on TikTok with Influential’s help. It’s also planning to work with McDonald’s USA on several new campaigns that will run this year, including those focused on the chain’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the return of Spicy McNuggets.

Other early alpha partners include Whalar and INCA. The latter is currently only available in the U.K. and its integration stems from the larger TikTok global partnership with WPP, announced in February. That deal provided WPP agencies with early access to new advertising products marketing API integrations, and new AR offerings, among other things.

Creator marketplaces are now common to social media platforms with large influencer communities as this has become a standard way to advertise to online consumers, particular the younger generation. Facebook today offers its Brands Collabs Manager, for both Facebook and Instagram; YouTube has BrandConnect; while Snapchat recently announced a marketplace to connect brands with Lens creators. These type of in-house platforms make it easier for marketers to work with the wider influencer community by offering trusted data on metrics that matter to brands’ own ROI, rather than relying on self-reported data from influencers or on data they have to manually collect themselves. And as campaigns run, marketers can compare how well their partnered creators are able to drive results to inform their future collaborations.

TikTok isn’t making a formal announcement about its new API at this time, telling TechCrunch the technology is still in pilot testing phases for the time being.

“Creators are the lifeblood of our platform, and we’re constantly thinking of new ways to make it easy for them to connect and collaborate with brands. We’re thrilled to be integrating with an elite group of trusted partners to help brands discover and work with diverse creators who can share their message in an authentic way,” said Melissa Yang, TikTok’s Head of Ecosystem Partnerships, in a statement provided to select marketing company partners.

 

#advertising-tech, #alpha, #api, #apps, #articles, #bytedance, #developer, #doordash, #elite, #head, #partner, #software, #tiktok, #united-kingdom, #wpp

Ultrahuman raises $17.5M, touting a wearable blood glucose tracker

Fitness platform Ultrahuman has officially announced a $17.5 million Series B fund raise, with investment coming from early stage fund Alpha Wave Incubation, Steadview Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, Blume Ventures and Utsav Somani’s iSeed fund.

A number of founders and angel investors also participated in the Bangalore-headquartered startup’s Series B, including Tiger Global’s Scott Schleifer, Deepinder Goyal (CEO of Zomato), Kunal Shah (CEO of Cred), and Gaurav Munjal and Romain Saini (the CEO and co-founders of unacademy), among others. The latest tranche of funding brings its total raised to date to $25M.

While the subscription platform has been around since 2019, offering a fairly familiar blend of home workout videos, mindfulness content, sleep sessions and heart rate tracking (integrating with third party wearables like the Apple Watch), its latest fitness tool looks rather more novel — as it’s designed for monitoring metabolic activity by tracking the user’s glucose levels (aka, blood sugar).

Keeping tabs on blood sugar is essential for people living with diabetes. But in the US alone millions of people are prediabetic — meaning they have a higher than normal level of blood glucose and are at risk of developing diabetes, though they may not know it yet.

More broadly, Ultrahuman claims over a billion people in the world suffer from a metabolic health disorder — underlining the scale of the potential addressable market it’s eyeing. 

Having sustained high blood glucose is associated with multiple health issues so managing the condition with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise is advisable. Lifestyle changes can reduce elevated blood glucose and shrink or even avoid negative health impacts — such as by averting the risk of a prediabetic person going on to develop full blown diabetes.

But knowing what type of diet and exercise regime will work best for a particular person can be tricky — and involve a lot of frustrating trial and error — since people’s glucose responses to different food items can differ wildly.

These responses depend on a person’s metabolic health — which in turn depends on individual factors like microbiome diversity, stress levels, time of day, food ingredient and quality. (See also: Personalized nutrition startups like Zoe — which is similarly paying mind to blood glucose levels but as one component of a wider play to try to use big data and AI to decode the microbiome.) 

With metabolic health being so specific to each of us there’s a strong case for continuous glucose monitoring having widespread utility — certainly if the process and price-point can be made widely accessible.

Here, Ultrahuman is having a go at productizing the practice for a fitness enthusiast market — launching its first device in beta back in June — although the price-point it’s targeting is starting out fairly premium. 

The product (a wearable and a subscription service) — which it’s branded ‘Cyborg’ — consists of a skin patch that extracts glucose from the interstitial fluid under the skin, per founder and CEO, Mohit Kumar, with the data fed into a companion app for analysis and visualization.

Image credits: Ultrahuman

The patch tracks the wearer’s blood glucose levels as they go about their day — eating, exercising, sleeping etc — with the biomarker used to trigger the app to nudge the user to “optimize your lifestyle”, as Ultrahuman’s website puts it — such as by alerting the user to a high blood glucose event and suggesting they take exercise to bring their level down.

If the product lives up to its promise of continuous glucose monitoring made easy, lovers of junk food could be in for a rude awakening as they’re served fast feedback on how their body copes (or, well, doesn’t) with their favorite snacks…

“We use medical grade sensors that have been used in the sports technology domain for the last 6-7 yrs with decent accuracy levels,” says Kumar when we ask about the specifics of the wearable technology it’s using. (The sensing hardware is being ‘worn’ here in the sense that it’s directly attached to (i.e. stuck into/on) bare skin.)

While Ultrahuman’s platform has plenty more vanilla fitness content, the company is now billing itself as a “metabolic fitness platform” — putting the nascent product front and center, even though the glucose tracking subscription service remains in closed beta for now.

The startup is operating a waitlist for sign-ups as it continues to hone the technology.   

Ultrahuman touts “thousands” of people signed up and waiting to get their hands on the glucose tracker service — and says it’s seeing 60% week over week growth in sign ups, with wider availability of the product slated for “early 2022”.

Some of the Series B cash will be used to make improvements to the quality of the glucose biomarkers ahead of a full product launch.

On the enhancements side, Kumar tells TechCrunch the team is exploring “other form factors and other types of sensors that could help us capture glucose in a more accurate way and for a longer duration than 14 days”, as they work to hone the wearable. (The current version of the skin-worn sensor only lasts two weeks before it must be replaced with another patch.)

“We want to add more biomarkers like HRV [heart-rate variability], sleep zones and respiratory rate to help people understand the impact of metabolic health on their recovery/sleep and vice-versa,” he adds.

Ultrahuman says it decided to focus on tracking glucose as its “main biomarker” as it can be used as a proxy for quantifying a number of fitness and wellness issues — making it a (potentially) very useful measure of individual health signals.

Or provided the startup’s technology is able to detect changes to glucose levels with enough sensitivity to be able to make meaningful recommendations per user.

“Glucose is interesting because it is a real-time biomarker that’s affected by exercise, sleep, stress and food,” says Kumar, adding: “We are able to help people make lifestyle changes across many vectors like nutrition, sleep, stress and exercise vs being unidimensional. It is also highly personalized as it guides you as per your body’s own response.”

He gives some examples of how the product could help users by identifying beneficial tweaks they could make to their diet and exercise regimes — such as figuring out which foods in their current diet yield “a healthy metabolic response” vs those that “need more optimization” (aka, avoiding the dreaded sugar crash). Or by helping users identify “a great meal window” for their lifestyle — based in their body’s glucose consumption rate.

Other helpful nudges he suggests the service can provide to sensor-wearing users — with an eye on athletes and fitness fanatics — is how best to fuel up before exercise to perform optimally.

Optimizing the last meal of the day to improve sleep efficiency is another suggestion.

If Ultrahuman’s Cyborg can do all that with a (bearably) wearable skin patch and a bit of clever algorithmic analysis it could take the quantified self trend to the next level.

A simple stick-on sensor-plus-app that passively amplifies internal biological signals and translates individual biomarkers into highly actionable real-time personalized health insights could be the start of something huge in preventative healthcare.

Again, though, Ultrahuman’s early pricing suggests there will be some fairly hard limits on who is able to tap in here.

Early adopters in the closed beta are shelling out $80 per month for the subscription service, per Kumar. And — at least for now — the startup is eyeing adding more bells and whistles, rather than fewer. “[Product pricing] will mostly be in the same range but may introduce more services/premium features on top of this,” he confirms.

The (typically higher) cost of eating healthily and having enough leisure time to be able to look after your body by taking exercise are other hard socioeconomic limits that won’t be fixed by a wearable, no matter how smart.

 

#alpha, #bangalore, #blume-ventures, #cred, #deepinder-goyal, #diabetes, #fundings-exits, #gaurav-munjal, #glucose, #health, #junk-food, #kunal-shah, #nexus-venture-partners, #nutrition, #scott-schleifer, #steadview-capital, #tc, #tiger-global, #ultrahuman, #wearable-technology, #wearables, #zomato

CRANQ launches to save developers time when adding text code

When adding text code from a 3rd party source into a platform, the process is an unavoidable and time-consuming chore. Developers currently spend a large part of their day reviewing things like “NPM” packages, and such. There are developer libraries and text code platforms like JetBrains and Visual Studio, but these don’t entirely solve the problem. A UK startup thinks it might have the answer.

CRANQ is a Low-Code IDE (integrated dev environment, like Visual Studio) which provides component authoring, with, it says, a lot of re-usability. Its focus on standardized datatypes and ports means that intent can be easily checked, says the company. It’s now raised a Pre-Seed £1m funding from Venrex and Profounders.

Developers build their code in the IDE visually, using a drag-and-drop interface. So far it’s been used to built a version of the Educai.io back-end, and Alpha trials will begin this summer.

The cofounders are Toby Rowland and Dan Stocker. Rowland, CEO, is a serial entrepreneur, best-known for co-founding King.com in 2003. His most recent digital startup – Mangahigh.com – was acquired by Westermann Publishing in 2018, and subsequently, Rowland launched RyzeHydrogen.comfor the hydrogen-for-transport market. Stocker, CTO, is an experienced developer, software architect, and inventor. Among other projects, Dan conceived and created Giant, a React competitor, in 2012.

CRANQ’s initial focus on testing will also bring it into competition with Postman.com. The Workflow space (Zapier, N8N etc.) also overlaps with CRANQ.

But CRANQ is addressing a sizeable market. The microservices market is estimated to be worth $32bn in 2023, growing at 16% you, according to some estimates.

#alpha, #ceo, #companies, #computing, #cto, #europe, #jetbrains, #serial-entrepreneur, #software, #tc, #toby-rowland, #united-kingdom, #visual-studio, #zapier

Singularity 6 raises $30M to fund upcoming fantasy ‘community simulation’ MMO

LA-based game studio Singularity 6 has banked more funding as it scales itself up and readies for the launch of its debut title.

The startup tells TechCrunch, they’ve raised $30 million in a Series B bout of funding led by FunPlus Ventures with additional participation from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), LVP, Transcend, Anthos Capital and Mitch Lasky. The studio has now disclosed some $49 million in funding, a sizable sum, but one that showcases how much investors are looking to rally around gaming platform plays in the wake of Roblox’s monster IPO.

In 2019, Singularity 6 raised a $16.5 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz. At the time, the studio was mum on details about its upcoming debut title, but we’ve learned more about it since.

The title, Palia, is a community simulation game that seems to be more focused on Animal Crossing-like community mechanics in an MMO environment, rather than endless battles. Last month, the studio showcased a launch trailer of the title which hinted at a good deal of the gameplay. Palia looks to be a medieval Zelda-like environment where users can move between towns in an open world environment while farming and collecting resources to build structures in a shared world.

The company has said in marketing materials that the title is “designed to create community, friendships and a real sense of belonging.” In a statement, a16z partner Jonathan Lai called the upcoming title, “warm and dynamic.”

There are still quite a bit of unanswered questions about the title, which is currently taking sign-ups on its website to be alerted to pre-alpha access. We do know that plenty of VCs are betting millions on the prospect that this multi-player title could be big.

#alpha, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #anthos-capital, #gaming, #mitch-lasky, #recent-funding, #roblox, #simulation, #startups

Delta variant’s wild spread raises fears, fresh scrutiny of CDC mask guidance

Crowds move past indoor food vendors.

Enlarge / Masked and unmasked people make their way through Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, California, on June 29, 2021, as the World Health Organization (WHO) urges fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks with the rapid spread of the delta variant. (credit: Getty | FREDERIC J. BROWN)

The highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading like wildfire throughout the US, raising further concern for areas with low vaccination rates and renewing scrutiny of federal mask guidance.

The delta variant, first identified in India, now makes up more than 20 percent of cases in the US, with some estimates rising to at least 37 percent in recent days. The variant is rapidly overtaking the previously predominant variant in the US, Alpha, which was first identified in the UK and dominated the US in a matter of months this past spring. Scientists estimate that the alpha variant is around 50 percent more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus that exploded out of Wuhan, China.

Delta, on the other hand, is estimated to be 50 percent to 60 percent more contagious than Alpha. That is, it may be more than twice as contagious as the original virus.

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#alpha, #cdc, #coroanvirus, #covid-19, #delta, #distancing, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #masks, #outbreak, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #transmission, #vaccines, #variants

Once-dreaded Alpha variant is falling fast—Delta and Gamma take over

People line up outside Bridge Park Community Leisure Center to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in Brent, northwest London, June 19, 2021. A new wave of coronavirus infections is "definitely under way" in England due to the Delta variant first identified in India, a British government advisory scientist said Saturday.

Enlarge / People line up outside Bridge Park Community Leisure Center to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in Brent, northwest London, June 19, 2021. A new wave of coronavirus infections is “definitely under way” in England due to the Delta variant first identified in India, a British government advisory scientist said Saturday. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency)

Two dreaded coronavirus variants are swiftly overthrowing the previously most-dreaded variant in the US. Their ascendance is making experts worry that the country could see continued outbreaks and resurgences of COVID-19 unless the current sluggish pace of vaccination quickens.

Alpha—the variant formerly known as B.1.1.7 and first identified in the UK—swept the country at the start of the year. It’s estimated to be around 50 percent more transmissible than the version of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that mushroomed out of Wuhan, China, in 2020. Alpha’s rise in the UK last fall was linked to a surge in cases as the virus variant quickly accounted for more than 90 percent of cases there. Likewise, in the US, Alpha became the predominant strain in a matter of months this year and accounted for around 70 percent of the circulating strains by the end of April.

But according to fresh data, two other variants now threaten Alpha’s reign in the US: Delta (aka B.1.617.2, first detected in India) and Gamma (aka P.1, first detected in Brazil and Japan). Delta is considered the most concerning variant seen yet. Though vaccines are still effective against Delta, the variant is estimated to be 50 percent to 60 percent more contagious than Alpha, and evidence suggests that it may cause more severe disease. When Delta first appeared in the UK at the start of April, it rapidly overcame Alpha and now accounts for around 90 percent of cases. Gamma, on the other hand, is not such a rapid spreader, but it does slightly knock back the effectiveness of vaccines.

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#alpha, #b-1-1-7, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #gamma, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #variants

Google updates its cross-platform Flutter UI toolkit

Flutter, Google’s cross-platform UI toolkit for building mobile and desktop apps, is getting a small but important update at the company’s I/O conference today. Google also announced that Flutter now powers 200,000 apps in the Play Store alone, including popular apps from companies like WeChat, ByteDance, BMW, Grab and DiDi. Indeed, Google notes that 1 in 8 new apps in the Play Store are now Flutter apps.

The launch of Flutter 2.2 follows Google’s rollout of Flutter 2, which first added support for desktop and web apps in March, so it’s no surprise that this is a relatively minor release. In many ways, the update builds on top of the features the company introduced in version 2 and reliability and performance improvements.

Version 2.2 makes null safety the default for new projects, for example, to add protections against null reference exceptions. As for performance, web apps can now use background caching using service workers, for example, while Android apps can use deferred components and iOS apps get support for precompiled shaders to make first runs smoother.

Google also worked on streamlining the overall process of bringing Flutter apps to desktop platforms (Windows, macOS and Linux).

But as Google notes, a lot of the work right now is happening in the ecosystem. Google itself is introducing a new payment plugin for Flutter built in partnership with the Google Pay team and Google’s ads SDK for Flutter is getting support for adaptive banner formats. Meanwhile, Samsung is now porting Flutter to Tizen and Sony is leading an effort to bring it to embedded Linux. Adobe recently announced its XD to Flutter plugin for its design tool and Microsoft today launched the alpha of Flutter support for Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps for Windows 10 in alpha.

#adobe, #alpha, #android, #bytedance, #caching, #chrome-os, #computing, #flutter, #google, #google-i-o-2021, #google-pay, #linux, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #play-store, #samsung, #sony, #tc, #universal-windows-platform, #web-apps, #wechat, #windows-10

Crusoe Energy is tackling energy use for cryptocurrencies and data centers and greenhouse gas emissions

The two founders of Crusoe Energy think they may have a solution to two of the largest problems facing the planet today — the increasing energy footprint of the tech industry and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the natural gas industry.

Crusoe, which uses excess natural gas from energy operations to power data centers and cryptocurrency mining operations, has just raised $128 million in new financing from some of the top names in the venture capital industry to build out its operations — and the timing couldn’t be better.

Methane emissions are emerging as a new area of focus for researchers and policymakers focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global warming within the 1.5 degree targets set under the Paris Agreement. And those emissions are just what Crusoe Energy is capturing to power its data centers and bitcoin mining operations.

The reason why addressing methane emissions is so critical in the short term is because these greenhouse gases trap more heat than their carbon dioxide counterparts and also dissipate more quickly. So dramatic reductions in methane emissions can do more in the short term to alleviate the global warming pressures that human industry is putting on the environment.

And the biggest source of methane emissions is the oil and gas industry. In the U.S. alone roughly 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas is flared daily, said Chase Lochmiller, a co-founder of Crusoe Energy. About two thirds of that is flared in Texas with another 500 million cubic feet flared in North Dakota, where Crusoe has focused its operations to date.

For Lochmiller, a former quant trader at some of the top American financial services institutions, and Cully Cavmess, a third generation oil and gas scion, the ability to capture natural gas and harness it for computing operations is a natural combination of the two men’s interests in financial engineering and environmental preservation.

NEW TOWN, ND – AUGUST 13: View of three oil wells and flaring of natural gas on The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation near New Town, ND on August 13, 2014. About 100 million dollars worth of natural gas burns off per month because a pipeline system isn’t in place yet to capture and safely transport it . The Three Affiliated Tribes on Fort Berthold represent Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations. It’s also at the epicenter of the fracking and oil boom that has brought oil royalties to a large number of native americans living there. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The two Denver natives met in prep-school and remained friends. When Lochmiller left for MIT and Cavness headed off to Middlebury they didn’t know that they’d eventually be launching a business together. But through Lochmiller’s exposure to large scale computing and the financial services industry, and Cavness assumption of the family business they came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to address the massive waste associated with natural gas.

Conversation around Crusoe Energy began in 2018 when Lochmiller and Cavness went climbing in the Rockies to talk about Lochmiller’s trip to Mt. Everest.

When the two men started building their business, the initial focus was on finding an environmentally friendly way to deal with the energy footprint of bitcoin mining operations. It was this pitch that brought the company to the attention of investors at Polychain, the investment firm started by Olaf Carlson-Wee (and Lochmiller’s former employer), and investors like Bain Capital Ventures and new investor Valor Equity Partners.

(This was also the pitch that Lochmiller made to me to cover the company’s seed round. At the time I was skeptical of the company’s premise and was worried that the business would just be another way to prolong the use of hydrocarbons while propping up a cryptocurrency that had limited actual utility beyond a speculative hedge against governmental collapse. I was wrong on at least one of those assessments.)

“Regarding questions about sustainability, Crusoe has a clear standard of only pursuing projects that are net reducers of emissions. Generally the wells that Crusoe works with are already flaring and would continue to do so in the absence of Crusoe’s solution. The company has turned down numerous projects where they would be a buyer of low cost gas from a traditional pipeline because they explicitly do not want to be net adders of demand and emissions,” wrote a spokesman for Valor Equity in an email. “In addition, mining is increasingly moving to renewables and Crusoe’s approach to stranded energy can enable better economics for stranded or marginalized renewables, ultimately bringing more renewables into the mix. Mining can provide an interruptible base load demand that can be cut back when grid demand increases, so overall the effect to incentivize the addition of more renewable energy sources to the grid.”

Other investors have since piled on including: Lowercarbon Capital, DRW Ventures, Founders Fund, Coinbase Ventures, KCK Group, Upper90, Winklevoss Capital, Zigg Capital and Tesla co-founder JB Straubel.

The company now operate 40 modular data centers powered by otherwise wasted and flared natural gas throughout North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Next year that number should expand to 100 units as Crusoe enters new markets such as Texas and New Mexico. Since launching in 2018, Crusoe has emerged as a scalable solution to reduce flaring through energy intensive computing such as bitcoin mining, graphical rendering, artificial intelligence model training and even protein folding simulations for COVID-19 therapeutic research.

Crusoe boasts 99.9% combustion efficiency for its methane, and is also bringing additional benefits in the form of new networking buildout at its data center and mining sites. Eventually, this networking capacity could lead to increased connectivity for rural communities surrounding the Crusoe sites.

Currently, 80% of the company’s operations are being used for bitcoin mining, but there’s increasing demand for use in data center operations and some universities, including Lochmiller’s alma mater of MIT are looking at the company’s offerings for their own computing needs.

“That’s very much in an incubated phase right now,” said Lochmiller. “A private alpha where we have a few test customers… we’ll make that available for public use later this year.”

Crusoe Energy Systems should have the lowest data center operating costs in the world, according to Lochmiller and while the company will spend money to support the infrastructure buildout necessary to get the data to customers, those costs are negligible when compared to energy consumption, Lochmiller said.

The same holds true for bitcoin mining, where the company can offer an alternative to coal powered mining operations in China and the construction of new renewable capacity that wouldn’t be used to service the grid. As cryptocurrencies look for a way to blunt criticism about the energy usage involved in their creation and distribution, Crusoe becomes an elegant solution.

Institutional and regulatory tailwinds are also propelling the company forward. Recently New Mexico passed new laws limiting flaring and venting to no more than 2 percent of an operator’s production by April of next year and North Dakota is pushing for incentives to support on-site flare capture systems while Wyoming signed a law creating incentives for flare gas reduction applied to bitcoin mining. The world’s largest financial services firms are also taking a stand against flare gas with BlackRock calling for an end to routine flaring by 2025.

“Where we view our power consumption, we draw a very clear line in our project evaluation stage where we’re reducing emissions for an oil and gas projects,” Lochmiller said. 

#air-pollution, #alpha, #artificial-intelligence, #bain-capital-ventures, #bitcoin, #bitcoin-mining, #blackrock, #china, #co-founder, #coinbase-ventures, #colorado, #computing, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #denver, #energy, #energy-consumption, #energy-efficiency, #everest, #founders-fund, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #jb-straubel, #lowercarbon-capital, #methane, #mining, #mit, #montana, #natural-gas, #new-mexico, #north-dakota, #tc, #tesla, #texas, #trader, #united-states, #upper90, #valor-equity-partners, #winklevoss-capital, #world-bank, #wyoming

E-commerce infrastructure startup Nacelle closes $18M Series A

Consumer online shopping habits have led to a windfall of revenues for these web storefronts, but COVID-era trends have also breathed new life into the market for developer tools that help e-commerce sites operate more smoothly for shoppers.

LA-based Nacelle is one of many e-commerce infrastructure startups to earn attention from investors amid COVID.

The web services company helps streamline the backends of e-commerce websites with a so-called “headless” platform that shifts how the front end of websites interact with content in the back end. The startup claims its tech can boost performance, promote better scalability, cut down on hosting costs and offer developers a more streamlined experience.

Nacelle has closed an $18 million Series A led by Inovia with participation from Accomplice, Index Ventures, High Alpha, Silas Capital and Lerer Hippeau. The company just closed a $4.8 million seed round in mid-2020, the speedy pace of their Series A’s close seems to speak to the investor enthusiasm that has deepened around companies operating in the e-commerce world.

“It’s not secret that commerce has done well during COVID,” CEO Brian Anderson tells TechCrunch. “Not only did we get this subtle structural change with COVID that I believe is long-lasting, but merchants have been focusing more on performance.”

One of the startup’s central points of focus has been ensuring that they can bring customers onboard its platform without causing undue headaches. It can be “very painful to migrate data” with other services, Anderson says. The company’s service is “anti-rip-and-replace,” meaning potential customers can integrate “without having to be rebuild their stores.”

The firm’s customer base is largely made up of small- to medium-sized e-commerce sites. Nacelle works closely with agencies for customer referrals, also tapping on Anderson’s past contacts from his days running a Shopify Plus agency.

This past August, data from IBM’s U.S. Retail Index suggested that pandemic trends had accelerated the consumer shift from primarily visiting to physical stores to shopping on e-commerce storefronts by roughly five years.

#alpha, #ceo, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #lerer-hippeau, #marketing, #nacelle, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopify, #shopify-plus, #web-services

Atlanta’-based Speedscale now has $2.2 million more to grow its API test automation business

It only took a few weeks after its Y Combinator demo day debut for the Atlanta-based API test automation company Speedscale to raise its first $2.2 million.

Founded by longtime developers and Georgia Institute of Technology alumni, Ken Ahrens, Matthew LeRay and Nate Lee had known each other for roughly twenty years before making the jump to working together.

A circuitous path of interconnecting programming jobs in the devops and monitoring space led the three men to realize that there was an opportunity to address one of the main struggles new programmers now face — making sure that updates to api integrations in a containerized programming world don’t wind up breaking apps or services.

“We were helping to solve incident outages and incidents that would cause downtime,” said Lee. “It’s hard to ensure the quality between all of these connection points [between applications]. And these connection points are growing as people add apis and containers. We said, ‘How about we solve this space? How could we preempt all of this and ensure maintaining release velocity with scalable automation?’”

Typically companies release new updates to code in a phased approach or in a test environment to ensure that they’re not going to break anything. Speedscale proposes test automation using real traffic so that developers can accelerate the release time.

“They want to change very frequently,” said Ahrens, speaking about the development life cycle. “Most of the changes are great, but every once in a while they make a change and break part of the system. The state of the art is to wait for it to be broken and get someone to fix it quickly.”

The pitch SpeedScale makes to developers is that its service can give coders the ability to see the problems before the release. They automate the creation of the staging environment, automation suite and orchestration to create that environment.

“One of the big things for me was when I saw the rise of Kubernetes was what’s really happening is that engineering leaders have been able to give more autonomy to developers, but no one has come up with a great way to validate and I really think that Speedscale can solve that problem.”

The Atlanta-based company, which only just graduated from Y Combinator a few months ago, is currently in a closed alpha with select pilot partners, according to LeRay. And the nine month-old company has raised $2.2 million from investors including Sierra Ventures from the Bay Area and Atlanta’s own Tech Square Ventures to grow the business.

“Apis are a huge market,” Ahrens said of the potential opportunity for the company. “there’s 11 million developers who develop against apis… We think the addressable market for us is in the billions.”

#agile-software-development, #alpha, #api, #atlanta, #computing, #devops, #downtime, #georgia-institute-of-technology, #information-management, #information-technology, #sierra-ventures, #tc, #tech-square-ventures, #y-combinator

Google Cloud launches its Business Application Platform based on Apigee and AppSheet

Unlike some of its competitors, Google Cloud has recently started emphasizing how its large lineup of different services can be combined to solve common business problems. Instead of trying to sell individual services, Google is focusing on solutions and the latest effort here is what it calls its Business Application Platform, which combines the API management capabilities of Apigee with the no-code application development platform of AppSheet, which Google acquired earlier this year.

As part of this process, Google is also launching a number of new features for both services today. The company is launching the beta of a new API Gateway, built on top of the open-source Envoy project, for example. This is a fully-managed service that is meant o makes it easier for developers to secure and manage their API across Google’s cloud computing services and serverless offerings like Cloud Functions and Cloud Run. The new gateway, which has been in alpha for a while now, offers all the standard features you’d expect, including authentication, key validation and rate limiting.

As for its low-code service AppSheet, the Google Cloud team is now making it easier to bring in data from third-party applications thanks to the general availability to Apigee as a data source for the service. AppSheet already supported standard sources like MySQL, Salesforce and G Suite, but this new feature adds a lot of flexibility to the service.

With more data comes more complexity, so AppSheet is also launching new tools for automating processes inside the service today, thanks to the early access launch of AppSheet Automation. Like the rest of AppSheet, the promise here is that developers won’t have to write any code. Instead, AppSheet Automation provides a visual interface, that according to Google, “provides contextual suggestions based on natural language inputs.” 

“We are confident the new category of business application platforms will help empower both technical and line of business developers with the core ability to create and extend applications, build and automate workflows, and connect and modernize applications,” Google notes in today’s announcement. And indeed, this looks like a smart way to combine the no-code environment of AppSheet with the power of Apigee .

#alpha, #api, #api-management, #apigee, #appsheet, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #computing, #developer, #enterprise, #envoy, #google, #google-cloud, #google-cloud-platform, #mysql, #salesforce, #serverless-computing, #tc

Chinese commercial launch startup iSpace raises $172 million

The private launch industry isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and a new $172 million Series B round of funding for China commercial launch startup iSpace indicates it could be heating up internationally. The new funding was led by Beijing Financial Street Capital Operation Center, CICC Alpha, Taizhonghe Capital and includes participation from existing shareholders.

The funding will primarily go towards development of iSpace’s planned ‘Hyperbola’ space launch vehicle. The first of these sent satellites into space last July, making iSpace the first private Chinese launch company to mark that achievement. A larger rocket, called Hyperbola-2, is currently in development, and iSpace intends for the first-stage booster of that vehicle to be fully reusable, with vertical landing capabilities similar to those of SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

iSpace is developing reusable rocket engine technology to match, which is another use of the new injection of funding – as well as technical talent hiring to support all of the above. The goal is to perform a first test flight just to the Kalman line that defines the edge of space sometime early next year, using the first-stage booster of the Hyperbola-2 and including a powered landing. After that, it hopes to fly its first fully orbital mission before the end of next year.

Founded in 2016, iSpace previously raised $104.5 million, bringing its total funding to date to $276.5 million.

#aerospace, #alpha, #china, #falcon, #falcon-9, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #outer-space, #recent-funding, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startups, #tc

Humanity Inc. raises funding to allow us to monitor and affect our rate of aging

Most of us are now familiar with apps that track what’s known as our ‘digital biomarkers’. These include the steps, we’ve taken, our heart rate, and our weight. In recent years startups have appeared which can, in a relatively turnkey manner, track our ‘biomedical markers’, such as cholesterol levels, for instance. Few, however, are seeking to combine the two to get a 360-degree view of how our bodies are doing.

Into this gap steps Humanity Inc., which will seek to do exactly that. Founded by two seasoned entrepreneurs, Humanity will combine digital and biomedical biomarkers into a consumer app that will fully launch next year.

Today it announces it’s initial seed fundraise of $2.5m, in a round led by Boston fund One Way Ventures and the legendary and long-time HealthTech Angel investor Esther Dyson, among others.

Serial entrepreneurs Peter Ward (who co-founded early social network WAYN) and Michael Geer (formerly of Badoo) are aiming to “help humanity live healthier, longer lives” with a health and longevity company that will leverage AI to maximize people’s healthspan.

Their aim is to give users the ability to monitor their ‘actual rate of aging’ and show them which actions are working or not working, and how they can even potentially reverse the aging process.

They are attracting some leading names from the world of genetics and the science of aging, including George Church and Aubrey de Grey, to their ‘Science Advisory Board’.

De Grey is best known for co-founding the Methuselah Foundation, which runs the Methuselah Mouse Prize in search of anti-aging technologies.

In a statement, de Grey commented: “The scientists of the world are focusing more and more on aging science, which is thankfully accelerating breakthroughs exponentially. However, we still need better vehicles to deliver these discoveries directly to the people. That is what Humanity is poised to do and why I am so excited to support them on this mission.”

Semyon Dukach, the managing partner of Humanity’s lead investor One Way Ventures, said: “We’re proud to be leading this round and backing this extraordinary team, along with a number of other great investors including leading funds and angels in the consumer tech and health space. We believe in the Humanity mission and clearly the timing could not be better for people to get access to such a product.”

Ward added: “Many people feel helpless when it comes to avoiding disease and slowing down the aging process. In the COVID-19 world, where we all now clearly understand that risk increases significantly with age and poor health, people’s number one question is, rightly, ‘what actions can I take each day to stay healthy and for much longer?”

Geer said: “People have never had an accurate clear feedback loop to help them know whether what they’re doing to be healthier was really working or not. We want to finally give them that superpower.”

Humanity is currently testing its Alpha product on ‘a few hundred users’ and claims to have ‘thousands’ waiting to gain early access. The app will launch in the UK and the US in early 2021, followed by a global rollout in 2022.

#alpha, #apps, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #business, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #esther-dyson, #europe, #george-church, #healthtech, #managing-partner, #one-way-ventures, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wayn

Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator was worth the wait

It’s been 14 years since the launch of Flight Simulator X, which long seemed like it would be the final release in the long-running series. When the company announced it would re-launch the franchise just over a year ago, using a new graphics engine and satellite data from Bing Maps, it sure created a lot of hype among both old fans and those who had never played the older version but were drawn to the next-gen graphics the company showed off in its trailer. The good news is, the new Microsoft Flight Simulator was worth the wait and, starting August 18, you’ll be able to see for yourself.

Pricing starts at $59.99 for the standard version of Flight Simulator on both the Microsoft Store and Steam. If you want access to more planes and hand-crafted airports, you will need to buy either the $89.99 deluxe version or, for even more of those, the $119.99 premium version. You can find the details of which airports and planes are included in each version here.

Rest assured, though, especially if this is your first outing in Flight Simulator, with the base version you can still land at the same 36,000 airports as the others, and there are more than enough planes to keep you occupied — you’ll just miss out on a few extras (and if you really want to, you can buy upgrades to the more premium versions later).

The cheapest way to give the game a spin is to subscribe to the Xbox Game Pass for a month, because the standard edition is now part of Microsoft’s subscription program, and if you’re a new subscriber, the first month only costs $1.

I already dove pretty deeply into the beta a few weeks ago, but Microsoft provided me with an early review copy of the final release of the premium version, so it’s worth taking a second look at what you’ll get.

The first thing everybody I showed the new sim to told me was how beautiful it looks. That’s true for the scenery, which includes a mix of cities reconstructed in every detail thanks to the photogrammetry data in Bing Maps and those Microsoft partner Blackshark.ai reconstructed from the 2D maps (for more on how that works, here is our interview with Blackshark). What makes this work is not just the realistic cities and towns, but also that they feel pretty alive, with traffic zipping down highways and local streets and street lights and even the windows of houses lighting up at night.

And then there’s the weather model. Flight Simulator features the prettiest clouds you’ve ever seen in a game. Rain clouds in the distance look just like in real life. Wind acts realistically on your plane. If you fly in winter, snow covers the ground — and you can play around with all of those settings in real time without having to reload the game with every change.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

But since Microsoft and Asobo Studios decided to almost build a digital twin of our planet in Flight Simulator — and because the only way to do that is to use machine learning instead of placing every object by hand — you’ll still find plenty of oddness in the world, too. I had hoped that the team would fix more of these between the beta and final release, but I haven’t seen a lot of changes here. That means you’ll find bridges that look more like dams, roads that go under water and a few misplaced buildings and trees — there are so many trees where they don’t belong.

The way I look at this is that Flight Simulator is still a work in progress, and that hasn’t changed in the final release. I’m okay with that because even when there are mistakes, the cities and towns still usually look better than in any paid add-on for other flight simulators. Because a lot of this data is streamed from the Azure cloud and the team will continue to tweak its algorithms, I also expect that we’ll see fewer and fewer of these issues over time. Early on, I got hung up on this, but after a while, I realized that it doesn’t take away from enjoying the game — but it’s something to be aware of.

One area where I really hoped Microsoft would have improved the game, though, is air traffic control. This was always an area where Microsoft (and to be fair, all of its competitors) struggled. This was a problem during the alpha and beta, and it still is, which is really a shame, but what we have now just doesn’t feel very realistic.

Air traffic controllers don’t use standard phraseology (no real-life controller will ever tell you that he will contact you next when you leave his airspace, for example), don’t hand you off from tower to departure and constantly tell everybody to go around. I’m pretty sure I’ve done more go-arounds in three days with the final version of Flight Simulator than during the entire training for my pilot’s license. That feels like something that could be easily improved in the next update because, maybe even more so than the occasional graphics hiccup, it breaks the immersion for those looking for a simulator experience.

I also just wish that the controllers would call airlines by their real names. Microsoft has partnered with FlightAware to show real-life flights in the game, which depart and land on time, but somehow there are no liveries for them (except for the occasional stray United plane, which hints that we’ll see more of these over time) and only a limited set of models. Again, that’s something we’ll probably see more of in future updates.

Speaking of those flight models, Microsoft tweaked some of them a bit since the beta and, while I’ve never been in the cockpit of a 787, the single-engine Cessnas that I’ve flown still behave like I would expect them to in the sim (though I find the rudder is still pretty twitchy and needs some tweaking). I can’t vouch for the other aircraft in the game, but I expect real live pilots will find they are similarly realistic.

I still found some bugs with the flight instruments here and there and the GPS systems sometimes won’t let me activate a course, for example. I also wish the simulation of the G1000 and G3X glass cockpits would go just a little bit further. I can’t help but wonder if Microsoft and Asobo specifically held back here a bit to leave more room for add-on developers.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Performance hasn’t really changed since the beta, but I’m typically getting around 40 frames per second with the 2070 Super and i7-9700K, even when barely skimming over the roofs of cities like Barcelona or Berlin.

The only time I’ve seen real dips down into the 20s is when flying low over some of the hand-crafted airports like Frankfurt, and even then, after turning around and flying over the airport again, those numbers shot back up to the 40s.

You’ll notice that I used the words “simulator” and “game” interchangeably in this post. That’s because I think, in many ways, Flight Simulator is what you want it to be. There are plenty of game elements here, with flight training, landing challenges and bush-flying exercises. And in this age of COVID-19, there’s also something about it that just feels very relaxing when you’re flying around the planet low and slow, looking at the gorgeous scenery and forgetting about everything else for a while. I do worry, though, that most casual players will get bored after a short time.

For simmers, the new Flight Simulator is a godsend and provides a great basis for their hobby for years to come, especially given that Microsoft will continue to update it and because a lot of companies will develop all kinds of add-ons for it — and thanks to the inherent flaws in the game, there’s still room for somebody to not just build additional aircraft but also handcrafted versions of smaller airports, for example.

As I said in my preview, Flight Simulator is a technical marvel. Is it perfect? No. But I can forgive those imperfections because it does so much right.

#alpha, #artificial-intelligence, #cloud, #gaming, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #microsoft-flight-simulator, #microsoft-store, #simulation, #tc, #video-games, #video-gaming

Future Fields is tackling cultured meat’s biggest problem

One possible solution to cellular agriculture’s biggest problem — how to develop a cheap, humane, growth material for cultured meat — may have come from a conversation in line at a Tim Hortons in Alberta.

The husband and wife duo of Matt and Jalene Anderson-Baron were waiting for Timbits and coffee and talking about the technology behind their startup, Future Fields, when Jalene suggested a possible new growth medium.

Matt Anderson-Baron had hit a wall in his research, and the pair, which represented two-thirds of the founding triumvirate of Future Fields, were out for a snack. Along with co-founder Lejjy Gafour, the three friends had set out to launch a startup from Canada that could do something about the world’s reliance on animals for protein.

They recognized that the attendant problems associated with animal farming were unsustainable at a scale needed to meet global demand for meat. So the three turned their attention to cell-based alternatives to the meat market.

“It was all just our interesting crazy side project that we never thought would turn into a business,” said Jalene Anderson-Baron. “That has evolved into a successful business idea over the last year.”

Future Fields co-founders. Image credit: Future Fields

Initially, the trio had hoped to launch their own cultured meat brand to sell lab grown chicken to the world, but after four months spent experimenting in the lab, Matt Anderson-Baron and the rest of the team, decided to pivot and begin work on a new growth serum. All thanks to Tim Hortons.

“Our MVP was a chicken nugget. It worked out to be about $3,000 per pound… Which is obviously not a lucrative business model. Given that the aims was to produce something price comparable to meat,” said Anderon-Brown. “We shifted to focus on a new medium that would be economically viable. Originally we intended it for something that just we used. We didn’t realize at first the novelty of our product and how beneficial it would be to the industry. About eight months ago we decided to pivot and make that growth medium our product.”

Now, as it gets ready to leave the Y Combinator accelerator program, the company has some paid contracts in place and will be rolling out the first couple of pilot product lines of its cell growth material for shipment within the next month.

The potential demand for the company’s product is huge. Alpha Meats, Shiok Meat, Finless Foods, Memphis Meats, Meatable, Mosa Meat, Aleph Farms, Future Meat Technologies, Lab Farm Foods, and Eaat, are all companies developing lab grown alternatives to meat and fish. All told, these companies have raised well over $200 million. Some of the biggest names in traditional meat production like Tyson Foods are investing in meat alternatives.

Image Credit: Getty Images/VectorMine

“It’s about getting the price at scale. The companies that are using smaller volumes are bringing it down 10 to 100 times cheaper. We can do that. But our superpower is producing the growth medium at scale and doing it 1,000 times cheaper,” said Matt Anderson-Brown. “We’re talking about $2 to $3 per liter at scale.”

Future Fields’ founders didn’t say much about the technology that they’re using, except to say that they’re genetically modifying a specific organism by inserting the genetic code for specific protein production into their unidentified cell line to produce different growth factors.

The University of Alberta isn’t unique in its development of a Health Accelerator Program, but its equity-free approach allows startups and would-be bio-engineering entrepreneurs an opportunity to develop their businesses without fear of dilution.

Future Fields has already raised a small, pre-seed round of $480,000 from a group of undisclosed angel investors and the Grow Agrifood Tech Accelerator out of Singapore.

And company has the capacity to produce a few hundred liters of its growth factor, according to Gafour, and is working on plans to scale up production to hit tens of thousands of liters per month over the next year.

For Gafour and his compatriots, the cellular agriculture industry has already reached an inflection point, and the next steps are less about scientific discovery and radical innovation and more about iteration and commercialization.

“With the inclusion of a growth media solution, the core pieces are in place, and now it’s a matter of understanding the efficiencies in being able to scale it up,” said Gafour.

Still, there are other components that need to be developed for the industry to truly bring down costs to a point where it can compete with traditional meat. Companies still need to develop a scaffolding to support the growth of protein cells into the muscle and fatty tissues that give meat its flavor. Bioreactor design needs to improve as well, according to Matt Anderson-Baron. “It’s the wild west. There’s so many things still to be done.”

And there are many companies working on these technologies as well. Glycosan, Lyopor and Prellis are all working on building tissue scaffolding that can be used for animal organ development.

“The vision oif our company was to accelerate this industry and move the industry along,” said Jalene Anderson-Baron. “At first we didn’t realize the potential of our technology. We thought that everyone would overcome that roadblock around the same time. As we were speaking with other companies and speaking with investors who had been in touch with other companies, we realized this was the key piece to move the industry forward.”

#alpha, #cellular-agriculture, #cultured-meat, #food-and-drink, #future-meat-technologies, #just, #memphis, #memphis-meats, #singapore, #tc, #tim-hortons, #tyson-foods, #university-of-alberta

Google Cloud’s new BigQuery Omni will let developers query data in GCP, AWS and Azure

At its virtual Cloud Next ’20 event, Google today announced a number of updates to its cloud portfolio, but the public alpha launch of BigQuery Omni is probably the highlight of this year’s event. Powered by Google Cloud’s Anthos hybrid-cloud platform, BigQuery Omni allows developers to use the BigQuery engine to analyze data that sits in multiple clouds, including those of Google Cloud competitors like AWS and Microsoft Azure — though for now, the service only supports AWS, with Azure support coming later.

Using a unified interface, developers can analyze this data locally without having to move data sets between platforms.

“Our customers store petabytes of information in BigQuery, with the knowledge that it is safe and that it’s protected,” said Debanjan Saha, the GM and VP of Engineering for Data Analytics at Google Cloud, in a press conference ahead of today’s announcement. “A lot of our customers do many different types of analytics in BigQuery. For example, they use the built-in machine learning capabilities to run real-time analytics and predictive analytics. […] A lot of our customers who are very excited about using BigQuery in GCP are also asking, ‘how can they extend the use of BigQuery to other clouds?’ ”

Image Credits: Google

Google has long said that it believes that multi-cloud is the future — something that most of its competitors would probably agree with, though they all would obviously like you to use their tools, even if the data sits in other clouds or is generated off-platform. It’s the tools and services that help businesses to make use of all of this data, after all, where the different vendors can differentiate themselves from each other. Maybe it’s no surprise then, given Google Cloud’s expertise in data analytics, that BigQuery is now joining the multi-cloud fray.

“With BigQuery Omni customers get what they wanted,” Saha said. “They wanted to analyze their data no matter where the data sits and they get it today with BigQuery Omni.”

Image Credits: Google

He noted that Google Cloud believes that this will help enterprises break down their data silos and gain new insights into their data, all while allowing developers and analysts to use a standard SQL interface.

Today’s announcement is also a good example of how Google’s bet on Anthos is paying off by making it easier for the company to not just allow its customers to manage their multi-cloud deployments but also to extend the reach of its own products across clouds. This also explains why BigQuery Omni isn’t available for Azure yet, given that Anthos for Azure is still in preview, while AWS support became generally available in April.

#alpha, #amazon-web-services, #analytics, #bigquery, #cloud, #cloud-analytics, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #developer, #enterprise, #google, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #microsoft-azure, #omni, #sql, #web-services

Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020 will launch on August 18

After a series of closed alpha tests, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios and Asobo Studios today announced that the next-gen Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will launch on August 18. Pre-orders are now live and FS 2020 will come in three editions, standard ($59.99), deluxe ($89.99) and premium deluxe ($119.99), with the more expensive versions featuring more planes and handcrafted international airports.

The last part may come as a bit of a surprise, given that Microsoft and Asobo are using assets from Bing Maps and some AI magic on Azure to essentially recreate the Earth — and all of its airports — in Flight Simulator 2020. Still, the team must have spent some extra time on making some of these larger airports especially realistic and today, if you were to buy even one of these larger airports as an add-on for Flight Simulator X or X-Plane, you’d easily be spending $30 or more.

The default edition features 20 planes and 30 hand-modeled airports, while the deluxe edition bumps that up to 25 and 35 and the high-end version comes with 30 planes and 40 airports.

Among those airports not modeled in all their glorious detail in the default edition (they are still available there, by the way — just without some of the extra detail) are the likes of Amsterdam Schiphol, Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Frankfurt, Heathrow and San Francisco.

The same holds true for planes, with the 787 only available in the deluxe package, for example. Still, based on what Asobo has shown in its regular updates so far, even the 20 planes in the standard edition have been modeled in far more detail than in previous versions and maybe even beyond what some add-ons provide today.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Since a lot of what Microsoft and Adobo are doing here involves using cloud technology to, for example, stream some of the more detailed scenery to your computer on demand, chances are we’ll see regular content updates for these various editions as well, though the details here aren’t yet clear.

“Your fleet of planes and detailed airports from whatever edition you choose are all available on launch day as well as access to the ongoing content updates that will continually evolve and expand the flight simulation platform,” is what Microsoft has to say about this for the time being.

Chances are we will get more details in the coming weeks, as Flight Simulator 2020 is about to enter its closed beta phase.

Image Credits: Microsoft

#alpha, #artificial-intelligence, #cloud-technology, #computing, #denver, #frankfurt, #heathrow, #microsoft, #microsoft-flight-simulator, #pc-games, #san-francisco, #simulation, #tc, #video-games, #x-plane, #xbox-one

Beyond Burger arrives in Alibaba’s grocery stores in China

Beyond Meat is starting to hit supermarket shelves in China after it first entered the country in April by supplying Starbucks’ plant-based menu. Within weeks, it had also forayed into select KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut outlets — all under the Yum China empire.

China, the world’s biggest market for meat consumption, has seen a growing demand for plant-based protein. Euromonitor predicted that the country’s “free from meat” market, including plant-based meat substitutes, would be worth almost $12 billion by 2023, up from just under $10 billion in 2018.

The Nasdaq-listed food giant is now bringing its signature Beyond Burgers into Freshippo (“Hema” in Chinese), Alibaba’s supermarket chain with a 30-minute delivery service that recorded a spike in orders during the pandemic as people avoided in-person shopping.

The tie-up will potentially promote the animal-free burgers to customers of Freshippo’s more than 200 stores across China’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. They will first be available in 50 stores in Shanghai and arrive in more locations in September.

“We know that retail will be a critical part of our success in China, and we’re pleased to mark this early milestone within a few months of our market entry,” Ethan Brown, founder and chief executive officer of Beyond Meat, said in a statement.

Plant-based meat has a long history in China, serving the country’s Buddhist communities before the diet emerged as a broader urban lifestyle in more recent times. Amid health concerns, the Chinese government told citizens to cut back on meat consumption in 2016. The middle-class urban dwellers have also been embracing fake meat products as they respond to climate change.

“Regardless of international or local brands, Chinese consumers are now only seeing the first generation of plant-based offerings. Purchases today are mostly limited to forward-thinking experimenters,” Matilda Ho, founder and managing director of Bits x Bites, a venture capital firm targeting the Chinese food-tech industry, told TechCrunch. “The good news is China’s per capita consumption of plant-based protein is amongst the highest in the world.”

“For these offerings to scale to mass consumers or attract repeat purchases from early adopters, there is tremendous opportunity to improve on the mouthfeel, flavor, and how these products fit into the Chinese palate. To appeal to health-conscious flexitarians or vegetarians, there is also plenty of room to improve the nutritional profile in comparison to the conventional tofu or Buddhist mimic meat,” Ho added.

The fake meat market is already rife with competition. Domestic incumbent Qishan Foods has been around since 1993. Hong Kong’s OmniPork and Alpha Foods were quick to capture the new appetite across the border. Nascent startup Zhenmeat is actively seeking funding and touting its understanding of the “Chinese taste.”

Meanwhile, Beyond Meat’s rival back home Impossible Foods may be having a harder time cracking the market, as its genetically-modified soy ingredient could cause concerns among health-conscious Chinese.

#alibaba, #alpha, #asia, #beyond-meat, #china, #food, #food-and-drink, #health, #impossible-foods, #meat, #meat-substitutes, #shanghai, #yum-brands

UK eyeing switch to Apple-Google API for coronavirus contacts tracing — report

The UK may be rethinking its decision to shun Apple and Google’s API for its national coronavirus contacts tracing app, according to the Financial Times, which reported yesterday that the government is paying an IT supplier to investigate whether it can integrate the tech giants’ approach after all.

As we’ve reported before coronavirus contacts tracing apps are a new technology which aims to repurpose smartphones’ Bluetooth signals and device proximity to try to estimate individuals’ infection risk.

The UK’s forthcoming app, called NHS COVID-19, has faced controversy because it’s being designed to use a centralized app architecture. This means developers are having to come up with workarounds for platform limitations on background access to Bluetooth as the Apple-Google cross-platform API only works with decentralized systems.

The choice of a centralized app architecture has also raised concerns about the impact of such an unprecedented state data grab on citizens’ privacy and human rights, and the risk of state ‘mission creep‘.

The UK also looks increasingly isolated in its choice in Europe after the German government opted to switch to a decentralized model, joining several other European countries that have said they will opt for a p2p approach, including Estonia, Ireland and Switzerland.

In the region, France remains the other major backer of a centralized system for its forthcoming coronavirus contacts tracing app, StopCovid.

Apple and Google, meanwhile, are collaborating on a so-called “exposure notification” API for national coronavirus contacts tracing apps. The API is slated to launch this month and is designed to remove restrictions that could interfere with how contact events are logged. However it’s only available for apps that don’t hold users’ personal data on central servers and prohibits location tracking, with the pair emphasizing that their system is designed to put privacy at the core.

Yesterday the FT reported that NHSX, the digital transformation branch of UK’s National Health Service, has awarded a £3.8M contract to the London office of Zuhlke Engineering, a Switzerland-based IT development firm which was involved in developing the initial version of the NHS COVID-19 app.

The contract includes a requirement to “investigate the complexity, performance and feasibility of implementing native Apple and Google contact tracing APIs within the existing proximity mobile application and platform”, per the newspaper’s report.

The work is also described as a “two week timeboxed technical spike”, which the FT suggests means it’s still at a preliminary phase — thought it also notes the contract includes a deadline of mid-May.

The contracted work was due to begin yesterday, per the report.

We’ve reached out to Zuhlke for comment. Its website describes the company as “a strong solutions partner” that’s focused on projects related to digital product delivery; cloud migration; scaling digital platforms; and the Internet of Things.

We also put questions arising from the FT report to NHSX.

At the time of writing the unit had not responded but yesterday a spokesperson told the newspaper: “We’ve been working with Apple and Google throughout the app’s development and it’s quite right and normal to continue to refine the app.”

The specific technical issue that appears to be causing concern relates to a workaround the developers have devised to try to circumvent platform limitations on Bluetooth that’s intended to wake up phones when the app itself is not being actively used in order that the proximity handshakes can still be carried out (and contacts events properly logged).

Thing is, if any of the devices fail to wake up and emit their identifiers so other nearby devices can log their presence there will be gaps in the data. Which, in plainer language, means the app might miss some close encounters between users — and therefore fail to notify some people of potential infection risk.

Recent reports have suggested the NHSX workaround has a particular problem with iPhones not being able to wake up other iPhones. And while Google’s Android OS is the more dominant platform in the UK (running on circa ~60% of smartphones, per Kantar) there will still be plenty of instances of two or more iPhone users passing near each other. So if their apps fail to wake up they won’t exchange data and those encounters won’t be logged.

On this, the FT quotes one person familiar with the NHS testing process who told it the app was able to work in the background in most cases, except when two iPhones were locked and left unused for around 30 minutes, and without any Android devices coming within 60m of the devices. The source also told it that bringing an Android device running the app close to the iPhone would “wake up” its Bluetooth connection.

Clearly, the government having to tell everyone in the UK to use an Android smartphone not an iPhone wouldn’t be a particularly palatable political message.

One source with information about the NHSX testing process told us the unit has this week been asking IT suppliers for facilities or input on testing environments with “50-100 Bluetooth devices of mixed origin”, to help with challenges in testing the Bluetooth exchanges — which raises questions about how extensively this core functionality has been tested up to now. (Again, we’ve put questions to the NHSX about testing and will update this report with any response.)

Work on planning and developing the NHS COVID-19 app began March 7, according to evidence given to a UK parliamentary committee by the NHSX CEO’s, Matthew Gould, last month.

Gould has also previously suggested that the app could be “technically” ready to launch in as little as two or three weeks time from now. While a limited geographical trial of the app kicked off this week in the Isle of Wight. Prior to that, an alpha version of the app was tested at an RAF base involving staff carrying out simulations of people going shopping, per a BBC report last month.

Gould faced questions over the choice of centralized vs decentralized app architecture from the human rights committee earlier this week. He suggested then that the government is not “locked” to the choice — telling the committee: “We are constantly reassessing which approach is the right one — and if it becomes clear that the balance of advantage lies in a different approach then we will take that different approach. We’re not irredeemably wedded to one approach; if we need to shift then we will… It’s a very pragmatic decision about what approach is likely to get the results that we need to get.”

However it’s unclear how quickly such a major change to app architecture could be implemented, given centralized vs decentralized systems work in very different ways.

Additionally, such a big shift — more than two months into the NHSX’s project — seems, at such a late stage, as if it would be more closely characterized as a rebuild, rather than a little finessing (as suggested by the NHSX spokesperson’s remark to the FT vis-a-vis ‘refining’ the app).

In related news today, Reuters reports that Colombia has pulled its own coronavirus contacts tracing app after experiencing glitches and inaccuracies. The app had used alternative technology to power contacts logging via Bluetooth and wi-fi. A government official told the news agency it aims to rebuild the system and may now use the Apple-Google API.

Australia has also reported Bluetooth related problems with its national coronavirus app. And has also been reported to be moving towards adopting the Apple-Google API.

While, Singapore, the first country to launch a Bluetooth app for coronavirus contacts tracing, was also the first to run into technical hitches related to platform limits on background access — likely contributing to low download rates for the app (reportedly below 20%).

#alpha, #android, #api, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #australia, #bbc, #bluetooth, #ceo, #colombia, #computing, #estonia, #europe, #google, #health, #instagram, #ios-11, #iphone, #ireland, #mobile, #mobile-app, #national-health-service, #nhs, #nhsx, #operating-systems, #privacy, #singapore, #smartphone, #smartphones, #spokesperson, #switzerland, #the-financial-times, #united-kingdom, #wi-fi

Firefly Aerospace signs customer Spaceflight for Alpha rocket launch in 2021

Firefly Aerospace has signed an agreement with Spaceflight Inc. that provides Spaceflight with the majority of the payload capacity aboard a Firefly launch vehicle scheduled to take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California sometime in 2021. Spaceflight is a rideshare service provider for space-bound payloads, working with other companies to pool resources and combine spacecraft aboard one vehicle to defray the per-customer cost of a launch while maximizing use of the rocket’s payload capacity.

Firefly’s Alpha rocket, its first launch vehicle, will have a full payload capacity of 630 kilograms (around 1,400 lbs) to sun synchronous orbit, and Spaceflight will manage singing and integrating payloads from a number of customers to fill that capacity. This agreement also includes a provision that extends longer-term to future missions, with Spaceflight on board to help secure customers to join future Firefly Alpha launches as well.

Already, Spaceflight has emerged as a leading company in the rocket rideshare market, providing launch payload management services for 271 satellites across 29 different launches. Firefly is currently still in the testing phase for Alpha, but has made significant progress and continues its work despite the coronavirus pandemic, despite some setbacks including a fire on the test pad in January.

Firefly Aerospace still plans to fly Alpha for the first time later this year, with final acceptance testing of the vehicle’s first and second stages currently underway at the company’s Briggs, Texas facility. Should that initial test flight prove successful, the company should be in a good position to begin flying commercially in 2021.

#aerospace, #alpha, #california, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #firefly, #firefly-aerospace, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceflight-industries, #startups, #tc, #texas