An integration of soft materials, sensors and flexible electronics is bringing robotic “skin” closer than ever to reality
— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com
We all need great internet service, but it doesn’t happen by accident.
Apple’s do-it-yourself tools and instructions are far from ideal for most of us. I know this because I broke my phone trying to use them.
There have been a variety of demonstrations of the capabilities that atomically thin materials can bring to electronics—extremely small size, excellent performance, and some distinctive properties. But almost all of these demonstrations required that the electronics being tested were essentially assembled by hand. Materials like graphene are often placed on a surface at random, and then the wiring needed for it to function is built around that location. It’s not exactly a recipe for mass production.
To the extent there’s been some progress, it’s been limited. One of the more recent efforts involved using graphene and molybdenum disulfide to make the transistor with the smallest gate length. In this case, the two atomically thin materials had to be placed carefully, but not exactly. Any excess material was etched away, and a key feature was made by cutting through the graphene sheet.
This week saw a somewhat different take on constructing these minuscule devices: chemistry. A research team linked up the two materials used in the earlier study, graphene and molybdenum disulfide, using a single bridging molecule that could react with each of them. The chemistry of the bridging molecule also influenced the behavior of a device made using this approach.
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The two Japanese giants said they would form a company that would make battery-powered cars in Honda’s factories.
The list of scarce gadgets is long, driven by a chip shortage. Don’t wait until Black Friday for the best deals.
Olympus said in a brief statement Sunday that it is “currently investigating a potential cybersecurity incident” affecting its European, Middle East and Africa computer network.
“Upon detection of suspicious activity, we immediately mobilized a specialized response team including forensics experts, and we are currently working with the highest priority to resolve this issue. As part of the investigation, we have suspended data transfers in the affected systems and have informed the relevant external partners,” the statement said.
But according to a person with knowledge of the incident, Olympus is recovering from a ransomware attack that began in the early morning of September 8. The person shared details of the incident prior to Olympus acknowledging the incident on Sunday.
A ransom note left behind on infected computers claimed to be from the BlackMatter ransomware group. “Your network is encrypted, and not currently operational,” it reads. “If you pay, we will provide you the programs for decryption.” The ransom note also included a web address to a site accessible only through the Tor Browser that’s known to be used by BlackMatter to communicate with its victims.
Brett Callow, a ransomware expert and threat analyst at Emsisoft, told TechCrunch that the site in the ransom note is associated with the BlackMatter group.
BlackMatter is a ransomware-as-a-service group that was founded as a successor to several ransomware groups, including DarkSide, which recently bounced from the criminal world after the high-profile ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, and REvil, which went silent for months after the Kaseya attack flooded hundreds of companies with ransomware. Both attacks caught the attention of the U.S. government, which promised to take action if critical infrastructure was hit again.
Groups like BlackMatter rent access to their infrastructure, which affiliates use to launch attacks, while BlackMatter takes a cut of whatever ransoms are paid. Emsisoft has also found technical links and code overlaps between Darkside and BlackMatter.
Since the group emerged in June, Emsisoft has recorded more than 40 ransomware attacks attributed to BlackMatter, but that the total number of victims is likely to be significantly higher.
Ransomware groups like BlackMatter typically steal data from a company’s network before encrypting it, and later threaten to publish the files online if the ransom to decrypt the files is not paid. Another site associated with BlackMatter, which the group uses to publicize its victims and touts stolen data, did not have an entry for Olympus at the time of publication.
Japan-headquartered Olympus manufactures optical and digital reprography technology for the medical and life sciences industries. Until recently, the company built digital cameras and other electronics until it sold its struggling camera division in January.
Olympus said it was “currently working to determine the extent of the issue and will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.”
Christian Pott, a spokesperson for Olympus, did not respond to emails and text messages requesting comment.
This week, a more efficient type of battery arrives in a wristband fitness tracker. It could soon reach smart glasses, cars and even aircraft.
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have demonstrated a novel way to spy on electronic conversations. A new paper released today outlines a novel passive form of the TEMPEST attack called Glowworm, which converts minute fluctuations in the intensity of power LEDs on speakers and USB hubs back into the audio signals that caused those fluctuations.
The Cyber@BGU team—consisting of Ben Nassi, Yaron Pirutin, Tomer Gator, Boris Zadov, and Professor Yuval Elovici—analyzed a broad array of widely used consumer devices including smart speakers, simple PC speakers, and USB hubs. The team found that the devices’ power indicator LEDs were generally influenced perceptibly by audio signals fed through the attached speakers.
Although the fluctuations in LED signal strength generally aren’t perceptible to the naked eye, they’re strong enough to be read with a photodiode coupled to a simple optical telescope. The slight flickering of power LED output due to changes in voltage as the speakers consume electrical current are converted into an electrical signal by the photodiode; the electrical signal can then be run through a simple Analog/Digital Converter (ADC) and played back directly.
Refurbed, a European marketplace for refurbished electronics which raised a $17 million Series A round of funding last year has now raised a $54 million Series B funding led by Evli Growth Partners and Almaz Capital.
They are joined by existing investors such as Speedinvest, Bonsai Partners and All Iron Ventures, as well as a group of new backers — Hermes GPE, C4 Ventures, SevenVentures, Alpha Associates, Monkfish Equity (Trivago Founders), Kreos, Expon Capital, Isomer Capital and Creas Impact Fund.
Refurbed is an online marketplace for refurbished electronics that are tested and renewed. These then tend to be 40% cheaper than new, and come with a 12-month warranty included. The company claims that in 2020, it grew by 3x and reached more than €100M in GMV.
Operating in Germany, Austria, Ireland, France, Italy and Poland, the startup plans three other countries by the end of 2021.
Riku Asikainen at Evli Growth Partners said: “We see the huge potential behind the way refurbed contributes to a sustainable, circular economy.”
Peter Windischhofer, co-founder of refurbed, told me: “We are cheaper and have a wider product range, with an emphasis on quality. We focus on selling products that look new, so we end up with happy customers who then recommend us to others. It makes people proud to buy refurbished products.”
The startup has 130 refurbishers selling through its marketplace.
Other Players in this space include Back Market (raised €48M), Swappa (US) and Amazon Renew. Refurbed also competes with Rebuy in Germany, Swapbee in Finland.
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The buy now, pay later frenzy isn’t going anywhere as more consumers seek alternatives to credit cards to fund purchases.
And those purchases aren’t exclusive to luxuries such as Pelotons (ahem, Affirm) or jewelry someone might be treating themselves to online. A new fintech company is out to help consumers finance big-ticket items that are considered more “must have” than “nice to have.” And it’s just raised $14 million in Series A funding to help it advance on that goal.
Neal Desai (former CFO of Octane Lending) and James Schuler (who participated in Y Combinator’s accelerator program as a high schooler) founded New York City-based Kafene in July 2019. The pair’s goal is to promote financial inclusion by meeting the needs of what it describes as the “consumers that are left behind by traditional lenders.”
More specifically, Kafene is focused on helping consumers with credit scores below 650 purchase retail items such as furniture, appliances and electronics with its buy now, pay later (BNPL) model. Consider it an “Affirm for the subprime,” says Desai.
Global Founders Capital and Third Prime Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from Valar, Company.co, Hermann Capital, Gaingels, Republic Labs, Uncorrelated Ventures and FJ labs.
“Historically, if you could access credit, you could go to the bank or use a credit card,” Third Prime’s Wes Barton told TechCrunch. “But if you had some unexpected expense, and had to miss a payment with the bank, there would be repercussions and you could fall into a debt trap.”
Kafene’s “flexible ownership” model is designed to not let that happen to a consumer. If for some reason, someone has to forfeit on a payment, Kafene comes to pick up the item and the customer is no longer under obligation to pay for it moving forward.
The way it works is that Kafene buys the product from a merchant on a consumers’ behalf and rents it back to them over 12 months. If they make all payments, they own the item. If they make them earlier, they get a “significant” discount, and if they can’t, Kafene reclaims the item and takes the loan loss.
It’s a modern take on Rent-A-Center, which charges more money for inferior products, Desai believes.
“This is also a superior product to credit cards, and the size of that market is massive,” Barton said. “We want to take a huge chunk of credit card business in time, and give consumers the flexibility to quit at any point in time, and fly free, if you will.”
Such flexibility, Kafene claims, helps promote financial inclusion by giving a wider range of consumers options to alternative forms of credit at the point of sale.
It also helps people boost their credit scores, according to Desai, because if they buy out of the loan earlier than the 12-month term, their credit score goes up because Kafene reports them as a positive payer.
“In any situation where they don’t steal the item, their credit score improves,” he said. “Even if they end up returning it because they can’t afford it. In the long run, they can have a better credit score to qualify for a traditional loan product.”
Kafene rolled out a beta of its financing product in December of 2019 and then had to pause in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company essentially “hibernated” from March to June 2020 and re-launched out of beta last July.
By October, Kafene stopped all enrollment with merchants because it had more demand that it could handle — largely fueled by more people being financially strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, the company was handling about $2 million a month in merchandise volume.
With its new capital, Kafene plans to significantly scale its existing lease-to-own financing business nationally, as well as to launch a direct-to-consumer virtual lease card.
As both a composer and an advocate, Mr. Chadabe devoted himself to what one music critic called the “marriage between humans and their computers.”
African e-commerce giant Jumia today shared its earnings for the first quarter of 2021 that ended in March. While its customer count grew, a drop in the company’s revenues spoke to the fact that it is still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most areas in Africa where Jumia operates have lifted their lockdown restrictions, but some countries like Morocco and Kenya still have curfews. Jumia said while these measures didn’t lead to meaningful changes in consumer behavior, its supply and logistics chain — especially for its food delivery business JumiaFood — was disrupted.
Jumia, which raised more than $570 million over the past six months to strengthen its balance sheet, posted first-quarter revenues of €27.4 million. This is a 6% drop from the €29.3 million that it reported in Q1 2020. Its operating loss for Q1 2021 came to €33.7 million, while its more forgiving adjusted EBITDA loss stood at €27.0 million. The two numbers fell by 23% and 24%, respectively, on a year-over-year basis as the company continues its slow march toward profitability.
Jumia has never turned a profit, but its co-CEOs Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec have made it clear in the past that the company wants that to change. It was also a point of reference in their investor comments today.
“Our first-quarter results reflect solid progress towards profitability. The drivers remain consistent: selective and disciplined usage growth, gradual monetization, and continued cost discipline. The first quarter of 2021 was the sixth consecutive quarter of positive gross profit after fulfillment expense, which reached €6.2 million, more than doubling year-over-year, while Adjusted EBITDA loss contracted by 24% year-over-year, reaching €27.0 million,” they said in a statement.
In addition to falling losses, Jumia had other positive metrics to share. The giant e-tailer saw its active customer base grow 7% year-over-year to 6.9 million. And orders also increased by 3% to 6.6 million, a reversal of the declining trend observed over the preceding two quarters. However, the total worth of goods sold via Jumia this quarter (GMV) was just €165.0 million, a 13% decrease from the €189.6 million it recorded in Q1 2020.
The company’s gross profit also reached €20.4 million in 2020, representing a year-over-year gain of 11% from €18.4 million in Q1 2020.
Jumia cited two reasons for this drop. One was currency devaluation of Nigeria’s naira, Egypt’s pound and Kenya’s shilling against the euro, the currency in which it reports. According to the company, the trio dropped 15%, 9% and 19%, respectively, against the euro in Q1 2021. And second, the company’s best-performing product category (phones and electronics) did poorly. In Q1 2020, those items accounted for 45% of its GMV volume, which fell to 37% this quarter.
JumiaPay, the payments arm of the company, continued to post modest growth. This time last year the product processed 2.3 million transactions worth €35.5 million. In Q1 2021, JumiaPay transactions rose 6.7%, to 2.4 million transactions on a year-on-year basis. The recent quarter’s total payment volume also grew 21% to €42.9 million.
Per the report, Jumia has broadened the capabilities of its payment product. It now offers SMEs on the continent access to short-term credit by leveraging business and transactional data of its sellers to pre-score credit on an anonymized basis. The company said it disbursed 380 loans in Q1 2021, up 90% from Q1 2020. These loans were given to 291 sellers across its platform, representing a 62% increase from the number of sellers that accessed last year’s loans.
Jumia reported €485.6 million of unrestricted cash at the end of the first quarter of 2021. This includes gross proceeds of about €205 million it secured from the offering completed on March 30, 2021, and €88 million cash booked in April 2021.
Before today’s earnings call, Jumia was trading at $21.60 per share. Since the market opened this morning and at the time of this writing, the company’s share price has increased by around 3.2% to just over $24.21. It seems investors remain optimistic about the company’s growth, especially its payments arm and its plans to achieve profitability, despite continued operating and adjusted EBITDA losses.
SoftBank has picked its bet in China’s flourishing industrial robotics space. Youibot, a four-year-old startup that makes autonomous mobile robots for a range of scenarios, said it has notched close to 100 million yuan ($15.47 million) in its latest funding round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, the Seoul-based early-stage arm of the global investment behemoth.
In December, SoftBank Ventures Asia led the financing round for another Chinese robotics startup called KeenOn, which focuses on delivery and service robots.
Youibot’s previous investors BlueRun Ventures and SIG also participated in the round. The startup, based in Shenzhen where it went through SOSV’s HAX hardware accelerator program, secured three financing rounds during 2020 as businesses and investors embrace industrial automation to minimize human contact. Youibot has raised over 200 million yuan to date.
Founded by a group of PhDs from China’s prestigious Xi’an Jiaotong University, Youibot develops solutions for factory automation, logistics management, as well as inspection and maintenance for various industries. For example, its robots can navigate around a yard of buses, inspect every tire of the vehicles and provide a detailed report for maintenance, a feature that helped it rack up Michelin’s contract.
Youibot’s “strongest suits” are in electronics manufacturing and electric power patrol, the company’s spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The startup is also seeing high growth in its semiconductor business, with customers coming from several prominent front-end wafer fabs, which use the firm’s robots for chip packaging, testing, and wafer production. Youibot declined to disclose their names due to confidentiality.
Chinese clients that it named include CRRC Zhuzhou, a state-owned locomotive manufacturer, Huaneng Group, a state-owned electricity generation giant, Huawei, and more. China currently comprises 80% of Youibot’s total revenues while overseas markets are rapidly catching up. The firm’s revenues tripled last year from 2020.
Youibot plans to spend the fresh proceeds on research and development in its mobile robots and propietary software, team building and market expansion.
Mike Barile spent two years and racked up nearly $20,000 in credit card debt to bring his first startup, Backflip, to life.
The former management consultant had spent years toiling in the startup grind, first at Uber, then, after taking a coding academy bootcamp through AppAcademy (where Barile met his co-founder, Adam Foosaner), at Google and at a failed cryptocurrency startup.
Burned by the crypto experience, Barile was casting about for his next thing, and trying to find a way to scrape up some rent money, when he hit on the idea for Backflip. The experience of selling electronics online was still shady and Barile and Foosaner thought there had to be a better way.
That way became Backflip. It offers customers cash on delivery for their used electronics — anything from Androids to Xboxes and Apple devices to Gameboys.
“When I first started working on backflip back in March 2019, I met this kid named Chris and he wanted to buy some of my old iPhones. He had been a student at USF and as a side hustle he started buying used devices and would refurbish them and then either sell them himself or sell them to an official reseller,” said Barile. “Chris started making so much money he dropped out of school. That was a holy shit moment. He can make a lot of money doing this and he’s doing a really good thing.”
The problem, said Barile, was safety. “He’s got all these devices he’s acquiring paying cash for and he’s driving all around town… Everyone who works in the [refurbish and resell] industry has at least one story about getting robbed at gunpoint.”
Backflip solved that problem by being the intermediary between buyers and sellers and taking a small commission for managing the transaction.
The company raised its first money at the end of 2019, but before that, Foosaner and Barile lived off of credit and used electronics.
So far, Backflip has facilitated the exchange of roughly 3,000 devices. The company handles everything from wiping a device and ensuring its quality to finding a buyer for the electronics. The company pays out roughly $150 per device and has deposited a little over $500,000 with users of the service, according to data provided by the company.
“We did all sorts of stuff to get our first few users,” said Barile. We posted ads on Facebook Marketplace and Craiglist. We started experimenting at the end of the summer with the most bare bones mobile app kind of thing. At that point it was just Adam and I,” Barile said.
Starting now, Backflip is working with UPS stores to provide in-person drop-off and packaging centers for the used electronics. Over time, Barile sees those services expanding to offer cash on delivery. “The experience will be similar to an Amazon return,” he said. “Except we’ll be paying you.”
Currently about half of the company’s inventory is used handsets and mobile devices, but Barile said that could drop to a third of inventory as word spreads about the hundred-odd pieces of electronics that Backflip is willing to
“Unlike other resale options, Backflip prioritizes the user’s time and convenience,” said Foosaner in a statement. “Forget the back-and-forth of negotiating over price and scheduling a meetup. We’re here to do all the work for the seller and make sure they get paid fairly and quickly. Backflip users can know that they’re getting the most for their devices without having to do anything other than bring them to The UPS Store or box them up at home.”
The connection to the refurbishing community started early for Barile, whose mother had a side business called “Stone Cottage Workshop” where she was flipping refurbished furniture on eBay and at local thrift stores near Barile’s bucolic New Jersey hometown.
“We want to build the Amazon of making things disappear from your apartment,” Barile said.
Through the GRACE satellite program, researchers have shown that Greenland’s ice sheet has been losing about 280 billion tons of ice each year—the equivalent of close to 1.5 million Olympic swimming pools. For glaciers like those in Greenland and Antarctica, most of this meltwater ends up in the ocean—with already noticeable consequences for rising sea levels.
Better predictions of future sea level rise will require us to understand what meltwater is doing inside—and especially underneath—glaciers. But to do this, researchers need to take measurements through a glacier. Earlier this month, electrical engineer and glaciologist Dr. Michael Prior-Jones and his collaborators in the UK, Switzerland, Denmark, and Canada published their redesigned version of a wireless subglacial probe—the Cryoegg—to help study the inner “plumbing” of glaciers.
The meltwater flowing through and underneath glaciers can end up in small pockets, large lakes, or fast-moving rivers—each of which destabilizes the overlying glacier to different degrees. Subglacial lakes can cause entire sections of the glacier to shift. By contrast, subglacial rivers channel meltwater into a smaller area, causing comparatively less glacial movement.
As indoor farming expands, a number of new companies are cropping up to provide better data and monitoring tools for the businesses aimed at improving efficiencies and quality of indoor crops.
One of these companies, the Copenhagen-based Nordetect, is entering the U.S. market with around $1.5 million in funding from government investment firms and traditional accelerators like SOS V, with a tech that the company claims can give vertical farms a better way to monitor and manage nutrients and water quality.
Controlled agriculture, whether in greenhouses or warehouses, benefits from its ability to administer every aspect of the inputs to ensure that plants have the optimal growing conditions. It is, however, far more expensive than just seeding the ground.
Proponents say that these farms can overcome the additional expense by improving efficiency around water use, reducing the application of pesticides and fertilizer, and cultivating for better, tastier produce.
That’s where Keenan Pinto and Palak Sehgal’s Nordetect comes in. The two co-founders have known each other since they were undergraduates in India eight years ago. They went on to do their masters work together and after working in bioengineering plants — Sehgal focused on flowering systems in plants and Pinto focused on roots — they both went into more digital fields — but maintained their fascination with plants and kept in touch with each other.
Professional work in medical diagnostics for Sehgal and lab instrumentation for Pinto kept both busy, but they continued their discussions around plant science and soil health.
Roughly three years ago, the two hit on the idea for a combined toolkit for water quality monitoring and soil health. Sehgal left the India Institutes of Technology, where she had been working, and joined Pinto in Copenhagen to begin developing the tech that would form the core of Nordetect’s business proposition full time.
The company’s technology consists of an analyzer and a cartridge, a microfluidic chip that users can insert into their water tank to take a sample. From the data that the device collects, farmers can control the nutrients they put into the water to optimize for traits like color and flavor, Pinto said.
The company was accepted into SOSV’s Hax accelerator in 2017 and the two first time founders moved from Denmark to Shenzhen to begin developing the business. In late 2018 the company moved back to Denmark and raised a small amount of additional capital from SOSV and Rockstart.
By 2020, watching the expansion of vertical farming, the company took what had initially been a soil monitoring tool and added water quality monitoring features to support indoor farming. That’s when the business started taking off, according to Pinto.
“One of the interesting things is when i consider the outdoor vs. the indoor markets. The outdoor felt a bit conservative… the indoor seems much more forthcoming… and that traction allowed us to pull together this funding round $1.5 million,” Pinto said.
The new round came from Rockstart, Preseed Ventures, SOSV, the government of Denmark’s growth fund, and Luminate, a Rochester, NY-based accelerator that focuses on optical electronics technology.
Luminate’s participation is one reason why Nordetect is coming to the U.S., but it’s hardly the only reason. There’s also the capital that has come in to finance indoor ag companies. The two largest vertical farming companies in the U.S., Plenty and Bowery Farming have raised $541 million and $167 million between them.
“The vertical movement has put people into the position where they are what I call data farmers,” said Pinto. “Each batch of produce is being used to learn and the data is more important than the output. We used this market as a beachhead.”
On-demand grocery delivery platform Instacart has raises a $265 million funding ground from existing investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital Partners and others. The new funding, which, like its past few rounds, isn’t assigned a Series alphabetical designation, pushes the company’s valuation to $39 billion – more than double its $17.7 billion valuation when it raised is last financing, a $200 million venture round in October 2020.
What’s behind the massive increase in the value investors are willing to ascribe to the business? Put simply, the pandemic. Last year, Instacart announced three separate raises, including a $225 round in June, followed by a $100 million round in July. The rapid sequence of venture capital injections were likely designed to fuel growth as demand for grocery delivery services surged while people attempted to quarantine or generally spend less time frequenting high-traffic social environments like grocery stores.
In a blog post announcing the news, Instacart doesn’t put specifics on the growth rates of usage over the course of 2020, but it does express its intent to grow headcount by 50% in 2021, and continue to scale and invest in its advertising, marketing and enterprise efforts specifically in a quote.
On the product side, Instacart broadened its offerings from groceries to also include same-day delivery of a wide range of products, including prescription medicine, electronics, home decor, sport and exercise equipment and more. It’s capitalizing on the phenomenon of increased consumer spending during the pandemic, which is a reverse from what many anticipated given the impact the ongoing crisis has had on employment.
Instacart Chief Financial Officer Nick Giovanni said in a quote that the company expects this to be “a new normal” for shopping habits, and the size and pace of the company’s recent funding, as well as its ballooning valuation, seem to suggest its investors also don’t think this is a trend that will revert post-pandemic.
A global shortage of a key component for cars and electronics has shuttered American factories and set off fierce competition to secure supplies.
A startup based out of San Diego and Taipei is quietly nailing fundings and deals from some of the biggest names in electronics. Kneron, which specializes in energy-efficient processors for edge artificial intelligence, just raised a strategic funding round from Taiwan’s manufacturing giant Foxconn and integrated circuit producer Winbond.
The deal came a year after Kneron closed a $40 million round led by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures. Amongst its other prominent investors are Alibaba Entrepreneurship Fund, Sequoia Capital, Qualcomm and SparkLabs Taipei.
Kneron declined to disclose the dollar amount of the investment from Foxconn and Winbond due to investor requests but said it was an “eight figures” deal, founder and CEO Albert Liu told TechCrunch in an interview.
Founded in 2015, Kneron’s latest product is a neural processing unit that can enable sophisticated AI applications without relying on the cloud. The startup is directly taking on the chips of Intel and Google, which it claims are more energy-consuming than its offering. The startup recently got a talent boost after hiring Davis Chen, Qualcomm’s former Taipei head of engineering.
Among Kneron’s customers are Chinese air conditioning giant Gree and German’s autonomous driving software provider Teraki, and the new deal is turning the world’s largest electronics manufacturer into a client. As part of the strategic agreement, Kneron will work with Foxconn on the latter’s smart manufacturing and newly introduced open platform for electric vehicles, while its work with Winbond will focus on microcontroller unit (MCU)-based AI and memory computing.
“Low-power AI chips are pretty easy to put into sensors. We all know that in some operation lines, sensors are quite small, so it’s not easy to use a big GPU [graphics processing unit] or CPU [central processing unit], especially when power consumption is a big concern,” said Liu, who held R&D positions at Qualcomm and Samsung before founding Kneron.
Unlike some of its competitors, Kneron designs chips for a wide range of use cases, from manufacturing, smart home, smartphones, robotics, surveillance, payments, to autonomous driving. It doesn’t just make chips but also the AI software embedded in the chips, a strategy that Liu said differentiates his company from China’s AI darlings like SenseTime and Megvii, which enable AI service through the cloud.
Kneron has also been on a less aggressive funding pace than these companies, which fuel their rapid expansion through outsize financing rounds. Six-year-old SenseTime has raised about $2.6 billion to date, while nine-year-old Megvii has banked about $1.4 billion. Kneron, in comparison, has raised just over $70 million from a Series A round.
Like the Chinese AI upstarts, Kneron is weighing an initial public offering. The company is expected to make a profit in 2023, Liu said, and “that will probably be a good time for us to go IPO.”
Parents with kids stuck learning at home during the pandemic have had to look for alternative activities to promote the hands-on learning experiences kids are missing out on due to attending class virtually. The New York-based educational technology startup Thimble aims to help address this problem by offering a subscription service for STEM-based projects that allow kids to make robotics, electronics and other tech using a combination of kits shipped to the home and live online instruction.
Thimble began back in 2016 as Kickstarter project when it raised $300,000 in 45 days to develop its STEM-based robotics and programming kits. The next year, it then began selling its kits to schools, largely in New York, for use in the classroom or in after-school programs. Over the years that followed, Thimble scaled its customer base to include around 250 schools across New York, Pennsylvania, and California, who would buy the kits and gain access to teacher training.
But the COVID-19 pandemic changed the course of Thimble’s business.
“A lot of schools were in panic mode. They were not sure what was happening, and so their spending was frozen for some time,” explains Thimble co-founder and CEO Oscar Pedroso, whose background is in education. “Even our top customers that I would call, they would just give [say], ‘hey, this is not a good time. We think we’re going to be closing schools down.”
Pedroso realized that the company would have to quickly pivot to begin selling directly to parents instead.
Around April, it made the shift — effectively entering the B2C market for the first time.
The company today offers parents a subscription that allows them to receive up to 15 different STEM-focused project kits and a curriculum that includes live instruction from an educator. One kit is shipped out over the course of three months, though an accelerated program is available that ships with more frequency.
The first kit is basic electronics where kids learn how to build simple circuits, like a doorbell, kitchen timer and a music composer, for example. The kit is designed so kids can experience “quick wins” to keep their attention and whet their appetite for more projects. This leads into future kits like those offering a Wi-Fi robot, a little drone, an LED compass that lights up, and a synthesizer that lets kids become their own D.J.
While any family can use the kits to help kids experience hands-on electronics and robotics, Pedroso says that about 70% of subscribers are those where the child already has a knack for doing these sorts of projects. The remaining 30% are those where the parents are looking to introduce the concepts of robotics and programming, to see if the kids show an interest. Around 40% of the students are girls.
The subscription is more expensive than some DIY projects at $59.99/per month (or $47.99/mo if paid annually), but this is because it includes live instruction in the form of weekly 1-hour Zoom classes. Thimble has part-time employees who are not just able to understand teach the material, but can do so in a way that appeals to children — by being passionate, energetic and capable of jumping in to help if they sense a child is having an issue or getting frustrated. Two of the five teachers are women. One instructor is bilingual and teaches some classes in Spanish.
During class, one teacher instructs while a second helps moderate the chat room and answer the questions that kids ask in there.
The live classes will have around 15-20 students each, but Thimble additionally offers a package for small groups that reduces class size. These could be used by homeschool “pods” or other groups.
“We started hearing from pods and then micro-schools,” notes Pedroso. “Those were parents who were connected to other parents, and wanted their kids to be part of the same class. They generally required a little bit more attention and wanted some things a little more customized,” he added.
These subscriptions are more expensive at $250/month, but the cost is shared among the group of parents, which brings the price down on per-household basis. Around 10% of the total customer base is on this plan, as most customers are individual families.
Thimble also works with several community programs and nonprofits in select markets that help to subsidize the cost of the kits to make the subscriptions more affordable. These are announced, as available, through schools, newsletters, and other marketing efforts.
Since pivoting to subscriptions, Thimble has re-established a customer base and now has 1,110 paid customers. Some, however, are grandfathered in to an earlier price point, so Thimble needs to scale the business further.
In addition to the Kickstarter, Thimble has raised funds and worked on the business over the year with the help of multiple accelerators, including LearnLaunch in Boston, Halcyon in D.C., and Telluride Venture Accelerator in Colorado.
The startup, co-founded by Joel Cilli in Pittsburgh, is now around 60% closed on its seed round of $1 million, but isn’t announcing details of that at this time.
Dell’s kicking off 2021 with a new addition to its monitor lineup that aims to hit a variety of sweet spots. The Dell UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD monitor offers 39.7″ of screen real estate, with a 5120 x 2160 resolution that matches the pixel density of 4K resolution on a 32-inch conventional widescreen display. It comes equipped with Thunderbolt 3 for display and data connectivity, as well as 90W of charging for compatible computers, and a 10Gbps Ethernet connection for networking. In short, Dell’s latest (which is available beginning January 28) looks to be a true ‘one display to rule them all’ contender, particularly for those searching for a way to optimize their home offices.
Dell’s UltraSharp 40 has a 60Hz, 39.7″ diagonal display in 21:9 aspect ratio with WUHD resolution (not quite true 5K, but exceptional for a curved monitor this size). It offers 100% sRGB and 98% P3 color reproduction, and comes with a stand that has height adjustability, tilt and swivel, and that features a hidden cable channel for cable management. Built-in speakers provide 9W each of sound reproduction so you don’t need to worry about adding externals.
In terms of wired connections, it offers Thunderbolt 3, RJ45 Ethernet, and USB 10Gps ports (three on the rear, and one in front) as well as one USB-C port for easy access on the front. There’s also 3.5mm audio line out (though it’s worth noting that this doesn’t work with headphones), and two HDMI ports plus one DisplayPort for more traditional display connectivity if you’re not going the Thunderbolt route. Finally, a standard security lock slot allows you to anchor the display in any shared environment.
The display itself is bright, clear and viewable at a wide range of angles, with a more matte finish that provides excellent viewing in a wide range of lighting conditions. A joystick control button provides easy navigation and operation of the built-in on-screen menu and integrated features, including picture-in-picture.
First and foremost, the Dell UltraSharp 40 delivered excellent visual quality. Especially for a display this size, in a curved form factor, at this resolution, it’s going to be something that satisfies everyone from telecommuters mostly handling meetings and spreadsheets, to photographers and video professionals looking for image quality that is highly color-accurate and provides crystal clear detail.
The WUHD resolution means that you can run the display in a range of different configurations, depending on how much screen real estate you want or need. For instance, I’ve been using it at the 5160 x 2160 res, and it provides ample workspace for arranging multiple windows side-by-side, and tiled vertically. I typically use three displays at once in my day job (there’s a lot of tab and browser windows involved) and the Dell UltraSharp 40 makes it so that I can comfortably work with just a single monitor instead. It’ll work with Apple’s HiDPI modes on its modern Macs for clear and crisp visuals with larger on-screen elements, too, however, if you don’t need all that room.
Dell’s integrated stand is simple and effective, providing a range of maneuverability options that allow for significant travel in height adjustment. You won’t get a portrait mode full swivel in this display – but that’s not surprising given how long it is on its longest edge, compared to the vertical. You do get tilt if you need it, and the ability to angle back and forwards depending on how you have it positioned. The end result is a display that’s very large, but easy enough to adjust for your comfortable use.
The display comes calibrated out of the box, but also includes plenty of options for adjusting things like contrast and brightness using the built-in menus. This also including a very useful multi-device display setup, including both picture-in-picture features for multiple sources, and a picture-by-picture mode that splits the display into two equal side-by-side sections for multiple inputs. Another useful feature for working with the display with multiple computers: keyboards and mice connected via the monitor will automatically detect and switch between controlling both connected PCs.
Besides the display size and resolution, the other thing that makes the UltraSharp 40 a fantastic option for a home workstation is its range of ports and added bonuses like built-in speakers. The speakers aren’t going to win any audiophile awards, but they’re better than the ones that come built into your laptop and they obviate the need for additional equipment if you’re looking to spare your desk surface space. With any modern Thunderbolt-equipped Mac, the Dell UltraSharp 40 really is a one-cable wonder that offers very little in the way of compromises.
With the Dell UltraSharp 40, the company continues its tradition of delivering extremely high-quality display products at a reasonable price. The $2,100 price tag may seem steep, but for what you’re getting it’s a very fair price point, and Dell’s displays also have very high reliability that means an investment in their monitors is likely to keep you satisfied for many years to come (two of my home office displays are some of Dell’s very first 4K monitors, which have served me reliably for over half a decade).
Because of its wide aspect ratio and curve, this display really does replace two smaller 4K screens for most uses, and so the cost framed that way actually makes even more sense. In short, Dell’s UltraSharp 40 is a home office beast, which fills a sweet spot for a wide range of remote professionals.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper is perhaps one of the company’s most ambitious projects yet: Building a globe-spanning broadband wireless network to deliver affordable connectivity to underserved communities. Project Kuiper has made progress this year with a key FCC approval, and now it’s also created a prototype of a key piece of hardware that will help its future customers take advantage of the satellite network on the ground.
This is actually a big part of what will help make Project Kuiper a service that’s broadly accessible, and a development that puts the Amazon project in an industry-leading position with a unique advantage. The prototype developed by the team communicates on the Ka-band of the wireless spectrum, and is the smallest and lightest piece of hardware that can do that. It’s able to achieve speeds of up to 400 Mbps, and Amazon says that it’ll actually get better through future iterations.
For technical details on how this was accomplished and what it means for the final design, Amazon explains from a blog post describing the design process:
Our phased array antenna takes a different approach. Instead of placing antenna arrays adjacent to one another, we used tiny antenna element structures to overlay one over the other. This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band. The breakthrough allows us to reduce the size and weight of the entire terminal, while operating in a frequency that delivers higher bandwidth and better performance than other bands. Our design uses a combination of digital and analog components to electronically steer Ka-band beams toward satellites passing overhead.
The result is a single aperture phased array antenna that measures 12 inches in diameter, making it three times smaller and proportionately lighter than legacy antenna designs. This order of magnitude reduction in size will reduce production costs by an equal measure, allowing Amazon to offer customers a terminal that is more affordable and easier to install.
The bottom line is that Amazon’s design for Kuiper can greatly reduce the cost and complexity of building the ground-based infrastructure that will be required in order to provide access to its network to end-users. It’s also low-latency, and Amazon has found that it can provide 4K streaming capabilities even during its testing with geostationary satellites today – which are as much as 50 times further out from where Project Kuiper satellites will eventually be positioned in low-Earth orbit.
Amazon isn’t yet sharing specific pricing information about what the terminal will eventually cost, beyond touting its affordability relative to existing solutions. I’ll be talking to Amazon SVP of Devices and Services Dave Limp at TC Sessions: Space today, and we’ll discuss the antenna along with everything else about the project.
At the moment, our processors are built on silicon. But fundamental limits on what can be done with that material has researchers eyeing ways to use materials that have inherently small features, like nanotubes or atomically thin materials. At least in theory, these will let us do what we’re now doing, just more efficiently and/or with physically smaller features.
But can these materials allow us to do things that silicon can’t? The answer appears to be yes, based on research published earlier this week. In it, the researchers describe transistors that can be reconfigured on the fly so that they perform completely different operations. They suggest this can be useful for security, as it would keep bad actors from figuring out how security features are implemented.
The researchers, based at Perdue and Notre Dame, lay out an argument for why this sort of reconfigurable circuitry could have security implications. It comes down to the materials science of silicon transistors. They require areas of silicon that either hold negative or positive charge (creatively named p- or n-type semiconductors). These are created by doping, or adding small amounts of certain elements to the silicon. This is done during the manufacturing, and the doping is locked into place at that point. This means that the operation of individual transistors is locked into place when the chip is made.
The gaming console, coming out in its latest version on Thursday, has become the Japanese giant’s centerpiece product.
Postmates is now rolling out what could be the biggest update to the company’s service in a long time — adding a retail option for users to shop local stores and for local merchants to set up a virtual on-demand storefront in the app.
Starting in Los Angeles — and building on yesterday’s test run pop-up shop with the Los Angeles Rams — Postmates users will be able to shop local merchants listed in the company’s new retail tab in the Postmates app called, appropriately, “shop”.
It’s the first public launch of a new initiative headed up by Mike Buckley, a veteran Nike exec who Postmates poached in August to become the company’s senior vice president of business. At Nike, Buckley served as the vice president of digital commerce operations and new business models.
While Postmates has made some small steps in retail delivery (primarily electronics), Buckley said the new service greatly expands that footprint. Shops available to willing Los Angeles customers to cover everything from home goods, cosmetics, and clothes to even vinyl records.
Buckley said the company decided to launch its efforts in Los Angeles, because it was a market where Postmates had a good penetration of delivery workers and big market. “We wanted to create an experience where, as a consumer, if you went there you would feel there’s good coverage,” Buckley said. “Most of the LA metro area will have access to the tab. We started the test in Venice Beach in Abbott Kinney… that’s where you’d find the best coverage.. We have reasonable coverage throughout broader urban LA.”
At launch, there will be nearly fifty retailers on the site including shops like Buck Mason, Le Labo, Parachute Home, the Venice Beach boutique, Coutula 12th Tribe, Timbuk2, Zadig & Voltaire, Supervinyl and Urbanic.
Retailers can decide how many products they want to sell through the app, and the main goal, according to Buckley is to see what kind of products resonate with consumers for delivery.
For local merchants who have been hit hard by the lockdown orders put in place as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on-demand delivery options from Postmates could create a new line to wary would-be shoppers that still don’t feel like braving the checkout line at a small boutique.
As case counts spike in the U.S. the prospect of a return to lockdown looms large for some regions. That could have an impact on retail sales that were already projected to be dismal.
In fact, the online analytics service eMarketer projected a 10.5% decline in total US retail sales this year, and a 14.0% drop in brick-and-mortar sales… even before the second wave of the pandemic began surging in the U.S. earlier this month.
The new on-demand option could also provide retailers with another avenue to lure customer through timed flash sales, exclusive “drops” to Postmates users, and other retailing tricks that were Buckley’s stock and trade at Nike.
“That’s absolutely one of the ways we think we can drive engagement to these merchants and create calls to action with these merchants,” Buckley said.
In some ways, the move into consumer retail shopping takes Postmates back to its earliest days, when the service allowed users to demand delivery of almost anything. “I think about this continuing… the company’s original vision of anything anytime anywhere… They had an aspiration to deliver all kinds of different products and food became the killer app given the frequency,” Buckley said.
The ‘Shop’ button is going live for Los Angeles residents and will be restricted to Los Angeles throughout the fourth quarter before a wider rollout in the first quarter of 2021. Buckley expects the new service to be phased in at other big metro areas across the Southwest first before hitting markets on the East Coast.
Within the Postmates ‘Shop’ tab shops will be able to sell their inventory and showcase products with configurable catalogues including high resolution images. Shops can also offer customers a choice between on-demand delivery, in-store pickup, or non-contact curbside pickup.
Delivery and service fees will apply to the shopping experience, but Postmates unlimited subscribers will get free delivery, according to the company.
“This year, COVID really changed the landscape of how we purchase essentials, spend time recreationally, and even how we treat ourselves,” said Heather DeLeon, Director of Sales, Anastasia Beverly Hills, one of the retailers using the new service, in a statement. “Shop is such an interesting opportunity because it lets people get their hands on our products in a completely new and exciting way.”
Smart thermostats are fairly ubiquitous these days, but depending on which one you’re using, you could be getting a lot more from your home heating and cooling – with relatively simple DIY upgrades. The Flair Smart Vent system is one such upgrade, and though it costs a bit upfront to get going (each register is $79 to start depending on size), you won’t have to call an HVAC contractor or break down any walls to take advantage of what it offers.
Flair’s system is designed around a simple idea: Controlling the airflow across individual rooms can help you be more efficient about where you direct your heating and cooling, and when. The basic ingredients Flair uses to make this happen are its Smart Vents, which fit into existing floor and wall register slots in standard sizes. The Flair designs are low profile, with all the electronics contained in casing that rests under floor level. They can be hardwired for power, but they also ship with two C batteries the provide “years” of power before they require replacement.
Flair advises three different approaches to determining how many Smart Vents you need to complement your existing system: If you have one room that’s too cold when cooling and too hot when heating, just get a Smart Vent and Flair Puck for that room. If you have just one room that gets too little cooling, and too little heating, equip all your other rooms with Smart Vents and Pucks (or Ecobee sensors if you have an Ecobee thermostat, but we’ll get to that later). If your HVAC is already pretty even, but you just want more control and efficiency gains, then equip the whole house as a third option.
Each room will require a Puck, which is a small round device that includes temperature control and monitoring. The first of these needs to be hardwired to power via the included USB cable, since it acts a bridge connecting the Flair system to your home network. All the others can be powered by included AAA batteries, and they’re very power efficient thanks in part to the e-Ink display.
Flair works in a number of modes, including one that’s compatible with any thermostat where you simply set the temperature for any room, and the associated vent(s) will open or close depending on whether the temperature in that room matches up. It can also work directly with Ecobee and Honeywell smart thermostats for a much more intelligent mode where they receive or send the temperature to the smart unit, and coordinate their open/shut status depending on that. Google has changed the Nest API, so Flair is working on supporting similar features on Nest systems through that in future, but for now it works with Nest installations the same way it would with ‘dumb’ thermostats.
Flair’s Smart Vents themselves are attractive, well-made hardware. The vent covers themselves are made of metal, with an attractive grill design that will go with most decors. They’re exclusively white, which could be an issue for dark flooring, but they’re definitely a step up from your average registers. One one side, they have an LED light strip that is used during setup for identifying which is which, and underneath, the have the battery housing, louvres and the motors that control their open and shut status.
As mentioned, the Smart Vents can be associated with a Puck, which will provide them the ambient temp information, as well as target temp, in order to set them open or shut. They can also use an Ecobee sensor to get their marching orders when set up for software integration with an Ecobee system. I installed my review units and first tried them with the Flair app providing target temp info to the Ecobee, but then switched it around so that the Ecobee determined the desired temperature, and the Flair units all inherited that info and set their open/close status accordingly.
At first, I found the Flair app a bit intimidating just because with a multi-vent system it presents a lot of information, and some degree of logic to initially set up. But once I got the Ecobee integration working, the whole Flair system just worked – and worked like magic.
In this configuration, you never even have to think about the fact that the vents are Smart; they just do whatever they need to in order to equalize the temperature and keep heating and cooling routing intelligently. It made an impressive difference in the amount of airflow circulating around my nearly 100-year old house – and my setup isn’t necessarily ideal because there are a few non-standard, larger registers around that can’t yet be Flair-equipped.
The Pucks themselves are well designed, with magnetic, stick-up and screw-in installation options, and readible, power-efficient e-Ink displays. Their bezel turns for temperature control, and they can also be placed out of sight if you really just want to use them as remote sensors.
You might think that whether a register is open or closed wouldn’t make much difference to the efficacy of a house-wide HVAC system, but in my experience, the before-and-after of Flair was dramatically different. I started out with one problem spot primarily (the master bedroom) and afterwards it got to target temp much more quickly, both in heating and cooling modes.
Even if you find your central air and heating are already pretty effective, Flair seems like a wise upgrade that will provide lasting benefits in terms of consistency and power efficiency. Plus, if you use Flair as the controller, you can set different target temps for different rooms depending on individual occupant preferences.
True zoned HVAC systems can cost thousands – especially if you’re replacing existing ducting in walls. Flair’s solution is a lot more affordable by comparison, and provides effective results with DIY installation that takes just minutes to set up.
A brutally unexpected year turned millions of people into gear nerds, whether they liked it or not.
It conveys electricity in the climate of a crisp fall day, but only under pressures comparable to what you’d find closer to Earth’s core.