There’s hope for American movie theaters after all

Screenshot from A Quiet Place II trailer

Enlarge / Don’t make a sound. (credit: YouTube/Paramount)

A year ago it would’ve seemed unfathomable: Over the Memorial Day holiday, a single film had a good opening weekend at the North American box office. After 15 months of COVID-19 theater closures, delayed release dates, and general anxiety about the future of moviegoing, A Quiet Place Part II is projected to bring in north of $57 million. That’s the most any movie has made during the pandemic and far outpaces the last record holder: Godzilla vs. Kong, which snagged $32 million in March.

To be clear, $57 million isn’t what Hollywood insiders would definitely call “boffo”—previous Memorial Day weekends have seen openings that top $100 million. But for the past year and change, as theater chains have faced bankruptcy and scores of movie lovers have hunkered down with a buffet of streaming services to fill their needs, there has been genuine concern about whether theater-going, as it has existed for a century, would survive. A Quiet Place Part II’s opening shows that it might.

The sequel to 2018’s A Quiet Place isn’t the only bright spot. Disney’s Cruella de Vil origin story, Cruella, is projected to rake in more than $26 million for the four-day weekend—a total that comes despite the film also being available to Disney+ subscribers for an additional $30 fee. (For comparison, Disney’s live-action Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which was released in theaters only, brought in $37 million domestically during its pre-pandemic opening weekend.) As the coronavirus pandemic stretched through 2020, and many studios opted to put their big releases on streaming platforms, many wondered if audiences would return to theaters when they could watch the same films at home. Cruella’s modest, but strong, opening illustrates that they will.

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#films, #gaming-culture

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Flush with $42M, hot AI startup Faculty plans to hoover-up more PhDs… and steer clear of politics

In the wake of the news that UK-based AI startup Faculty has raised $42.5 million in a growth funding round, I teased out more from CEO and co-founder Marc Warner on what his plans are for the company.

Faculty seems to have an uncanny knack of winning UK government contracts, after helping Boris Johnson win his Vote Leave campaign and thus become Prime Minister. It’s even helping sort out the mess that Brexit has subsequently made of the fishing industry, problems with the NHS, and telling global corporates like Red Bull and Virgin Media what to suggest to their customers. Meanwhile, it continues to hoover up Ph.D. graduates at a rate of knots to work on its AI platform.

But, speaking to me over a call, Warner said the company no longer has plans to enter the political sphere again: “Never again. It’s very controversial. I don’t want to make out that I think politics is unethical. Trying to make the world better, in whatever dimension you can, is a good thing … But from our perspective, it was, you know, ‘noisy,’ and our goal as an organization is, despite current appearances to the contrary, is not to spend tonnes of time talking about this stuff. We do believe this is an important technology that should be out there and should be in a broader set of hands than just the tech giants, who are already very good at it.”

On the investment, he said: “Fundamentally, the money is about doubling down on the UK first and then international expansion. Over the last seven years or so we have learned what it takes to do important AI, impactful AI, at scale. And we just don’t think that there’s actually much of it out there. Customers are rightly sometimes a bit skeptical, as there’s been hype around this stuff for years and years. We figured out a bunch of the real-world applications that go into making this work so that it actually delivers the value. And so, ultimately, the money is really just about being able to build out all of the pieces to do that incredibly well for our customers.”

He said Faculty would be staying firmly HQ’d in the UK to take advantage of the UK’s talent pool: “The UK is a wonderful place to do AI. It’s got brilliant universities, a very dynamic startup scene. It’s actually more diverse than San Francisco. There’s government, there’s finance, there are corporates, there’s less competition from the tech giants. There’s a bit more of a heterogeneous ecosystem. There’s no sense in which we’re thinking, ‘Right, that’s it, we’re up and out!’. We love working here, we want to make things better. We’ve put an enormous amount of effort into trying to help organizations like the government and the NHS, but also a bunch of UK corporates in trying to embrace this technology, so that’s still going to be a terrifically important part of our business.”

That said, Faculty plans to expand abroad: “We’re going to start looking further afield as well, and take all of the lessons we’ve learned to the US, and then later Europe.”

But does he think this funding round will help it get ahead of other potential rivals in the space? “We tend not to think too much in terms of rivals,” he says. “The next 20 years are going to be about building intelligence into the software that already exists. If you look at the global market cap of the software businesses out there, that’s enormous. If you start adding intelligence to that, the scale of the market is so large that it’s much more important to us that we can take this incredibly important technology and deploy it safely in ways that actually improve people’s lives. It could be making products cheaper or helping organizations make their services more efficient.”

If that’s the case then does Faculty have any kind of ethics panel overseeing its work? “We have an internal ethics panel. We have a set of principles and if we think a project might violate those principles, it gets referred to that ethics panel. It’s randomly selected from across faculty. So we’re quite careful about the projects that we work on and don’t. But to be honest, the vast majority of stuff that’s going on is very vanilla. They are just clearly ‘good for the world’ projects. The vast majority of our work is doing good work for corporate clients to help them make their businesses that bit more efficient.”

I pressed him to expand on this issue of ethics and the potential for bias. He says Faculty “builds safety in from a start. Oddly enough, the reason I first got interested in AI was reading Nick Bostrom’s work about superintelligence and the importance of AI safety. And so from the very, very first fellowship [Faculty AI researchers are called Fellows] all the way back in 2014, we’ve taught the fellows about AI safety. Over time, as soon as we were able, we started contributing to the research field. So, we’ve published papers in all of the biggest computer science conferences Neurips, ICM, ICLR, on the topic of AI safety. How to make algorithms fair, private, robust and explainable. So these are a set of problems that we care a great deal about. And, I think, are generally ‘underdone’ in the wider ecosystem. Ultimately, there shouldn’t be a separation between performance and safety. There is a bit of a tendency in other companies to say, ‘Well, you can either have performance, or you can have safety.’ But of course, we know that’s not true. The cars today are faster and safer than the Model T Ford. So it’s a sort of a false dichotomy. We’ve invested a bunch of effort in both those capabilities, so we obviously want to be able to create a wonderful performance for the task at hand, but also to ensure that the algorithms are fair, private, robust and explainable wherever required.”

That also means, he says, that AI might not always be the ‘bogeyman’ the phrase implies: “In some cases, it’s probably not a huge deal if you’re deciding whether to put a red jumper or a blue jumper at the top of your website. There are probably not huge ethical implications in that. But in other circumstances, of course, it’s critically important that the algorithms are safe and are known to be safe and are trusted by both the users and anyone else who encounters them. In a medical context, obviously, they need to be trusted by the doctors and the patients need to make sure they actually work. So we’re really at the forefront of deploying that stuff.”

Last year the Guardian reported that Faculty had won seven government contracts in 18 months. To what does he attribute this success? “Well, I mean, we lost an enormous number more! We are a tiny supplier to government. We do our best to do work that is valuable to them. We’ve worked for many many years with people at the home office,” he tells me.

“Without wanting to go into too much detail, that 18 months stretches over multiple Prime Ministers. I was appointed to the AI Council under Theresa May. Any sort of insinuations on this are just obviously nonsense. But, at least historically, most of our work was in the private sector and that continues to be critically important for us as an organization. Over the last year, we’ve tried to step up and do our bit wherever we could for the public sector. It’s facing such a big, difficult situation around COVID, and we’re very proud of the things we’ve managed to accomplish with the NHS and the impact that we had on the decisions that senior people were able to undertake.”

Returning to the issue of politics I asked him if he thought – in the wake of events such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, which were both affected by AI-driven political campaigning – AI is too dangerous to be applied to that arena? He laughed: “It’s a funny old funny question… It’s a really odd way to phrase a question. AI is just a technology. Fundamentally, AI is just maths.”

I asked him if he thought the application of AI in politics had had an outsized or undue influence, on the way that political parties have operated in the last few years: “I’m afraid that is beyond my knowledge,” he says. But does Faculty have regrets about working in the political sphere?

“I think we’re just focused on our work. It’s not that we have strong feelings, either way, it’s just that from our perspective, it’s much, much more interesting to be able to do the things that we care about, which is deploying AI in the real world. It’s a bit of a boring answer! But it is truly how we feel. It’s much more about doing the things we think are important, rather than judging what everyone else is doing.”

Lastly, we touched on the data science capabilities of the UK and what the new fund-raising will allow the company to do.

He said: “We started an education program. We have roughly 10% of the UK’s PhDs in physics, maths, engineering, applying to the program. Roughly 400 or so people have been through that program and we plan to expand that further so that more and more people get the opportunity to start a career in data science. And then inside Faculty specifically, we think we’ll be able to create 400 new jobs in areas like software engineering, data science, product management. These are very exciting new possibilities for people to really become part of the technology revolution. I think there’s going to be a wonderful like new energy in Faculty, and hopefully a positive small part in increasing the UK tech ecosystem.”

Warner comes across as sincere in his thoughts about the future of AI and is clearly enthusiastic about where Faculty can take the whole field next, both philosophically and practically. Will Faculty soon be challenging that other AI leviathan, DeepMind, for access to all those Ph.D.s? There’s no doubt it will.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #boris-johnson, #cybernetics, #energy, #europe, #faculty, #films, #finance, #it, #nhs, #nick-bostrom, #product-management, #san-francisco, #software-engineering, #tc, #the-guardian, #theresa-may, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #virgin-media, #you

0

Avatar startup Genies scores $65 million in funding round led by Mary Meeker’s Bond

Over the past several years, I’ve covered my fair share of upstart avatar companies that were all chasing the same dream — building out a customizable platform for a digital persona that gained wide adoption across games and digital spaces. Few of those startups I’ve covered in the past are still around. But by netting a string of successful partnerships with celebrity musicians, LA-based Genies has come closer than any startup before it to realizing the full vision of a wide-reaching avatar platform.

The company announced today that they’ve closed a $65 million Series B led by Mark Meeker’s firm Bond. NEA, Breyer Capital, Tull Investment Group, NetEase, Dapper Labs and Coinbase Ventures also participated in the deal. Mark Meeker will be joining the Genies board. The company didn’t disclose the Genies’ most recent valuation.

This funding comes at an inflection point for the eight-year-old company, evidenced by the investments from NBA Top Shot-maker Dapper Labs and crypto giant Coinbase. As announced last week, the company is rolling out an NFT platform on Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain, partnering closely with the startup who will be building out the backend for a Genies avatar accessories storefront. Like Dapper Labs has leveraged its exclusive deals with sports leagues to ship NFTs with official backing, Genies is planning to capitalize on its partnerships with celebrities in its roster including Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Cardi B and others to create a platform for buying and trading avatar accessories en masse.

In October, the company announced a brand partnerships with Gucci, opening up the startup to another big market opportunity.

Genies’ business has largely focused on leveraging high-profile partnerships to give its entertainer clients a digital presence that can spice up what they’re sharing on social media and beyond. As they’ve rolled out avatar creation to all users through beta mobile apps, Genies has been focusing on one of the more explicit dreams of the avatar companies before it; building out a broad network of avatar users and a broad network of compatible platforms through its SDK.

“An avatar is a vehicle to be able to showcase more of your authentic self,” Genies CEO Akash Nigam tells TechCrunch. “It’s not limited by real world constraints, it’s an alter-ego personality.”

Trends in the NFT world have provided new realms of exploration for Genies, but so have broader pandemic era trends that have pushed more users to wholly digital spaces where they socialize and connect. “The pandemic accelerated everything,” Nigam says.

Nigam emphasizes that despite the major opportunity its upcoming NFT platform will present, Genies is still an avatar company first-and-foremost, not an NFT startup, though he does say he is believes crypto-backed digital goods are going to be around for a long time. He has few doubts that the current environment around digital goods helped juice Genies’ funding round which he says was “6-8X oversubscribed” and was an opportunistic play for the startup, which “could have gone years without having to raise.”

The company says their crypto marketplace will launch in the coming months, as early as this summer.

#akash-nigam, #artificial-intelligence, #avatar, #breyer-capital, #ceo, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #cryptocurrency, #dapper, #dapper-labs, #films, #gaming, #genies, #gucci, #justin-bieber, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #nea, #netease, #software-development

0

Roblox buys digital avatar startup Loom.ai

Roblox announced today that it’s buying a digital avatar startup called Loom.ai. Purchasing a company that has focused singularly on creating more realistic human avatars is an interesting play for a gaming platform that has made such an impact by building experiences that tend to cast realism to the wayside.

We covered the company’s $1.35 million seed round back in 2016. The company brought in additional seed funding since then, scoring $5.9 million in total capital raised. The startup’s investors include Y Combinator, Samsung Ventures, Anorak Capital and Zach Coelius.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

The startup was one in a long list of avatar companies to launch during the mid 2010’s that capitalized on computer vision advancements and aimed to build out a cross-game/cross-platform network of users that relied on their tech to create in-app avatars. This field of companies aimed to capitalize on opportunities in 3D that expanded beyond what companies like Snapchat had identified following its Bitmoji acquisition.

Image via Loom.ai

Over the years, Loom.ai shifted its effort from photorealism to creating more Memoji-like representations that allowed users to upload a 2D photo and automatically create a realistic 3D avatar. In recent years, Loom.ai focused heavily on enterprise opportunities. The company’s products also included a suite of integrations to build out personalized avatar stickers that could be used on messaging platforms like Slack or WhatsApp as well as live avatars that could be used during video calls.

Though Roblox has some of the more simplistic avatars on the market, this acquisition may suggest that the company is open to building out a system that places more of a premium on realism and more life-like facial animations. In a press release announcing the deal, Roblox shared that this acquisition “will accelerate the development of next-generation avatars.”

#avatar, #bitmoji, #bitstrips, #computing, #films, #mobile-applications, #online-games, #roblox, #samsung-ventures, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #tc, #virtual-reality, #y-combinator, #zach-coelius

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Lego expands its Super Mario world with customization tools, new Mario power-ups, and more characters

Lego’s partnership with Nintendo delivered a pretty awesome debut earlier this year with the interactive Lego Super Mario Starter Course, and now it’s following that up with additional sets designed to complement the first. These include a new ‘Master Your Adventure Maker Set,’ which adds customization options by tweaking Lego Mario’s response via three new bricks, and a new way to shuffle the rules for each level. Lego and Nintendo are also releasing additional themed Expansion sets, new power-ups for Mario, and a second series of mystery characters to incorporate into level builds.

Image Credits: Nintendo

The Master Your Adventure Maker Set includes 366 pieces in total, and will retail for $59.99. The Expansion sets include a Chain Chomp jungle-themed playset ($19.99), a Piranha Plan puzzle challenge set ($29.99), and a new Poison-themed biome for Mario to explore featuring Wiggler ($39.99). The two new power-ups for Lego Mario are his Penguin suit, and his Tanooki suit, which retail for $9.99 each respectively.

Each new Series 2 Character Pack retails for $4.99. These come in packaging that doesn’t reveal their contents until opened, adding some degree of chance to which of the new characters you end up with. The Series 2 characters include Huckit Crab, Spiny Cheep Cheep, Ninji, Foo, Parachute Goomba, Fly Guy, Poison Mushroom, Para-Beetle, Thwimp or Bone Goomba.

Image Credits: Nintendo

These will all go on sale starting January 1, both from Lego direct and from its retail partners. That’s just after the holiday rush, which seems like a bit of a miss for what you’d expect would be a popular set of gifts, but Nintendo’s still selling the original starter course and other kits

#films, #gadgets, #gaming, #hardware, #lego, #mario, #nintendo, #super-mario, #tc, #the-lego-movie

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Zoom settles with FTC after making ‘deceptive’ security claims

The Federal Trade Commission has announced a settlement with Zoom, after it accused the video calling giant of engaging in “a series of deceptive and unfair practices that undermined the security of its users,” in part by claiming the encryption was stronger than it actually was.

Cast your mind back earlier this year at the height of the pandemic lockdown, which forced millions to work from home and rely on Zoom for work meetings and remote learning. At the time, Zoom claimed video calls were protected by “end-to-end” encryption, a way of scrambling calls that makes it near-impossible for anyone — even Zoom — to listen in.

But those claims were false.

“In reality, the FTC alleges, Zoom maintained the cryptographic keys that could allow Zoom to access the content of its customers’ meetings, and secured its Zoom Meetings, in part, with a lower level of encryption than promised,” said the FTC in a statement Monday. “Zoom’s misleading claims gave users a false sense of security, according to the FTC’s complaint, especially for those who used the company’s platform to discuss sensitive topics such as health and financial information.”

Zoom quickly admitted it was wrong, prompting the company to launch a 90-day turnaround effort, which included the rollout of end-to-end encryption to its users. That eventually months later in late October — but not without another backtrack after Zoom initially said free users could not use end-to-end encryption.

The FTC also alleged in its complaint that Zoom stored some meeting recordings unencrypted on its servers for up to two months, and compromised the security of its users by covertly installing a web server on its users’ computers in order for users to jump into meetings faster. This, the FTC said, “was unfair and violated the FTC Act.” Zoom pushed out an update which removed the web server, but Apple also intervened to remove the vulnerable component from its customers’ computers.

In its statement, the FTC said it has prohibited Zoom from misrepresenting its security and privacy practices going forward, and has agreed to start a vulnerability management program and implement stronger security across its internal network.

Zoom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

#cryptography, #data-security, #encryption, #end-to-end-encryption, #federal-trade-commission, #films, #security, #telecommunications, #web-conferencing, #web-server, #zoom

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Genies updates its software development kit and partners with Gucci, Giphy

Genies, has updated its software development kit and added Giphy and Gucci as new partners to enable their users to create personalized Genie avatars.

The company released the first version of its sdk in 2018 when it raised a $10 million to directly challenge Snap and Apple for avatar dominance. Now, with the latest update, the company said it has managed to create a new three dimensional rendering that can be used across platforms — if developers let Genies handle the animation.

Genies has already managed to sign up many of the biggest names in entertainment to act as their official manager through their Genies talent agency. These include celebrities like Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Cardi B, and Rihanna. Genies also locked in deals with the National Football League’s player’s association along with Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

Now, those celebrities and athletes can monetize exclusive digital goods made by Genies on platforms like Gucci and Giphy and the fashion house and meme generator can now give users their own digital identity to play around with.

“Over the past year, our technology has been sharpened by the exacting creative demands of celebrities. This advanced Genies’ march to be the go-to avatar globally,” said Akash Nigam, Genies CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “What was previously a celebrity exclusive experience, is now broadly available for consumers to use as their virtual portable identities. By opening up to the masses, we’ve now created an opportunity for tastemakers to forge new, unique relationships with their audiences through avatar digital goods.”

The SDK integrations are still highly curated and tailored (there’s a lot of heavy lifting that Genies needs to do with each one). For instance, Gucci users can try on the latest designs and the company will sell digital goods on its platform created by Genies. Giphy users will use their avatars as gifs on its site and through its distribution network.

“Our Avatar Agency has served as the go-to platform for thousands of artists, and with our next-gen, highly expressive and dynamic 3D Genie, we will further solidify our position as the universal digital identity,” said Izzy Pollak, Director of Avatar SDK at Genies. “For celebrities and everyday users alike, it unlocks new arenas and verticals for users to cultivate their avatars in. On top of traditional 2D environments like mobile apps and websites, Genies can now live in AR/VR platforms, games, and in use cases or SDK partner platforms that demand a 360-degree rendering of the digital goods they purchase,”

#akash-nigam, #animation, #apple, #avatar, #films, #genies, #giphy, #gucci, #justin-bieber, #major, #major-league-baseball, #national-basketball-association, #national-football-league, #player, #snap, #tc

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U.S. Space Force is getting an immersive space sim training tool built in part by the VFX studio behind ‘The Mandalorian’

The U.S. Space Force obviously won’t be able to train most of their service people in actual space, so they relatively new arm of America’s defense forces has tasked Slingshot Aerospace to create a VR space sim, in partnership with The Third Floor, a Hollywood VFX firm that worked on blockbusters including Gravity, The Martian and The Mandalorian. The goal is to generate a simulator that can replicate real-world physics, and provide interactive training capabilities for the Space Force.

In total, the partners have received $2 million towards development of the sim, including a $1 million contract from the Space Force itself, as well as $1 million in funding from ATX Venture Partners. The end result will be called the “Slingshot Orbital Laboratory,” and will be used to provide Space Force members with a better understanding of how objects and spacecraft operate and behave in the unique theater of outer space.

“Space operators need to understand complicated concepts like astrodynamics, the effects of various items in orbit, and how spacecrafts maneuver among other objects in space—all of which demand more adaptive, interactive, and tailorable educational tools than what we are currently using,” said Col. Max Lantz, Commandant, National Security Space Institute, United States Air Force in a press release. “Building an immersive environment to drive better comprehension of these foundational theories will be vital to support the Space Force.”

Slingshot Aerospace, which is a provider of data analytics, tools and computer vision related to both aerospace and terrestrial intelligence, will be handling all the informatics components of the system, while The Third Floor will take care of the immersive visuals. The Laboratory will aim to be a tool that’s simple to use, with the goal of creating a final product that’s accessible to service members with any level of education and technical understanding.

Anyone else getting Ender’s Game Battle Room vibes from this announcement?

#aerospace, #america, #films, #simulation, #space, #tc, #the-mandalorian, #u-s-space-force

0

The Lumos Matrix is the ideal urban bike helmet for a smarter, safer day trip

With many of us are still more or less confined to our own homes and limited social spaces for the foreseeable future, and for a lot of you, that has led to a rediscovery of the joys of biking. Bike riding is a great way to spend time outdoors exploring your own town or city, and if you’re just getting into exploring this hobby, or if you’re a long-time bike rider looking for an upgrade, the Lumos Matrix smart helmet is a sensible piece of tech with a solid design that combines a number of connected features into one great package.

The basics

The Matrix is a version of Lumos’ smart helmet updated with modern, urban helmet aesthetics and a new large LED display on the back that can be programmed to show a variety of different patterns, including simple images. It includes a built-in front light in addition to the rear light panel, as well as integrated turn signals that work with an included physical handlebar remote, or in concert with an Apple Watch app. It’s available in either a gloss white finish, or a matte black (as reviewed).


Lumos has designed the Matrix to work with a wide range of head sizes, thanks in part to two sets of included velcro pads for the inside of the helmet, but due mostly to the adjustable, ratcheting sizing harness on the inside. This can be easily dialled to tighten or loosen the helmet, helping it fit heads ranging between 22 and 24-inches in size.

The exterior of the Lumos is made of an ABS plastic that provides full weatherproofing, so that you can wear it in the rain without having to worry about the condition of the embedded electronics. There’s also a MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) option that you can add on if you want an additional level of safety and security, though that’s not yet shipping and should be “available soon” according to the company.

A button integrated into the helmet’s strap lets you turn it on and off, and cycle between the built-in patters. You can pair the helmet via Bluetooth with your smartphone, too, and use the dedicated app to customize features including brightness, and even creating your own custom patterns for the rear display. In the box, you’ll also find a charging cable with a standard USB A connector on one end, and a proprietary magnetic charging surface on the other for powering up both your helmet and the handlebar remote.

Design and performance

The Lumos Matrix features a mostly continuous surface, with four vents on the top of the helmet for airflow, with an integrated brim built into the shell. As mentioned, there’s a front-facing light built-in to the helmet and protected by a transparent plastic covering, as well as a rear panel of 7×11 led lights, which create a dot matrix-style display that can display images or animations, including scrolling text. These LEDs are all full RGB, allowing the user to take full advantage for their own, or built-in display creations.

Lumos also makes the Kickstart, which features a more aerodynamic, thoroughly vented design. The look of the Matrix is more akin to helmets used in skateboarding, and for urban commuter bicyclists. Despite its more solid-looking design, in testing I found that it was actually very comfortable and cool, allowing plenty of airflow. The helmet sits a bit high on the head, but has ample hard foam padding and definitely feels like a solid piece of protective gear. Overall, the extreme quality of the construction and level of the finishes on the Matrix help it earn its higher price tag.

The Matrix is also comfortable, and the adjustable sizing straps ensure a snug fit that means the helmet won’t be shifting around at all while worn. The activation button located on the chin strap near your ear is easy to find and press, with a tactile response combined with an auditory signal so you’ll know it’s on. There’s also a built-in magnetic holder for the included two-button handlebar turn signal remote in the rear interior of the helmet itself, which is super useful when wearing the helmet out on errands.

In terms of the smart features, Lumos has created a very sensible set of defaults for the on-board lighting that make it easy to just turn on the helmet and get riding. The built-in patterns offer a range of options, but all do the job of increasing your visibility – and the bright lighting means that it adds to your ability to be seen by motorists, other cyclists and pedestrians even while you’re biking in bright daylight.

The customizability of the rear dot matrix display is also super handy. Even if you’re not interested in creating colorful designs to express your artistic self, you can use it for much more practical reasons – like displaying a simple scrolling message (ie. ‘biking with kids’) in order to alert anyone else around to reasons to pay heightened attention.

The included Lumos handlebar remote is paired out of the box, and is extremely reliable in terms of activating the turn signals on the helmet. Lumos’ smartwatch app was much more hit-or-miss for me in terms of recognizing my arm gestures reliably to automate the signalling, but that’s really a value-add feature anyway, and totally not necessary to get the full benefit of the helmet. The app’s integration with Apple Health for workout tracking while biking is also fantastic, and really adds to the overall experience of using the Matrix helmet.

Bottom line

The Lumos Matrix is a fantastic bike helmet, with an amazing integrated smart lighting system that’s both bright and highly customizable. There’s a reason this thing is carried at Apple Stores – it’s top quality in terms of construction, software integration and design. That said, its retail price starts at $249.95 – which is a lot when you consider that a good quality MIPS helmet without smart features will only set you back about $60 or so.

When you consider just how much technology is onboard the Matrix, however, the pricing becomes a lot easier to swallow. It’s true that dedicated lights also aren’t expensive, but the ones on the Matrix are very high quality and extremely visible in all lighting conditions. And the Matrix offers unique features you won’t find anywhere else, including active turn signals and automated brake lights, which really add to your ability to safely share the road with other cyclists and vehicles.

#apple, #bicycle, #films, #gadgets, #hardware, #helmets, #lumos, #reviews, #smartphone, #tc, #the-matrix

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Dr. Seuss comes to the blockchain thanks to the maker of Cryptokitties

From CryptoKitties to the NBA,

Dapper Labs has paved the way

for blockchain popularity

beyond speculation that’s purely monetary

and now with Dr. Seuss Enterprises

another collectible application arises.

Featuring the Lorax, Thing One and Thing Two

The Cat in the Hat and Horton too,

fans of Dr. Seuss can collect

characters who in retrospect

may prove to be more valuable

than almost any other collectible.

“As the world moves increasingly online, so has consumers’ desire for discovering and collecting digital memorabilia that brings them one step closer to their favorite athletes, musicians and iconic characters,” said Roham Gharegozlou, the chief executive and founder of Dapper Labs, in a statement. “With our new Dr. Seuss digital decal experience, we are marrying the best of both worlds – allowing fans to interact and discover something entirely new, while tapping into our collective nostalgia for the characters that mean so much from our childhood. We are thrilled to be working alongside Dr. Seuss Enterprises to launch this first of its kind endeavour that is bound to bring joy to Dr. Seuss fans around the globe.”

In September, Dapper Labs raised $11 million in financing from a slew of investors including Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto fund, with participation from investors including Accomplice, AppWorks, Autonomous Partners, Fenbushi Digital and Warner Music Group.

Those investors followed on a slew of other venture firms like Union Square Ventures, Venrock, Digital Currency Group, Animoca Brands, SV Angel, Version One, and CoinFund, among others.

That who’s who of investors are buying in to the underlying platform Dapper developed called “Flow”, a specialized blockchain designed for the entertainment industry, according to Gharegozlou.

 

#andreessen-horowitz, #animoca-brands, #blockchain, #coinfund, #cryptokitties, #dapper-labs, #digital-currency-group, #dr-seuss, #films, #literature, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #sv-angel, #tc, #union-square-ventures, #venrock, #version-one, #warner-music-group

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Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Impact entertainment “accelerator” inks deal with Netflix

Imagine Impact, the entertainment accelerator launched by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard to try and bring Silicon Valley-style mentorship and project development techniques to Hollywood, has inked a development deal with Netflix and is looking for submissions.

Under the agreement, Impact will identify and develop film ideas in four specific genres over the next year that they will then bring to Netflix to produce and distribute, through a global submission process.

The companies did not disclose the financial terms of the agreement.

“Netflix is the most innovative content creation and distribution company of the last decade, leading the way in streaming since 2007 and changing the original content game with House of Cards in 2013,” said Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Tyler Mitchell, co-founders of Impact, in a joint statement. “As Impact continues to evolve the way that global talent is discovered, projects are developed and how the creative industry connects, this partnership demonstrates both companies’ commitment to improving the development system in order to generate more original, quality IP to meet the growing demand.”

The first genre that Imagine Impact is looking for pitches in is “large scale action-adventure movies for all audiences.” Writers need to submit an idea and a writing sample from today through July 6.

Launched two years ago, Imagine Impact is a program that Howard, Grazer and Mitchell established to cultivate writing talent by combining the Silicon Valley mentorship model from accelerators like Y Combinator with the Hollywood storytelling magic that Grazer and Howard have perfected over decades as two of the entertainment industry’s most celebrated producers and writers, actors and directors.

The Imagine Impact vetting process involves both experienced readers and a natural language processing system that the talent incubator developed internally. From its first cohort through to last year’s team of presenters, Imagine Impact not only provides mentorship, but brings selected screenwriters to Los Angeles for an intensive period of workshopping, subsidized by the accelerator.

From the beginning, the Imagine Impact team recognized that Netflix was democratizing storytelling and creating a global platform for talent. Hollywood, the founders felt, was the best place to nurture that talent, according to interviews with the founders conducted at the company’s last demo day.

Since the first Impact program, the accelerator program has accepted 65 writers and paired them with industry experts including Akiva Goldsman of “A Beautiful Mind” fame. So far, 62 developed projects have come out of the process with 22 sold or set-up with major studios, networks and streaming services, including Godwin Jabangwe’s Tunga, an original animated family adventure musical inspired by the mythology of the Shona culture of Zimbabwe set up at Netflix, the company said. 

“Brian and Ron run one of the most creative and forward-thinking production companies in the business,” said Tendo Nagenda, Vice President of Netflix Films. “Having worked with them and Imagine Entertainment on the upcoming Hillbilly Elegy and Tick, Tick … Boom!, we were excited to extend our partnership to Imagine Impact on this new endeavor. We are looking forward to being a part of this new way stories and talent are discovered and mentored.”

 

#brian-grazer, #films, #imagine, #los-angeles, #mentorship, #netflix, #ron-howard, #streaming-services, #tc, #vice-president, #y-combinator, #zimbabwe

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‘The money is still there,’ says APX managing director Jörg Rheinboldt

APX is an early-stage accelerator in Berlin, but it’s not quite your average accelerator — it’s essentially a joint venture between giant European publishing house Axel Springer and Porsche, the German automaker. Earlier this month, we sat down with APX managing director Jörg Rheinboldt to discuss what makes APX different and how it’s weathering the coronavirus pandemic.

Rheinboldt has quite a bit of experience as both an entrepreneur and investor. He co-founded Alando.de, which was acquired by eBay in 1999 and donation platform betterplace.org in 2007. In 2013, he became CEO of Axel Springer Plug and Play and during his time as an investor, he put money into companies like N26, Zizoo, Blogfoster and Careship.

“We started APX because Plug and Play wanted to become more of a platform for matchmaking between startups and corporates,” Rheinboldt said when I asked him about the project’s origin. “We, the team, enjoyed investing in early-stage companies a lot and Axel Springer also enjoyed investing in early-stage startups a lot. So we decided to stop investing in new companies Axel Springer Plug and Play. We had invested in 102 companies — and focus[ed] on finding interesting teams to invest in with a new company that we needed to found.”

Image Credits: Dominik Tryba

Rheinboldt took this discussion to his boss, Mathias Döpfner, the current CEO of Axel Springer, who encouraged him to find another shareholder. “If it’s only us, you might have to do what we want — and maybe you don’t want that,” he said Döpfner told him. In looking for a partner, Rheinboldt approached the Porsche family, which he had met at some of his previous investor events. The family was looking to diversify its portfolio, so after a few more meetings, including a presentation at Porsche’s leadership summit, the two companies decided to get into this business together.

One interesting thing Rheinboldt noted — and this isn’t so much about the Porsche family as a general observation — is that family offices are often resistant to getting into venture capital, at least in Germany.

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Movies Anywhere to launch a movie-sharing feature called ‘Screen Pass’

Movies Anywhere, the digital locker service that lets you access your purchased movies from across services including iTunes, Vudu, Prime Video, YouTube, Xfinity, and others, is preparing to launch a new movie sharing option. According to a report from CNET, the service today will begin testing a new “Screen Pass” feature that allows users to share a movie with friends via a text message sent from the Movies Anywhere mobile app.

Users must accept the Screen Pass within 7 days to gain access to the shared title.

The new feature will work a lot like a movie rental, as recipients have a limited time to watch the movie — in this case up to 14 days. Viewers then have 72 hours to finish watching the shared movie.

Meanwhile, Movies Anywhere users will also be limited to sharing only three movies per month.

The movies can be watched across the Movies Anywhere platform, except on Roku devices for the time being.

The feature isn’t yet publicly available, but is instead launching into a limited beta test later today, CNET says. The plan was to have Screen Pass commercially available by late summer or early fall. In other words, it may not be around to help consumers stuck at home looking for something to watch during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis.

A spokesperson told the news outlet they’re working to move up the launch, in light of the “unprecedented” circumstances facing the U.S.

The Movies Anywhere app, originally called Disney Movies Anywhere, has been around in some form since 2014 but remains a bit under-the-radar as people now turn to streaming services to watch their favorite films Initially intended as a way for Disney fans to aggregate their Disney, Pixar, and Marvel film purchases in one place, long before Disney+ was even conceived, today’s Movies Anywhere service is jointly operated by a number of industry partners. In addition to Disney, this includes Universal, WB, Sony Pictures, and 20th Century Fox.

It’s not clear at this time how many movies will be enabled for Screen Pass when it goes live, but it will be limited to select titles, the report noted.

 

 

#apps, #films, #movies, #movies-anywhere, #tc

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