Raspberry Pi gets $45M to meet demand for low-cost PCs and IoT

Turns out COVID-19 lockdowns have been good for the indoor hobby of hardware hacking: The U.K.-based foundation behind the low-price microprocessor Raspberry Pi announced close of a $45 million funding round yesterday.

The cash injection into the trading arm of the (nonprofit) Raspberry Pi Foundation values it at $500 million (pre-money), founder Eben Upton confirmed.

The funding round was led by London-based Lansdowne Partners and The Ezrah Charitable Trust, a private charitable foundation based in the US.

“We are pleased to welcome Lansdowne Partners and The Ezrah Charitable Trust as our first outside shareholders to help us achieve the next steps in our growth,” said Upton in a statement. “We are seeing strong demand from consumers as they use our PCs to access the internet for work and entertainment, and even faster growth from industrial companies globally as they design Raspberry Pi into their innovative IoT applications. This funding will enable us to scale to meet future demand.

“Our new investors will not only add value to our strategy and help support our growth but they also understand the rationale and ethos of our business model, aimed at enabling access to hardware and software tools for everyone and delivering a consumer PC experience from only $35 as well as building partnerships with a growing range of OEMs across the world.”

The Pi Foundation said the financing will be used to expand what is already an ample product line of Pi microprocessors.

Spending on marketing is also planned, across both the consumer (“build it yourself” PC) and industrial (IoT) sectors.

Its trading arm ships 7 million+ devices a year at this point.

While, in total, the Pi Foundation also said it’s shipping over 42 million (Pi-powered) PCs to more than 100 countries.

“We certainly saw increased interest in Raspberry Pi during lockdown,” Upton told TechCrunch. “It was satisfying to be able to supply units to young people who needed machines to study from home on, and we had some great philanthropic support (notably from the Bloomfield Trust) to roll kits out to disadvantaged young people in the U.K.”

“Our current sustained increase in demand is driven primarily by industrial customers as the economy rebounds from COVID-19,” he added.

“In the short term the focus is on investing in manufacturing and supply chain to meet demand,” he also said, expanding on the plan for the funding. “In the longer term, this funding is going to allow us to invest more in product development: As our products become more sophisticated, they become much more expensive and time-consuming to develop, so being able to hire more engineers is a key driver of future growth.”

Commenting in a supporting statement, Peter Davies of Lansdowne Partners, added: “We are very excited to be investing with Raspberry Pi, an organisation we have followed and admired for many years. The commercial and human impact it has achieved in its first decade has been extraordinary and we look forward to assisting the company to expand this even further in coming years as new capital is deployed.”

#eben-upton, #europe, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #hardware, #internet-of-things, #iot, #lansdowne-partners, #raspberry-pi, #the-ezrah-charitable-trust, #united-kingdom

iOS 15 adds all the little features that were missing

The release of iOS 15 should be a major event for mobile operating systems. And yet, this year, there’s no breakthrough feature or overarching theme that makes this release stand out. Apple has focused on quality-of-life updates as well as new features for its own apps.

The result is a solid update that is not going to be controversial. Some people are going to take advantage of the new Focus feature. They’ll spend a lot of time customizing their phone to make it as personal as possible. Other people are just going to miss or dismiss the new features.

This year’s update is also a bit different because you don’t have to update to iOS 15. If you’re fine with iOS 14, Apple won’t force you to make the jump to iOS 15. You’ll still receive security patches. Some people will simply dismiss iOS 15 altogether.

It seems like a small change but it actually says a lot about the current state of iOS. Apple considers iOS as a mature platform. Just like you don’t have to update your Mac to the latest version of macOS if you don’t want to, you can now update at your own pace.

iOS should also be considered as a mature platform for app developers. iOS 15 adoption will be slower than usual as people won’t necessarily update to iOS 15 right away. Apps should potentially work on older iOS versions for longer.

Of course, users will ‘update’ to a new version of iOS when they buy a new iPhone and replace their old iPhone. But Apple has And people who pre-ordered the iPhone 13 will get iOS 15.

Image Credits: Apple

Focusing on you instead of your phone

One of the biggest change in iOS 15 is the ability to change your Focus from Control Center. It’s a surprisingly powerful feature with a lot of options and tweaks. I would say it doesn’t feel like an Apple feature.

But it’s definitely one of the most interesting features of iOS 15. Chances are you spend a lot of time with your phone and your device requires a lot of attention from you. With this new feature, it reverses the balance and puts you back in charge.

‘Do Not Disturb’ users are already quite familiar with the idea that you can silence notifications when you don’t want them. If you want to keep using ‘moon mode’ with iOS 15, you don’t have to change anything.

But you can now create additional Focuses. By default, Apple suggests a few Focuses — Work, Sleep, Driving, Fitness, Gaming, Mindfulness, Personal and Reading. Each Focus is customizable to your needs and you can create new Focuses from scratch.

When you turn on a specific Focus, it basically blocks notifications by default. You can then add people and apps so that notifications from those people and apps still go through. App developers can also mark a notification as time sensitive so that it always goes through. I hope they won’t abuse that feature.

There are three more settings that you can activate. First, you can optionally share that your notifications are currently silenced in Messages and compatible third-party apps. Second, you can hide home screen pages altogether. Third, you can hide notifications from the lock screen and hide badges from the home screen.

Focus gets particularly interesting when you realize that you can couple specific Focuses with automation features. For instance, you can automatically turn on ‘Sleep’ at night or you can automatically turn on ‘Work’ when you arrive at work.

Power users will also have a lot of fun setting up a Focus and pairing it with a Shortcut. For instance, you could use Shortcuts to open the Clock app when you turn on Sleep mode. You get it, this new feature has a lot of depth and beta users have just started scratching the surface.

Image Credits: Apple

Update all apps

With iOS 15, Apple has improved nearly all the default apps. Some additions are definitely nice improvements. Others have been a bit more controversial.

Let’s start with the controversial one, Safari’s design has been updated. But what you saw at WWDC in June doesn’t look at all like what’s shipping today. Essentially, Apple has listened to feedback and changed the user interface of its web browser during the summer.

By default, the address bar is now at the bottom of the screen, right above the row of buttons that let you open bookmarks, share the current page or go to the previous page. I think it works better. But if you really don’t want the address bar at the bottom, you can move it back to the top of the screen.

Other than that, Safari changes are all good improvements. For instance, the browser now supports traditional web extensions. It’s going to be interesting to see if popular Google Chrome extensions eventually come to Safari. Another nice new feature is the ability to create tab groups and find your tab groups from your other devices.

FaceTime has become a versatile video-conferencing service. You can now create links, share them with friends and add them to calendar invites. For the first time, people who don’t own an Apple device will be able to join FaceTime calls from a web browser. There’s also a new Zoom view… I mean, grid view.

Unfortunately, the big new FaceTime feature is not ready for prime time just yet. SharePlay, the feature that lets you sync audio and video playback with your friends, is going to be released later this Fall.

The Weather app has also been redesigned. It is now packed with a lot more information, such as precipitation maps, next-hour precipitation notifications and a new UV index. It has become a solid alternative to third-party weather apps. I still use Snowflake but differences are smaller and smaller.

Messages is now better integrated with other Apple apps. Whenever someone sends you an article, a photo album, a podcast or a song, you’ll see those recommendations in Apple’s other apps — Apple News, Photos, Apple Podcasts, Apple Music, etc. Once again, this is a nice addition in my testings but it’s not going to change the way you use your phone.

Apple Maps is getting better and better, especially if you live in San Francisco. If you haven’t used it in a few years, I encourage you to try it again. It’s now a solid alternative to Google Maps.

Some cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London, are receiving new detailed maps with 3D buildings, bus lanes, sidewalks and more. It feels like navigating a video game given how detailed it is. The app has also been redesigned with new place cards, a new driving user interface and settings in the app.

Photos is also receiving a bunch of improvements. Every year, the company is refining Memories. I’m not sure a ton of people are using this feature, but it’s better than before. There are now more information if you swipe on a photo as well, such as the shutter speed and lens that were used.

But the biggest change to your photo library is that you can now search for text in your photo. iOS is scanning your photos to find text and save it for Spotlight searches.

Similarly, you can now point your camera at text and select text from there. It is incredibly convenient if you’re looking for the restaurant address on the menu and want to share it with a friend or if you’re traveling and you want to translate some text.

Image Credits: Apple

Tips and tricks

There are a ton of small changes that make iOS 15 better than iOS 14. Let me list some of them:

  • If you have a compatible home key, hotel key, office key or ID card, you can now add all of those to the Wallet app.
  • You can share some health data with someone else. It can be useful if you’re living far away from your loved ones or if you want to update your healthcare team.
  • If you pay for iCloud, you’re now an iCloud+ users. In addition to storage, you get additional features. iCloud Private Relay, which is available as a beta feature, lets you browse the web with increased privacy. Hide My Email lets you create randomly generated email addresses to create new accounts around the web.
  • Similarly, if your family is using iCloud for their email addresses, you can now set up a personal domain name and set it up in iCloud.
  • iOS uses on-device speech recognition, which means that you can dictate text much faster.
  • But that’s not all, iOS processes some Siri requests on your device directly, which means that you can start a timer, set an alarm or change the music instantly. It has changed the way I use Siri.
  • You can add an account recovery contact in case you get locked out of your iCloud account. This is important to convince more people to use two-factor authentication.
  • Talking about two-factor authentication, Apple’s built-in password manager called ‘Passwords’ can now save 2FA details and auto-fill 2FA fields. It works pretty much like 2FA in 1Password.
  • You can set up a legacy person for your Apple ID. I encourage you to look at that feature carefully. I’ve talked with several persons who couldn’t get their loved one’s photos after they passed away because Apple couldn’t just hand out the photos.
  • Apple has added tags to Reminders and Notes. You can also @-mention people in Notes.

As you can see, the list of changes in iOS 15 is quite long. But it’s up to you to decide whether you want to update to iOS 15. When Apple added cut, copy and paste with iPhone OS 3, it was an obvious decision. I personally like the new features and it was worth updating. And I hope this review can help you decide whether to update or not.

#apple, #apps, #gadgets, #ios, #ios-15, #mobile, #tc

iOS 15 is now available to download

Apple has just released the final version of iOS 15, the next major version of the operating system for the iPhone. It is a free download and it works with the iPhone 6s or later, both generations of iPhone SE and the most recent iPod touch model. iPad users will also be able to update to iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 today.

The biggest change of iOS 15 is a new Focus mode. In addition to “Do not disturb,” you can configure various modes — you can choose apps and people you want notifications from and change your focus depending on what you’re doing. For instance, you can create a Work mode, a Sleep mode, a Workout mode, etc.

There are many new features across the board, such as a new Weather app, updated maps in Apple Maps, an improved version of FaceTime, and more. Safari also has a brand-new look.

The new version of iOS also scans your photos for text. Called Live Text, this feature lets you highlight, copy and paste text in photos. It could be a nice accessibility feature as well; iOS is going to leverage that info for Spotlight. You can search for text in your photos directly in Spotlight and it’ll pull out relevant photos. These features are handled on-device directly.

Paid iCloud users have been upgraded to iCloud+. In addition to more storage, iCloud+ subscribers get a handful of new features. iCloud Private Relay, which is available as a beta feature, lets you browse the web with increased privacy. Hide My Email lets you create randomly generated email addresses to create new accounts around the web. iCloud email users can also switch to a personal domain name.

The update is currently rolling out and is available both over-the-air in the Settings app, and by plugging your device to your computer for a wired update. But first, back up your device. Make sure your iCloud backup is up to date by opening the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and tapping on your account information at the top and then on your device name. Additionally, you can also plug your iOS device to your computer to do a manual backup in Finder or iTunes for Windows (or do both, really).

Don’t forget to encrypt your backup in iTunes. It is much safer if somebody hacks your computer. And encrypted backups include saved passwords and health data. This way, you don’t have to reconnect to all your online accounts.

Once this is done, you should go to the Settings app, then ‘General’ and then ‘Software Update.’ You should see ‘Update Requested…’ It will then automatically start downloading once the download is available.

#apple, #apps, #gadgets, #ios, #ios-15, #mobile

Roku debuts new Streaming Stick 4K bundles, software update with voice and mobile features

Weeks after Amazon introduced an updated Fire TV lineup that included, for the first time, its own TVs, Roku today is announcing its own competitive products in a race to capture consumers’ attention before the holiday shopping season. Its updates include a new Roku Streaming Stick 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ — the latter which ships with Roku’s newer hands-free voice remote. The company is also refreshing the Roku Ultra LT, a Walmart-exclusive version of its high-end player. And it announced the latest software update, Roku OS 10.5, which adds updated voice features, a new Live TV channel for home screens, and other minor changes.

The new Streaming Stick 4K builds on Roku’s four-year-old product, the Streaming Stick+, as it offers the same type of stick form factor designed to be hidden behind the TV set. This version, however, has a faster processor which allows the device to boot up to 30% faster and load channels more quickly, Roku claims. The Wi-Fi is also improved, offering faster speeds and smart algorithms that help make sure users get on the right band for the best performance in their homes where network congestion is an increasingly common problem  — especially with the pandemic-induced remote work lifestyle. The new Stick adds support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10+, giving it the “4K” moniker.

This version ships with Roku’s standard voice remote for the same price of $49.99. For comparison, Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick Max with a faster processor and speedier Wi-Fi is $54.99. However, Amazon is touting the addition of Wi-Fi 6 and support for its game streaming service, Luna, as reasons to upgrade.

Roku’s new Streaming Stick 4K+ adds the Roku Voice Remote Pro to the bundle instead. This is Roku’s new remote, launched in the spring, that offers rechargeability, a lost remote finder, and hands-free voice support via its mid-field microphone, so you can just say things like “hey Roku, turn on the TV,” or “launch Netflix,” instead of pressing buttons. Bought separately, this remote is $29.99. The bundle sells for $69.99, which translates to a $10 discount over buying the stick and remote by themselves.

Image Credits: Roku

Both versions of the Streaming Stick will be sold online and in stores starting in October.

The Roku Ultra LT ($79.99), built for Walmart exclusively, has also been refreshed with a faster processor, more storage, a new Wi-Fi radio with up to 50% longer range, support for Dolby Vision, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a built-in ethernet port.

Plus, Roku notes that TCL will become the first device partner to use the reference designs it introduced at CES for wireless soundbars, with its upcoming Roku TV wireless soundbar. This device connects over Wi-Fi to the TV and works with the Roku remote, and will arrive at major retailers in October where it will sell for $179.99.

The other big news is Roku’s OS 10.5 software release. The update isn’t making any dramatic changes this time around, but is instead focused largely on voice and mobile improvements.

The most noticeable consumer-facing change is the ability to add a new Live TV channel to your home screen which lets you more easily launch The Roku Channel’s 200+ free live TV channels, instead of having to first visit Roku’s free streaming hub directly, then navigate to the Live TV section. This could make the Roku feel more like traditional TV for cord-cutters abandoning their TV guide for the first time.

Other tweaks include expanded support for launching channels using voice commands, with most now supported; new voice search and podcast playback with a more visual “music and podcast” row and Spotify as a launch partner; the ability to control sound settings in the mobile app; an added Voice Help guide in settings; and additional sound configuration options for Roku speakers and soundbars (e.g. using the speaker pairs and soundbar in a left/center/right) or in full 5.1 surround sound system).

A handy feature for entering in email and passwords in set-up screens using voice commands is new, too. Roku says it sends the voice data off-device to its speech-to-text partner, and the audio is anonymized. Roku doesn’t get the password or store it, as it goes directly to the channel partner. While there are always privacy concerns with voice data, the addition is a big perk from an accessibility standpoint.

Image Credits: Roku

One of the more under-the-radar, but potentially useful changes coming in OS 10.5 is an advanced A/V sync feature that lets you use the smartphone camera to help Roku make further refinements to the audio delay when using wireless headphones to listen to the TV. This feature is offered through the mobile app.

The Roku mobile app in the U.S. is also gaining another feature with the OS 10.5 update with the addition of a new Home tab for browsing collections of movies and shows across genres, and a “Save List, which functions as a way to bookmark shows or movies you might hear about — like when chatting with friends — and want to remember to watch later when you’re back home in front of the TV.

The software update will roll out to Roku devices over the weeks ahead. It typically comes to Roku players first, then rolls out to TVs.

#amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #apple-tv-app, #computing, #digital-media-players, #ethernet, #gadgets, #hardware, #internet-radio, #internet-television, #luna, #media, #mobile, #netflix, #now, #roku, #smartphone, #speaker, #spotify, #telecommunications, #united-states, #voice-search, #walmart, #wi-fi, #wireless-headphones, #wireless-soundbar

Facebook warned over ‘very small’ indicator LED on smart glasses, as EU DPAs flag privacy concerns

Facebook’s lead privacy regulator in Europe has raised concerns about a pair of ‘smart’ Ray-Ban sunglasses the tech giant is now selling. The glasses include a face-mounted camera which can be used to take pictures and short videos with a verbal cue.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) said Friday that it’s asked the tech giant to demonstrate that an LED indicator light also mounted on the specs — which lights up when the user is taking a video — is an effective way of putting other people on notice that they are being recorded by the wearer.

Italy’s privacy watchdog, the Garante, already raised concerns about Facebook’s smart glasses — but Ireland has an outsized role as a regulator for the tech giant owing to where the company’s regional base is located.

Facebook announced what it couched as the “next step” on the road to making a pair of augmented reality ‘smart’ glasses a full year ago — saying initial specs would not include any AR but announcing a multi-year partnership luxury eyewear giant Luxottica, as it seemingly planned for a pipeline of increasingly feature-loaded ‘smart’ eyewear.

The first Facebook Ray-Ban-branded specs went on sale earlier this month — looking mostly like a standard pair of sunglasses but containing two 5 MP cameras mounted on the front that enable the user to take video of whatever they’re looking at and upload it to a new Facebook app called View. (The sunglasses also contain in-frame speakers so the user can listen to music and take phone calls.)

The specs also include a front mounted LED light which is supposed to switch on to indicate when a video is being recorded. However European regulators are concerned that what the DPC describes as a “very small” indicator is an inadequate mechanism for alerting people to the risk they are being recorded.

Facebook has not demonstrated it conducted comprehensive field testing of the device with a view to assessing the privacy risk it may pose, it added.

“While it is accepted that many devices including smart phones can record third party individuals, it is generally the case that the camera or the phone is visible as the device by which recording is happening, thereby putting those captured in the recordings on notice. With the glasses, there is a very small indicator light that comes on when recording is occurring. It has not been demonstrated to the DPC and Garante that comprehensive testing in the field was done by Facebook or Ray-Ban to ensure the indicator LED light is an effective means of giving notice,” the DPC wrote.

Facebook’s lead EU data protection regulator goes on to say it is calling on the tech giant to “confirm and demonstrate that the LED indicator light is effective for its purpose and to run an information campaign to alert the public as to how this new consumer product may give rise to less obvious recording of their images”.

Facebook has been contacted with questions.

It is not clear whether Facebook engaged with any EU privacy regulators during the design of the smart glasses.

Nor whether or when they might launch in Europe.

The specs sent on sale in the US earlier this month — costing $299. The price to Americans’ privacy is tbc.

Over the years, Facebook has delayed (or even halted) some of its product launches in Europe following regulatory concerns — including a facial tagging feature (which it later reintroduced in another form).

The launch of Facebook’s dating service in Europe was also delayed for more than nine months — and arrived with some claimed changes after an intervention by the DPC.

There are also ongoing limits on how the Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp can share data with Facebook itself in Europe, again owing to regulatory push back. Although plenty of data does still flow from WhatsApp to Facebook in the EU and — zooming out — scores of privacy complaints against the tech giant remain under investigation in the region, meaning these issues are undecided and unenforced.

Earlier this month Ireland’s DPC did announce its first decision against a Facebook company (under the EU’s GDPR)  — hitting WhatsApp with a $267 penalty related to transparency failures. However the DPC has multiple unresolved complaints against Facebook or Facebook-owned businesses still on its desk.

In January the Irish regulator also agreed to “swiftly” resolve a (pre-GDPR) 2013 complaint against Facebook’s data transfers out of the EU to the US. That decision is still pending too.

#data-protection-commission, #europe, #european-union, #eyewear, #facebook, #gadgets, #gdpr, #glasses, #ireland, #italy, #luxottica, #privacy, #ray-ban, #smartglasses, #sunglasses, #united-states, #whatsapp

GoPro debuts the HERO10 Black action camera

GoPro today announced a new flagship action camera for its lineup, the HERO10 Black. The main update for the camera is a brand new processor inside, called the GP2, which enables big improvements to image quality and video captures, including recording at 5.3K revolution at up to 60 frames per second, 4K video capture bumped to a max of 120 FPS, and 2.7K video at 240 FPS which enables awesome slow-mo capabilities.

The new HERO10 Black also offers better still images, with 23.6 megapixel captures, and better performance in low light. That improved low-light capture applies to video, too, with 3D noise reduction applied so that even nighttime scenes have a lot less grain. The improved processing capabilities of the GP2 chip also mean that using the GoPro interface and software on the camera is generally much snappier, too.

Another new feature made possible by the improved processor is the 4.0 version of HyperSmooth, which is GoPro’s tech for offering gimbal-like stabilization via software. HyperSmooth was already impressive, and based on our initial testing (a full review will follow soon), it’s fantastic on this new generation of camera. HERO10 also packs an upgraded horizon levelling system, which locks the horizon even when the camera is tilted up to 45 degrees in either direction.

DCIM100GOPROG0053711.JPG

The GoPro HERO10 includes a front-facing screen as well as a rear touch screen, with better frame rates on the front selfie screen. The new lens cover has a hydrophobic treatment to improve its ability to get wet and shed water, and it works with the existing Media Mod, Display Mod and Light Mod for GoPro cameras. It works as a webcam out of the box, has fast-charging support, and now offers wired content transfers to your smartphone or device in addition to cloud uploading and wireless transfer.

Also returning is GoPro’s SuperView lens, which offers an even wider angle capture, and which will be available in new 5.3K 30/25/24 FPS capture modes when a firmware update arrives on November 16. That will also delivers support for GoPro’s Max Lens Mods, as well as the following additional capture modes:

  • 5K 4:3 24fps
  • 4K 4:3 30/25/24fps
  • 5.3K 24fps
  • 1080 24fps

GoPro’s HERO10 is available now, priced at $399.98 with a bundled one-year GoPro subscription or for existing subscribers, or you’ll pay $499.99 without the recurring sub, which will cost $49.99 annually or $4.99 per month after the trial. There’s a HERO10 Black bundle that includes a Shorty tripod mount, a magnetic swivel clip, an additional battery and a 32GB microSD card for $549 without subscription, or $449 with one. GoPro subscribers can also upgrade to the bundle from their existing camera for a further discounted $399.

The company will continue to offer both the GoPro HERO9 Black and the HERO8 Black alongside the HERO10, at lower price points, as well as its MAX 360 action camera.

#action-camera, #gadgets, #gopro, #hardware, #tc

Tile secures $40 million to take on Apple AirTag with new products

Tile, the maker of Bluetooth-powered lost item finder beacons and, more recently, a staunch Apple critic, announced today it has raised $40 million in non-dilutive debt financing from Capital IP. The funding will be put towards investment in Tile’s finding technologies, ahead of the company’s plan to unveil a new slate of products and features that the company believes will help it to better compete with Apple’s AirTags and further expand its market.

The company has been a longtime leader in the lost item finder space, offering consumers small devices they can attach to items — like handbags, luggage, bikes, wallets, keys, and more — which can then be tracked using the Tile smartphone app for iOS or Android. When items go missing, the Tile app leverages Bluetooth to find the items and can make them play a sound. If the items are further afield, Tile taps into its broader finding network consisting of everyone who has the app installed on their phone and other access points. Through this network, Tile is able to automatically and anonymously communicate the lost item’s location back to its owner through their own Tile app.

Image Credits: Tile

Tile has also formed partnerships focused on integrating its finding network into over 40 different third-party devices, including those across audio, travel, wearables, and PC categories. Notable brand partners include HP, Dell, Fitbit, Skullcandy, Away, Xfinity, Plantronics, Sennheiser, Bose, Intel, and others. Tile says it’s seen 200% year-over-year growth on activations of these devices with its service embedded.

To date, Tile has sold over 40 million devices and has over 425,000 paying customers — a metric it’s revealing for the first time. It doesn’t disclose its total number of users, both free and paid combined, however. During the first half of 2021, Tile says revenues increased by over 50%, but didn’t provide hard numbers.

While Tile admits that the Covid-19 pandemic had some impacts on international expansions, as some markets have been slower to rebound, it has still seen strong performance outside the U.S., and considers that a continued focus.

The pandemic, however, hasn’t been Tile’s only speed bump.

When Apple announced its plans to compete with the launch of AirTags, Tile went on record to call it unfair competition. Unlike Tile devices, Apple’s products could tap into the iPhone’s U1 chip to allow for more accurate finding through the use of ultra-wideband technologies available on newer iPhone models. Tile, meanwhile, has plans for its own ultra-wideband powered device, but hadn’t been provided the same access. In other words, Apple gave its own lost item finder early, exclusive access to a feature that would allow it to differentiate itself from the competition. (Apple has since announced it’s making ultra-wideband APIs available to third-party developers, but this access wasn’t available from day one of AirTag’s arrival.)

Image Credits: Tile internal concept art

Tile has been vocal on the matter of Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, having testified in multiple Congressional hearings alongside other Apple critics, like Spotify and Match. As a result of increased regulatory pressure, Apple later opened up its Find My network to third-party devices, in an effort to placate Tile and the other rivals its AirTags would disadvantage.

But Tile doesn’t want to route its customers to Apple’s first-party app — it intends to use its own app in order to compete based on its proprietary features and services. Among other things, this includes Tile’s subscriptions. A base plan is $29.99 per year, offering features like free battery replacement, smart alerts, and location history. A $99.99 per year plan also adds insurance of sorts — it pays up to $1,000 per year for items it can’t find. (AirTag doesn’t do that.)

Despite its many differentiators, Tile faces steep competition from the ultra-wideband capable AirTags, which have the advantage of tapping into Apple’s own finding network of potentially hundreds of millions of iPhone owners.

However, Tile CEO CJ Prober — who joined the company in 2018 — claims AirTag hasn’t impacted the company’s revenue or device sales.

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re making things harder for us,” he says of Apple. “We’re a growing business. We’re winning the hearts and minds of consumers… and they’re competing unfairly.”

“When you own the platform, you shouldn’t be able to identify a category that you want to enter, disadvantage the incumbents in that category, and then advantage yourself — like they did in our case,” he adds.

Tile is preparing to announce an upcoming product refresh that may allow it to better take on the AirTag. Presumably, this will include the pre-announced ultra-wideband version of Tile, but the company says full details will be shared next week. Tile may also expand its lineup in other ways that will allow it to better compete based on look and feel, size and shape, and functionality.

Tile’s last round of funding was $45 million in growth equity in 2019. Now it’s shifted to debt. In addition to new debt financing, Tile is also refinancing some of its existing debt with this fundraise, it says.

“My philosophy is it’s always good to have a mix of debt and equity. So some amount of debt on the balance sheet is good. And it doesn’t incur dilution to our shareholders,” Prober says. “We felt this was the right mix of capital choice for us.”

The company chose to work with Capital IP, a group it’s had a relationship with over the last three years, and who Tile had considered bringing on as an investor. The group has remained interested in Tile and excited about its trajectory, Prober notes.

“We are excited to partner with the Tile team as they continue to define and lead the finding category through hardware and software-based innovations,” said Capital IP’s Managing Partner Riyad Shahjahan, in a statement. “The impressive revenue growth and fast-climbing subscriber trends underline the value proposition that Tile delivers in a platform-agnostic manner, and were a critical driver in our decision to invest. The Tile team has an ambitious roadmap ahead and we look forward to supporting their entry into new markets and applications to further cement their market leadership,” he added.

#airtag, #airtags, #android, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #bluetooth, #ceo, #computing, #dell, #find-my, #fitbit, #funding, #gadgets, #hardware, #intel, #iphone, #mobile, #plantronics, #recent-funding, #sennheiser, #skullcandy, #smartphone, #startups, #tc, #technology, #tile, #u1-chip, #ultra-wideband, #united-states

Apple sheds value during iPhone event

The TechCrunch crew is hard at work writing up the latest from Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch event. They have good notes on the megacorp’s hardware updates. But what are the markets saying about the same array of products?

For those of us more concerned with effective S&P dividend yields than screen nit levels, events like Apple’s confab are more interesting for what they might mean for the value of the hosting company than how many GPUs a particular smartphone model has. And, for once, Apple’s stock may have done something a little interesting during the event!

Observe the following chart:

This is a one-day chart, mind, so we’re looking at intraday changes. We’re zoomed in. And Apple kinda took a bit of a dive during its event that kicked off at 1 p.m. in the above chart.

Normally nothing of import happens to Apple’s shares during its presentations. Which feels weird, frankly, as Apple events detail the product mix that will generate hundreds of billions in revenue. You’d think that they would have more impact than their usual zero.

But today, we had real share price movement when the event wrapped around 2 p.m. ET. Perhaps investors were hoping for more pricey devices? Or were hoping Apple had more up its sleeve? How you rate that holiday Apple product lineup is a matter of personal preference, but investors appear to have weighed in slightly to the negative.

Worth around $2.5 trillion, each 1% that Apple’s stock moves is worth $10 billion. Apple’s loss of 1.5% today — more or less; trading continues as I write this — is worth more than Mailchimp. It’s a lot of money.

You can read the rest of our coverage from the Apple event here. Enjoy!

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #gadgets, #ipad, #iphone, #mobile, #stock-market, #tablet-computers

iPhone users will receive iOS 15 update on September 20

Shortly after today’s virtual conference, Apple announced that the next major version of iOS will be ready for prime time very soon. iPhone users will be able to update to iOS 15 on September 20. The company first unveiled iOS 15 earlier this year at its Worldwide Developer Conference.

The biggest change of iOS 15 is a new Focus mode. In addition to “Do not disturb,” you can configure various modes — you can choose apps and people you want notifications from and change your focus depending on what you’re doing. For instance, you can create a Work mode, a Sleep mode, a Workout mode, etc.

There are many new features across the board, such as a new Weather app, updated maps in Apple Maps, an improved version of FaceTime and more. Safari also has a brand-new look. At first it was a bit controversial. Since then, Apple has listened to feedback and improved its new take on Safari.

The new version of iOS also scans your photos for text. Called Live Text, this feature lets you highlight, copy and paste text in photos. It could be a nice accessibility feature as well. iOS is going to leverage that info for Spotlight. You can search for text in your photos directly in Spotlight and it’ll pull out relevant photos. These features are handled on-device directly.

You’ll be able to update to iOS 15 if you have an iPhone 6s and later, any model of iPhone SE or the most recent iPod touch model. It’ll be available as a free download.

If you like your iPhone the way it is, Apple has also said that you don’t have to update to iOS 15. For the foreseeable future, the company will still update iOS 14 with security patches.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #apple-fall-event-2021, #apps, #gadgets, #ios, #ios-15, #mobile

The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max features 120Hz display, better cameras

Apple has announced its new lineup of phones at its virtual conference. In addition to the regular iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, the company has two Pro models with some premium features that you won’t find in the regular iPhone 13.

Of course, the Pro models are also more expensive. For reference, the iPhone 13 Mini starts at $699 and the iPhone 13 starts at $799. As for the Pro models, the iPhone 13 Pro starts at $999 and the iPhone 13 Pro Max starts at $1,099. The iPhone 13 Pro has a 6.1-inch display while the iPhone 13 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch display.

“Our Pro lineup pushes the limits with our most advanced technologies for users who want the very best iPhone,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

Here’s what you’ll get if you decide to buy the iPhone 13 Pro instead of the iPhone 13. The design is slightly different as the Pro models get shiny stainless steel bands around the case of the phone. There are also three stainless steel rings around the three camera sensors. The back of the device is made of matte glass.

There are three different camera sensors at the back of the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max instead of two. In addition to the ultra wide and wide camera, you get a 3x camera. It seems like the wide and ultra wide cameras aren’t identical in the Pro models vs. the regular models either.

Last year, only the iPhone 12 Pro Max featured sensor shift optical image stabilization. This time, the entire iPhone 13 lineup gets sensor shift optical image stabilization. Basically, the regular iPhone 13 is getting many of the advanced camera features that was restricted to Pro models.

In particular, there’s a new cinematic mode with rack focus. You can track a subject and lock focus on that subject in real time. Cinematic mode shoots in Dolby Vision HDR. Later this year, you’ll be able to shoot ProRes videos with the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max.

So here’s what you get in the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro Max:

  • A 77mm telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom.
  • An ultra wide camera with ƒ/1.8 aperture and “up to 92% improvement in low-light performance,” according to Apple.
  • A wide camera with ƒ/1.5 aperture and “up to 2.2x improvement in low-light performance,” according to Apple.

For the first time, you can use Night mode with all three cameras. This way, you don’t have to remember which camera will give you the best result.

The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max comes with a Pro Motion display with P3 color range. Like on high-end iPad models, these iPhone models have an adaptative framerate. If you need it, your iPhone display can run at 120Hz. If you’re watching a movie, the iPhone can use a lower framerate to save battery life.

As the iPhone 13 Max is the largest smartphone in the lineup, you get more battery life. Apple promises a battery that lasts 2.5 hours longer for the iPhone 13 Pro Max compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Like the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, the Pro models come with Apple’s A15 Bionic chip. It’s a 5-mm design with 15 billion transistors. There are two high-performance cores and four energy-efficient cores. You should get nearly the same performances across the lineup, but there’s a new 5-core GPU in the Pro lineup.

Pre-orders start on Friday and they will be available on September 24. There are four different models with 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of storage.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #gadgets, #iphone, #iphone-13

Apple updates the entry-level $329 iPad

Apple is launching a new iPad model. This is the most affordable iPad model in the lineup, it’s cheaper than the iPad Air and iPad Pro. Today’s new iPad replaces the existing $329 iPad in the lineup.

It features Apple’s A13 chip. Apple originally unveiled the A13 for the iPhone 11. As a reminder, the existing iPad uses the A12 Bionic. Apple is keeping the same familiar design with a 10.2-inch display.

When it comes to the camera, you can expect improved auto focus and low-light performance. The front-facing is receiving a huge upgrade as it now has a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera with a 122° view angle.

Apple is also bringing center stage to the iPad. That feature automatically detects what’s happening during a video call and crops the image to that part of the video feed in real time. It’s going to improve your family video-conferencing sessions.

The entry-level iPad is also getting True Tone for the first time. It’s a sort of white-balance adjustment feature for the display. Like the previous version, the new iPad supports the first-generation Apple Pencil with its built-in Lightning connector.

The new iPad will be available next week for $329 with 64GB (instead of 32GB for the previous generation). You can also get a model with cellular connectivity and schools can buy this iPad for $299. This model of iPad comes in silver and Space Gray.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #apple-fall-event-2021, #gadgets, #ipad, #tc

Xiaomi launches its own smart glasses, of course

Xiaomi is challenging Facebook in the wearables arena by launching its own smart glasses. The device won’t only be capable of taking photos, but also of displaying messages and notifications, making calls, providing navigation and translating text right in real time in front of your eyes. Like Facebook, Xiaomi is also putting emphasis on the device’s lightness despite its features. At 51 grams, though, it’s a bit heavier than the social network’s Ray-Ban Stories. In addition, the glasses also has an indicator light that shows when the 5-megapixel camera is in use.

Xiaomi’s Smart Glasses are powered by a quad-core ARM processor and run on Android. They also use MicroLED imaging technology, which is known for having a higher brightness and longer lifespan than OLED. The company says the technology has a simpler structure that enabled it to create a compact display with individual pixels sized at 4μm. You won’t be able to view the images you take in color, though — Xiaomi says it opted to use a monochrome display solution “to allow sufficient light to pass through complicated optical structures.”

The company explains:

“The grating structure etched onto the inner surface of the lens allows light to be refracted in a unique way, directing it safely into the human eye. The refraction process involves bouncing light beams countless times, allowing the human eye to see a complete image, and greatly increasing usability while wearing. All this is done inside a single lens, instead of using complicated multiples lens systems, mirrors, or half mirrors as some other products do.”

Its smart glasses won’t be just a second screen for your phone, according to Xiaomi. It’s independently capable of many things, such as selecting the most important notifications to show you, including smart home alarms and messages from important contacts. The device’s navigation capability can display maps and directions in front of your eyes. It can also show you the number of whoever’s currently calling your phone, and you can take the call using the smart glasses’ built in mic and speakers.

That mic will be able to pick up speech, as well, which Xiaomi’s proprietary translating algorithm can translate in real time. The glasses’ translation feature also works’ on written text and text on photos captures through its camera. Unfortunately, the company has yet to announce a price or a launch date for the glasses, but we’ll keep you updated when it does.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

#ar, #augmented-reality, #column, #gadgets, #hardware, #smart-glasses, #tc, #tceng, #xiaomi

South Korean antitrust regulator fines Google $177M for abusing market dominance

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.

The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.

Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.

The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.

Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.

The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.

Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.

Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.

South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.

In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.

#antitrust, #apps, #asia, #gadgets, #google, #government, #hardware, #mobile, #south-korea, #tc

Sila Nanotechnologies’ battery technology will launch in Whoop wearables

Sila Nanotechnologies next-generation battery technology made its commercial product debut Wednesday in the new Whoop fitness tracker, a milestone that caps a decade of research and development by the Silicon Valley startup all aimed at cracking the code to packing more energy into a cell at a lower cost.

Billions have been spent over the past few years on improving battery chemistry, with different startups aiming to either replace the anode or the cathode with a conversion material, like silicon or even lithium in the case of solid state companies.

Sila Nano’s battery chemistry recipe replaces graphite in a battery cell’s anode with silicon to create a more energy-dense and cheaper battery pack. Other companies, like BASF are focusing on creating a high energy dense cathode. 

While numerous companies are working on a variety of different battery chemistries, they have yet to take over the traditional cell technology found in today’s lithium-ion cells. The Sila battery used in the upcoming Whoop 4.0, the company’s latest health and performance tracker, could be the first time in the last few decades the world has seen a next-generation battery chemistry ship to market. 

“Launching a small fitness tracker doesn’t seem like a big thing, but this is really the first device in the market that proves our breakthrough, and over time, this will scale and lead to the electrification of everything,” Gene Berdichevsky, founder and CEO of Sila Nano, told TechCrunch.

Electric vehicles, and Sila Nano’s role in powering them, is at the top of Berdichevsky’s “electrification of everything” list. And the company has already made headway.

Sila Nano has joint battery ventures with BMW and Daimler to produce batteries containing the company’s silicon-anode technology, with the goal of going to market in the automotive industry by 2025. 

“You can translate this success with Whoop to cars in many ways,” said Berdichevksy. “Today, if you want a really long range vehicle, it better be a pretty big car. The smaller the EV, the shorter the range because there’s nowhere to put the battery. But as our technology advances into the automotive market, you’ll be able to have a city car that has 400 miles of range on it. This is enabling more segments of the auto industry to electrify.” 

Whoop, which earlier this month announced a $200 million raise at a $3.6 billion valuation, is introducing the Whoop 4.0 as a wearable that’s 33% smaller, in large part as a result of Sila’s battery, which has about 17% higher energy density, according to Berdichevsky. Not only does a denser, better battery lead to a smaller wearable, but Whoop was able to add additional features – like a sleep coach with haptic alerts, a pulse oximeter, a skin temperature sensor and a health monitor – without compromising its five-day battery life. 

“One of the key outcomes of enabling a chemistry like ours is it allows you to build things that couldn’t otherwise be built,” said Berdichevsky. 

In Whoop’s case, that’s referring to its new Any-Wear tech that allows the wearable to be integrated into a new line of garments like bands that can collect sensor data from areas including the torso, waist and calf.

It’s not just Sila’s chemistry that’s allowing for a successful product to go to market. It’s the scalability of the product that’s really important. Scalability has been built into Sila’s roadmap from the beginning. 

“One of the things we did very early on is we told our scientists and engineers they could only use global commodity inputs so that we know we can make enough for millions of cars,” said Berdichevsky. “Next we said you had to use only what we call ‘bulk manufacturing’ techniques, and that means you use volumetric reactors rather than planar reactors.”

An easy way to think about the difference in reactor types is through the analogy of making enough food to feed a crowd: A big pot of chili (the volumetric reactor) will go a lot farther than individual pizza pies (planar reactors).

Berdichevsky also told his team that anything they created had to be able to seamlessly drop into any battery factory process, whether that factory is supplying batteries for smartphones, cars or drones. 

Sila Nano has already proven scalability twice, Berdichevsky said. The first time it scaled 100x from lab to pilot, starting with volumetric reactors that were about the size of a liter. Wednesday’s partnership with Whoop marks the second time the company has scaled up 100x, and this time to 5,000 liter reactors. To put that in relative terms, a couple of humans could probably climb into one of those reactors. The next stage of scaling will involve reactors large enough that you could drive a car through, says Berdichevsky, which is fitting given Sila Nano’s goal of scaling up to automotive quantities over the next three years. 

“The reason we’re not in cars today is we have to go scale up 100x to have enough to really deploy in cars, but the material is the same,” said Berdichevsky. “The particles, the powder we make, it’s the same in every one of the scales we’ve made so far.”

#automotive, #gadgets, #health, #sila-nanotechnologies, #transportation, #wearables

Wright tests its 2-megawatt electric engines for passenger planes

Just like the automotive industry, aerospace has its sights set on going electric — but flying with battery-powered engines is a tougher proposition than rolling. Wright is among the startups looking to change the math and make electrified flight possible at scales beyond small aircraft — and its 2-megawatt engine could power the first generation of large-scale electric passenger planes.

Electric cars have proven to be a huge success, but they have an advantage over planes in that they don’t need to produce enough lift to keep their own mass in the air. Electric planes have been held back by this fundamental conundrum, that the weight of the batteries needed to fly any distance with passengers aboard means the plane is too heavy to fly in the first place.

In order to escape this conundrum, the main thing to improve is efficiency: how much thrust can be produced per watt of power. Since reducing the mass of batteries is a long, slow process, it’s better to innovate in other ways: materials, airframe, and of course the engine, which in traditional jets is a huge, immensely heavy and complex internal combustion one.

Electric engines are generally lighter, simpler, and more reliable than fuel-powered ones, but in order to achieve flight you need to reach a certain level of efficiency. After all, if a jet burned a thousand gallons of fuel per second, the plane couldn’t hold the amount needed to take off. So it falls to companies like Wright and H3x to build electric engines that can produce more thrust from the same amount of stored energy.

While H3x is focused on small aircraft that will probably be taking flight sooner, Wright founder Jeff Engler explained that if you want to take on aerospace’s carbon footprint, you really have to start looking at commercial passenger jets — and Wright is planning to make one. Fortunately, despite the company’s name, they don’t need to build it entirely from scratch.

“We’re not reinventing the concept of the wing, or the fuselage, or anything like that. What changes is what propels the aircraft forward,” said Engler. He likened it to electric vehicles in that much of the car doesn’t change when you go electric, mainly the parts that have operated the same way in principle for a century. All the same, integrating a new propulsion system into a plane isn’t trivial.

Wright’s engine is a 2 megawatt motor that produces the equivalent of 2,700 horsepower, at an efficiency of around 10 kilowatts per kilogram. “It’s the most powerful motor designed for the electric aerospace industry by a factor of 2, and it’s substantially lighter than anything out there,” said Engler.

The lightness comes from a ground-up redesign using a permanent magnet approach with “an aggressive thermal strategy,” he explained. A higher voltage than is normally employed for aerospace purposes and an insulation system to match enable an engine that hits the power and efficiency levels required to put a large plane in flight.

CG render of a plane using Wright's engines

Image Credits: Wright

Wright is making sure its engines can be used by retrofitted aircraft, but it’s also working on a plane of its own with established airframe makers. This first craft would be a hybrid electric, combining the lightweight, efficient propulsion stack with the range of a liquid fuel engine. Relying on hydrogen complicates things but it makes for a much faster transition to electric flight and a huge reduction in emissions and fuel use.

Several of Wright’s motors would be attached to each wing of the proposed aircraft, providing at least two benefits. First, redundancy. Planes with two huge engines are designed to be capable of flying even if one fails. If you have six or eight engines, one failing isn’t nearly so catastrophic, and as a consequence the plane doesn’t need to carry twice as much engine as you need. Second is the stability and noise reduction that comes from having multiple engines that can be adjusted individually or in concert to reduce vibration and counteract turbulence.

Right now the motor is in lab testing at sea level, and once it passes those tests (some time next year is the plan) it will be run in an altitude simulation chamber and then up at 40,000 feet for real. This is a long term project, but an entire industry doesn’t change overnight.

Engler was emphatic about the enthusiasm and support the company has received from the likes of NASA and the military, both of which have provided considerable cash, material and expertise. When I brought up the idea that the company’s engine might end up in a new bombing drone, he said he was sensitive to that possibility, but that what he’s seen (and is aiming for) is much more in line with the defense department’s endless cargo and personnel flights. The military is a huge polluter, it turns out, and they want to change that — and cut down on how much money they spend on fuel every year as well.

“Think of how things changed when we went from propellers to jets,” said Engler. “It redefined how an airplane operates. This new propulsion tech allows for reshaping the entire industry.”

#aerospace, #aircraft, #aviation, #electric-aircraft, #electric-aviation, #electric-vehicles, #gadgets, #hardware, #startups, #tc

Women’s health tech brand, Elvie, tops up Series C to $97M

Elvie, the women’s health tech pioneer behind a connected breast pump and smart pelvic floor exerciser, has topped up a Series C which it announced earlier this summer (July) — adding a further £12.7m to bring the total raised to £70 million ($97m).

The 2013-founded, UK-based startup previously raised a $42M Series B in 2019, and a $6M Series A in 2017 — when femtech startups were a lot rarer than they are now. Products designed for (and often by) women have gained a lot of momentum over this period as female-led startups have blazed a trail and shown there’s a sizeable market for femtech — leading investors to slow clock on to the opportunity too.

Analysts now project the femtech industry will become a $50 billion market by 2025.

Elvie says the Series C extension includes funds sponsored by the co-founders of Blume Equity – a PE firm that focuses on the food and health sectors – plus further capital from existing investors IPGL, Hiro Capital and Westerly Winds.

In July, when it announced the earlier ($80M) tranche of the raise, Elvie said the Series C was led by BGF and BlackRock alongside existing investors including Octopus Ventures.

The Series C will be used to drive for more growth through geographical expansion (including entering new markets) and diversifying its product portfolio to target other “key stages” in women’s lives, it said.

That means it’ll be splashing out on R&D to support product development — connected hardware that blends physical gadgetry with software still looks to be a strong focus — and also on strengthening its ops and infrastructure to prep for further scale.

Elvie sells four products at this stage: Its connected kegel trainer, and a wearable breast pump (plus two non-electric pumps).

Where the company goes next in terms of product will be an interesting one to watch.

Commenting in a statement, Tania Boler, CEO and founder, said: “Elvie is ready for the next phase of our growth. We have already revolutionized the categories we operate in, but we know that there is vast untapped potential to create better technology products and services for women in new areas.”

She added that Elvie’s goal is to create “the go-to destination for women’s health at all life stages” — selling “sophisticated, accurate and personalised solutions” to its target female consumer.

#blackrock, #elvie, #europe, #femtech, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #health, #medical-technology, #octopus-ventures, #startup-company, #tania-boler, #united-kingdom, #wearables, #womens-health

VanMoof raises $128 million to become the world’s leading e-bike brand

Amsterdam-based startup VanMoof has raised a $128 million Series C funding round. The company designs and sells electric bikes that are quite popular in some markets. It now wants to become the world’s leading e-bike brand by iterating at a faster pace.

Asia-based private equity firm Hillhouse Investment is leading the round, with Gillian Tans, the former CEO of Booking.com, also participating. Some existing investors also put some more money on the table, such as Norwest Venture Partners, Felix Capital, Balderton Capital and TriplePoint Capital.

Today’s Series C represents a big jump compared to the company’s Series B. Last year, VanMoof raised a $40 million Series B. Overall, if you add it all up, the startup has raised $182 million in total.

If you’re not familiar with VanMoof’s e-bikes, TechCrunch reviewed both the most recent S3 and X3 models. On paper, they are identical. The VanMoof X3 features a smaller frame and smaller wheels.

What makes VanMoof different from your average e-bike manufacturer is that the company tries to control everything from the supply chain to the customer experience. VanMoof e-bikes are premium e-bikes that are primarily designed for city rides. The most recent models currently cost $2,298 or €2,198.

They feature an electric motor paired with an electronic gear shifting system. It has four gears and you don’t have to change gears yourself. All you have to do is jump on the bike and start pedaling.

Recognizable by their iconic triangular-shaped futuristic-looking frames, the S3 and X3 also come with hydraulic brakes, integrated lights and some smart features. There’s an integrated motion detector combined with an alarm, a GPS chip and cellular connectivity.

If you declare your bike as stolen, the GPS and cellular chips go live and you can track your bike in the VanMoof app. The company’s bikes are now also compatible with Apple’s Find My app.

Instead of relying exclusively on off-the-shelf parts, the company works with a small set of suppliers to manufacture custom components. This way, it can cut out as many middleperson as possible to bring costs down. It’s also a good competitive advantage.

Growing a company like VanMoof is a capital-intensive business. The company has opened retail stores and service hubs in 50 different cities around the world. While the company started in Europe, the U.S. is now the fastest growth market for VanMoof.

With today’s funding round, the startup plans to double-down on its current strategy. You can expect updated bikes with refined designs and more custom parts. You can expect more stores and service hubs around the world. And you can probably expect more online sales as well.

“It will help us get 10 million people on our bikes in the next five years,” co-founder and CEO Taco Carlier said in a statement. So far, there are 150,000 people using VanMoof bikes.

Today’s investment shouldn’t come as a surprise. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated plans to transform European cities — and prioritize bikes over cars. Last year, TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas and I wrote a comprehensive overview of key policy developments in four major cities — Paris, Barcelona, London and Milan. VanMoof is now benefiting from these policy shifts.

#automotive, #bike, #e-bike, #electric-bike, #europe, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #micromobility, #startups, #vanmoof

Luminate aims to make hair loss from chemotherapy a thing of the past

Hair loss resulting from chemotherapy is one of the most recognizable side effects in all of medicine, and for many is an unwanted public announcement of their condition and treatment. Luminate Medical may have a solution in a medical wearable that prevents the chemical cocktail from tainting hair follicles, preventing the worst of the loss and perhaps relegating this highly visible condition to the past.

When Luminate CEO Aaron Hannon and his co-founder Bárbara Oliveira were asking patients and doctors about areas of cancer treatment that they could perhaps innovate in, “we were just astonished at how much hair loss dominated the conversation,” said Hannon. “So from then on out we’ve just been laser focused on making that something that doesn’t exist any more.”

When a patient is undergoing chemotherapy, the cancer-inhibiting drugs course through their entire body — anywhere the blood goes. This has a variety of side effects, like weakness and nausea, and on a longer time scale hair loss occurs as the substances affect the follicles. Luminate’s solution, developed in partnership with the National University of Ireland Galway, is to prevent the blood from reaching those cells in the first place.

Image of a woman wearing the Luminate headset.

Image Credits: Luminate

The device that effects this is a sort of mechanized compression garment for the head. If that sounds a bit sinister, don’t worry — the pressure comes from air bladders and pads pressing against the scalp, not screws or plates; Hannon says that it isn’t uncomfortable and pressure is carefully monitored.

There’s also no risk of damage from lack of blood flow in those cells. “Compression therapy has been really well studied,” he said. “There are years of literature around how long you can apply these therapies without damaging the cells. There’s a certain amount of mechanical engineering involved in making it both comfortable and effective.”

The patient wears the cap during and after the whole chemo session. By restricting blood flow to the skin of the scalp only, it allows the drugs to flow unimpeded to wherever the tumor or cancer site is while saving the hair follicles from damage.

Tests have been done on animals, which saw hair retention of around 80 percent with no adverse effects — and while full human trials are something that will need some time and approval to set up, initial tests of the headset’s bloodflow-blocking effects on healthy patients showed that it works exactly as expected on people as well.

“We’re really excited about the efficacy of this therapy because it works with lots of hair types,” said Hannon. That’s a real consideration, since a tech that only worked with short hair, straight hair, or some other subset of hairstyles would exclude far too many people.

Luminate's app showing how long is left in therapy for the user.

Image Credits: Luminate / Wild Island Pictures

As for competition, although there are some new treatments that cool the scalp instead of compressing it, Hannon noted that the most money is spent by far on wigs. An average of a thousand dollars per patient who opts for a wig means there’s considerable leeway for a device in that neighborhood.

Although hair loss is considered a medical condition by many insurance companies and other methods of reimbursement, and wigs are often covered, it will take time and lots of evidence to get Luminate’s device approved for those processes. But the team is confident that at around $1,500, the device is within the means of many as long as other costs are being picked up by insurance. People do, after all, spend that much and more not just on wigs but on other hair retention products and methods. If there was a checkbox for “don’t lose hair” on the chemo forms with a $1,500 price tag, a whole lot of people would check it without a second thought.

Cofounders Bárbara Oliveira (left) and Aaron Hannon.

Image Credits: Luminate

Ultimately, however, Luminate wants to be able to offer the device also to those who can’t afford the cost out of pocket, so they are progressing towards FDA approval and a U.S. launch, with Europe and others to come.

 

So far Luminate, just graduating from Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 batch, has been lucky enough to operate on funds provided through grants from the Irish government, which are of course non-dilutive. While more capital will almost certainly be required come time for scaling and international launch, right now the team is focused on getting the device into the hands (and onto the heads) of its first set of patients.

#cancer, #chemotherapy, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #hair-loss, #hardware, #health, #luminate, #luminate-medical, #medical, #startups, #y-combinator

Boox tablets are welcome options in the growing oversize e-reader niche

When it comes to e-paper devices, the Kindle is of course the first brand people think of, though I’ve done my best to spread the Kobo and reMarkable gospel as well. Chinese e-reader maker Boox is a relatively new entrant to the space, and its devices are experimental but useful options in the niche market of monochrome tablets. In fact, they make my new favorite small device.

A brand from parent company Onyx, Boox has a wide array of devices, some might say too wide, ranging from pocketable to medium-sized e-readers to A4-sized tablets. Its branding is not particularly memorable and slightly updated versions come out quite regularly — one device I hoped to test was actually being replaced by the time I got around to writing this article.

The unifying aspect is the OS, a modified version of Android 10 with a few special-made apps for reading and productivity. Made with Chinese consumers in mind, the services probably aren’t ones you will have heard of.

I tested several devices from Boox, the simplest being the Poke 3 e-reader, then the larger and more complex Note2, followed by the svelte Note Air and enormous Max Lumi. Most recently I have been looking at the Nova3 Color, which uses E Ink’s latest Kaleido Plus color screen.

The truth is if you didn’t turn them on you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that these devices were all from the same company. They have quite different hardware styles, though of course there’s only so much room for expression in a black tablet with a screen in shades of grey.

Little and big

A Boox Poke 3 e-reader in a hand.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Let’s begin with the simplest and most familiar format, the 6-inch e-reader. In this category we have the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Clara HD. The former is probably the best one Amazon makes, but I prefer the latter, even though its build quality is, frankly, poor.

Boox in this space has (among others) the Poke 3, not exactly the catchiest name, but it makes up for that with its form factor: pretty much the platonic ideal for a small reader like this. I liked it so much I broke it out into a separate review, but here are the basics.

The 6-inch, 300-PPI screen is of equal quality to the Kindle and Kobo, and like the Clara HD has a temperature-adjustable frontlight. The front of the device is completely flush, just the way I like it, and has just enough bezel to grip without it becoming too much or too little. The seamless design makes it pocketable and resistant to crumbs and spills (though it makes no water resistance claims). There’s a power button up top (thank you) and a single USB-C port at the bottom.

Regarding the hardware I find it difficult to come up with any criticism at all. It could, I suppose, be lighter, but its dimensions could not be smaller than they are without adversely affecting the ergonomics; a millimeter could conceivably be shaved off the thickness but it would be barely noticeable.

The OS is a highly customized version of Android, with all the pros and cons that comes with. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of Kobo’s interface, though they seem bent on complicating it. Boox’s OS is powerful but busy, uneasy in its decisions of what options to make available and prominent to the user.

Screen of a Boox Poke 3 e-reader

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The reader app, NeoReader, supports tons of file formats and has a huge set of controls for changing your view, highlighting and notating books and PDFs, and so on. This is more more the larger devices than the small ones, which really only need font adjustment and other basic stuff.

If all you want to do is read e-books you already have sitting on your computer, it’s as easy as dragging them into the “Books” folder on the device’s storage. That tab is what you’ll see when you turn on the device, and it’s always easy to get to. There’s a built-in store that takes up a whole tab, though it isn’t available in the U.S. — then a file manager tab for rooting around in directories — and a tab each for your apps and settings.

The apps are another custom situation: This being a Chinese device, it comes without the usual Google-authenticated App Store, whatever it’s called these days. Instead, it has its own store with dozens of the most-used reading apps, from Pocket and GoodReader to the Kobo and Kindle apps. But these are essentially side-loaded: for instance, the Kindle app is a few months old. That’s far from a disaster, but you do need to commit to a certain amount of trust in Boox and its proxy app store in order to use the device as-is.

Of course, you can also enable Google Play services in the settings, which adds the official store into the mix. But for most people this is already far too much work. We are both spoiled and deprived in our e-reader selection in that they are generally simple and extremely straightforward to use. Someone who is not familiar with Android, using this device and a Kobo or Kindle, would probably opt for one of the latter.

Yet the possibilities are many for those who wish to take the plunge. For my part, I like the form factor of the Poke3 so well that I will brave any OS to use it. Besides, you spend 99 percent of your time on these things in a book, so as long as that part works the rest is just icing on the cake.

View of a tablet interface with handwriting on it.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

At the 6-inch scale, this all seems like way too much. But on Boox’s larger devices, the flexibility starts to make more sense. The idea with the Note 2 (now 3), Note Air and Max Lumi is to provide almost all the capabilities of an Android tablet, but with the benefits of an e-paper screen. Admittedly that makes playing racing games something of a non-starter, but it could be very attractive to the types of people for whom their reMarkable is used more than their iPad.

If you read a lot of documents, doing so on a bright tablet screen — or a dim one, for that matter — sucks. An e-paper screen is better for the task, but the best device for that, the reMarkable, is also very deliberately limited in what it can accomplish, since the whole philosophy of the company revolves around focus. So there are definitely people who want the capabilities of an Android device with the readability of an e-paper one. Or at any rate Boox thinks so.

The Note 2 and Max Lumi seem related: They’re unremarkable black tablets of impressive dimensions and, in my limited explorations of their hardware, what seemed to me excellent build quality. The Note Air, it must be said, is the opposite of unremarkable — in fact, when I saw it, I thought it was a clone of the reMarkable 2!

Side view of a tablet showing its thin profile and metal finish.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

This first impression turned out to be less than generous on my part, as while the two share some significant design elements, they are in fact quite different and Boox’s facility in creating other devices has led me to give them the benefit of the doubt here. The blue and orange motif isn’t the greatest, but it does help set it apart, and all the devices (especially the Air) are thin and well designed.

All the tablets feature frontlights, and I’m happy to say that my skepticism that it could be done with such big screens was needless. It works well and like the Poke 3 the light is adjustable in both brightness and temperature (though it’s a bit fiddly).

Color e-paper still isn’t quite there

The Boox Nova3 color e-ink tablet

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey

The Nova3 Color has a 7.8-inch screen with the latest color e-paper tech from E Ink. I’ve always been excited for the possibilities of this side of the technology, but color e-paper screens have always suffered from poor contrast, low refresh speeds, ghosting, and other shortcomings. While this latest iteration does go some way towards amending those (and a software update helped further), it is still unfortunately too much of a compromise.

The hardware is similar to the other Boox devices, solid and unassuming. The difference is all in the screen, which shows in color even when the device is off. Color e-paper works by combining the microscopic black and white beads that form images with a layer of color filters that can be changed. This one, like the others, has a frontlight and it helps a lot with making those colors pop, since without it they’re all rather muted.

There is still the issue of ghosting, though if you’re reading, say, a comic, you can easily set it to refresh every page (it takes only a fraction of a second) and the problem is gone. It’s less easy to do this with more dynamic content like a webpage, though of course navigating the web on an e-reader is already something of a novelty.

The color e-paper display still lacks saturation, if not contrast.

More troubling to me is the decrease in contrast and effective decrease in resolution that the color layer brings. When color content is shown, there’s a distinct screen door effect to it, no quite like ordinary LCD aliasing but still visible. And when you have greyscale content you sometimes see moire and other interference patterns in mid-tones.

Books look all right but not nearly as clear as an ordinary monochrome E-Ink display; the screen door effect is always present and reduces contrast. It’s still very readable, but when cheaper devices do the job better, it’s hard to justify.

Text is less clear and high contrast on the color screen than on the monochrome one.

I appreciate Boox making the latest screen from E-Ink available, and it may be useful to some who want a little more tablet DNA in their e-reader (at this point the two categories are not very distinct). But for most people the color does not add enough, and subtracts too much.

Does it all, or stretched too thin?

The OS is the same on all of these as far as I can tell, but on the these devices the focus shifts to interactivity rather than simply reading. Boox makes a Wacom-like pen that can be used to write on the surface of these larger tablets, and it serves its purpose fine, though with nowhere near the responsiveness or accuracy of reMarkable’s.

That said, the final result when sketching or writing was a pleasing one, though the OS takes a moment to catch up and anti-alias the marks. I thought the brush in particular had nice gradations.

One thing the Boox tablets have on others like them (that is to say, the reMarkable, the defunct Sony Digital Paper Tablet, and a handful of other niche devices) is in the PDF handling. The Boox devices let you navigate and mark up PDFs with ease, and the original files are simply saved over with your doodles and notes added. Though marking up a document is easy on the reMarkable, its slightly clumsy app makes sharing and sorting them a bit of a chore. I prefer the simple approach: modify the original file (there’s always a copy somewhere) and email it directly from the device. It’s that simple!

Besides the reader and notebook, there are a handful of included apps that any tablet user might find useful. There’s a browser that’s about as functional as you’d expect — it’s Chromium-based and renders well but ghosts terribly; a voice recorder, a music player, a calendar… and of course you could download plenty more from the built-in or Google app stores. If you wanted to, you could make these quite well-rounded devices.

I’m not entirely sure just how large the market is for this kind of e-paper tablet. But I feel these devices offer something interesting and unique, even if they’re also… well, it’s hard to get around the fact that you can get an iPad for half the price of the larger Boox tablets, and then do most of the same stuff and more.

These e-paper devices have a certain draw, though, and if you plan to read and mark up long documents, it’s way better to do so on one of these than on an iPad, for a number of reasons. With Boox’s lineup in the mix there are more options than ever, and that’s definitely a good thing.

#boox, #e-ink, #e-readers, #gadgets, #hardware, #tc

Kanye wants to sell you a $200 music gadget

Kanye (or “Ye,” as it were) is going all out in the promotion of his upcoming tenth studio album, “Donda” (named for his late-mother, Donda West). In July, there was a massive listening party at New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium (where he also took up residence in a locker room). For an upcoming listening party in his native Chicago, meanwhile, the rapper is rebuilding his childhood home at Soldier Field.

The forthcoming LP also sees West launching a $200 music gadget called, Stem Player, under his Yeezy Tech brand. The product is designed to isolate stems — specific elements like vocals, bass, samples and drums. It can add effects and remix the song elements according to the site.

The device reportedly ships with a copy of the new record pre-loaded. A FAQ on the site helpfully adds, however, while the product is being released in conjunction with “Donda,” it can also be used for other music.

Image Credits: Kanye West

Interestingly, the device was created in tandem with Kano, a London-based startup known for a different kind of STEM product. The company creates educational devices to help children learn things like programming. In 2019, Kano struggled through layoffs, in spite of releasing a number of Disney-branded devices.

It seems the company’s found an interesting new bit of life here, and the product even goes so far as crediting Kano on the back of its silicone skin exterior with a Yeezy Tech x Kano branding on the rear.

West name-checked the device (or its predecessor) during an interview around his previous album, “Jesus Is King” in 2019. At the time, it appeared to be a collaboration with design firm Teenage Engineering. “This portable stem player that we designed with Teenage Engineering for this album and the albums before it, is to spread the gospel,” West told Zane Lowe at the time.

The product is set to ship this summer.

#gadgets, #hardware, #kano, #kanye, #kanye-west

Zeit’s early warning wearable for sleep strokes could save hours and lives

Those at risk are always vigilant for the signs of a stroke in progress, but no one can be vigilant when they’re sleeping, meaning thousands of people suffer “wake-up strokes” that are only identified hours after the fact. Zeit Medical’s brain-monitoring wearable could help raise the alarm and get people to the hospital fast enough to mitigate the stroke’s damage and potentially save lives.

A few decades ago, there wasn’t much anyone could do to help a stroke victim. But an effective medication entered use in the ’90s, and a little later a surgical procedure was also pioneered — but both need to be administered within a few hours of the stroke’s onset.

Orestis Vardoulis and Urs Naber started Zeit (“time”) after seeing the resources being put towards reducing the delay between a 911 call regarding a stroke and the victim getting the therapy needed. The company is part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 cohort.

“It used to be that you couldn’t do anything, but suddenly it really mattered how fast you got to the hospital,” said Naber. “As soon as the stroke hits you, your brain starts dying, so time is the most crucial thing. People have spent millions shrinking the time between the 911 call and transport, and from the hospital door to treatment. but no one is addressing those hours that happen before the 911 call — so we realized that’s where we need to innovate.”

If only the stroke could be identified before the person even realizes it’s happening, they and others could be alerted and off to the hospital long before an ambulance would normally be called. As it turns out, there’s another situation where this needs to happen: in the OR.

For illustrative purposes, an EEG signal that changes its character can be detected quickly by the algorithm.

Surgeons and nurses performing operations obviously monitor the patient’s vitals closely, and have learned to identify the signs of an impending stroke from the EEG monitoring their brainwaves.

“There are specific patterns that people are trained to catch with their eyes. We learned from the best neurologists out there how they process this data visually, and we built a tool to detect that automatically,” said Vardoulis. “This clinical experience really helped, because they assisted in defining features within the signal that helped us accelerate the process of deciding what is important and what is not.”

The team created a soft, wearable headband with a compact EEG built in that monitors the relevant signals from the brain. This data is sent to a smartphone app for analysis by a machine learning model trained on the aforementioned patterns, and if anything is detected, an alarm is sent to the user and pre-specified caregivers. It can also be set to automatically call 911.

“The vast majority of the data we have analyzed comes out of the OR,” said Vardoulis, where it can immediately be checked against the ground truth. “We saw that we have an algorithm that can robustly capture the onset of events in the OR with zero false positives.”

That should translate well to the home, they say, where there are actually fewer complicating variables. To test that, they’re working with a group of high-risk people who have already had one stroke; the months immediately following a stroke or related event (there are various clinically differentiated categories) is a dangerous one when second events are common.

Orestis Vardoulis, left, and Urs Naber, co-founders of Zeit, pose with each other in a courtyard.

Image Credits: Zeit

“Right now we have a research kit that we’re shipping to individuals involved in our studies that has the headband and phone. Users are wearing it every night,” said Vardoulis. “We’re preparing for a path that will allow us to go commercial at some point in 2023. We’re working with he FDA to define the clinical proof needed to get this clear.”

They’ve earned a “Breakthrough Device” classification, which (like stroke rehabilitation company BrainQ) puts them in position to move forward quickly with testing and certification.

“We’re going to start in the US, but we see a need globally,” said Naber. “There are countries where aging is even more prevalent and the support structure for disability care are even less.” The device could significantly lower the risk and cost of at-home and disability care for many people who might otherwise have to regularly visit the hospital.

The plan for now is to continue to gather data and partners until they can set up a large-scale study, which will almost certainly be required to move the device from direct-to-consumer to reimbursable (i.e. covered by insurance). And although they are totally focused on strokes for the present, the method could be adapted to watching for other neurological conditions.

“We hope to see a future where everyone with a stroke risk is issued this device,” said Vardoulis. “We really do see this as the missing puzzle piece in the stroke care continuum.”

#artificial-intelligence, #gadgets, #hardware, #health, #machine-learning, #medical, #medtech, #startups, #stroke, #strokes, #tc, #y-combinator, #zeit-medical

Bedrock modernizes seafloor mapping with autonomous sub and cloud-based data

The push for renewable energy has brought offshore wind power to the forefront of many an energy company’s agenda, and that means taking a very close look at the ocean floor where the installations are to go. Fortunately Bedrock is here to drag that mapping process into the 21st century with its autonomous underwater vehicle and modern cloud-based data service.

The company aims to replace the standard “big ship with a big sonar” approach with a faster, smarter, more modern service, letting companies spin up regular super-accurate seafloor imagery as easily as they might spin up a few servers to host their website.

“We believe we’re the first cloud-native platform for seafloor data,” said Anthony DiMare, CEO and cofounder (with CTO Charlie Chiau) of Bedrock. “This is a big data problem — how would you design the systems to support that solution? We make it a modern data service, instead of like a huge marine operation — you’re not tied to this massive piece of infrastructure floating in the water. Everything from the way we move sonars around the ocean to the way we deliver the data to engineers has been rethought.”

The product Bedrock provides customers is high-resolution maps of the seafloor, made available via Mosaic, a familiar web service that does all the analysis and hosting for you — a big step forward for an industry where “data migration” still means “shipping a box of hard drives.”

Normally, DiMare explained, this data was collected, processed, and stored on the ships themselves. Since they were designed to do everything from harbor inspections to deep sea surveys, they couldn’t count on having a decent internet connection, and the data is useless in its raw form. Like any other bulky data, it needs to be visualized and put in context.

Example of data in the Mosaic system from Bedrock, showing a map and trails of data points.

Image Credits: Bedrock

“These datasets are extremely large, tens of terabytes in size,” said DiMare. “Typical cloud systems aren’t the best way to manage 20,000 sonar files.”

The current market is more focused on detailed, near-shore data than the deep sea, since there’s a crush to take part in the growing wind energy market. This means that data is collected much closer to ordinary internet infrastructure and can be handed off for cloud-based processing and storage more easily than before. That in turn means the data can be processed and provided faster, just in time for demand to take off.

As DiMare explained, while there may have been a seafloor survey done in the last couple decades of a potential installation site, that’s only the first step. An initial mapping pass might have be made to confirm the years-old maps and add detail, then another for permitting, for environmental assessments, engineering, construction, and regular inspections. If this could be done with a turnkey automated process that produced even better results than crewed ships for less money, it’s a huge win for customers relying on old methods. And if the industry grows as expected to require more active monitoring of the seafloor along every U.S. coast, it’s a win for Bedrock as well, naturally.

CG render of the AUV.

Image Credits: Bedrock

To make this all happen, of course, you need a craft that can collect the data in the first place. “The AUV is a piece of technology we built solely to enable a data product,” said DiMare, but noted that, originally, “we didn’t want to do this.”

“We started to spec out what it looked like to use an off the shelf system,” he explained. “But if you want to build a hyper-scalable, very efficient system to get the best cost per square meter, you need a very specific set of features, certain sonars, the compute stack… by the time we listed all those we basically had a self-designed system. It’s faster, it’s more operationally flexible, you get better data quality, and you can do it more reliably.”

And amazingly, it doesn’t even need a boat — you can grab it from the back of a van and launch it from a pier or beach.

“From the very beginning one of the restrictions we put on ourselves was ‘no boats.’ And we need to be able to fly with this thing. That totally changed our approach,” said DiMare.

View of the AUV on a beach

Image Credits: Bedrock

The AUV packs a lot into a small package, and while the sensor loadout is variable depending on the job, one aspect that defines the craft is its high-frequency sonar.

Sonars operate in a wide range of frequencies, from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands of hertz. Unfortunately that means that ocean-dwelling creatures, many of which can hear in that range, are inundated with background noise, sometimes to the point where it’s harmful or deters them from entering an area. Sonar operating about 200 kHz is safe for animals, but the high frequency means the signal attenuates more quickly, reducing the range to 50-75 meters.

That’s obviously worthless for a ship floating on the surface — much of what it needs to map is more than 75 meters deep. But if you could make a craft that always stayed within 50 meters of the seabed, it’s full of benefits. And that’s exactly what Bedrock’s AUV is designed to do.

The increased frequency of the sonar also means increased detail, so the picture its instruments paint is better than what you’d get with a larger wave. And because it’s safe to use around animals, you can skip the (very necessary but time-consuming) red tape at wildlife authorities. Better, faster, cheaper, and safer is a hell of a pitch.

Today marks the official launch of Mosaic, and to promote adoption Bedrock is offering 50 gigs of free storage — of any kind of compatible map data, since the platform is format-agnostic.

There’s a ton of data out there that’s technically “public” but is nevertheless very difficult to find and use. It may be a low-detail survey from two decades ago, or a hyper-specific scan of an area investigated by a research group, but if it were all in one place it would probably be a lot more useful, DiMare said.

“Ultimately we want to get where we can do the whole ocean on a yearly basis,” he concluded. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

#autonomous-vehicles, #bedrock, #drones, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #hardware, #ocean, #renewable-energy, #robotics, #robots, #startups, #submarines, #submersibles, #tc, #underwater-drone

Samsung’s latest Galaxy Fold adds stylus support, waterproofing and an under-display camera

Behold, Samsung’s latest flagship. With the Galaxy Note out of the way — for this year, at least — the company used today’s Unpacked event to breathe added legitimacy into its foldable line. The original Galaxy Fold, introduced in 2019, represent a sort of experiment for the company (along with all the hiccups that entailed), as the first foldable from a major hardware manufacture, whereas last year’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 found the company correcting some of the glaring issues with its predecessor.

Today’s event finds the company making the case for Galaxy Z Fold 3 as something beyond an experiment or a curiosity. The task will almost certainly be an uphill battle for the next few generations. Unlike the latest version of the Flip, which starts at a price reduced considerably from its predecessor, the new Fold drops the entry price $200, down to $1,800. Any price reduction is a step in the right direction — and something that should be increasingly feasible as the technology continues to scale. But even in the world of premium flagships, that will continue to be a tough pill to swallow.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

What the upgraded Fold truly brings to the table, however, is a continued refinement to build materials that make the foldable screen a feasible option for day to day usage. This, of course, is precisely what hamstrung the original. Sure, the company did a lot of testing in controlled rooms, but once the product got out into the world (and into the hands of non-Samsung employees), problems of durability began cropping up, resulting in displays that were unintentionally damaged in a variety of imaginative ways.

The Galaxy Z Fold features a stronger frame made of “Armor Aluminum,” new protective film for the foldable display, Gorilla Glass Victus on the front-facing screen and an IPX8 rating — representing the first waterproof rating for the company’s foldable. Waterproofing has, of course, become something of an industry standard, but obviously things complicate quickly when you add folding mechanisms into the equation.

In fact, that’s why the rating has an “X” stuck in the middle of it. It’s effectively protected from accidental dunks in water, but not dust and debris. This is due to the hinge mechanism created for earlier models that allows some particulate matter through, but sweeps it away with a built in brush that moves as the device opens. That effectively protects it from getting behind the screen, where it could damage the phone with a finger press on the other side.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Of course, the stronger protective film is the thing. It’s what’s (hopefully) standing between you and damaging your phone’s biggest selling point with an overzealous finger press — or, for that matter, a stylus. The Fold, after all, is following in the footsteps of Samsung’s S series by blurring the line with the Note (which handily opted to sit this round out).

In fact, Samsung actually went out of its way to create a special Fold Edition of the S-Pen specially designed to not damage the Fold display. It’s optional, of course, and as with the S21, there’s slot for the stylus in the handset — that’s to be expected, given the relatively fragility of the product. There will, of course, be a case with a built-in S-Pen holster.

The Fold Edition S-Pen is smaller and features a spring-loaded tip designed to retract so you don’t damage the screen by writing/drawing too hard. Certainly the Fold is a clear candidate for stylus functionality, given its 7.6-inch canvas that puts even the Note Ultra’s 6.9-inch screen to shame. Of course, the feasibility of this combination has been severely hampered by structural integrity issues with the screen. It will be interesting to see how the company has managed to navigate that.

At 7.6 inches (2208 x 1768, 374 ppi), the primary screen is largely unchanged. The cover screen, too, is about the same, at 6.2 inches — though it now joins the main screen with a 120 Hz refresh rate. 

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Notably, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the first Samsung device to add an under-display camera. That, along with foldable displays, has been one of the biggest holy grails in the smartphone category for the past several years. Samsung’s not the first to introduce the technology. A handful of Chinese manufacturers, including Xiaomi and Oppo, have either released or plan to release devices sporting the technology.

It’s telling that the company opted to test the water with the Fold. Aside from the obvious aspect of creating a contiguous display, it gives the company the opportunity to test out another mainstream technology. The dirty little secret about the first generation of under-screen cameras is that the picture quality tends to suck. Samsung surely knows this and has opted to stick it on a device that already has a selfie camera above its front display.

The company describes new tech as follows, “the minimum pixels applied on top of the camera hole, Z Fold 3 features an increased viewable area so users get an unbroken canvas for their favorite apps.” The thinking here is that the internal camera simply doesn’t get as much use, save for things like teleconferencing (which is, granted, something we’ve been doing a lot more of in the past year). As currently configured, it’s a bit of a compromise on both ends. Picture quality takes a hit and the camera hole is still semi-visible. So, either the best or worst of both worlds, depending on what you’re looking for.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The under-display camera is four megapixels (when was the last time you saw one of those?), verses the 10-megapixel front/cover camera. The rear camera setup is virtually identical to its predecessor:

  • 12MP Ultra Wide. F2.2, Pixel size: 1.12μm, FOV: 123-degree
  • 12MP Wide-angle. Dual Pixel AF, OIS, F1.8, Pixel size: 1.8μm, FOV: 83-degree
  • 12MP Telephoto. PDAF, F2.4, OIS, Pixel size: 1.0μm, FOV: 45-degree

The battery has taken a bit of a hit, down from 4,500 to 4,400mAh (spread out over two modules, as is the foldable way). The Fold also supports fast charge/fast wireless and Wireless Powershare to use that 4,400mAh battery to power other gadgets. Samsung generally doesn’t offer battery estimates for phones prior to release, so wait on the review for that. The whole thing is powered by a Snapdragon 888 chip (market depending), coupled with 12GB of RAM and either 256 or 512GB of storage.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Like the rest of the devices announced today, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is up for preorder now and starts shipping on the 26th. The $1,800 price tag continues to be a roadblock toward more mainstream adoption, though the company has moved a number of these devices to early adopters already. Preorders get a $200 Samsung Credit.

#foldables, #gadgets, #hardware, #mobile, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy-fold, #samsung-unpacked, #samsung-unpacked-2021, #tc

$100M donation powers decade-long moonshot to create solar satellites that beam power to Earth

It sounds like a plan concocted by a supervillain, if that villain’s dastardly end was to provide cheap, clean power all over the world: launch a set of three-kilometer-wide solar arrays that beam the sun’s energy to the surface. Even the price tag seems gleaned from pop fiction: one hundred million dollars. But this is a real project at Caltech, funded for a nearly a decade largely by a single donor.

The Space-based Solar Power Project has been underway since at least 2013, when the first donation from Donald and Brigitte Bren came through. Donald Bren is the chairman of Irvine Company and on the Caltech board of trustees, and after hearing about the idea of space-based solar in Popular Science, he proposed to fund a research project at the university — and since then has given over $100M for the purpose. The source of the funds has been kept anonymous until this week, when Caltech made it public.

The idea emerges naturally from the current limitations of renewable energy. Solar power is ubiquitous on the surface, but of course highly dependent on the weather, season, and time of day. No solar panel, even in ideal circumstances, can work at full capacity all the time, and so the problem becomes one of transferring and storing energy in a smart grid. No solar panel on Earth, that is.

A solar panel in orbit, however, may be exposed to the full light of the sun nearly all the time, and with none of the reduction in its power that comes from that light passing through the planet’s protective atmosphere and magnetosphere.

The latest prototype created by the SSPP, which collects sunlight and transmits it over microwave frequency.

“This ambitious project is a transformative approach to large-scale solar energy harvesting for the Earth that overcomes this intermittency and the need for energy storage,” said SSPP researcher Harry Atwater in the Caltech release.

Of course, you would need to collect enough energy that it’s worth doing in the first place, and you need a way to beam that energy down to the surface in a way that doesn’t lose most of it to the aforementioned protective layers but also doesn’t fry anything passing through its path.

These fundamental questions have been looked at systematically for the last decade, and the team is clear that without Bren’s support, this project wouldn’t have been possible. Attempting to do the work while scrounging for grants and rotating through grad students might have prevented its being done at all, but the steady funding meant they could hire long-term researchers and overcome early obstacles that might have stymied them otherwise.

The group has produced dozens of published studies and prototypes (which you can peruse here), including the lightest solar collector-transmitter made by an order of magnitude, and is now on the verge of launching its first space-based test satellite.

“[Launch] is currently expected to be Q1 2023,” co-director of the project Ali Hajimiri told TechCrunch. “It involves several demonstrators for space verification of key technologies involved in the effort, namely, wireless power transfer at distance, lightweight flexible photovoltaics, and flexible deployable space structures.”

Diagram showing how tiles like the one above could be joined together to form strips, then spacecraft, then arrays of spacecraft.

These will be small-scale tests (about 6 feet across), but the vision is for something rather larger. Bigger than anything currently in space, in fact.

“The final system is envisioned to consist of multiple deployable modules in close formation flight and operating in synchronization with one another,” Hajimiri said. “Each module is several tens of meters on the side and the system can be build up by adding more modules over time.”

Image of how the final space solar installation could look, a kilometers-wide set of cells in orbit.

Image Credits: Caltech

Eventually the concept calls for a structure perhaps as large as 5-6 kilometers across. Don’t worry — it would be far enough out from Earth that you wouldn’t see a giant hexagon blocking out the stars. Power would be sent to receivers on the surface using directed, steerable microwave transmission. A few of these in orbit could beam power to any location on the planet full time.

Of course that is the vision, which is many, many years out if it is to take place at all. But don’t make the mistake of thinking of this as having that single ambitious, one might even say grandiose goal. The pursuit of this idea has produced advances in solar cells, flexible space-based structures, and wireless power transfer, each of which can be applied in other areas. The vision may be the stuff of science fiction, but the science is progressing in a very grounded way.

For his part, Bren seems to be happy just to advance the ball on what he considers an important task that might not otherwise have been attempted at all.

“I have been a student researching the possible applications of space-based solar energy for many years,” he told Caltech. “My interest in supporting the world-class scientists at Caltech is driven by my belief in harnessing the natural power of the sun for the benefit of everyone.”

We’ll check back with the SSPP ahead of launch.

#aerospace, #caltech, #gadgets, #greentech, #hardware, #science, #solar-cells, #solar-power, #space, #space-solar, #tc

What to expect from Samsung’s next Unpacked

Foldables! Two, probably! Those are your headliners. Samsung tipped its hand with the event invite, which features a pair of geometrical objects that pretty clearly represent the new Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip.

The other headliner is what we won’t be seeing at the event (Deadliner? Endliner?). The company already confirmed via corporate blog that we won’t be seeing the next version of the Galaxy Note next week. That’s a big break from the device’s long-standing annual refresh cycle.

We still don’t know if this is the end-end of the line for the phablet. Samsung told TechCrunch, “We will not be launching new Galaxy Note devices in 2021. Instead, Samsung plans to continue to expand the Note experience and bring many of its popular productivity and creativity features, including the S Pen, across our Galaxy ecosystem. We will share more details on our future portfolio once we are ready to announce.”

Image Credits: Samsung

Rumors surfaced prior to this revelation that the company may have been forced to put the device on hold, as global supply chain issues continue to hamstring manufacturers. There’s also an argument to be made, however, that Samsung has gradually made the Note redundant over the past several Galaxy S updates.

It seems telling that the company referred to a forthcoming “flagship” in its official Unpacked copy. With the Note out of the picture and the Galaxy S about six months out from a refresh, this appears to refer to the Galaxy Fold gaining the (admittedly ceremonial) title. Whether that means two or three flagships in the company’s Armada remains to be seen.

What we do know, however, is that — like the Galaxy S before it — at least one of the forthcoming foldables will be blurring that Note line.

“I hope you’ll join us as we debut our next Galaxy Z family and share some foldable surprises — including the first-ever S Pen designed specifically for foldable phones,” the company’s president and head of Mobile Communications Business, TM Roh wrote. The executive also promised “even more refined style, armed with more durable, stronger material” on the new Galaxy Z Flip.

Previous — and subsequent — leaks have given us good looks at both the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3. Hell, it wouldn’t be a Samsung event if pretty much everything didn’t leak out prior to the event.

A series of tweets from EVLeaks has given us nearly every angle of the upcoming foldable smartphones, along with (European) prices that put the Fold and Flip starting at €1,899 and €1,099, respectively. Both mark a sizable decrease from the previous generation. That’s nice — if not entirely surprising. Samsung’s plan all along has clearly been a prolonged drop in pricing as foldable technology scaled. We’re still a long ways away from cheap here, but perhaps nudging our way toward the realm of possibility for more users.

Other leaked details for the Fold/Flip include a 7.6/6.7-inch internal display, a Snapdragon 888 processor (both) and 12MP triple/dual cameras, respectively. Interestingly, water resistance is also reportedly on board here.

With a year of virtual events under its belt, the company seems to have a better idea of pacing. Samsung — along with many other companies in the space — took liberties when events went more from in-person to online, meting out announcements event by event. Thankfully, next week’s Unpacked is a much bigger, self-contained event.

The other expected highlights are both wearables. First is the long-awaited fruits of the partnership between Samsung and Google that was announced at I/O. We didn’t get a lot of info at the time, beyond the fact that it will potentially be a boon for users and developers, with the ability to jointly create apps for both the beleaguered Wear OS and Samsung’s custom brand of Tizen.

Image Credits: Samsung

“Samsung and Google have a long history of collaboration, and whenever we’ve worked together, the experience for our consumers has been dramatically better for everyone,” Google SVP Sameer Samat said at a June follow-up to the I/O news. “That certainly holds true for this new, unified platform, which will be rolling out for the first time on Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch. In collaboration with Samsung, we’re thrilled to bring longer battery life, faster performance and a wide range of apps, including many from Google to a whole new wearable experience.”

The company held an (admittedly disappointing) event at MWC focused on the forthcoming watch. There was, however, one key thing missing: the watch. Based on pure speculation, I’d suggest that the wearable just didn’t come together on the timeline Samsung was expecting, but the company went ahead and did a virtual presser at the (mostly virtual) trade show.

The company did, however, announced One UI Watch — a wearable version of its streamlined OS interface. Samsung notes in a press release:

One UI Watch together with the new unified platform will create an entirely new Galaxy Watch experience. As part of the new experience, once you install watch-compatible apps on your smartphone, they will be swiftly downloaded onto your smartwatch. If you’ve customized your clock app on your phone to show the time in different cities around the globe, this will be automatically reflected on your watch as well. And if you block calls and messages from your watch, they will now be blocked on your smartphone, too.

Leaks have also revealed the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic models along with (again) European pricing. They’re reportedly set to start at €279 and €379, respectively, with each featuring multiple sizing options. That last bit was always a sticking point for me with Samsung watches, which have traditionally been fairly massive, knocking out a good number of potential buyers in the process.

The last big piece of the puzzle are the Galaxy Buds 2. The latest upgrade to the company’s entry-level buds are said to be gaining active noise canceling.

Will there be surprises once things kick off at 7AM PT/10AM ET on August 11? Little, ones, probably. These leaks have a tendency to capture things in broad strokes but miss some of the key nuances in the process. And while the company is more than a little familiar with pre-show leaks, it’s still managed to surprise us in the past.

#events, #foldables, #gadgets, #galaxy-buds, #galaxy-flip, #galaxy-fold, #galaxy-watch, #hardware, #mobile, #samsung, #samsung-unpacked, #samsung-unpacked-2021, #wearables

Heatworks opens pre-orders for its plumbing-free countertop dishwasher

Heatworks has at long last opened pre-orders for the Tetra, a countertop dishwasher the company unveiled to some fanfare at CES 2018. Since the Tetra doesn’t require any plumbing, the only thing you need to connect it to is an electrical outlet. The appliance has a three-liter tank you fill with water manually. Once the cycle (which takes less than an hour on the shortest setting) is complete, you disconnect the greywater tank and pour out the used water.

The dishwasher can wash and dry three place settings worth of dishes per load. On the surface, it might seem wasteful compared with cleaning those plates, cups and utensils manually, not to mention the counter space the machine will hog. However, Heatworks claims the machine requires less water than handwashing and rinsing the dishes.

There are several settings, including a “fruit” one for washing produce. In addition, the dishwasher uses recyclable cartridges with concentrated detergent in an attempt to reduce waste.

The Tetra also requires less power than a standard dishwasher, according to the company. To heat up water, Heatworks uses Ohmic Array Technology, as Gizmodo notes. The Tetra takes a microwave-style approach to heating water rather than harnessing traditional metal elements. It uses graphite electrodes and “advanced electronic controls” to excite natural minerals in water. That setup allows the Tetra to efficiently heat water and maintain precise temperature control, according to Heatworks.

While there are other countertop dishwashers that don’t need a plumbing connection, the Tetra has a smaller water tank than many of its rivals. Farberware’s FDW05ASBWHA model (which is currently $340) has a five-liter capacity. The Tetra may heat water more efficiently than other models as well.

The Tetra will typically cost $499, but Heatworks is offering a $100 discount to those who lock in a preorder now. The detergent cartridges will cost around $6 each and they should be good for 20 loads depending on the setting and load capacity. Heatworks expects to start shipping the Tetra by May 18th, 2022, which is No Dirty Dishes Day.

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on Engadget.

#column, #gadgets, #hardware, #tc, #tceng