Felt raised $4.5 million to get you to ‘think in maps’

From vaccine distribution plans to fire trackers to bar crawls for your best friend’s birthday, maps help people visualize space and express impact. And Felt, a new Oakland-based startup co-founded by Sam Hashemi and Can Duruk, is on a mission to make the medium more mainstream.

Felt is a collaborative software company that wants to make it easier for people to build maps on the internet. It announced today that it has raised $4.5 million led by Bain Capital Ventures, with participation from Designer Fund, Allison Pickens, Akshay Kothari (COO of Notion), Dylan Field (CEO of Figma) John Lily (former CEO of Firefox), Julia and Kevin Hartz, and Keval Desai.

The millions will be used to help Felt grow its fully distributed six-person team to bring on more front-end, back-end and product engineers, as well as product and brand designers. Along with the financing, the company announced it is launching a private beta to better understand what early adopters it attracts, and how those users engage with the platform.

Felt allows users to build a map with data sets integrated into it. A user can open a map of California, for example, and then turn to Felt’s data library to add information about bits like wildfires and smoke patterns. The map’s power grows as more integrations are used to build out its background; using the prior anecdote, for example, the wildfire map integrated with census data could allow decision makers to see how many businesses could be impacted by incoming smoke.

Over time, Felt users will be able to see other user-generated maps and team projects on the interface — which they can then copy to add their own flair, or leave comments to support the community.

While consumers will eventually be able to access a free tier, the big test for Felt is if it can find a customer base that is willing to pay, and consistently use mapping software in meaningful ways. The company is in a unique spot. It’s not a GPS service, so it won’t serve the consumer who only turns to maps for directions. Instead, its build-a-map service is better suited for companies that already use it in their day-to-day.

Felt is meant to be a continuation of the collaborative software movement underscored by everyday tools like Google Docs and top companies like Notion and Figma, as well as a sequel to Hashemi’s previous company, Remix. Recently bought by Via for $100 million, Remix is a city transportation planning startup born out of Code for America Hackathon. As Hashemi spent nearly seven years building Remix, he was introduced to the inadequacies of map-making, namely that there are many use cases for maps but not many people who have the skill set to create a professional product. He hopes Felt will take mapping beyond city planning and into a variety of industries, from education to science to media.

“We really want to be much more aspirational in what we’re trying to accomplish and go much more broader [so it] results in a totally different kind of company,” Hashemi said. Perhaps its biggest competitor is ESRI’s GIS, a mapping software tool founded in 1969 and still used by hundreds of thousands of companies today.

Climate change could be a catalyst that brings more customers into the collaborative mapping space. Duruk, who built products at Uber and VGS, spoke about the importance of crisis response after last year’s wildfires and the resulting eerie orange sky in the Bay Area.

“Everyone in the Bay Area would wake up, go to the air quality map, weather map and the fire map,” Duruk said. “Everyone was trying to do something with maps, but only a few companies in the world had the resources to build something….it was broken.” Felt wants to go broad in its integrations, but did confirm that climate data will be a priority.

The challenge with building a powerful, creative tool is that there is a chance for people to misuse maps for abuse or targeting, Duruk said. Felt is thinking about ways to build in accountability and systematic processes to limit bad actors from using mapping information in the wrong way.

In the meantime, though, the early-stage startup is focusing on expression as a key way to understand its own product’s bounds. With millions more, Felt is aiming at increasing the capability of people by growing the map-ability of the world.

#bain-capital-ventures, #felt, #gps, #map, #recent-funding, #remix, #startups, #tc, #uber, #via

Google Maps on iOS adds live location sharing in iMessage, home screen widget, dark mode

Google Maps announced today three feature updates to its iOS app. With live location sharing in the iMessage app, a traffic widget for the home screen and dark mode, Google Maps is positioning itself as a stronger competitor against iOS’ native Apple Maps.

Live location sharing was already possible in Google Maps — by tapping on the blue dot that shows where you are, you can share with select friends your ETA to your destination, and even how much battery life your phone has. But the Google Maps iMessage widget makes it easier to share your location without navigating away from your conversation. By default, Google Maps will share your location for one hour, but it’s possible to extend to up to three days — if you want to stop sharing, tap the “stop” button on the thumbnail.

Image Credits: Google Maps

Google Maps’ existing iMessage widget allows users to send GPS coordinates of their location in iMessage — but if you’re trying to meet up with friends, this wouldn’t be as useful as sharing a live location. Apple Maps already has a similar feature built into iMessage, so Google is taking a leaf out of Apple’s book to try to beat them on their own app. For a long time, Google Maps was widely considered to be the superior navigation app, but in 2018, Apple completely rebuilt Maps from the ground up, making it more competitive. Plus, as iOS 15 rolls out, Apple Maps will add AR functionality, better public transit features, more detailed maps and other improvements.

Google Maps added Waze-like traffic and incident report features to its app in 2019, which made it more appealing for driving commuters — the app says that one of its “most powerful features is the ability to see live traffic conditions in an area.” Now, users with the latest Google Maps app will be able to add a traffic widget to their home screen, which can quickly share what traffic is like in their area. The widget also allows users to set frequent destinations, like home, work or the gas station, and navigate to those places with just a tap. Though the app already has dark mode on Android, this feature will also roll out to iOS users in the coming weeks.

As Google Maps and Apple Maps compete to become the best navigation app, an unlikely competitor comes in Snapchat, which has created a more social experience on its Snap Map. Last week, Snapchat added the My Places feature to the Snap Map, which helps users find new spots to visit based on the activity of other users in their area. The ephemeral messaging app also announced at the end of July that during Q2 of 2021, the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Still, as of last year, Google Maps had over 1 billion worldwide users.

#android, #apple, #apps, #computing, #eta, #gas-station, #google, #google-maps, #gps, #imessage, #ios-15, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #snap, #snapchat, #software, #waze

The RapidSOS EC-1

Three digits, so little time.

Numbers can take on profound cultural significance, but few numbers have quite the resonance as 911, the emergency number for the United States. Few want to dial it, but when they must, it works — every single time. One industry trade association estimates that 240 million 911 phone calls are made every year, ranging from the quotidian loud dog to the exceptional terrorist attack.

While it may be a singular number, 911 calls are directed to roughly 5,700 public safety answering points (PSAPs) across the country, all with independent operations, variegated equipment, disparate software, multifarious organizational structures, and vast inequalities of staffing and resources.

“Every 911 center is very different and they are as diverse and unique as the communities that they serve,” Karin Marquez, who we will meet later, put it. You have massive urban centers with dozens of staffers and the best equipment, and “you have agencies in rural America that have one person working 24/7 and they’re there to answer three calls a day.”

These organizations face a tough challenge: Transitioning their systems to incorporate information from billions of new consumer devices into the heart of 911 response. Location from mobile GPS, medical information from health profiles, video footage from cameras — all of this could be useful when police, firefighters and paramedics arrive on a scene. But how do you connect hundreds of tech companies to a myriad of 911 technology providers?

Over the last eight years, RapidSOS has become the go-to solution for addressing this problem. With more than $190 million raised, including an $85 million round this past February, RapidSOS now covers nearly 5,000 PSAPs and processes more than 150 million emergencies every year, and it’s technology is almost certainly integrated into the smartphone you’re carrying and many of the devices you have lying around (the company counts about 350 million connected devices with its software).

Yet, like many emergencies, the company’s story is one of reverses, misdirections and urgency as its founders worked to find a model to jump-start 911 response. RapidSOS may well be the only startup to pivot from a consumer app to a govtech/enterprise hybrid, and it has the most extensive directory of partnerships and integration relationships of any startup I have ever seen. Now, as it expands to Mexico, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, this startup with its roots in a rural farm in Indiana, is redefining emergency response globally for the 21st Century.

The lead writer of this EC-1 is Danny Crichton. In addition to being the EC-1 series editor, managing editor at TechCrunch, and regularly talking about himself in the third person, Danny has been writing about disaster tech and first covered RapidSOS back in 2015 prior to its public launch. The lead editor for this story was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.

RapidSOS had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Crichton has no financial ties to RapidSOS, and his ethics disclosure statement is available here.

The RapidSOS EC-1 comprises four articles numbering 12,400 words and a reading time of 50 minutes. Here are the topics we’ll be dialing into:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at danny@techcrunch.com.

#911, #america, #communication, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-1, #emergency-response, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #federal-communications-commission, #government, #govtech, #gps, #indiana, #rapidsos, #rapidsos-ec-1, #smartphone, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications, #united-kingdom, #united-states

After a decade, Congress might finally bring 911 into the internet age

When it comes to user-interface design, 911 is about as good as it gets. It’s the “most recognized number in the United States,” Steve Souder, a prominent 911 leader, points out. Simple, fast, and it works from any telephone in the United States. No matter what the emergency is, the call takers on the other side will triage and dispatch assistance.

I’ve taken that ubiquity and simplicity for granted over the past three parts of this EC-1 on RapidSOS as we’ve looked at the startup’s origin story, business and products, as well as its partnerships and business development engine. The company is deeply enmeshed with 911, which means that the prospects of 911 as a system will heavily determine the trajectory of RapidSOS in the coming years, or at least, until its international expansion hits scale and it isn’t so dependent on the U.S. market.

Right now, a $15 billion funding bill to invest in NG911 has been proposed in Congress as part of the LIFT America infrastructure bill that is currently winding its way through the appropriations process and negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders.

Now, you might think, “911, how could they screw that up?” But this is America, and you’d be surprised.

Despite the daily heroic work of tens of thousands of 911 personnel who keep this brittle system afloat, the reality today is that America’s emergency call infrastructure is in a perilous state. After more than a decade of heavy advocacy, the transition to the “next generation” of 911 (dubbed NG911), which would replace a voice-centric model with an internet-based one designed around data streams, has been trundling along, with some early traction but little universality.

As a Congressional Research Service report described it just a few years ago, “funding has been a challenge, and progress has been relatively slow.” Three years later, the words are just as true as they were then.

Given that RapidSOS’ future ultimately relies on a competent government capable of providing core infrastructure, this fourth and final part of the EC-1 will look at the current state of 911 services and what their prospects are, and finally, how one should ultimately judge RapidSOS given all that we have seen.

The three-digit number that feels like it is three-digits old

911 was invented in the late 1960s to unify America around one emergency number. Early forays to create emergency lines had sprouted up across cities and states, but each used their own system and telephone number, creating massive complications for travelers and people living on jurisdictional boundaries. President Lyndon Johnson’s 1967 crime task force recommended creating a single number for emergency calls as a crime-prevention tool, and on February 16, 1968, the first 911 call was dialed in Haleyville, Alabama.

#911, #america, #amy-klobuchar, #anna-eshoo, #communication, #congress, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-1, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #federal-communications-commission, #government, #gps, #home-security-systems, #michael-martin, #rapidsos, #rapidsos-ec-1, #senate, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications, #united-states

Andreessen Horowitz triples down on blockchain startups with massive $2.2 billion Crypto Fund III

While the cryptocurrency market’s most recent hype wave seems to be dying down after a spectacular rise, Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm is reaffirming its commitment to startups building blockchain projects with a hulking new $2.2 billion crypto fund.

It’s the firm’s largest vertical-specific fund ever — by quite a bit.

Andreessen Horowitz’s 2018 crypto fund ushered in $300 million of LP commitments and its second fund, which it closed in April of last year, clocked in at $515 million. The new multi-billion dollar fund not only showcases how institutional backers are growing more comfortable with cryptocurrencies, but also how Andreessen Horowitz’s assets under management have been quickly swelling to compete with other deep-pocketed firms including the ever-prolific Tiger Global.

With this announcement, Andreessen now has some $18.8 billion assets under management.

LPs are likely far less wary to take a chance on crypto after Andreessen Horowitz’s stake in Coinbase equated to some $11.2 billion at the time of the direct listing’s first trades, though the stock has slid back some 30% in recent months as the crypto market has shrunk.

Some of the firm’s other major crypto bets include NBA Top Shot maker Dapper Labs which hit a $7.5 billion valuation this spring. Blockchain infrastructure startup Dfinity raised at a $9.5 billion valuation this past September. Last year, the firm led the Series A of Uniswap, which is poised to be a major player in the Ethereum ecosystem. In addition to equity investments, a16z has also made major bets on the currencies themselves.

An earlier report from Newcomer last month reported a16z was targeting a $2 billion crypto fund and that they had already unloaded some of their crypto holdings before most cryptocurrencies took a major dive in recent weeks.

Crypto Fund III will continue to be managed by GPs Chris Dixon and Katie Haun, but the firm has also begun spinning out a more robust management team around the crypto vertical.

Anthony Albanese, who joined the firm last year from the NYSE, has been appointed COO of the division. Tomicah Tillemann, who previously served as a senior advisor to now-President Joe Biden and as chairman of the Global Blockchain Business Council, will be a16z Crypto’s Global Head of Policy. Rachael Horwitz is also coming aboard as an Operating Partner leading marketing and communications for a16z crypto; leaving Google after a stint as Coinbase’s first VP of Communications as well.

A couple other folks are also coming on in advisory capacity, including entrepreneur Alex Price and a couple others who will likely be a tad helpful in regulatory maneuverings including Bill Hinman, formerly of the SEC, and Brent McIntosh, who recently served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.

#andreessen-horowitz, #blockchain, #blockchains, #chairman, #chris-dixon, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #entrepreneur, #ethereum, #finance, #google, #gps, #joe-biden, #joseph-lubin, #katie-haun, #money, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #rachael-horwitz, #tc, #technology, #tiger-global, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uniswap

SpaceX to break the final frontier in reuse with national defense launch

The GPS III SV-05 vehicle is encapsulated in the Falcon 9 rocket's payload fairing.

Enlarge / The GPS III SV-05 vehicle is encapsulated in the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing. (credit: Lockheed Martin)

A few years ago one of SpaceX’s earliest employees, Hans Koenigsmann, told me one of the company’s goals was to take the “magic” out of rocket launches. It’s just physics, he explained.

As its Falcon 9 rocket has become more reliable and flown more frequently—18 launches so far this year, and counting—it seems that SpaceX has succeeded in taking the magic out of launches. And while reliability should definitely be the goal, such regularity does distract from the spectacle of watching a rocket launch.

But there are still some special Falcon 9 missions, and that’s certainly the case with a launch expected to occur at 12:09 pm ET (16:09 UTC) on Thursday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. With the launch of a next-generation GPS III spacecraft, SpaceX will fly a national security mission for the first time on a reused booster.

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#falcon-9, #gps, #science

Peloton and Echelon profile photos exposed riders’ real-world locations

Security researchers say at-home exercise giant Peloton and its closest rival Echelon were not stripping user-uploaded profile photos of their metadata, in some cases exposing users’ real-world location data.

Almost every file, photo or document contains metadata, which is data about the file itself, such as how big it is, when it was created, and by whom. Photos and video will often also include the location from where they were taken. That location data helps online services tag your photos or videos that you were at this restaurant or that other landmark.

But those online services — especially social platforms, where you see people’s profile photos — are supposed to remove location data from the file’s metadata so other users can’t snoop on where you’ve been, since location data can reveal where you live, work, where you go, and who you see.

Jan Masters, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners, found the metadata exposure as part of a wider look at Peloton’s leaky API. TechCrunch verified the bug by uploading a profile photo with GPS coordinates of our New York office, and checking the metadata of the file while it was on the server.

The bugs were privately reported to both Peloton and Echelon.

Peloton fixed its API issues earlier this month but said it needed more time to fix the metadata bug and to strip existing profile photos of any location data. A Peloton spokesperson confirmed the bugs were fixed last week. Echelon fixed its version of the bug earlier this month. But TechCrunch held this report until we had confirmation that both companies had fixed the bug and that metadata had been stripped from old profile photos.

It’s not known how long the bug existed or if anyone maliciously exploited it to scrape users’ personal information. Any copies, whether cached or scraped, could represent a significant privacy risk to users whose location identifies their home address, workplace, or other private location.

Parler infamously didn’t scrub metadata from user-uploaded photos, which exposed the locations of millions of users when archivists exploited weaknesses on the platform’s API to download its entire contents. Others have been slow to adopt metadata stripping, like Slack, even if it got there in the end.

Read more:

#api, #computing, #data, #data-management, #gps, #health, #information, #peloton, #pen-test-partners, #privacy, #security, #social-networks

Tractive raises $35M as it expands GPS pet tracking to the US

Another sizable raise for a pet (cats and dogs) tracking company this morning. Austria-based Tractive has announced a $35 million Series A, led by Guidepost Growth Equity. The round is the company’s first since 2013, when its GPS-based tracker first hit the market.

Along with the funding round, the company is also announcing its official push into the U.S. market — though Tractive has had some presence here through a “soft launch” of an LTE tracker over the summer. That product apparently made the States its fastest growing market, in spite of a lack of official presence.

The funding will go toward its expansion into the U.S./North American market, along with additional scaling and headcount. For the latter, the company is already naming a new EVP of North America and a VP of marketing.

“Tractive is like a seatbelt for your dog or cat. It provides coverage when and where they need it,” said co-founder and CEO Michael Hurnaus in a release. “We designed Tractive to deliver the best possible experience, with up-to-the-second information, so that all pet parents can care for their dogs and cats the way they want and deserve — whether that means monitoring activity levels to reduce the risk of obesity or tracking a dog or cat that slipped out of the yard.”

Also new is the arrival of an upgraded tracker from the company, primarily focused on improved battery life. The big change is the use of Wi-Fi to reduce battery strain when a pet is in the home. The company says it’s able to bump up battery life up to 5x. The tracker is available for $50 in the U.S., plus a monthly subscription fee.

In February, smart pet collar maker Fi announced a $30 million Series B.

 

#cat, #dog, #gps, #guidepost-growth-equity, #hardware, #location-tracker, #pet, #recent-funding, #startups, #tractive

OneNav locates $21M from GV to map our transition to the next generation of GPS

GPS is one of those science fiction technologies whose use is effortless for the end user and endlessly challenging for the engineers who design it. It’s now at the heart of modern life: everything from Amazon package deliveries to our cars and trucks to our walks through national parks are centered around a pin on a map that monitors us down to a few meters.

Yet, GPS technology is decades old, and it’s going through a much-needed modernization. The U.S., Europe, China, Japan and others have been installing a new generation of GNSS satellites (GNSS is the generic name for GPS, which is the specific name for the U.S. system) that will offer stronger signals in what is known as the L5 band (1176 MHz). That means more accurate map pinpoints compared to the original generation L1 band satellites, particularly in areas where line-of-sight can be obscured like urban areas. L5 was “designed to meet demanding requirements for safety-of-life transportation and other high-performance applications,” as the U.S. government describes it.

It’s one thing to put satellites into orbit (that’s the easy part!), and another to build power-efficient chips that can scan for these signals and triangulate a coordinate (that’s the hard part!). So far, chipmakers have focused on creating hybrid chips that pull from the L1 and L5 bands simultaneously. For example, Broadcom recently announced the second-generation of its hybrid chip.

OneNav has a totally different opinion on product design, and it placed it right in its name. Eschewing the hybrid chip model of mixing old signals with new, it wants one chip monitoring the singular band of L5 signals to drive cost and power savings for devices. One nav to rule them all, as it were.

The company announced today that it has closed a $21 million Series B round led by Karim Faris at GV, which is solely funded by Alphabet. Other investors included Matthew Howard at Norwest and GSR Ventures, which invested in earlier rounds of the company. All together, OneNav has raised $33 million in capital and was founded about two years ago.

CEO and co-founder Steve Poizner has been in the location business a long time. His previous company, SnapTrack, built out a GPS positioning technology for mobile devices that sold to Qualcomm for $1 billion in stock in March 2000, at the height of the dot-com bubble. His co-founder and CTO at OneNav Paul McBurney has similarly spent decades in the GNSS space, most recently at Apple, according to his LinkedIn profile.

OneNav CEO and co-founder Steve Poizner, seen here in 2009. Image Credits: David McNew via Getty Images

They saw an opportunity to build a new navigation company as L5 band satellites have switched on in recent years. As they looked at the market and the L5 tech, they decided they wanted to go further than other companies by eliminating the legacy tech of older GPS technology and moving entirely into the future. By doing that, its design is “half the size of the old system, but much higher reliability and performance,” Poizner said. “We are aiming to get location technology into a much broader number of products.”

He differentiated between upgrading GPS from upgrading wireless signals. “With these L5 satellites, we don’t need the L1 satellites anymore [but] with 5G, you still need 4G,” he said. L5 band GPS does everything that earlier renditions did, but better, whereas with wireless technologies, they often need to complement each other to offer peak performance.

There’s one caveat here: the L5 signal is still considered “pre-operational” by the U.S. government, since the U.S. GPS system only has 16 satellites broadcasting the signal today, and is targeting 24 satellites for full deployment by later in this decade. However, other countries have also deployed L5 GNSS satellites, which means that while it may not be fully operational from the U.S. government’s perspective, it may well be good enough for consumers.

OneNav’s goal according to Poizner is to be “the Arm of the GNSS space.” What he means is that like Arm, which produces the chip designs for nearly all mobile phones globally, OneNav creates comprehensive designs for L5 band GPS chips that can be integrated as a system-on-chip into the products of other manufacturers so that they can “embed a high-performance location engine based on their silicon.”

The company today also announced that its first design customer will be In-Q-Tel, the U.S. intelligence community’s venture capital and business development organization. Poizner said that through In-Q-Tel, “we now have a development contract with a U.S. government agency.” The company is expecting that its customer evaluation units will be completed by the end of this year with the objective of potentially having OneNav’s technology in end-user devices by late 2022.

Location tracking has become a major area of investment for venture capitalists, with companies working on a variety of technologies outside of GPS to offer additional detail and functionality where GPS falls short. Poizner sees these technologies as ultimately complementary to what he and his team are building at OneNav. “The better the GPS, the less pressure on these augmentation systems,” he said, while acknowledging that, “it is the case though that in certain environments [like downtown Manhattan or underground in a subway], you will never get the GPS to work.”

For Poizner, it’s a bit of a return to entrepreneurship. Prior to starting OneNav, he had been heavily involved in California state politics. Several years after the sale of SnapTrack to Qualcomm, he unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the California State Assembly. He later was elected California’s insurance commissioner in 2007 under former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He ran for governor in 2010, losing in the Republican primary against Meg Whitman, who made her name as the longtime head of eBay. He ran for his former seat of California insurance commissioner in 2018, this time as a political independent, but lost.

OneNav is based in Palo Alto and currently has more than 30 employees.

#aerospace, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gps, #gv, #hardware, #karim-faris, #logistics, #mobile, #navigation, #onenav, #recent-funding, #silicon, #startups, #steve-poizner

Family tracking app Life360 to acquire wearable location device Jiobit for $37M

Popular family tracking app Life360 is investing in hardware. The company this morning announced the $37 million acquisition of Chicago-based Jiobit, the maker of a wearable location device designed for use by families with younger children, pets, or seniors. The $37 million is primarily in stock and debt, Life360 notes, but if certain performance metrics are met within two calendar years following the deal’s close, the deal price could increase to $54.5 million.

The Jiobit was first introduced on the market in 2018, mainly as a kid and pet tracker. The small, lightweight device can be attached to items kids wear or carry, like belt loops, shoelaces, and school backpacks, and appealed in particular to families who wanted a way to track younger children who didn’t yet have their own mobile device. Earlier this year, the company launched an updated version of the Jiobit ($129.99) that included a combination of radios (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular and GPS), as well as sensors, including an accelerometer/pedometer, temperature sensor and barometer.

The new antenna system was specifically designed to increase performance inside schools, stores, high rises and other challenging signal environments. It also leveraged the reach of low-power, wide-area (LPWA) wireless networks in order to better serve rural regions where cellular coverage is limited and spotty. And the new device was waterproof (IPX8) up to 30 minutes in up to 5 feet of water and had a longer battery life.

Image Credits: Jiobit

Life360 envisions adding the Jiobit to its existing family safety membership, allowing family members and pets with the device attached to show in the Life360 mobile app’s map interface, alongside other family members. Life360’s paid users (Premium members) would get a discounted Jiobit along with their subscription.

“We’ve long wanted to expand beyond the smartphone into wearable devices, and Jiobit offers the market leading device for pets, younger children, and seniors,” said Chris Hulls, CEO and co-founder of Life360, in a statement about the deal. “With Jiobit, Life360 would be the market leader in both hardware and software products for families once the deal closes. We will continue to seek out additional opportunities that could further cement our position as the leading digital safety brand for families,” he added.

Image Credits: Life360

San Francisco-based Life360 made a name for itself over the years as an app that parents love, but teens hate. In more recent months, however, the company has been responsive to teens’ criticism of being helicopter-parented with no freedom of privacy, by announcing new features like “bubbles” that instead allow the teen to share a generalized location instead of their specific whereabouts. Hulls has also regularly engaged with teens via TikTok, in a clever marketing move.

As of the end of 2020, Life360 claimed more than 26 million monthly active users across 195 countries.

The acquisition is still pending the approval of the boards of the two companies.

#exit, #family, #family-tracker, #fundings-exits, #gps, #hardware, #jiobit, #kid-tracker, #kids, #life360, #ma, #mobile-device, #pets, #seniors, #startups, #wearable-devices

Apple takes on Tile with AR-ready AirTags tracking devices

Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada, engineering program manager at Apple, presents AirTags (with one visible in her right hand).

Enlarge / Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada, engineering program manager at Apple, presents AirTags (with one visible in her right hand). (credit: Apple)

In a now-rare announcement of a completely new product category, Apple today introduced AirTags, a Tile-like personal location device.

AirTags can be placed in or on personal possessions to be tracked with the Find My app (formerly Find My iPhone) on iPhones, iPads, or Macs. Users can then find those devices, including those detected by any other Apple devices nearby.

The new devices play off Apple’s work in bringing augmented reality features to its devices. Users will be able to lift their phone cameras and see the locations of their AirTags positioned accurately in real physical space on the screen. Like some other similar products, AirTags will also be able to emit a noise to make them easier to find.

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#airtags, #apple, #ar, #bluetooth, #gps, #tech, #u1, #ultra-wideband, #uwb

Google promises better 3D maps

Google is announcing a handful of major updates to Google Maps today that range from bringing its Live View AR directions indoors to adding weather data to its maps, but the most tantalizing news — which in typical Google fashion doesn’t have an ETA just yet — is that Google plans to bring a vastly improved 3D layer to Google maps.

Using photogrammetry, the same technology that also allows Microsoft’s Flight Simulator to render large swaths of the world in detail, Google is also building a model of the world for its Maps service.

“We’re going to continue to improve that technology that helps us fuse together the billions of aerials, StreetView and satellite images that we have to really help us move from that flat 2D map to a more accurate 3D model than we’ve ever had. And be able to do that more quickly. And to bring more detail to it than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Dane Glasgow, Google’s VP for Geo Product Experience, said in a press event ahead of today’s announcement. He noted that this 3D layer will allow the company to visualize all its data in new and interesting ways.

Image Credits: Google

How exactly this will play out in reality remains to be seen, but Glasgow showed off a new 3D route preview, for example, with all of the typically mapping data overlayed on top of the 3D map.

Glasgow also noted that this technology will allow Google to parse out small features like stoplights and building addresses, which in turn will result in better directions.

“We also think that the 3D imagery will allow us to visualize a lot of new information and data overlaid on top, you know, everything from helpful information like traffic or accidents, transit delays, crowdedness — there’s lots of potential here to bring new information,” he explained.

Image Credits: Google

As for the more immediate future, Google announced a handful of new features today that are all going to roll out in the coming months. Indoor Live View is the flashiest of these. Google’s existing AR Live View walking directions currently only work outdoors, but thanks to some advances in its technology to recognize where exactly you are (even without a good GPS signal), the company is now able to bring this indoors. This feature is already live in some malls in the U.S. in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, but in the coming months, it’ll come to select airports, malls and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich as well (just in time for vaccines to arrive and travel to — maybe — rebound). Because Google is able to locate you by comparing the images around you to its database, it can also tell what floor you are on and hence guide you to your gate at the Zurich airport, for example (though in my experience, there are few places with better signage than airports…).

Also new are layers for weather data (but not weather radar) and air quality in Google Maps. The weather layer will be available globally on Android and iOS in the coming months, with the air quality layer only launching for Australia, India and the U.S. at first.

Image Credits: Google

Talking about air quality, Google Maps will also get a new eco-friendly routing option that lets you pick the driving route that produces the least CO2 (coming to Android and iOS later this year), and it will finally feature support for low emission zones, a feature of many a European City. Low emission zones on Google Maps will launch in June in Germany, France, Spain and the UK on Android and iOS. More countries will follow later.

And to bring this all together, Google will update its directions interface to show you all of the possible modes of transportations and routing options, prioritized based on your own preferences, as well as based on what’s popular in the city you are in (think he subway in NYC or bike-sharing in Portland).

Also new are more integrated options for curbside grocery pickups in partnership with Instacart and Albertsons, if that’s your thing.

And there you have it. As is so often the case with Google’s announcement, the most exciting new features the company showed off don’t have an ETA and may never launch, but until then you can hold yourself over by getting your weather forecasts on Google Maps.

#albertsons, #android, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #chicago, #computing, #eta, #france, #germany, #google, #google-search, #google-maps, #gps, #india, #instacart, #los-angeles, #maps, #newark, #operating-systems, #portland, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #seattle, #software, #spain, #tokyo, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #zurich

The only take about the future of media is that media is the future

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we — Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace — had more than a little to noodle over, but not so much that we blocked out a second episode. We try to stick to our current format, but, may do more shows in the future. Have a thought about that? equitypod@techcrunch.com is your friend and we are listening.

Now! We took a broad approach this week, so there is a little of something for everything down below. Enjoy!

Like we said, it’s a lot, but all of it worth getting into before the weekend. Hugs from the team, we are back early Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#a16z, #bolt-mobility, #cruise, #equity-podcast, #fintech, #forbes, #fundings-exits, #gps, #hims, #microsoft, #plaid, #rivian, #startups, #tripactions, #venture-capital, #wattpad

DOT evaluated 11 GPS replacements and found only one that worked across use cases

The United States’ GPS system, which is operated by the Defense Department, offers every one of us critical infrastructure around what is known as positioning, navigation and timing (PNT). Positioning and navigation is obvious every time we open up a maps app, but timing is also a critical function of GPS — offering our smartphones and devices precision timing to ensure that compute processes are accurately synced.

As more of the economy relies on these systems, they have increasingly become a target of hackers through GPS spoofing. The government wants to create additional redundancy and resiliency in the sector, and has explored using commercial alternatives to augment or backup parts of the GPS system.

The Department of Transportation, under a Congressional mandate added to the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018, ran a comprehensive evaluation of commercial alternatives to government-owned and operated GPS that could serve as a backup to our existing infrastructure.

Among the 11 companies considered in the study were a number of prominent positioning startups, including Satelles, which raised a $26 million round of capital in 2019; NextNav, which has raised a total of nearly $300 million including $120 million from Fortress a year ago; and Hellen Systems, which according to Crunchbase raised a small seed round last year.

You can read the full report from the DOT, which runs to 457 pages long and covers all 14 measures the researchers explored in evaluating these different PNT platforms.

The summary though is that there are a number of companies that offer decent backup capabilities for GPS, although the performance and cost vary widely. NextNav came out furthest ahead according to the researchers, who stated that “All [Technology Readiness Level]-qualified vendors demonstrated at least some PNT performance of value, but only one vendor, NextNav, demonstrated in all applicable use case scenarios.”

Beyond that, the DOT researchers said that “… none of the systems can universally backup the positioning and navigation capabilities provided by GPS and its augmentations.” Given the range of needs that GPS fulfills, they recommended that “a diverse universe of positioning and navigation technologies” be used to add resiliency in this infrastructure.

Finally, costs remain quite complicated to determine. Given the way that different positioning systems operate, the fixed and variable costs for each system are highly dependent on desired coverage area and necessary transmitter density. The researchers weren’t able to devise a clear opinion on the cost effectiveness of different systems, although they do offer some initial data that can provide early insight.

Given the importance of GPS and the desire for companies and the government to have reliable alternatives, VCs have dumped money on the PNT sector in recent years. Now, we have some hard data on which vendors are potentially picking up steam in terms of functionality and utility.

#government, #gps, #hardware, #nextnav, #policy

Astroscale ships its space junk removal demonstration satellite for March 2021 mission

Japanese startup Astroscale has shipped its ELSA-d spacecraft to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan, where it will be integrated with a Soyuz rocket for a launch scheduled for March of next year. This is a crucial mission for Astroscale, since it’ll be the first in-space demonstration of the company’s technology for de-orbiting space debris, a cornerstone of its proposed space sustainability service business.

The ELSA-d mission by Astroscale is a small satellite mission that will demonstrate two key technologies that enable the company’s vision for orbital debris removal. First will be a targeting component, demonstrating an ability to locate and dock with a piece of space debris, using positioning sensors including GPS and laser locating technologies. That will be used by a so-called ‘servicer’ satellite to find and attach to a ‘target’ satellite launched at the same time, which will stand in for a potential piece of debris.

Astroscale intends to dock and release with the ‘target’ using its ‘servicer’ multiple times over the course of the mission, showing that it can identify and capture uncontrolled objects in space, and that it can maneuver them for controlled de-orbit. This will basically prove out the feasibility of the technology underlying its business model, and set it up for future commercial operations.

In October, Astroscale announced that it had raised $51 million, making its total raised to date $191 million. The company also acquired the staff and IP of a company called Effective Space Solutions in June, which it will use to build out the geostationary servicing arm of its business, in addition to the LEO operations that ELSA-d will demonstrate.

#aerospace, #articles, #astroscale, #effective-space-solutions, #gps, #laser, #outer-space, #robotics, #science, #space, #space-debris, #spaceflight, #tc

Astrobotic teams with Bosch and WiBotic to give its Moon rovers wireless charging and smarts to find power stations

Lunar exploration startup Astrobotic is working on developing ultra-fast wireless charging technology for its CubeRover shoebox-sized lunar robotic explorers. The project, which is funded by NASA’s Tipping Point program with a $5.8 million award, will tap Seattle-based wireless charging startup WiBotic for expertise in high-speed, short-range wireless power, and brings in Bosch to assist with developing the AI-based data analysis that will help the robots find their way to docking stations for a wireless power-up.

Existing lunar rovers are typically powered by sunlight, but they’re actually very large (roughly car-sized or larger) and they have a lot of surface area to soak up rays via solar panels. Astrobotic’s rovers, which will initially be under five pounds in weight, won’t have much area to collect the sun’s power, and will instead have to rely on secondary power sources to keep enough energy for their exploratory operations.

That’s where WiBotic comes in. Working together with the University of Washington, the startup will be developing a “lightweight, ultra-fast proximity charging solution, compromised of a base station and power receiver” specifically for use in space-based applications. But finding these stations will be its own special challenge – particularly in a lunar context, where things like GPS don’t come into play. Instead, Bosch will leverage data collected from sensors on board the robot to generate a sensor-fusion result that can provide it with autonomous navigation capabilities. That work could be instrumental in helping future rovers navigate not only to power stations, but also to various destinations on the lunar surface as robotic science and exploration missions ramp up.

The goal is to have a demonstration rover charging system ready to show off sometime in 2023, and the partners will be working together with NASA’s Glenn Research Center to test the technology in the facility’s thermal vacuum chamber test lab.

#aerospace, #artificial-intelligence, #astrobotic, #astrobotic-technology, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #energy, #google-lunar-x-prize, #gps, #inductive-charging, #moon, #outer-space, #seattle, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #university-of-washington

MIT develops a battery-free method for navigating underwater that could transform ocean exploration

MIT has developed a new navigation system designed for use underwater that could do for underwater wayfinding what GPS has done for travel on and above the surface. GPS doesn’t really penetrate underwater, because radio waves aren’t really water-friendly. It’s why you commonly see things like sonar employed on submarines, which emit sound waves and measure their reflection off of other underwater objects and surfaces. Typical sonar and other acoustic signalling methods are power-hungry, however – which is why MIT’s new battery-free system has so much potential.

GPS is also a relatively power-efficient technology, which is part of the reason it has done so much to transform how we get around, from in-car navigation to maps on smartphones. The limitations of current underwater navigation technology has meant that we typically need to use large, quick-to-deplete battery packs to power sound generation and transmission devices. MIT’s system would replace all that with a new type of battery-free acoustic navigation systems that sues signals already found in the environment rather than creating its own.

The system works by employing piezoelectric materials, which generate an electric charge when hit with mechanical stress, including the strain resulting from a sound wave impacting against them. Researchers created a way from these sensors to translate sound wave information into binary code, which they used to measure things like the temperature of the surrounding ocean or its salt content, but they theorized that it could also be used to figure out location information.

That’s more complicated than it might appear rat first, because sound reflects off of various surfaces underwater and travels back at often unpredictable angles. But the research team was actually able to account for this with an approach called ‘frequency hopping’ and collecting information across a range of different wavelentghts. This was effective in deep water, and now they’re working on making it more effective in the even noisier environment of shallow water.

Ultimately, the system and future versions that are based upon the same technology could enable future robotic submarine explorers to better map the ocean floor, and perform all kinds of automated monitoring and sub-sea navigation.

#acoustics, #gps, #in-car-navigation, #mit, #navigation, #navigation-system, #science, #science-and-technology, #ships, #smartphones, #sonar, #sound, #submarine, #tc

E-bike subscription service Dance closes $17.7M Series A, led by HV Holtzbrinck Ventures

Three months on since the former founders of SoundCloud launched their e-bike subscription service, Dance they are today announcing the close of a $17.7 million (€15 million) Series A funding round led by one of the larger European VCs, HV Holtzbrinck Ventures.

Founded by Eric Quidenus-Wahlforss (ex-Soundcloud), Alexander Ljung (ex-Soundcloud) and Christian Springub (ex-Jimdo), Dance has ambitions to offer its all-inclusive service subscription package into expanded markets across Europe and eventually the US. Dance is currently operating the invite-only pilot of its e-bike subscription in Berlin, with plans for a broader launch, expanded accessibility and availability and new cities next year. 

Rainer Märkle, general partner at HV Holtzbrinck Ventures said in a statement: “The mobility market is seeing a huge shift towards bikes, strongly fueled by the paradigm shift of vehicles going electric. Unfortunately, the majority of e-bikes on the market today have some combination of poor design, high upfront costs, and cumbersome maintenance. We analyzed the overall mobility market, evaluated all means of transport, and crunched the numbers on all types of business models for a few years before we found what we were looking for. Dance is by the far the most viable future of biking, bridging the gap between e-bike ownership and more ‘joyful’ accessibility to go places.”

E-bikes tend to be notoriously expensive to purchase and a hassle to repair. That said, startups like VanMoof and Cowboy have brought an Apple -esque business model to the market which is fast bringing the cost of full ownership down.

Most commuters are put off cycling the average 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) commute but e-bikes make this distance a breeze. Dance sits in that half-way house between owning an expensive bike and having to hunt down a rentable ebike or electric scooter close to your location.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought individual, socially distanced, transport into sharp relief. UK sales of e-bikes have boomed, seeing a 230% surge in demand over the summer. This has happened at the same time as EU governments have put in more than 2300km of bike lanes, with the UK alone pledging £250 million in investment.

Quidenus-Wahlforss said the startup has been “inundated with positive responses from around the world since we announced our invite-only pilot program.”

Dance’s subscription model includes a fully assembled e-bike delivered to a subscriber’s door within 24 hours. This comes with maintenance, theft replacement insurance, a dedicated smartphone app, concierge services, GPS location tracking and unlocking capabilities.

#alexander-ljung, #apple, #berlin, #bicycles, #dance, #e-bike, #e-bikes, #electric-bicycle, #europe, #european-union, #general-partner, #gps, #micromobility, #smartphone, #soundcloud, #tc, #transport, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vanmoof

Watch SpaceX launch a GPS satellite for the U.S. Space Force live

SpaceX is set to launch a GPS-III satellite for the U.S. Space Force using a Falcon 9 rocket, with a target launch time of 9:43 PM EDT (6:43 PM PDT). That opens a 15-minute launch window, and so far weather is looking relatively good, which will hopefully help SpaceX end a recent string of launch scrubs, including one earlier this week for a reset Starlink mission.

The Falcon 9 used for this launch is a rarity these days – a brand new vehicle, including a booster being used for the first time. The attempt will include a landing of that first stage aboard SpaceX’s ‘Just Read the Instructions’ drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s a good reason that SpaceX isn’t flying a previously flown booster for this one: The company’s contract with the Space Force stipulates that it can only use new, non refurbished vehicles for National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions. But they recently announced an updated agreement that will allow SpaceX to use reflown first stages on future flights.

The webcast above will start at around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window, so at around 9:28 PM EDT (6:28 PM PDT).

#elon-musk, #falcon-9, #gps, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #u-s-space-force

Google Maps gets improved Live View AR directions

Google today announced a few updates to Live View, the augmented reality walking directions in its Google Maps app that officially launched last year. Live View uses your phone’s camera and GPS to tell you exactly where to go, making it a nice addition to the standard map-centric directions in similar applications.

The new features Google is introducing today include the ability to invoke Live View from the transit tab in Google Maps when you’re on a journey that includes multiple modes of transportations. Until now, the only way to see Live View was when were asking for pure walking directions.

 

Image Credits: Google

 

 

If you’re like me and perpetually disoriented after you exit a subway station in a new city (remember 2019, when we could still travel?), this is a godsend. And I admit that I often forget Live View exists. Adding it to multi-model directions may just get me to try it out more often since it is now more clearly highlighted in the app.

Google Maps can now also identify landmarks around you to give you better guidance and a clearer idea of where you are in a city. Think the Empire State Building in New York, for example.

Image Credits: Google

These new landmarks will be coming to Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Dubai, Florence, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo and Vienna, with more to follow.

If you’re a regular Live View user, you’ll know that the actual pin locations in this mode can sometimes be off. In hilly areas, the pin can often be hovering high above your destination, for example. Now, Google promises to fix this by using a combination of machine learning and better topographical maps to place the pin exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Also new is the ability to use Live View in combination with Google Maps’ location sharing feature. So when a friend shares their location with you, you can now see exactly where they are in Live View, too, and get directions to meet them.

#amsterdam, #artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #bangkok, #barcelona, #berlin, #budapest, #dubai, #florence, #google, #google-maps, #gps, #istanbul, #kuala-lumpur, #kyoto, #london, #los-angeles, #machine-learning, #madrid, #milan, #munich, #new-york, #osaka, #paris, #prague, #rome, #san-francisco, #software, #sydney, #tokyo, #vienna

Watch SpaceX launch its 12th Starlink satellite internet mission live

SpaceX is about to hit an even dozen for its Starlink launches, which carry the company’s own broadband internet satellites to low Earth orbit. This flight carries a full 60-satellite complement of the Starlink spacecraft, after the last couple of these have reserved a little space for client payloads. The launch is set to take off at 8:46 AM EDT (5:46 AM PDT) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and there’s a backup opportunity tomorrow morning should it need to be scrubbed for any reason.

This mission will use a Falcon 9 booster that has flown once previously, just a few months ago in June for a mission that delivered a GPS III satellite on behalf of the U.S. Space Force. SpaceX will also try to recover the booster with a landing at sea on its ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone landing ship.

Starlink has been by far the most frequent launch focus for SpaceX this year, as the company ramps the size of its active constellation in preparation for the deployment of its service in the U.S. According to some internet speed testing websites, the service is already being used by some individuals, and a leak from SpaceX’s dedicated Starlink website indicates a broader public beta test is imminent. The company has said service should be available in parts of the U.S. and Canada by later this year, with a planned expansion to follow in 2021.

The webcast above should go live about 15 minutes prior to the liftoff time, so at around 8:31 AM EDT (5:31 AM PDT).

#aerospace, #broadband, #canada, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #gps, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #u-s-space-force, #united-states

This Garmin GPS aims to improve motorsport’s lap times and more

Garmin today is announcing a $999 GPS unit designed specifically for motorsports. Called the Garmin Catalyst the unit aims to be a motorsports coach of sorts, helping drivers improve lap times, and more. It’s the latest example of Garmin testing different markets now that GPS units are built-into most vehicles.

Like standard GPS units, the Catalyst mounts on the windshield and provides detailed maps for the driver. However, since this is for racing around tracks, instead of providing driving directions, the Catalyst is said to provide motorsports coaching with voice instructions and detailed analysis of the driver’s performance.

Adam Spence, Garmin product manager explains, “[The Catalyst] gathers several data metrics and identifies where laps can be seamlessly joined together to create the fastest racing line. This shows users their fastest achievable time based on lines actually driven and gives them an optimal lap they can truly achieve.”

The GPS unit uses a series of sensors and components to generate the car’s racing line on the track. The included camera captures 1080p video, which can be played back on the unit with the track data overlaid showing speed, lap data, and more.

When driving, the Catalyst is said to be able to provide adaptive instruction to the driver based on past driving laps, instructing the driver on when to turn in, apex, and exit turns along with braking data when needed. This information can playback through compatible headsets or the vehicle’s Bluetooth stereo.

Data and track information can be viewed on the device itself or exported to a mobile device or computer.

The system is the latest product from Garmin who is trying to bring its GPS know-how to niche markets. Previously, the company unveiled a similar unit for overlanding vehicles. Based on pictures, the Overlander and the Catalyst seem to use the same mounting hardware and have a similar design albeit the Overlander appears more rugged.

#bluetooth, #driver, #electronics, #garmin, #global-positioning-system, #gps, #mobile-device, #navigation, #product-manager, #tc, #technology

Watch SpaceX launch its tenth Starlink mission to build out its satellite internet constellation

SpaceX is getting ready for a third try at launching its tenth Starlink mission, after two prior attempts were scrubbed, first in June and then again in July. Meanwhile, SpaceX has accomplished a lot – including another launch of a GPS satellite, and returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth from the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon.

This Starlink mission attempt is scheduled for Friday, August 7 at 1:12 AM EDT (10:12 PM PDT on August 6) and will take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There’s also a backup opportunity scheduled for Saturday August 8 at 12:50 AM EDT (Augut 7 at 9:50 PM PDT).

The payload for this mission includes, predictably, Starlink satellites – 57 in total that will join the constellation already in low Earth orbit as SpaceX gets ready to begin its beta test, which it says will kick off this summer. Starlink aims to provide low-latency, high-speed broadband to customers who don’t currently have great access to that kind of connectivity, with a beta set to start in parts of the U.S. and Canada this year. The Starlink satellites on this flight are all equipped with a special extendable solar visor to prevent reflections from their radio surfaces from obscuring the night sky from Earth.

This mission also carries two BlackSky satellites, which is one of SpaceX’s customers through launch services provider Spaceflight. It’s the second time that SpaceX has carried another payload alongside its own Starlink satellites on one of these flights, showing its spacefaring rideshare business model in action.

The live feed for the launch will start at around 15 minutes prior to launch time, so at roughly 12:57 AM EDT (9:57 PM PDT).

#aerospace, #broadband, #florida, #gps, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #united-states

Buildots raises $16M to bring computer vision to construction management

Buildots, a Tel Aviv and London-based startup that is using computer vision to modernize the construction management industry, today announced that it has raised $16 million in total funding. This includes a $3 million seed round that was previously unreported and a $13 million Series A round, both led by TLV Partners. Other investors include Innogy Ventures, Tidhar Construction Group, Ziv Aviram (co-founder of Mobileye & OrCam), Magma Ventures head Zvika Limon, serial entrepreneurs Benny Schnaider and  Avigdor Willenz, as well as Tidhar chairman Gil Geva.

The idea behind Buildots is pretty straightforward. The team is using hardhat-mounted 360-degree cameras to allow project managers at construction sites to get an overview of the state of a project and whether it remains on schedule. The company’s software creates a digital twin of the construction site, using the architectural plans and schedule as its basis, and then uses computer vision to compare what the plans say to the reality that its tools are seeing. With this, Buildots can immediately detect when there’s a power outlet missing in a room or whether there’s a sink that still needs to be installed in a kitchen, for example.

“Buildots have been able to solve a challenge that for many seemed unconquerable, delivering huge potential for changing the way we complete our projects,” said Tidhar’s Geva in a statement. “The combination of an ambitious vision, great team and strong execution abilities quickly led us from being a customer to joining as an investor to take part in their journey.”

The company was co-founded in 2018 by Roy Danon, Aviv Leibovici and Yakir Sundry. Like so many Israeli startups, the founders met during their time in the Israeli Defense Forces, where they graduated from the Talpiot unit.

“At some point, like many of our friends, we had the urge to do something together — to build a company, to start something from scratch,” said Danon, the company’s CEO. “For us, we like getting our hands dirty. We saw most of our friends going into the most standard industries like cloud and cyber and storage and things that obviously people like us feel more comfortable in, but for some reason we had like a bug that said, ‘we want to do something that is a bit harder, that has a bigger impact on the world.’ ”

So the team started looking into how it could bring technology to traditional industries like agriculture, finance and medicine, but then settled upon construction thanks to a chance meeting with a construction company. For the first six months, the team mostly did research in both Israel and London to understand where it could provide value.

Danon argues that the construction industry is essentially a manufacturing industry, but with very outdated control and process management systems that still often relies on Excel to track progress.

Image Credits: Buildots

Construction sites obviously pose their own problems. There’s often no Wi-Fi, for example, so contractors generally still have to upload their videos manually to Buildots’ servers. They are also three dimensional, so the team had to develop systems to understand on what floor a video was taken, for example, and for large indoor spaces, GPS won’t work either.

The teams tells me that before the COVID-19 lockdowns, it was mostly focused on Israel and the U.K., but the pandemic actually accelerated its push into other geographies. It just started work on a large project in Poland and is scheduled to work on another one in Japan next month.

Because the construction industry is very project-driven, sales often start with getting one project manager on board. That project manager also usually owns the budget for the project, so they can often also sign the check, Danon noted. And once that works out, then the general contractor often wants to talk to the company about a larger enterprise deal.

As for the funding, the company’s Series A round came together just before the lockdowns started. The company managed to bring together an interesting mix of investors from both the construction and technology industries.

Now, the plan is to scale the company, which currently has 35 employees, and figure out even more ways to use the data the service collects and make it useful for its users. “We have a long journey to turn all the data we have into supporting all the workflows on a construction site,” said Danon. “There are so many more things to do and so many more roles to support.”

Image Credits: Buildots

#agriculture, #avigdor-willenz, #buildots, #cloud, #construction-site, #cyber, #enterprise, #finance, #fundings-exits, #gps, #israel, #japan, #london, #magma-ventures, #medicine, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #mobileye, #poland, #recent-funding, #science-and-technology, #startups, #technology, #tel-aviv, #tlv-partners, #united-kingdom

Garmin’s four-day service meltdown was caused by ransomware

Garmin logo on an dark wall.

Enlarge (credit: Ian Usher / Flickr)

GPS device and services provider Garmin on Monday confirmed that the worldwide outage that took down the vast majority of its offerings for five days was caused by a ransomware attack.

“Garmin Ltd. was the victim of a cyber attack that encrypted some of our systems on July 23, 2020,” the company wrote in a Monday morning post. “As a result, many of our online services were interrupted including website functions, customer support, customer facing applications, and company communications. We immediately began to assess the nature of the attack and started remediation.” The company said it didn’t believe personal information of users was taken.

Garmin’s woes began late Wednesday or early Thursday morning as customers reported being unable to use a variety of services. Later on Thursday, the company said it was experiencing an outage of Garmin Connect, FlyGarmin, customer support centers, and other services. The service failure left millions of customers unable to connect their smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other devices to servers that provided location-based data required to make them work. Monday’s post was the first time the company provided a cause of the worldwide outage.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #garmin, #gps, #network-outage, #ransomware, #tech

Google Coronavirus Apps Give it Way to Access Location Data

Some government agencies that use the software said they were surprised that Google may pick up the locations of certain app users. Others said they had unsuccessfully pushed Google to make a change.

#android-operating-system, #apple-inc, #bluetooth-wireless-technology, #computer-security, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-risks-and-safety-concerns, #denmark, #general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr, #germany, #global-positioning-system, #google-inc, #gps, #ios-operating-system, #latvia, #merkel-angela, #mobile-applications, #princeton-university, #privacy, #sap, #surveillance-of-citizens-by-government, #switzerland, #wurtzburg

Space sector investment shows signs of strength in Q2 despite COVID-19 pandemic

The most recent quarterly report from specialist investor Space Capital shows that despite obvious impacts stemming from the current coronavirus pandemic, investment in general in space startups didn’t suffer as much as some predicted – and interest surged specifically in the ‘Applications’ category they track, which monitors companies building software on the data layer enabled by in-space observation and communication assets.

Space Capital’s Q2 report did report an 85% decline quarter-over-quarter vs. Q1 in terms of infrastructure investment, which is a clear sign that investors have been wary of spending on big, expensive new companies actually building and launching space hardware. We saw the result of some of that retraction with mergers and bankruptcies, including the high-profile bankruptcy and subsequent sale of satellite constellation operator OneWb.

The good news on the software layer is that the quarter saw $5.3 billion invested in these companies, including $4.5 billion in the U.S., according to the report. And VC funding overall is actually up 4% year-over-year for H1 2020 vs. H1 2019, the firm notes – though Q2 investment taken on its own is down 23% year-over-year relative to Q2 2019.

On the whole, the space sector saw $12.1 billion in equity-based investments to date in 2020, across 112 rounds, with early stage investments totalling $303 million of that, across 67 rounds. The bulk of those were either Seed or Series A investments.

It’s worth noting that the Applications layer as tracked by Space Capital includes essentially any company that relies heavily on GPS – and PNT-based navigation for their software, including large companies like Waymo that need that data to make their self-driving technology work.

GPS is unquestionably one of the largest and most successful space-based infrastructure investments that continues to bear considerable fruit, in terms of new businesses being built, and legacy industries continuing to be updated and disrupted. Many in space investment are seeking a successor to GPS – not necessarily in terms of its specific function, but definitely in terms of a space-based technology that has as broad and lasting an impact.

You can read the full report from Space Capital below:

#aerospace, #articles, #global-positioning-system, #gps, #infrastructure, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-car, #space, #space-capital, #tc, #technology, #united-states, #venture-capital, #waymo

Astra completes Rocket 3.1 static test fire ahead of launch attempt

Another small rocket launcher is readying to demonstrate their ability to launch a vehicle to space, after a few setbacks exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Astra has just completed a second static test fire of its Rocket 3.1 orbital launch vehicle, and that means it’s now ready for a trip to Alaska where it’ll hopefully make its first trip to orbit from a spaceport in Kodiak.

Astra originally started out as a company with the specific goal of answering the DARPA launch challenge, which asked companies to create a launch vehicle that could tech orbit within a few weeks of each other (originally from separate launch sites, but then later only from separate pads at the same spaceport). The challenge expired without Astra claiming the price, after the 3.0 version of their Rocket failed to reach orbit.

The company has developed, tested and flown three successive generations of Rocket, mostly without much in the way of public fanfare or information sharing. The startup builds its small rockets, which measure roughly 40-feet tall, in Alameda, California at their own factory. In an interview with TechCrunch ahead of their DARPA challenge attempt, Astra CEO and founder Chris Kemp explained that their approach is focused on rapid, at-scale manufacturing and potential failure margins that might be higher than the existing launch companies tolerate.

A kind of mass-market delivery system approach definitely has advantages, and Astra has focused on a launch system that’s much more portable than others for deployment almost anywhere in the world. The company is also focused on small payloads, which it can deliver responsively, so a loss of such a spacecraft wouldn’t be nearly as expensive as, say, a rocket failing and losing a large geosynchronous GPS satellite.

Rocket 3.1 sounds like a relatively minor iteration on Rocket 3.0, vs the large full point updates of prior generations. Astra says it’s currently headed to Kodiak, and that the company is now working to finalize a launch window, with a date to be confirmed for that next big test early next week.

#aerospace, #alaska, #astra, #california, #ceo, #chris-kemp, #gps, #outer-space, #satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceport, #tc, #techcrunch, #telecommunications, #transportation

SpaceX successfully launches GPS III space vehicle on behalf of the U.S. Space Force

SpaceX successfully launched a GPS III satellite for the U.S. Space Force today. The Space Force took over the U.S. in-space GPS assets from the Air Force when it became its own dedicated wing of the U.S. armed forces.

The launch employed a Falcon 9 rocket, the first stage of which was new and fresh from SpaceX’s factory floor. This launch did include a recovery attempt of the Falcon 9 booster, however, unlike the first GPS III launch that SpaceX launched in December 2018. SpaceX says that it was able to work with its customer to ensure that it could complete its mission as planned, while retaining enough reserve fuel for a recovery attempt – something that didn’t happen with the first launch.

That’s good news for SpaceX, since it means it won’t be losing that booster this time around, with a confirmed  successful controlled burn and landing on its floating drone landing ship at sea. That can now be refurbished and used again for future Falcon 9 missions.

The GPS spacecraft launched on this flight includes greater capabilities, better security and the potential to impact up to 4 billion users worldwide, the Space Force notes. It’ll enter a geosynchronous orbit and work with other existing GPS III satellites on orbit, as well as other existing earlier generation GPS satellites operated by the U.S.

SpaceX also says that its Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief ships will attempt fairing recovery at sea, not via catch but by fishing them out of the water. The fairing protects the satellite during the launch on its trip to space, and then falls back to Earth – where SpaceX generally tries to recover the pieces for later refurbishment and re-use.

The deployment of the satellite will occur around an hour and a half after launch, so while the launch has been successful, the full mission status will only be determined then. We’ll update this post with the results of that maneuver.

#aerospace, #falcon-9, #global-positioning-system, #gps, #satellite, #space, #spacex, #tc

Watch SpaceX launch a GPS III satellite for the U.S. Space Force live

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch is set to take place at 3:55 PM EDT (12:55 PM PDT), with a 15-minute window opening at that time, and there is a backup opportunity on Wednesday, July 1 if the launch needs to be pushed back for any time. This rocket is carrying a GPS III Space Vehicle, which is named “Katherine Johnson” after the NASA mathematician who played a fundamental role in Mercury, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

The launch today will add another GPS III satellite to the U.S. Space Force’s existing in-space GPS assets, which include three already on orbit, with another one set to be deployed in 2022. This third-generation GPS satellite is three times more accurate, and eight times more resilient in terms of its ability to resist gaming efforts than prior versions. In addition to its use for military and defense applications, the GPS III satellite will also contribute to civilian GPS-based satellite navigation.

This launch will include a landing of the Falcon 9 booster, using SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX has had a very busy launch schedule over the past month, including its historic first crewed spacecraft launch on May 30 with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board. It also subsequently launched two Starlink missions to add to its low Earth orbit broadband constellation, and had another planned for last week, which ended up having to be delayed until after this flight today.

The webcast will kick off above around 15 minutes prior to the launch time, so at around 3:40 PM EDT (12:40 PM PDT)

#aerospace, #falcon-9, #gps, #navigation, #space, #space-force, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

China’s GPS competitor is now fully launched

For decades, the United States has had a monopoly on positioning, navigation, and timing technology with its Global Positioning System (GPS), a constellation of satellites operated by the military that today provides the backbone for location on billion of devices worldwide.

As those technologies have become not just key to military maneuvers but the very foundation of modern economies, more and more governments around the world have sought ways to decouple from usage of the U.S.-centric system. Russia, Japan, India, the United Kingdom and the European Union have all made forays to build out alternatives to GPS, or at least, to augment the system with additional satellites for better coverage.

Few countries though have made the investment that China has made into its Beidou (北斗) GPS alternative. Over twenty years, the country has spent billions of dollars and launched nearly three dozen satellites to create a completely separate system for positioning. According to Chinese state media, nearly 70% of all Chinese handsets are capable of processing signals from Beidou satellites.

Now, the final puzzle piece is in place, as the last satellite in the Beidou constellation was launched Tuesday morning into orbit, according to the People’s Daily.

It’s just another note in the continuing decoupling of the United States and China, where relations have deteriorated over differences of market access and human rights. Trade talks between the two countries have reached a standstill, with one senior Trump administration advisor calling them off entirely. The announcement of a pause in new issuances of H-1B visas is also telling, as China is the source of the second largest number of petitions according to USCIS, the country’s immigration agency.

While the completion of the current plan for Beidou offers Beijing new flexibility and resiliency for this critical technology, ultimately, positioning technologies are mostly not adversarial — additional satellites can offer more redundancy to all users, and many of these technologies have the potential to coordinate with each other, offering more flexibility to handset manufacturers.

Nonetheless, GPS spoofing and general hacking of positioning technologies remains a serious threat. Earlier this year, the Trump administration published a new executive order that would force government agencies to develop more robust tools to ensure that GPS signals are protected from hacking.

Given how much of global logistics and our daily lives are controlled by these technologies, further international cooperation around protecting these vital assets seems necessary. Now that China has its own fully-working system, they have an incentive to protect their own infrastructure as much as the United States does to continue to provide GPS and positioning more broadly to the highest standards of reliability.

#asia, #beidou, #china, #government, #gps, #logistics, #mobile, #policy

R&D Roundup: Automated peach sniffers, orbital opportunity and AI accessibility

I see far more research articles than I could possibly write up. This column collects the most interesting of those papers and advances, along with notes on why they may prove important in the world of tech and startups.

In this week’s roundup: a prototype electronic nose, AI-assisted accessibility, ocean monitoring, surveying of economic conditions through aerial imagery and more.

Accessible speech via AI

People with disabilities that affect their voice, hearing or motor function must use alternative means to communicate, but those means tend to be too slow and cumbersome to speak at anywhere near average rates of speech. A new system could change that by context-sensitive prediction of keystrokes and phrases.

Someone who must type using gaze detection and an on-screen keyboard may only be able to produce between five and 20 words per minute — one every few seconds, a fraction of average speaking rates, which are generally over 100.

A person uses a brain-computer interface to type in a Stanford study. Image Credits: Stanford University

But like everyone else, these people reach for common phrases constantly depending on whom they are speaking to and the situation they’re in. For example, every morning such a person may have to laboriously type out “Good morning, Anne!” and “Yes, I’d like some coffee.” But later in the day, at work, the person may frequently ask or answer questions about lunch or a daily meeting.

#artificial-intelligence, #astronomy, #cambridge, #clear-applications, #extra-crunch, #gps, #lab-wrap, #market-analysis, #mit, #new-horizons, #rd-roundup, #science, #space, #surveillance, #tc, #wolf

Norway pulls its coronavirus contacts tracing app after privacy watchdog’s warning

One of the first national coronavirus contacts tracing apps to be launched in Europe is being suspended in Norway after the country’s data protection authority raised concerns that the software, called ‘Smittestopp’, poses a disproportionate threat to user privacy — including by continuously uploading people’s location.

Following a warning from the watchdog Friday, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said today it will stop uploading data from tomorrow — ahead of a June 23 deadline when the DPA had asked for use of the app to be suspended so that changes could be made. It added that it disagrees with the watchdog’s assessment but will nonetheless delete user data “as soon as possible”.

As of June 3, the app had been downloaded 1.6M times, and had around 600,000 active users, according to the FHI — which is just over 10% of Norway’s population; or around 14% of the population aged over 16 years.

“We do not agree with the Data Protection Agency’s assessment, but now we have to delete all data and pause work as a result of the notification,” said FHI director Camilla Stoltenberg in a statement [translated via Google Translate]. “With this, we weaken an important part of our preparedness for increased spread of infection, because we lose time in developing and testing the app. At the same time, we have a reduced ability to fight the spread of infection that is ongoing.

“The pandemic is not over. We have no immunity in the population, no vaccine, and no effective treatment. Without the Smittestopp app, we will be less equipped to prevent new outbreaks that may occur locally or nationally.”

Europe’s data protection framework allows for personal data to be processed for a pressing public health purpose — and Norway’s DPA had earlier agreed an app could be a suitable tool to combat the coronavirus emergency. Although the agency was not actively consulted during the app’s development, and had expressed reservations — saying it would closely monitor developments.

Developments that have led the watchdog to intervene are a low contagion rate in the country and a low download rate for the app — meaning it now takes the view that Smittestopp is no longer a proportionate intervention.

“We believe that FHI has not demonstrated that it is strictly necessary to use location data for infection detection,” said Bjørn Erik Thon, director of Norway’s DPA, in a statement posted on its website today.

Unlike many of the national coronavirus apps in Europe — which use only Bluetooth signals to estimate user proximity as a means of calculating exposure risk to COVID-19 — Norway’s app also tracks real-time GPS location data.

The country took the decision to track GPS before the European Data Protection Board — which is made up of representatives of DPAs across the EU — had put out guidelines, specifying that contact tracing apps “do not require tracking the location of individual users”; and suggesting the use of “proximity data” instead.

Additionally, Norway opted for a centralized app architecture, meaning user data is uploaded to a central server controlled by the health authority, instead of being stored locally on device — as is the case with decentralized coronavirus contacts tracing apps, such as the app being developed by Germany and one launched recently in Italy. (Apple and Google’s exposure notification API also exclusively supports decentralized app architectures.)

The FHI had been using what it describes as “anonymised” user data from the app to track movement patterns around the country — saying the data would be used to monitor whether restrictions intended to limit the spread of the virus (such as social distancing) were working as intended.

The DPA said today that it’s also unhappy users of the app have no ability to choose to grant permission only for coronavirus contacts tracing — but must also agree to their personal information being used for research purposes, contravening the EU data protection principle of purpose limitation.

Another objection it has is around how the app data was being anonymized and aggregated by the FHI — location data being notoriously difficult to robustly anonymize.

“It is FHI’s choice that they stop all data collection and storage right away. Now I hope they use the time until June 23 well, both to document the usefulness of the app and to make other necessary changes so that they can resume use,” said Thon. “The reason for the notification is the [DPA]’s assessment that Smittestopp can no longer be regarded as a proportionate encroachment on users’ basic privacy rights.”

“Smittestopp is a very privacy-intensive measure, even in an exceptional situation where society is trying to fight a pandemic. We believe that the utility is not present the way it is today, and that is how the technical solution is designed and working now,” he also said.

Commenting on the developments, Luca Tosoni, a research fellow at the University of Oslo’s Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law, suggested the Norway DPA’s decision could lead to similar bans on contacts tracing apps elsewhere in Europe — should contagion levels drop to a similarly low level. (And rates of COVID-19 continue declining across the region, at this stage.)

“To my knowledge, this is the first instance in which a European DPA has imposed a ban on a contact-tracing app already in use in light of national developments regarding contagion levels,” he told us. “It is thus possible that other European DPAs will impose similar bans in the future and demand that contact-tracing apps be changed as soon as contagion levels substantially decrease also in other parts of Europe. Norway has currently one of the lowest contagion levels in Europe.”

“The ban was not only related to the app’s use of GPS data. The latter was probably the most important feature of the app that the Norwegian DPA has criticised, but not the only one to be seen as problematic,” Tosoni added. “Another element that was criticised by the Norwegian DPA was that the app’s users are currently unable to consent only to the use of their their data for infection tracking purposes without consenting to their data being used also for research purposes.

“The DPA also questioned the accuracy of the app in light of the current low level of contagion in Norway, and criticised the absence of an appropriate solution for aggregating and anonymising the data collected.”

Tosoni said the watchdog is expected to reassess the app in the next few weeks, including assessing any changes proposed by the developer, but he takes the view that it’s unlikely the DPA would deem a switch to Bluetooth-only tracing to be sufficient for the app’s use of personal data proportionate.

Even so, the FHI said today it hopes users will suspend the app (by disabling its access to GPS and Bluetooth in settings), rather than deleting it entirely — so the software could be more easily reactivated in future should it be deemed necessary and legal.

#apps, #bluetooth, #contacts-tracing-apps, #coronavirus,