Zoom reaches $85M settlement in ‘Zoombombing’ lawsuit

Zoom has agreed to pay $85 million to settle a lawsuit that accused the video conferencing giant of violating users’ privacy by sharing their data with third parties without permission and enabling “Zoombombing” incidents.

Zoombombing, a term coined by TechCrunch last year as its usage exploded because of the pandemic, describes unapproved attendees entering and disrupting Zoom calls by sharing offensive imagery, using backgrounds to spread hateful messages, or spouting slurs and profanities.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2020 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, also accused the firm of sharing personal user data with third parties, including Facebook, Google and LinkedIn.

In addition to agreeing to an $85 million settlement, which could see customers receive a refund of either 15% of their subscription of $25 if the lawsuit achieves class-action status, Zoom has said it will take additional steps to prevent intruders from gatecrashing meetings. This will include alerting users when meeting hosts or other participants use third-party apps in meetings and offering specialized training to employees on privacy and data handling.

“The privacy and security of our users are top priorities for Zoom, and we take seriously the trust our users place in us,” Zoom said in a statement. “We are proud of the advancements we have made to our platform, and look forward to continuing to innovate with privacy and security at the forefront.”

The settlement requires approval from US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, to be finalized.

#apps, #articles, #california, #computing, #facebook, #google, #linkedin, #privacy, #san-jose, #security, #software, #united-states, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #zoom, #zoombombing

Abodu raises $20M to build prefabricated backyard homes

The need for more affordable housing has never been more urgent as a shortage in the U.S. housing market persists.

Startups attempting to help address the shortage in a variety of ways abound. One such startup, Abodu, has raised $20 million in a Series A funding round led by Norwest Venture Partners. Previous backer Initialized Capital also participated in the financing, along with Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, former Stockton, California Mayor Michael Tubbs, GGV investor Hans Tung and Paradox Capital’s Kyle Tibbitts.

The California legislature changed laws in 2017 to make it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Then on January 1, 2020, the state of California made it dramatically easier to add extra housing units to single-family home sites. Cities and local agencies have to quickly approve or deny ADU projects within 60 days of receiving a permit application. The state also now prevents cities from imposing minimum lot size requirements, maximum ADU dimensions or off-street parking requirements. 

Redwood City, California-based Abodu, which builds prefabricated ADUs, was founded in 2018 to serve as a “one-stop shop” for building an ADU, or as some describe it, a home in a backyard.

Image Credits: Co-founders John Geary and Eric McInerney / Abodu

What sets the company apart from others in the space, its execs claim, is that it not only builds and installs the units, it helps homeowners with the painful process of getting permits. Abodu says it pre-approves its structural engineering with California state-level agencies to ensure its units can be built statewide and works with local agencies to pre-approve its foundation systems to ensure projects can proceed on predictable timelines.

It also claims to offer a cheaper and faster process than if one were to build an ADU from start to finish. Specifically, the startup claims that one of its backyard homes can be installed in just 10% of the time it would take for a traditional ADU to be built. 

Abodu has been active in the market, selling and building its ADUs since the fall of 2019. Since then, it has put “dozens and dozens” of units in the ground, and has multiple dozen units in production on top of that, according to CEO and co-founder John Geary. So far, it’s operating in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Seattle. The company claims it can deliver an ADU in as little as 30 days in San Jose and Los Angeles thanks to the cities’ pre-approval process. In other cities in California and Washington, turnaround is “as little as 12 weeks.” But a standard bespoke project takes 4-5 months from start to finish, according to Geary.

The startup’s three products include a 340-square foot studio; a 500-square foot one bedroom, one bath, and a 610-square foot two bedroom unit. All have kitchens and living space.

Pricing starts at $190,000, but the average project cost across all sizes is around $230,000, Geary said, inclusive of permits and site work.

There are a variety of use cases for ADUs, the most popular of which is to house family and for rental income. 

“During the pandemic, multigenerational living has been at an all-time high. There are acute family needs that people are trying to solve for,” Geary said. “In addition, folks are earning extra money by renting them out to members of the community such as teachers or fireman, a single person or younger couple.”

Next, Abodu is eyeing the San Diego market.

Earlier this week, we covered the recent raise of Mighty Buildings, another Bay Area-based startup building ADUs and other housing. The biggest difference between the two companies, according to Geary, is that Mighty Buildings is focused on innovation in construction with its 3D-printed method. 

“We decided early on that we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel from the construction standpoint,” Geary said. “Instead, we looked at ‘how can we solve for speed and ease?’ ”

Abodu operates with an asset-light model, and doesn’t own any factories. Instead, it has built a network of factory “partners” across the Western U.S. that builds its units depending on how their capacities look at any given time.

Naturally, the company’s investors are bullish on the company’s business model.

Jeff Crowe, managing partner of Norwest Venture Partners, believes that Abodu’s “beautifully crafted units” are just one of the company’s selling points.

“John, Eric, and their team manage the end-to-end process of permitting, building, and installing on behalf of their customers,” he told TechCrunch. “And with the expedited permitting that Abodu has been granted in over two dozen cities, it has faster time-to-installation than other ADU market participants.  The result has been very high levels of customer satisfaction and rapid growth.”

Former Stockton Mayor Tubbs said Abodu is tackling two of California’s most consequential issues: the statewide housing shortage and its impacts on racial and economic segregation in our neighborhoods.

“By making it fast and accessible for normal homeowners to build high-quality backyard housing units, Abodu’s success will mean integrating options for both renters and homeowners in the same neighborhoods, while supporting small landlords and property owners in building equity in their homes,” he wrote via email.

Abodu’s success would be a win-win that strengthens communities.

He went on to describe the speed that Abodu can deliver housing units to customers in certain parts of California “astounding.” 
“Abodu’s team has done some of the most difficult legwork for property owners by building local contractor relationships with reliable, vetted, high-quality partners,” he said. “As a homeowner myself, I know the challenges of permitting and finding contractors during construction. It’s this thoughtful attention to detail and customer trust that sets Abodu apart from other similar offerings.”

 

#abodu, #adu, #affordable-housing, #california, #funding, #fundings-exits, #glenn-kelman, #hans-tung, #initialized-capital, #jeff-crowe, #los-angeles, #norwest, #norwest-venture-partners, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #redwood-city, #san-jose, #seattle, #startup, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #urban-planning, #venture-capital, #washington

Fetch Robotics’ CEO on the company’s acquisition and the future of warehouse robots

Yesterday, enterprise computing corporation Zebra Technologies announced its plan to acquire Fetch Robotics. The San Jose-based startup has been a mainstay in warehouse and fulfillment robotics for a number of years, offering a modular system designed to automate companies behind the scenes.

The full deal is valued at $305 million, with Zebra acquiring the remaining 95% of the company for $290 million. It comes as interest in the category is at an all-time high, following widespread labor shortages during the pandemic.

After the news broke, we sat down with Fetch co-founder and CEO Melonee Wise to discuss the deal and the future of warehouse robotics.

Why was this acquisition the right move for Fetch?

When you look at it, over the last seven years, we’ve been building a pretty compelling cloud robotics platform. About two years ago, Zebra invested in Fetch, and we started working together through our partnership. One of the first things we did was integrating their mobile computing devices, for an out-of-the-box experience on our cloud robotics platform. When our customers got robots, they could take the hand scanner they already had today, scan a barcode and call a robot to them.

As we were fundraising for our Series D, this opportunity came out of that. I think when you look at it, over the last couple of years, we’ve had a good relationship with them. With the pandemic, there’s been a huge draw for more and more automation technology. Before the pandemic, there were already labor shortages for warehouse and logistics, and the pandemic only exacerbated it. One of the other great things about us joining Zebra is they have a strong go-to-market engine, and they can amplify our sales capability. They’re already in all of the customers we want to be working with. It helps us reach a much broader, wider and deeper audience.

I’d assumed Fetch was a good potential candidate for an acquisition, but I’d always imagined it would be something like a Walmart looking to compete with Amazon robotics. I suspect that you’ve been approached by companies over the years. Why does this kind of acquisition make more sense, ultimately?

I think the acquisition made sense because it aligns with more of our long-term vision. When we built our platform, we built it to be unifying. Not just our robots. Over the years we’ve been slowly bringing in other partners on the platform. We have a partnership with SICK, we have partnerships with other MWS providers like VARGO. That isn’t going to change. We’re still going to be partner friendly and we’re still going to bring other devices into the ecosystem. When you look at the options and the opportunities, this was a good opportunity and was well aligned with the team we wanted to build.

I know Zebra has developed their own robot and invested in other robotics companies. Are you the cornerstone of an ecosystem play? Is this Zebra building a a robotic retail and fulfillment ecosystem around Fetch?

Yes, that so far has been the discussion. It’s still evolving. I don’t have all the details for you, obviously. And of course, we still have 30 days or 35 days ‘till closing, so we’re still operating as independent businesses. In terms of vision of how we’re thinking about it, Zebra is very excited to kind of make Fetch the centerpiece of this whole new offering that they’re building out. It’s a high strategic priority for them.

Will the Fetch brand remain? Will the company stay in San Jose? Are you staying on board?

Fetch is not moving. We’re kind of becoming the centerpiece, so they want to keep the team together, in San Jose. My plan is to stay. We’re still working out the details [ … ] Fetch has a very strong brand, and so how do we get the best of both worlds.

Is acquisition something that a company like Fetch works toward? Do you consider it to be kind of an inevitability?

I think it’s complicated. When I started the company, I never really planned on anything. I just wanted to go build something. I mean that in the most sincere way. I wanted to go build something and not fail. And the question is, what does not failing look like? I think the facts are that in the last 20-something years, almost no robotics company has IPO’ed. Now we’re starting to see SPACS, but there hasn’t been a robotics company that’s IPO’ed through the traditional route.

I would say that if you were to ask me on any given day, what I thought the probability of IPO versus acquisition, I probably would have said acquisition, because there’s just not a history of robotics companies IPO’ing. That’s for lots of reasons. It’s a hardware intensive business. It takes a lot of technology and investment. Typically, they’re held privately. It’s hard for large corporate entities to have the P&L to invest in this deep technology. I think that’s starting to change. And I think now that there’s SPACs, you’ll see a lot changing in that regard. But I would say you’re still going to see more acquisitions than you’re going to see IPOs for the next 10 years.

Had you been approached about acquisition in the past?

Yeah. In the past we had been, but many times before it was just too early.

What does it mean to be too early?

It just didn’t feel like the right time for lots of reasons. Some of it has to do with what I want. Some of it has to do with what the team wants. And some of it has to do with what our investors want. There are a lot of people at the table. This is always a hard question. Previously when those things had come up, the market was so undefined and so new, we just wanted to see where it went. Now we’re starting to see more structure to the environment, and we’re starting to see an inflection point.

Is additional international expansion part of the plan?

Yeah. We’re in several companies in Europe. We’re in APAC and expanding in that region. Right now, we aren’t placing any large bets in any of those countries. We’re waiting to see how the market develops, but we’re looking to expand.

#fetch-robotics, #melonee-wise, #robotics, #san-jose, #startups, #warehouse-robots, #zebra-technologies

After raising $10M, Ryte launches ‘Carbon KPI’ to measure the CO2 footprint of web sites

As we become more and more aware of the kind of impact we are having on this planet we call our home, just about everything is having its CO2 impact measured. Who knew, until recently, that streaming Netflix might have a measurable impact on the environment, for instance. But given vast swathes of the internet are populated by websites, as well as streaming services, then they, too, must have some sort of impact.

It transpires that a new service has identified how to gauge that, and now it’s raised venture capital to scale.

Ryte raised €8.5 million ($10 million) in a previously undisclosed round led by Bayern Kapital out of Munich and Octopus Investments out of London earlier this year for its Website User Experience Platform.

It has now launched the ‘Ryte Website Carbon KPI’, which claims to be able to help make 5% of all websites carbon neutral by 2023.

Ryte says it worked with data scientists and environmental experts to develop the ability to accurately measure the carbon impact of clients’ websites. According to carbon transition think tank, the Shift Project, the carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet, and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions. And this trend is rising rapidly as the world digitizes itself, especially post-pandemic.

Ryte has now engaged its data scientist, Katharina Meraner, who has a PhD in climate science and global warming, and input from Climate Partner, to launch this new service.

“There are currently 189 million active websites,” Ryte CEO Andy Bruckschloegl said. “Our goal is to make 5% of all active websites, or 9.5 million websites, climate neutral by the end of 2023 with the help of our platform, strong partners, social media activities, and much more. Time is ticking and making websites carbon neutral is really easy compared to other industries and processes.”

Ryte says it is also collaborating with a reforestation project in San Jose, Nicaragua, to allow its customers to offset their remaining emissions through the purchase of climate certificates.

Using a proprietary algorithm, Ryte says it measures the code of the entire website, average page size, as well as monthly traffic by channel then produces a calculation of the amount of CO2 it uses up.

Admittedly there are similar services, but these are ad-hoc and not connected to a platform. A simple Google search will bring us sites like Websitecarbon, Ecosistant, and academic papers. But as far as I can tell, a startup like this hasn’t put this kind of service into their platform yet.

“Teaming up with Ryte will help raise awareness on how information technology contributes to climate change – while at the same time providing tools to make a difference. Ryte’s industry-leading carbon calculator enables thousands of website owners to understand their carbon footprint, to offset unavoidable carbon emissions and thus lay a basis for a comprehensive climate action strategy,” commented Tristan A. Foerster, Co-CEO ClimatePartner.

 

#carbon-dioxide, #carbon-footprint, #ceo, #chemistry, #co-ceo, #data-scientist, #europe, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #information-technology, #london, #munich, #netflix, #octopus-investments, #renewable-energy, #san-jose, #streaming-services, #tc

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

Now approved in LA, Abodu’s backyard homes can now go from contract to completion in as little as 30 days

Abodu, one of a slew of startup companies pitching backyard homes and office spaces to Californians in an effort to help address the state’s housing shortage, has instituted a new “Quickship” program that can take an order from contract to construction and installation in about thirty days.

Behind the quick turnaround time is a pre-approval process that was first rolled out in Santa Fe and came to Los Angeles in recent weeks.

Abodu began installing homes through a pre-approval process back in 2019, when the city of San Jose created a program that allowed developers of alternative dwelling units to submit plans for pre-approval to cut the time for homeowners.

That approval process means that ADU developers like Abodu can be permitted in one hour. Other ADU developers pre-approved in San Jose, Calif. include Acton ADU, the venture backed Connect Homes, J. Kretschmer Architect, Mayberry Workshop, Open Remodel, and prefabADU. In Los Angeles, La Mas, IT House, Design, Bitches, Connect Homes, Welcome Projects and First Office have all had homes pre-approved for construction.

Beyond the cities where Adobu’s ADUs have received pre-approval, the company has built across California in cities ranging from, Palo Alto, Millbrae, Orange County, to LA and Oakland. Units in the Bay Area cost roughly $189,000 as a starting price, compared to the $650,000 to $850,000 it takes to build units in a mid-rise apartment building, or $1 million per unit in a steel-reinforced highrise, according to the company.

“Our Quickship program is the fastest way to add housing,” said John Geary, CEO at Abodu.  “Homeowners with immediate needs, be it family situations or those looking for investment income, can now complete an ADU project in as little as four weeks. A key mission for Abodu is to make a serious dent in our state’s housing deficit while providing people and municipalities the necessary blueprint to enact real change. ”

For former TechCrunch writer Kim-Mai Cutler, who serves on the Abodu board of directors the achievement of a 30 day construction milestone is almost a dream come true. Cutler wrote the book (or the equivalent of a book) on the housing crisis and its impact on the Bay Area and California broadly.

That piece led Cutler to work in public service “on boards and commissions overseeing the spending of federal dollars on homelessness and the proceeds of municipal bonds directed at financing affordable housing (because yes, for some segments of residents, you do have to explicitly subsidize housing at the local level.),” as she noted in a blog post about her investment in Abodu.

The interior of an Abodu home. Photo via Abodu.

Cutler backed the company because of her deep knowledge of the issues associated with housing.

“The reason this is a big deal is because Northern California has been the most expensive and unpredictable place to build new housing in the world. Projects typically take several years because of uncertainty with entitlements and materials,” Cutler wrote. “Over the past year, Abodu co-founders John Geary and Eric McInerney have put homes in the backyards of parents bringing kids home from college, a mother-and-son pair that each bought one for their homes in Millbrae, a couple looking to eventually house a grandmother in San Jose and on and on.”

The key inspiration that Abodu’s founders hit on was their concentration on granny flats, casitas and backyard dwellings. “While deliberations over mid-rise density were stalling in Sacramento, the state legislature (and legislatures up north in the Pacific Northwest) were passing bill after bill, including Phil Ting’s AB 68 and Bob Wieckowski’s SB 1069, to make it really easy to add backyard units,” Cutler wrote. “This is the kind of change that suburban America wants, is comfortable with and can politically pass and implement easily.”

To Cutler’s thinking, Adobu’s 30 day construction schedule will change consumer behavior, thanks to the fact that the home can be craned in and installed in less than a day on a foundation constructed in less than two weeks. Its incredibly low cost will enable a lot of opportunities to develop new inventory and the simple fact is that inventory remains a scarce commodity. As Cutler noted, only half as many homes are trading across the United States as were available a year ago, which is happening at the same time as when millennials are entering prime family formation years. 

 

#abodu, #america, #california, #ceo, #kim-mai-cutler, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #oakland, #palo-alto, #planning, #sacramento, #san-jose, #tc, #united-states, #urban-planning, #writer

How Rani Therapeutics’ robotic pill could change subcutaneous injection treament

A new auto-injecting pill might soon become a replacement for subcutaneous injection treatments.

The idea for this so-called robotic pill came out of a research project around eight years ago from InCube Labs—a life sciences lab operated by Rani Therapeutics Chairman and CEO Mir Imran, who has degrees in electrical and biomedical engineering from Rutgers University. A prominent figure in life sciences innovation, Imran has founded over 20 medical device companies and helped develop the world’s first implantable cardiac defibrillator.

In working on the technology behind San Jose-based Rani Therapeutics, Imran and his team wanted to find a way to relieve some of the painful side effects of subcutaneous (or under-the-skin) injections, while also improving the treatment’s efficacy. “The technology itself started with a very simple thesis,” said Imran in an interview. “We thought, why can’t we create a pill that contains a biologic drug that you swallow, and once it gets to the intestine, it transforms itself and delivers a pain-free injection?”

Rani Therapeutics’ approach is based on inherent properties of the gastrointestinal tract. An injecting mechanism in their pill is surrounded by a pH-sensitive coating that dissolves as the capsule moves from a patient’s stomach to the small intestine. This helps ensure that the pill starts injecting the medicine in the right place at the right time. Once there, the reactants mix and produce carbon dioxide, which in turn inflates a small balloon that helps create a pressure difference to help inject the drug-loaded needles into the intestinal wall. “So it’s a really well-timed cascade of events that results in the delivery of this needle,” said Imran.

Despite its somewhat mechanical procedure, the pill itself contains no metal or springs, reducing the chance of an inflammatory response in the body. The needles and other components are instead made of injectable-grade polymers, that Imran said has been used in other medical devices as well. Delivering the injections to the upper part of the small intestine also carries little risk of infection, as the prevalence of stomach acid and bile from the liver prevent bacteria from readily growing there.

One of Imran’s priorities for the pill was to eliminate the painful side effects of subcutaneous injections. “It wouldn’t make sense to replace them with another painful injection,” he said. “But biology was on our side, because your intestines don’t have the kind of pain sensors your skin does.” What’s more, administering the injection into the highly vascularized wall of the small intestine actually allows the treatment to work more efficiently than when applied through subcutaneous injection, which typically deposits the treatment into fatty tissue.

Imran and his team have plans to use the pill for a variety of indications, including the growth hormone disorder acromegaly, diabetes, and osteoporosis. In January 2020, their acromegaly treatment, Octreotide, demonstrated both safety and sustained bioavailability in primary clinical trials. They hope to pursue future clinical trials for other indications, but chose to prioritize acromegaly initially because of its well-established treatment drug but “very painful injection,” Imran said.

At the end of last year, Rani Therapeutics raised $69 million in new funding to help further develop and test their platform. “This will finance us for the next several years,” said Imran. “Our approach to the business is to make the technology very robust and manufacturable.”

#biotech, #diabetes, #health, #infection, #medical-devices, #pain, #recent-funding, #robotics, #rutgers-university, #san-jose, #science, #startups, #therapeutics

The Shed is a startup out of Virginia trying to revive the rental-for-everything business

Reducing consumption by expanding the notion of the rental economy and giving people access to tools and equipment has been something of a startup holy grail for some time.

It’s a model that’s worked famously well for fashion and accessories (just ask investors in Rent the Runway), but has had not had the same resonance for white label goods.

The Shed, out of Richmond, Va., hopes to change that.

Launched by Karen Rodgers O’Neil, a longtime marketing executive, and Daniel Perrone, a serial entrepreneur and technology executive whose previous company, BroadMap, was acquired by Apple; The Shed hopes to take the rental model that Home Depot has turned into a billion dollar business line and take it to the masses.

Unlike Home Depot, The Shed touts its presence in eight categories. Stanley Black & Decker is a marquee early partner and the company’s executives said that others have come on board.

“We don’t buy product,” said Perrone. “We take delivery of all the products and rent them out in the local marketplaces where we do business.”

The only thing the manufacturer provides is the products and some servicing starter kit so that The Shed and its employees can manage and maintain the product.

The Shed founders Karen Rodgers O’Neil and Daniel Perrone. Image Credit: The Shed

Since its launch in April the company has expanded beyond its Richmond, Va. home base to Denver — and will be looking to expand further into Portland, Austin, and San Jose, according to Perrone.

Among the features that the company intends to roll out as it expands is a dynamic pricing capability that will enable manufacturers to wring the most out of their goods when they’re in high demand.

Rodgers O’Neil came up with the concept back in 2012 when she was working as a marketing executive for General Electric out of Boston.  Perrone met Rodgers O’Neil at a networking event in Boston and became convinced that her notion of offering more rental options to encourage a more circular economy and reduce consumption was something that could resonate with consumers.

To be sure, The Shed isn’t the first company to attempt to bring the rental business to a broader array of consumer products in an effort to cut down on consumption. The Los Angeles-based startup Joymode was attempting to do much the same thing. That company sold to an early stage investment firm out of New York.

Joymode’s chief executive, Joe Fernandez spoke about the difficulty of running the business. “Part of the thesis was that by making things available for rental, people would want to do more stuff,” said Fernandez, but what happened was that consumers needed additional reasons to use the company’s service, and there weren’t enough events to drive demand.

By contrast, The Shed isn’t owning any of the inventory, just acting as a broker and managing inventory between local retailers and manufacturers who want to take advantage of the company’s service.

In addition to Stanley Black & Decker, companies like Primus camping equipment have placed their products on The Shed along with Mobility Plus, which added wheelchairs and mobility scooters; and Replacements, the largest china dealer in the country, which is offering a “Party in a Box” for dinner, cocktail or tea parties.

To date, the company has raised $1.75 million from investors and entrepreneurs from the Richmond, Va. area. Now, with 60 manufacturers on board and another 15 to 18 vendors signing up monthly, the company is looking to expand even further.

“I joined with Karen because I saw that this would be a game changer in the rental space,” said Perrone. There are a number of retailers in specific verticals that still don’t transact online, so The Shed becomes their avenue to reach the market, he said.

#apple, #articles, #austin, #boston, #brand, #broadmap, #broker, #business, #consumer-products, #denver, #general-electric, #graphic-design, #home-depot, #joe-fernandez, #joymode, #los-angeles, #marketing, #new-york, #portland, #product-management, #richmond, #san-jose, #tc, #virginia

BMW, Mercedes Benz end ‘long term’ automated driving alliance, for now

BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz AG have punted on what was meant to be a long term collaboration to develop next-generation automated driving technology together, less than a year after announcing the agreement.

The German automakers called the break up “mutual and amicable” and have each agreed to concentrate on their existing development paths. Those new paths may include working with new or current partners. The two companies also emphasized that cooperation may be resumed at a later date.

The partnership, which was announced in July 2019, was never meant to be exclusive.  Instead, it reflected the increasingly common approach among legacy manufacturers to form loose development agreements in an aim to share the capitally intensive work of developing, testing and validating automated driving technology.

The two companies did have some lofty goals. The partnership aimed to develop  driver assistance systems, highly automated driving on highways, and automated parking and launch those technology in series vehicles scheduled for 2024.

It seems that the perceived benefits of working together were overshadowed by reality: creating a shared technology platform was a more complex and expensive task than expected, according to comments from the companies. BMW and Mercedes-Benz AG said they were unable to hold detailed expert discussions and talk to suppliers about technology roadmaps until the contract was signed last year.

“In these talks — and after extensive review — both sides concluded that, in view of the expense involved in creating a shared technology platform, as well as current business and economic conditions, the timing is not right for successful implementation of the cooperation,” the companies said.

BMW and Mercedes have other projects and partners. BMW, for instance, is part of a collaboration with Intel, Mobileye, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ansys. Daimler and Bosch launched a robotaxi pilot project in San Jose last year.

Meanwhile, both companies are still working together in other areas. Five years, BMW and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, joined Audi AG to acquire location and technology platform HERE. That ownership consortium has since grown to include more companies.

And last year, BMW Group and Daimler AG also pooled their mobility services in a joint venture under the umbrella of the NOW family.

Separately, BMW said Friday it will cut 6,000 jobs in an agreement reached with the German Works Council. The cuts, prompted by sluggish sales caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be reportedly accomplished through early retirement, non-renewal of temporary contracts, ending redundant positions and not filling vacant positions, Marketwatch reported.

#ansys, #audi-ag, #automotive, #automotive-industry, #bmw, #bmw-group, #bosch, #companies, #daimler, #daimler-ag, #driver, #here, #intel, #mercedes-benz, #mobileye, #mobility-services, #san-jose

Audi sets up Silicon Valley office to develop automated driving systems for U.S. market

Audi has opened an office in Silicon Valley that aims to adapt and develop advanced driver assistance systems for the U.S. market. 

The Audi Automated Driving Development (A2D2) R&D office will be located in San Jose and initially staffed with about 60 employees. The company said A2D2 will have the “flexibility to quickly develop new software and to collaborate with nearby startups for production-intent applications.”

This new R&D office is focused on advancing so-called Level 2 systems, a designation by the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE), in which two primary functions are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. There are five levels of automation under SAE’s definition. Level 4 means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention and is what companies like Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise and Waymo are working on. While Level 5, which is widely viewed as a distant goal, would handle all driving in all environments and conditions.

The focus on Level 2 is an important distinction. Audi had developed a Level 3 automated system called Traffic Jam Pilot that was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. After numerous delays, Audi decided in May to scrap plans to roll out the Level 3 automated driving system. Traffic Jam Pilot theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it’s never been commercially deployed. 

The company told TechCrunch back in May that the lack of a legal framework raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 has been progressing through its generational life cycle. Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of a framework progressing.

Now, Audi has turned its attention and capital towards advanced driving assistance systems that can actually be launched in passenger vehicles. A2D2 will be the first office dedicated to developing ADAS hardware and software specifically for North American roads and driving behaviors, the company said.

“Given the rapid advancement of driver assistance technologies in North America, it’s important to be part of the latest breakthroughs, work with leading edge of technology startups and attract the top talent,” said Frank Grosshauser, senior director, ADAS, Audi of America.

The A2D2 office is hugely important to the further advancement of systems here in the U.S. in the interim, not just in terms of assisted driving but all of the various sensors and systems and how they can be brought together to further improve the driving experience, safety and use for our customers in the not too distant future, an Audi spokesperson wrote in an email.

The A2D2 office has outfitted several Audi Q7 development vehicles with roof-mounted sensor kits to collect data to develop various cloud-based automated driver-assistance functions planned for introduction by 2023, the company said. The A2D2 development vehicles are wrapped in a QR code that links to a webpage where people can get updates on Audi’s progress. 

Audi is also working on automated driving technology with Car.Software, a newly founded Volkswagen Group unit. All Volkswagen Group brands have concentrated their automated driving development activities within this unit, the company said. 

#america, #artificial-intelligence, #audi, #automotive, #california, #cars, #driver, #europe, #malibu, #north-america, #san-jose, #sedans, #techcrunch, #united-states, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group

The Station: Audi punts on Level 3, Lyft layoffs and Nio’s $1 billion deal

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hi readers. Welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

While COVID-related stay-at-home orders have been extended in places like the San Francisco Bay area, officials in other counties and states in the U.S. have decided to open up for business. The rest of us are watching and waiting to see how these two experiments play out.

These opposing approaches have managed to create even more tension in the United States. If politics didn’t divide us before, how and when to open amid a health pandemic is proving to be an effective wedge.

The “how” is as important, or even more so, than the “when.” What will life and business look like? Wuhan, China, a transportation and manufacturing metropolis of 11 million people and where COVID-19 started, offers a view into one approach. (The photo below shows a worker disinfecting a bus in Wuhan on April 30.)

China-wuhan-bus-covid

A staff member sprays disinfectant on a bus at a long-distance bus station in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 30, 2020, ahead of the Labor Day holiday which started May 1.

When those stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, returning to work won’t be quick or easy. Wuhan was placed on lockdown January 23. Wuhan officials eased outgoing travel restrictions April 8. While the strictest component of that lockdown has been lifted, many businesses remain closed. Didi didn’t reopened its ride-hailing services in the city until April 30.

In short, it’s going to be complex. Ford’s back-to-work playbook is a case in point. The plan includes a number of daily measures such as online health self-certifications completed before work every day, face masks and no-touch temperature scans upon arrival. But that’s just a sliver of what it will take. Check it out their complete playbook.

Here’s a friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

I’ll alrighty folks, shall we dig in? Vamos. 

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility. Over at Lyft, the company laid off 982 employees and furloughed 288 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyft also permanently ceased scooter operations in Oakland, San Jose and Austin.

“We’re focusing our resources where we can have the biggest impact and best serve cities and riders,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to invest in our bike and scooter business, but have made the tough decision to shift resources away from three scooter markets and toward opportunities where we are set up for longer-term success.”

At Lime, the startup let go 13% of its staff while the very next day relaunching its electric scooters in Baltimore and Ogden, Utah.

“Almost overnight, our company went from being on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone — the first next-generation micromobility company to reach profitability — to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing,” Lime CEO Brad Bao wrote in a note to employees.

Just one day after those layoffs, the company relaunched scooters in Baltimore to help support essential medical workers as well as in Ogden.

Uber is weighing its own layoffs. The Information reported that the company could cut up to 20% of its staff. That translates to more than 5,000 jobs. Those cuts could be announced in stages over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Thuan Pham, who was hired as Uber’s chief technology officer by former CEO Travis Kalanick back in 2013, is leaving the company in three weeks, the ride-share giant revealed in an SEC filing.

— Megan Rose Dickey

Deal of the week

money the station

Chinese electric vehicle startup Nio secured a $1 billion investment from several state-owned companies in Hefei in return for agreeing to establish headquarters in the city’s economic development hotspot and giving up a stake in one of its business units.

The injection of capital comes from several investors, including Hefei City Construction and Investment Holding Group, CMG-SDIC Capital and Anhui Provincial Emerging Industry Investment Co.

Why deal of the week? The deal alleviates some concerns about Nio’s liquidity. It also marks the latest Chinese EV startup to turn to the state as private capital has shrunk.

There is no free lunch, however. The deal itself is complex and involves some asset shuffling. Nio is transferring its core businesses in China into a new company called Nio China. The investors will get a 24.1% stake in Nio China. The shareholding structure of the parent company is unchanged.

Other deals announced this week are below. Keep in mind that just because a deal is announced that doesn’t mean it closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising rounds often close weeks and even months before they’re announced.

Otonomo, an automotive data services startup based in Israel, raised $46 million in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.

The company has a software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.

KlearNow, a startup that has built a software platform to automate the customs clearance process, raised $16 million in a Series A funding round led by GreatPoint Ventures, with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital. Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures is joining as a board observer.

Skycell, a Switzerland-based startup that builds hardware and operates a logistics network designed to transport pharmaceuticals has raised $62 million.

A merger between UK’s JustEat and the Netherlands’ Takeaway.com has been approved by regulators. The merged company announced that it had raised €700 million ($756 million) in new outside funding in the form of new shares and convertible bonds.

Cheetah, a San Francisco-based startup that provided a wholesale delivery service and has pivoted to selling to consumers during COVID-19, raised $36 million in Series B funding.

Innovation of the week

Computer vision company Eyesight Technologies has tweaked its driver monitoring system so it can detect driver distraction and drowsiness even while wearing a medical face mask.

This “innovation of the week” gets back to my opening remarks about “how” we get back to work. Face masks will likely be a part of our world for some time.

Driver monitoring systems, which are increasingly being used by commercial fleets, are trained to detect and monitor facial features of the driver. The system will take in data points like head pose, mouth, eyes and eyelids and use the gathered visual data to detect signs of drowsiness and distraction. If the sensor can’t read one or more of these features the system could fail to detect a drowsy truck driver or inattentive transit worker.

Driver Monitoring with mask

Eyesight Technologies

Eyesight Technologies says that its computer vision and AI algorithms have been trained to detect distraction and drowsiness even if a driver is wearing a mask and glasses.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Eyesight Technologies CEO David Tolub said. “Without a concrete end date to the current situation, wearing medical masks may be a reality for the foreseeable future. Eyesight Technologies is forging ahead and adapting to provide a reliable solution to help guarantee safety even under less than ideal circumstances.”

Audi punts on Level 3

Audi has scrapped plans to roll out a Level 3 automated driving system in its A8 flagship sedan. Automotive News Europe broke the story.

The feature, which is branded Traffic Jam Pilot, theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it’s never been commercially deployed.

Traffic Jam Pilot was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. It’s now 2020. What happened? Regulations, or lack of them, have been the primary scapegoat. But it’s not quite the whole story.

TechCrunch reached out to Audi to dig into why? In short, the company told us, that it’s complicated. The lack of a legal framework has raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 is now progressing through its generational life cycle. And Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of framework progressing.

Here’s a few tidbits from the folks at Audi.

On the legal framework:

As of now, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving. Consistently it is not possible to homologate such function anywhere in the world in a series production car. It is still very challenging to plan the exact introduction scenarios for level 3 systems, as we continuously moving in an intensive interplay between the findings from ongoing testing and the requirements that legislators and approval authorities are now defining for conditional automated driving.

On development costs:

As these clarifications and safeguards continue to take time, we also monitor economic aspects in addition. This includes development costs, which are summing up continuously. Secondly, the remaining life of the determined target model A8 combined with the forecasted installation rate and the expected market greediness in the individual countries are playing an important role.

This has brought us to the following decision: We will not see the traffic jam pilot on the road with its originally planned level 3 series function in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle.

Audi’s belief in automated driving:

We still believe in the technology of automated driving and today we know better than almost anyone when it comes to the decisive technological key factors. During the development phase we continuously learned more and more technical “unknown unknowns” and developed approaches how to handle the fact, that there will appear more.

Together with the above mentioned dependencies concerning legislation and type approval, we believe that actually it is not the right moment to deliver the function to the customer. This is our attitude of responsibility.

How Audi is moving forward:

An important part of the truth, which the industry is now facing: development of automated driving is extremely complex and cost-intensive. Our aim more than ever before is to generate the greatest possible synergies.

Within the VW group we therefore have the best preconditions. We have consolidated our efforts to further develop level 3 automated driving in the Car.Software organization. This is a new organization within the Volkswagen Group .

Former Audi managers will be head of two out of the five domains within this new organization: Thomas Müller will manage the automated driving area, and Dr. Klaus Büttner will manage the Intelligent Body&Cockpit area. Together with the specialists coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche, this ensures that the current expertise in this cross-brand organization is available for the greatest possible benefit to everyone in the Volkswagen Group.

#audi, #audi-a8, #austin, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #baltimore, #bessemer-venture-partners, #cars, #chief-technology-officer, #china, #covid-19, #driver, #ford, #greatpoint-ventures, #here, #israel, #kirsten-korosec, #klearnow, #labor-day, #lyft, #monta-vista-capital, #netherlands, #oakland, #otonomo, #pharmaceuticals, #pilot, #porsche, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #sedans, #skycell, #software-platform, #takeaway-com, #techcrunch, #thuan-pham, #transportation, #travis-kalanick, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uber, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #utah, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #vw-group

Voyage gets the green light to bring robotaxi service to California’s public roads

Voyage has cleared a regulatory hurdle that will allow the company to expand its self-driving service from the private roads of a retirement community in San Jose, Calif. to public roads throughout the rest of the state.

The California Public Utilities Commission issued a permit Monday that gives Voyage permission to transport passengers in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads. The permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, puts Voyage in a new and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing. Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Pony.ai, Zoox and Waymo have all received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program.

The permit also puts Voyage on a path toward broader commercialization.

The company was operating six autonomous vehicles — always with a human safety driver behind the wheel — in The Villages, a community of more than 4,000 residents in San Jose, Calif. (Those activities have been suspended temporarily under a statewide stay-at-home order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.) Voyage also operates in a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in central Florida.

Voyage didn’t need a CPUC permit because the community is made up of private roads, although CEO Oliver Cameron said the company wanted to adhere to state rules regardless of any technicalities. Voyage was also motivated by a grander ambition to transport residents of The Villages to destinations outside of the community.

“We want to bring people to all the things that live outside The Villages, facilities like hospitals and grocery stores,” Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron told TechCrunch in an interview Monday.

Voyage’s strategy was to start with retirement communities — places with specific customer demand and a simpler surrounding environment. The demographic that Voyage serves has an average age of 70. The aim isn’t to change its customer base. Instead, Cameron wants to expand the company’s current operational design domain to give Voyage a bigger reach.

The end goal is for Voyage’s core customers — people Cameron dubs power users — to be able to use the service for everything from heading to a neighbor’s house for dinner to shopping, doctor’s visits and even the airport.

The CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles. The first one, called the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel and certain data must be reported quarterly.

The second CPUC pilot would allow driverless passenger service — although no company has yet to obtain that permit.

Under the permit, Voyage can’t charge for rides. However, there might be some legal wiggle room. Voyage can technically charge for rides within The Villages; in fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdown, the company had started charging for a ride-hailing service.

Rides outside of The Villages would have to be free, although it’s unclear if the company could charge for mileage or time until the vehicle left the community.

Voyage has aspirations to take this further. The company is also applying for a traditional Transportation Charter Permit, which is required for limousine, bus and other third-party charter services. Cameron said the company had to go through the stringent application process for the CPUC’s Drivered AV permit first.

The CPUC programs shouldn’t be confused with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads — always with a safety driver. There are 65 companies that hold autonomous vehicle testing permits issued by the DMV. Companies that want to participate in the CPUC program must have a testing permit with the DMV.

#aurora, #automation, #automotive, #av, #california, #emerging-technologies, #florida, #oliver-cameron, #pony, #san-jose, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #technology, #transportation, #voyage, #waymo, #zoox

Leverice is a team messenger app that’s taking aim at information overload

Meet Leverice: A team messenger and collaboration platform that’s aiming to compete with b2b giants like Slack by tackling an issue that continues to plague real-time messaging — namely, ‘always-on’ information overload. This means these tools can feel like they’re eating into productivity as much as aiding it. Or else leave users stressed and overwhelmed about how to stay on top of the work comms firehose. 

Leverice’s pitch is that it’s been built from the ground up to offer a better triage structure so vital bits of info aren’t lost in rushing rivers of chatter than flow across less structured chat platforms.

It does this by giving users the ability to organize chat content into nested subchannels. So its theory is that hyper structured topic channels will let users better direct and navigate info flow, freeing them from the need to check everything or perform lots of searches in order to find key intel. Instead they can just directly drill down to specific subchannels, tuning out the noise.

The overarching aim is to bring a little asynchronicity to the world of real-time collaboration platforms, per co-founder and COO Daniel Velton.

“Most messaging and collaboration tools are designed for and built around synchronous communications, instant back-and-forth. But most members of remote teams communicate at their own pace — and there was no go-to messaging tool built around asynchronous communications,” he tells TechCrunch.

“We set out to solve that problem, to build a messenger and collaboration platform that breaks rivers down into rivulets. To do that, we needed a tech stack and unique architecture that would allow teams to efficiently work with hundreds of channels and subchannels distributed between scores of channel branches of varying depths. Having that granularity ensures that each little shelf maintains topical integrity.

“We’re not discussing Feature 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 and 2.1.3 and 2.1.4 inside a single ‘Features’ channel, where the discussions would blend together. Each has its own little home.”

Of course Slack isn’t blind to the info-overload issues its platform can generate. Last month it announced “a simpler, more organized Slack”, which includes the ability for users to organize channels, messages and apps into “custom, collapsible sections”. Aka folders.

So how is Leverice’s subchannel architecture a great leap forward on the latest version of Slack — which does let users organize themselves (and is now in the process of being rolled out across its user-base)?

“All structuring (including folders) on other popular messengers is essentially an individual preference setting,” says Velton. “It does not reflect on a teamwide channel tree. It’s definitely a step in the right direction but it’s about each user adding a tiny bit of structure to their own private interface, not having a structure that affects and improves the way an entire team communicates.

“Leverice architecture is based on structuring of channels and subchannels into branches of unlimited depth. This kind of deep structuring is not something you can simply ‘overlay’ on top of an existing messenger that was designed around a single layer of channels. A tremendous number of issues arise when you work with a directory-like structure of infinite depth, and these aren’t easily solved or addressed unless the architecture is built around it.”

“Sure, in Leverice you can build the ‘6-lane autobahns’,” he adds, using an analogy of vehicle traffic on roads to illustrate the concept of a hierarchy of topic channels. “But we are the only messenger where you can also construct a structured network of ‘country roads’. It’s more ‘places’ but each ‘place’ is so narrow and topical that working through it all becomes more manageable, quick and pleasant, and it’s something you can do at your own pace without fear of missing important kernels of information as they fly by on the autobahn.”

To be clear, while Slack has now started letting users self-organize — by creating a visual channel hierarchy that suits them — Leverice’s structure means the same structured tree of channels/subchannels applies for the whole team.

“At the end of the day, for communications to work, somebody on a team needs to be organized,” argues Velton. “What we allow is structuring that affects the channel tree for an entire team, not just an individual preference that reflects only on a user’s local device.”

Leverice has other features in the pipeline which it reckons will further help users cut through the noise — with a plan to apply AI-powered prioritization to surface the most pressing inbound comms.

There will also be automated alerts for conversation forks when new subchannels are created. (Though generating lots of subchannel alerts doesn’t sound exactly noise-free…)

“We have features coming that alert users to forks in a conversation and nudge the user toward those new subchannels. At this stage those forks are created manually, although our upcoming AI module will have nudges based on those forks,” says Velton.

“The architecture (deep structuring) also opens the door to scripting of automated workflows and open source plug-ins,” he adds.

Leverice officially launched towards the end of February after a month-long beta which coincided with the coronavirus-induced spike in remote work.

At this stage they have “members of almost 400 teams” registered on the platform, per Velton, with initial traction coming from mid-size tech companies — who he says are either unhappy with the costs of their current messaging platform or with distraction/burnout caused by “channel fatigue”; or who are facing info fragmentation as internal teams are using different p2p/messaging tools and lack a universal choice.

“We have nothing but love and respect for our competitors,” he adds. “Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype, Viber, etc.: each have their own benefits and many teams are perfectly content to use them. Our product is for teams looking for more focus and structure than existing solutions offer. Leverice’s architecture is unique on the market, and it opens the door to powerful features that are neither technically nor practically feasible in a messenger with a single layer containing a dozen or two dozen channels.”

Other differentiating features he highlights as bringing something fresh to the team messaging platform conversation are a whiteboard feature that lets users collaborate in the app for brainstorming or listing ideas, prorities; and a Jira integration for managing and discussing tasks in the project- and issue-tracking tool. The team is planning further integrations including with Zoom, Google Docs and “other services you use most”.

The startup — which was founded by CEO Rodion Zhitomirsky in Minsk but is now headquartered in San Jose, California, also with offices in Munich, Germany — has been bootstrapping development for around two years, taking in angel investment of around $600,000.

“We are three friends who managed complex project-based teams and personally felt the pains of all the popular messengers out there,” says Velton, discussing how they came to set up the business. “We used all the usual suspects, and even tried using p2p messengers as substitutes. They all led us and our teams to the same place: we couldn’t track large amounts of communications unless we were in “always-on” mode. We knew there had to be a better way, so we set out to build Leverice.”

The third co-founder is Dennis Dokutchitz.

Leverice’s business model is freemium, with a free tier, a premium tier, and a custom enterprise tier. As well as offering the platform as SaaS via the cloud, they do on-premise installations — for what Velton describes as “the highest level of security and privacy”.

On the security front the product is not end-to-end encrypted but he says the team is developing e2e encrypted channels to supplement the client-server encryption it applies as standard.

Velton notes these forthcoming channels would not support the usual search features, while AI analysis would be limited to “meta-information analysis”, i.e. excluding posts’ content.

“We don’t process customer or message data for commercial purposes, only for internal analytics and features to improve the product for users,” he adds when asked about any additional uses made of customer data. (Leverice’s Privacy Policy can be found here.)

With remote work the order of the day across most of the globe because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems likely there will be a new influx of collaboration tools being unboxed to help home workers navigate a new ‘professionally distant’ normal.

“We’ve only been on the market for 6 weeks and have no meaningful revenue to speak of as of yet,” adds Velton.

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #collaboration-tools, #enterprise, #leverice, #messaging-apps, #messenger, #munich, #p2p, #san-jose, #slack, #telegram, #viber, #whatsapp, #windows-live-messenger