Many schools that use fever scanners and symptom checkers have not rigorously studied if the technology has slowed the spread of Covid-19 on campuses.
Skydio has raised $170 million in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Growth Fund. That pushes it into unicorn territory, with $340 million in total funding and a post-money valuation north of $1 billion. Skydio’s fresh capital comes on the heels of its expansion last year into the enterprise market, and it intends to use the considerable pile of cash to help it expand globally and accelerate product development.
In July of last year, Skydio announced its $100 million Series C financing, and also debuted the X2, its first dedicated enterprise drone. The company also launched a suite of software for commercial and enterprise customers, its first departure from the consumer drone market where it had been focused prior to that raise since its founding in 2014.
Skydio’s debut drone, the R1, received a lot of accolades and praise for its autonomous capabilities. Unlike other consumer drones at the time, including from recreational drone maker DJI, the R1 could track a target and film them while avoiding obstacles without any human intervention required. Skydio then released the Skydio 2 in 2019, its second drone, cutting off more than half the price while improving on it its autonomous tracking and video capabilities.
Late last year, Skydio brought on additional senior talent to help it address enterprise and government customers, including a software development lead who had experience at Tesla and 3D printing company Carbon. Skydio also hired two Samsara executives at the same time to work on product and engineering. Samsara provides a platform for managing cloud-based fleet operations for large enterprises.
The applications of Skydio’s technology for commercial, public sector and enterprise organizations are many and varied. Already, the company works with public utilities, fire departments, construction firms and more to do work including remote inspection, emergency response, urban planning and more. Skydio’s U.S. pedigree also puts it in prime position to capitalize on the growing interest in applications from the defense sector.
a16z previously led Skydio’s Series A round. Other investors who participated in this Series D include Lines Capital, Next47, IVP and UP.Partners.
An oily, 100-nanometer-wide bubble of genes has killed more than two million people and reshaped the world. Scientists don’t quite know what to make of it.
Fossils, flowers, galaxies and a rare “lefty” snail.
While usage of telehealth services have surged during the COVID-19 epidemic, there are some times when health professionals need to be around in person to conduct diagnostics tests. To help those telehealth companies bridge that gap is Axle Health, a company currently enrolled in the latest cohort from the Y Combinator accelerator.
“In terms of the professionals that we send in home, they’re phlebotomists, NAs, RVNs, and RNs as well,” said Axle co-founder Connor Hailey.
In a sad reflection of the times, most of the calls the company’s getting are COVID-19 related, Hailey said.
And while the company currently doesn’t accept insurance, many of the companies on the platform choose a price they want to charge their patients and then seek reimbursement from insurers from those costs, according to Hailey.
“There are very few patients that are paying cash. Our services in the home are what would come out of pocket,” Hailey said. Those fees vary by the licensure level of the visiting health care worker. An in-home COVID-19 test could be $40 and a phlebotomist providing a blood draw would cost about the same amount, said Hailey.
The company launched its service at the end of January and is seeking to expand its treatment options to more than just COVID-19 testing, but for now, it’s simply responding to market demand.
Hailey launched the business after spending a few years working at ZocDoc and then spending some time at Uber. What motivates Hailey and company co-founder Adam Stansell is providing similar concierge services at lower costs for a broader base of patients, Hailey said.
“The rich have access to in-home care can we make it economical enough so that we can bring it to everyone,” he said.
The Atlanta area is getting a new incubator for startups working with 5G technology courtesy of T-Mobile and Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, the companies announced today.
It’s an expansion of the T-Mobile Accelerator program and part of the big carrier’s efforts to boost 5G innovation.
Located in the Atlanta adjacent exurb of Peachtree Corners’ technology development park, which is already equipped with T-Mobile’s 5G services, the incubator will help developers build and test 5G use cases including autonomous vehicles, robotics, industrial drone applications, mixed reality training and entertainment, remote medical care and personal health, the company said.
Startups working with the 5G Connected Future program will work directly with folks at T-Mobile’s accelerator, Georgia Tech, and Curiosity Lab, an initiative in the Peachtree Corners campus.
“In addition to the normal startup concerns, entrepreneurs in the 5G space face a unique set of challenges such as regulatory issues at the state and local levels, network security, and integration testing,” said ATDC Director John Avery.
Peachtree Corners’ setup may help folks navigate that roll out. As part of its involvement ATDC will offer programing, recruit and evaluate startups, and hire staff to manage the vertical in Peachtree Corners, the organization said.
“This collaboration is a great opportunity for ATDC and Georgia Tech, the city of Peachtree Corners and Curiosity Lab, and T-Mobile, a Fortune 50 company, to create a unique collection to work with these companies, refine their ideas into scalable companies, and bring these solutions to market more quickly,” Avery said.
Such a partnership underscores “Georgia Tech’s commitment to enabling tomorrow’s technology leaders, which remains as strong as when ATDC was founded 41 years ago,” said Chaouki T. Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research. “Innovation cannot take place in a vacuum, which is why entrepreneurs and startups require the knowledge and resources provided through partnerships such as ours.”
Slate Star Codex was a window into the psyche of many tech leaders building our collective future. Then it disappeared.
Politics is grim but science is working.
NeuReality, an Israeli AI hardware startup that is working on a novel approach to improving AI inferencing platforms by doing away with the current CPU-centric model, is coming out of stealth today and announcing an $8 million seed round. The group of investors includes Cardumen Capital, crowdfunding platform OurCrowd and Varana Capital. The company also today announced that Naveen Rao, the GM of Intel’s AI Products Group and former CEO of Nervana System (which Intel acquired), is joining the company’s board of directors.
The founding team, CEO Moshe Tanach, VP of operations Tzvika Shmueli and VP for very large-scale integration Yossi Kasus, has a background in AI but also networking, with Tanach spending time at Marvell and Intel, for example, Shmueli at Mellanox and Habana Labs and Kasus at Mellanox, too.
It’s the team’s networking and storage knowledge and seeing how that industry built its hardware that now informs how NeuReality is thinking about building its own AI platform. In an interview ahead of today’s announcement, Tanach wasn’t quite ready to delve into the details of NeuReality’s architecture, but the general idea here is to build a platform that will allow hyperscale clouds and other data center owners to offload their ML models to a far more performant architecture where the CPU doesn’t become a bottleneck.
“We kind of combined a lot of techniques that we brought from the storage and networking world,” Tanach explained. Think about traffic manager and what it does for Ethernet packets. And we applied it to AI. So we created a bottom-up approach that is built around the engine that you need. Where today, they’re using neural net processors — we have the next evolution of AI computer engines.”
As Tanach noted, the result of this should be a system that — in real-world use cases that include not just synthetic benchmarks of the accelerator but also the rest of the overall architecture — offer 15 times the performance per dollar for basic deep learning offloading and far more once you offload the entire pipeline to its platform.
NeuReality is still in its early days, and while the team has working prototypes now, based on a Xilinx FPGA, it expects to be able to offer its fully custom hardware solution early next year. As its customers, NeuReality is targeting the large cloud providers, but also data center and software solutions providers like WWT to help them provide specific vertical solutions for problems like fraud detection, as well as OEMs and ODMs.
Tanach tells me that the team’s work with Xilinx created the groundwork for its custom chip — though building that (and likely on an advanced node), will cost money, so he’s already thinking about raising the next round of funding for that.
“We are already consuming huge amounts of AI in our day-to-day life and it will continue to grow exponentially over the next five years,” said Tanach. “In order to make AI accessible to every organization, we must build affordable infrastructure that will allow innovators to deploy AI-based applications that cure diseases, improve public safety and enhance education. NeuReality’s technology will support that growth while making the world smarter, cleaner and safer for everyone. The cost of the AI infrastructure and AIaaS will no longer be limiting factors.”
The Hope spacecraft will fire its engines on Tuesday, aiming to be grappled by the planet’s gravity and begin its atmospheric science studies.
Google is introducing features that will allow users to take vital health measurements using just the camera they already have on their smartphone, expanding health and fitness features typically only available on dedicated wearables to a whole new group of people. Beginning next month, and available initially on Google Pixel phones exclusively (but with plans to offer it for other Android devices in future), users will be able to measure both their heart rate and their respiratory rate using just their device’s camera.
Typically, taking these measurements has required specialized hardware, including red or green light-based heart rate monitors like those found on the Apple Watch or on fitness trackers like those made by Google-acquired Fitbit. Google’s hardware and software teams, including the Google Health unit led by Director of Health Technologies Schwetak Patel, have managed to develop computer vision-based methods for taking these measurements using only smartphone cameras, which it says can produce results that are comparable to clinical-grade measurement hardware (it has produced a study to validate these results, which it’s making available in pre-print format while it seeks peer review through an academic journal).
For respiratory rate, the technology relies on a technique known as ‘optical flow,’ which monitors movements in a person’s chest as they breathe and uses that to determine their breathing rate. In its clinical validation study, which covered both typical individuals in good health, and people with existing respiratory conditions, Google’s data indicates that it’s accurate to within 1 breath per minute across all participants.
For heart rate, Google is initially using the camera to detect “subtle color changes” in a user’s finger tip, which provide an indicator about when oxygenated blood flows from your heart through to the rest of your body. The company’s validation data (again, still subject to external review) has shown accuracy within 2% margin of error, on average, across people with a range of different skin types. Google is also working on making this same technology work using color changes in a person’s face, it says, though that work is still in the exploratory phase.
Google is going to make these measurement features available to users within the next month, it says, via the Google Fit app, and initially on currently available Pixel devices made by the company itself. The plan is then to expand the features to different Android devices running Android 6 or later, sometime “in the coming months.”
“My team has been working on ways that we can unlock the potential of everyday smart devices,” Patel said in a press briefing regarding the new features. This would include smart devices in the home, or a mobile phone, and how we leverage the sensors that are starting to become more and more ubiquitous within those devices, to support health and wellness.”
Patel, who is also a computer science professor at the University of Washington and who has been recognized with an ACM Prize in Computing Award for his work in digital health, said that the availability of powerful sensors in ubiquitous consumer devices, combined with advances in AI, have meant that daily health monitoring can be much more accessible than ever before.
“I really think that’s going to be a really important area moving forward given that if you think about health care, the journey just doesn’t end at the hospital, the four walls of the hospital,” he said. “It’s really this continuous journey, as you’re living your daily life, and being able to give you feedback and be able to measure your general wellness is an important thing.”
It’s worth noting that Google is explicit about these features being intended for use in a person’s own tracking of their general wellbeing – meaning it’s not meant as a diagnostic or medical tool. That’s pretty standard for these kinds of features, since few of these companies want to take of the task of getting full FDA medical-grade device certification for tools that are meant for general consumer use. To that end, Google Fit also doesn’t provide any guidance or advise based on the results of these measurements; instead, the app provides a general disclaimer that the results aren’t intended for medical use, and also offers up some very high-level description of why you’d even want to track these stats at all.
Many of the existing dedicated wellness and health tracking products on the market, like the Oura ring, for instance, provide more guidance and actionable insight based on the measurements it takes. Google seems intent on steering well clear of that line with these features, instead leaving the use of this information fully within the hands of users. That said, it could be a valuable resource to share with your physician, particularly if you’re concerned about potential health issues already, in place of other less convenient and available continuous health monitoring.
Patek said that Google is interested in potentially exploring how sensor fusion could further enhance tracking capabilities on existing devices, and in response to a question about potentially offering this on iPhones, he said that while the focus is currently on Android, they ultimate goal is indeed to get it “to as many people as possible.”
After decades of fits and starts, the multibillion dollar successor to the Hubble telescope is expected to launch as soon as this fall.
New space startup bluShift wants to bring a new kind of propellant to the small satellite launching market, with rockets powered by bio-derived rocket fuels. These differ from traditional fuels in that they offer safety advantages during handling, and ecological advantages during production and use. The startup has been working on its solid rocket biofuel since its founding in 2014, and has received grants from the Maine Technology Institute and NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to refine its fuel formula and rocket engine design to help it get to this point.
The company achieved a milestone on Sunday with its first rocket launch – a low altitude flight of a small sounding rocket, called Stardust 1.0. It’s a single-stage prototype, which can only carry 18 lbs of payload, and it’s designed to achieve suborbital space. That may not seem like much, but it is enough to put small research equipment up into suborbital space, at costs that put launches within range for small companies and academic institutions.
Stardust 1.0 is designed to be reusable, though it’s still a prototype, and the company is also working on Startdust 2.0 which is a second prototype that’s expected to increase the payload capacity and act as the primary building block for its subsequent production commercial rockets, including Starless Rogue, a two-stage launcher for suborbital missions, and Red Dware, a three-stage, 66-lb capacity launch vehicle that can reach low-Earth orbit.
Sunday’s launch looked like it might not have been on track to go well at first, with an initial attempt seeing the rocket’s ignition light – but without a takeoff. After resetting for a second try, there wasn’t any ignition. Finally the company did take off late in the day, with a flight that it said “went perfectly” on a follow-up call with media.
A new type of neural network that’s capable of adapting its underlying behavior after the initial training phase could be the key to big improvements in situations where conditions can change quickly – like autonomous driving, controlling robots, or diagnosing medical conditions. These so-called ‘liquid’ neural networks were devised by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab’s Ramin Hasani and his team at CSAIL, and they have the potential to greatly expand the flexibility of AI technology after the training phase, when they’re engaged in the actual practical inference work done in the field.
Typically, after the training phase, during which neural network algorithms are provided with a large volume of relevant target data to hone their inference capabilities, and rewarded for correct responses in order to optimize performance, they’re essentially fixed. But Hasani’s team developed a means by which his ‘liquid’ neural net can adapt the parameters for ‘success’ over time in response to new information, which means that if a neural net tasked with perception on a self-driving car goes from clear skies into heavy snow, for instance, it’s better able to deal with the shift in circumstances and maintain a high level of performance.
The main difference in the method introduced by Hasani and his collaborators is that it focuses on time-series adaptability, meaning that rather than being built on training data that is essentially made up of a number of snapshots, or static moments fixed in time, the liquid networks inherently considers time series data – or sequences of images rather than isolated slices.
Because of the way the system is designed, it’s actually also more open to observation and study by researchers, when compared to traditional neural networks. This kind of AI is typically referred to as a ‘black box,’ because while those developing the algorithms know the inputs and the the criteria for determining and encouraging successful behavior, they can’t typically determine what exactly is going on within the neural networks that leads to success. This ‘liquid’ model offers more transparency there, and it’s less costly when it comes to computing because it relies on fewer, but more sophisticated computing nodes.
Meanwhile, performance results indicate that it’s better than other alternatives for accuracy in predicting the future values of known data sets. Th next step for Hasani and his team are to determine how best to make the system even better, and ready it for use in actual practical applications.
Classiq, a Tel Aviv-based startup that aims to make it easier for computer scientists and developers to create quantum algorithms and applications, today announced that it has raised a $10.5 million Series A round led by Team8 Capital and Wing Capital. Entrée Capital, crowdfunding platform OurCrowd and Sumitomo Corporation (through IN Venture) also participated in this round, which follows the company’s recent $4 million seed round led by Entrée Capital.
The idea behind Classiq, which currently has just under a dozen members on its team, is that developing quantum algorithms remains a major challenge.
“Today, quantum software development is almost an impossible task,” said Nir Minerbi, CEO and Co-founder of Classiq. “The programming is at the gate level, with almost no abstraction at all. And on the other hand, for many enterprises, that’s exactly what they want to do: come up with game-changing quantum algorithms. So we built the next layer of the quantum software stack, which is the layer of a computer-aided design, automation, synthesis. […] So you can design the quantum algorithm without being aware of the details and the gate level details are automated.”
With Microsoft’s Q#, IBM’s Qiskit and their competitors, developers already have access to quantum-specific languages and frameworks. And as Amir Naveh, Classiq’s VP of R&D told me, just like with those tools, developers will define their algorithms as code — in Classiq’s case a variant of Python. With those other languages, though, you will write sequences of gates on the cubits to define your quantum circuit.
“What you’re writing down isn’t gates on cubits, its concepts, its constructs, its constraints — it’s always constraints on what you want the circuit to achieve,” Naveh explained. “And then the circuit is synthesized from the constraints. So in terms of the visual interface, it would look the same [as using other frameworks], but in terms of what’s going through your head, it’s a whole different level of abstraction, you’re describing the circuit at a much higher level.”
This, he said, gives Classiq’s users the ability to more easily describe what they are trying to do. For now, though, that also means that the platform’s users tend to be quantum teams and scientists and developers who are quantum experts and understand how to develop quantum circuits at a very deep level. The team argues, though, that as the technology gets better, developers will need to have less and less of an understanding of how the actual qubits behave.
As Minerbi stressed, the tool is agnostic to the hardware that will eventually run these algorithms. Classiq’s mission, after all, is to provide an additional abstraction layer on top of the hardware. At the same time, though, developers can optimize their algorithms for specific quantum computing hardware as well.
Classiq CTO Dr. Yehuda Naveh also noted that the company is already working with a number of larger companies. These include banks that have used its platform for portfolio optimization, for example, and a semiconductor firm that was looking into a material science problem related to chip manufacturing, an area that is a bit of a sweet spot for quantum computing — at least in its current state.
The team plans to use the new funding to expand its existing team, mostly on the engineering side. A lot of the work the company is doing, after all, is still in R&D. Finding the right software engineers with a background in physics — or quantum information experts who can program — will be of paramount importance for the company. Minerbi believes that is possible, though, and the plan is to soon expand the team to about 25 people.
“We are thrilled to be working with Classiq, assisting the team in achieving their goals of advancing the quantum computing industry,” said Sarit Firon, Managing Partner at Team8 Capital. “As the quantum era takes off, they have managed to solve the missing piece in the quantum computing puzzle, which will enable game-changing quantum algorithms. We look forward to seeing the industry grow, and witnessing how Classiq continues to mark its place as a leader in the industry.”
As the global pandemic continues, having options for keeping active at home is increasingly top-of-mind. Treadly is a startup focused on building a home treadmill that’s compact and convenient, with smart connected features that boost engagement. The company recently released its second-generation product, and it’s super compact, with hardware improvements that boost the weight limit for users and add cooling benefits that extend workout times.
Treadly’s design is probably a lot smaller than you’re expecting – it’s just 3.7-inches tall for the base, and it weights just 77 lbs. The whole deck is just 56-inches long by 25-inches wide, and there’s a flip-down handle that you extend when you want to jog at a faster pace, while folding it away for strictly walking workouts.
There’s a display built into the deck itself, offering a simple but easy to read black and white readout of key stats, including speed, total steps, time and distance. The handrail features manual controls, and the Treadly 2 can also be controlled either via a dedicated remote control for the basic model, or through the Treadly app (iOS only now, but Android coming soon) via Bluetooth for the upgraded Treadly 2 Pro version.
The Treadly 2 also features a built-in Bluetooth speaker, which allows you to connect your smartphone and play music via whatever app you want. The Treadly iOS app also offers community iterative training, and live video integration. Treadly is also introducing new groups features to the app to allow users form their own communities, and also new challenges that users can issue to one another, like step count records and more.
Design and features
Treadly’s design is very compact, as mentioned, and it’s the perfect size for small spaces. It’ll slide easily under most couches thanks to its low height, and it can also be stored vertically if you want to put it against the wall or in a larger closet. The design is also attractive and minimal, which make it more unobtrusive than most exercise equipment even if left out in plain view.
The built-in display in the deck itself is a nice accommodation for keeping the dimensions compact, while also providing all the feedback you’d expect from a piece of home gym equipment. It’d be easier to check periodically if it was mounted into the fold-down handlebar, but that would definitely lead to increased bulk. Plus, having the stats slightly difficult to access is probably actually better for many people, since zeroing in on those can make a workout more arduous than it needs to be.
For the basic model, the remote is effective and compact, with a wriststrap included so that you can keep track of it easily while using the treadmill. The built-in Bluetooth speaker isn’t amazing, as you might expect, but it’s more than good enough to provide a soundtrack if you don’t have other speakers or earbuds on hand to use.
As for the experience of actually using Treadly 2 to run or walk, it definitely delivers, with a few caveats: First, don’t expect this to provide a true indoor running experience. While it definitely offers impressive weight capacity for a treadmill of this size, the max speed is 5 mph, which is a low-intensity jog for most people. With the handrail down, that drops to just 3.7 mph, which is a brisk walk.
For something this compact, that’s actually still very impressive – especially since there’s no time limit on how long you can use the treadmill at 5 mph thanks to Treadly 2’s new and improved cooling system. For avoiding a sedentary lifestyle while remaining mostly indoors, the Treadly 2’s speed settings more than deliver, and that’s probably enough for most users, advanced fitness buffs excluded.
The Treadly 2 is a connected treadmill that provides a great blend of convenience, social features, guided usage, connected control and space-saving design into a reasonably-priced package starting at $749 for the Basic and $849 for the Pro with special New Year Sale pricing. It’s like the Peloton that most people are actually more likely to use long-term, and it’s a great way to stay active during the long winter months in our unprecedented times.
German drone technology startup Wingcopter has raised a $22 million Series A – its first significant venture capital raise after mostly bootstrapping. The company, which focuses on drone delivery, has come a long way since its founding in 2017, having developed, built and flown its Wingcopter 178 heavy-lift cargo delivery drone using its proprietary and patented tilt-rotor propellant mechanism, which combines all the benefits of vertical take-off and landing with the advantages of fixed-wing aircraft for longer distance horizontal flight.
This new Series A round was led by Silicon Valley VC Xplorer Capital, as well as German growth fund Futury Regio Growth. Wingcopter CEO and founder Tom Plümmer explained to the in an interview that the addition of an SV-based investor is particularly important to the startup, since it’s in the process of preparing its entry into the U.S., with plans for an American facility, both for flight testing to satisfy FAA requirements for operational certification, as well as eventually for U.S.-based drone production.
Wingcopter has already been operating commercially in a few different markets globally, including in Vanuatu in partnership with Unicef for vaccine delivery to remote areas, in Tanzania for two-way medical supply delivery working with Tanzania, and in Ireland where it completed the world’s first delivery of insulin by drone beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS, the industry’s technical term for when a drone flies beyond the visual range of a human operator who has the ability to take control in case of emergencies).
While Wingcopter has so far pursued a business as an OEM manufacturer of drones, and has had paying customers eager to purchase its hardware effectively since day one (Plümmer told me that they had at least one customer wiring them money before they even had a bank account set up for the business), but it’s also now getting into the business of offering drone delivery-as-a-service. After doing the hard work of building its technology from the ground up, and seeking out the necessary regulatory approvals to operate in multiple markets around the world, Plümmer says that he and his co-founders realized that operating a service business not only meant a new source of revenue, but also better-served the needs of many of its potential customers.
“We learned during this process, through applying for permission, receiving these permissions and working now in five continents in multiple countries, flying BVLOS, that actually operating drones is something we are now very good at,” he said. This was actually becoming a really good source of income, and ended up actually making up more than half of our revenue at some point. Also looking at scalability of the business model of being an OEM, it’s kind of […] linear.”
Linear growth with solid revenue and steady demand was fine for Wingcopter as a bootstrapped startup founded by university students supported by a small initial investment from family and friends. But Plümmer says the company say so much potential in the technology it had developed, and the emerging drone delivery market, that the exponential growth curve of its drone delivery-as-a-service model helped make traditional VC backing make sense. In the early days, Plümmer says Wingcopter had been approached by VCs, but at the time it didn’t make sense for what they were trying to do; that’s changed.
“We were really lucky to bootstrap over the last four years,” Plümmer said. “Basically, just by selling drones and creating revenue, we could employ our first 30 employees. But at some point, you realize you want to really plan with that revenue, so you want to have monthly revenues, which generally repeat like a software business – like software as a service.”
Wingcopter has also established a useful hedge regarding its service business, not only by being its own hardware supplier, but also by having worked closely with many global flight regulators on their regulatory process through the early days of commercial drone flights. They’re working with the FAA on its certification process now, for instance, with Plümmer saying that they participate in weekly calls with the regulator on its upcoming certification process for BVLOS drone operators. Understanding the regulatory environment, and even helping architect it, is a major selling point for partners who don’t want to have to build out that kind of expertise and regulatory team in-house.
Meanwhile, the company will continue to act as an OEM as well, selling not only its Wingcopter 178 heavy-lift model, which can fly up to 75 miles, at speeds of up to 100 mph, and that can carry payloads up to around 13 lbs. Because of its unique tilt-rotor mechanism, it’s not only more efficient in flight, but it can also fly in much windier conditions – and take-off and land in harsher conditions than most drones, too.
Plümmer tells me that Wingcopter doesn’t intend to rest on its laurels in the hardware department, either; it’s going to be introducing a new model of drone soon, with different capabilities that expand the company’s addressable market, both as an OEM and in its drones-as-a-service business.
With its U.S. expansion, Wingcopter will still look to focus specifically on the delivery market, but Plümmer points out that there’s no reason its unique technology couldn’t also work well to serve markets including observation and inspection, or to address needs in the communication space as well. The one market that Wingcopter doesn’t intend to pursue, however, is military and defense. While these are popular customers in the aerospace and drone industries, Plümmer says that Wingcopter has a mission “to create sustainable and efficient drone solutions for improving and saving lives,” and says the startup looks at every potential customer and ensures that it aligns with its vision – which defense customers do not.
While the company has just announced the close of its Series A round, Plümmer says they’re already in talks with some potential investors to join a Series B. It’s also going to be looking for U.S. based talent in embedded systems software and flight operations testing, to help with the testing process required its certification by the FAA.
Plümmer sees a long tail of value to be built from Wingcopter’s patented tilt-rotor design, with potential applications in a range of industries, and he says that Wingcopter won’t be looking around for any potential via M&A until it has fully realized that value. Meanwhile, the company is also starting to sow the seeds of its own potential future customers, with training programs in drone flights and operations it’s putting on in partnership with UNICEF’s African Drone and Data Academy. Wingcopter clearly envisions a bright future for drone delivery, and its work in focusing its efforts on building differentiating hardware, plus the role it’s playing in setting the regulatory agenda globally, could help position it at the center of that future.
Long at Newsweek, she was regarded as one of her generation’s pre-eminent science writers. An “Enlightenment-era figure,” Jon Meacham said.
We are all pumping out data into the cloud. Some of it we’d like to keep forever. Emortal is a startup that wants to help you organize, protect, preserve and pass on your ‘digital legacy’ and protect it from becoming unreadable, otherwise known as ‘bit-rot’. The project has received backing from the legendary Vint Cerf, one of the co-creators and founding fathers of the internet.
Emortal, which has been in engineering R&D for more than 10 years, has raised $5.7 million from ‘friends and family’. It is now raising $2.7 million in a crowdfunding on the UK’s Crowdcube platform, following what it says was a successful BETA test.
The company will use Google architecture to preserve digital memories – photographs, documents, correspondence, videos, interviews and more – indefinitely into the future. The idea is that this will ensure that as, operating systems, devices and tech evolves, your entire digital legacy will remain safe, secure and accessible – to only those you choose.
The platform is now set to be launched in the UK and US in Q3 this year and will be designed for occasional considered use, for example when taking a picture at a christening, rather than saving every photo you take. It will charge a flat, standard subscription fee of £4.99 a month.
Cerf said in a statement: “The cornerstone of the Emortal proposition is to tie data preservation in with digital legacy protection to ensure that our digital memories are safe and accessible for generations to come.”
Colin Culross, founder and CEO of Emortal said: “We are keen to use the Crowdcube platform for this raise because Emortal is a service designed for ALL families. We believe the most powerful way for the business to grow is to have thousands of our customers investing in the business.”
Apple is reportedly working on developing a high-end virtual reality headset for a potential sales debut in 2022, per a new Bloomberg report. The headset would include its own built-in processors and power supply, and could feature a chip even more powerful than the M1 Apple Silicon processor that the company currently ships on its MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, according to the report’s sources.
As is typical for a report this far out from a target launch date, Bloomberg offers a caveat that these plans could be changed or cancelled altogether. Apple undoubtedly kills a lot of its projects before they ever see the light of day, even in cases where they include a lot of time and capital investment. And the headset will reportedly cost even more than some of the current higher-priced VR headset offerings on the market, which can range up to nearly $1,000, with the intent of selling it initially as a low-volume niche device aimed at specialist customers – kind of like the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR that Apple currently sells.
The headset will reportedly focus mostly on VR, but will also include some augmented reality features, in a limited capacity, for overlaying visuals on real world views fed in by external cameras. This differs from prior reports that suggested Apple was pursuing consumer AR smart glasses as its likely first headset product in the mixed reality category for consumer distribution. Bloomberg reports that while this VR headset is at a late prototype stage of development, its AR glasses are much earlier in the design process and could follow the VR headset introduction by at least a year or more.
The strategy here appears to be creating a high-tech, high-performance and high-priced device that will only ever sell in small volume, but that will help it begin to develop efficiencies and lower the production costs of technologies involved, in order to pave the way for more mass-market devices later.
The report suggests the product could be roughly the same size as the Oculus Quest, with a fabric exterior to help reduce weight. The external cameras could also be used for environment and hand tracking, and there is the possibility that it will debut with its own App Store designed for VR content.
Virtual reality is still a nascent category even as measured by the most successful products currently available in the market, the Oculus Quest and the PlayStation VR. But Facebook at least seems to see a lot of long-term value in continuing to invest in and iterate its VR product, and Apple’s view could be similar. The company has already put a lot of focus and technical development effort into AR on the iPhone, and CEO Tim Cook has expressed a lot of optimism about AR’s future in a number of interviews.
Researchers have banded together to find safe, virtual ways to teach the principles of microbiology and epidemiology.
Bay Area-based construction startup TraceAir today announced a $3.5 million Series A. Led by London-based XTX Ventures, this round brings the company’s total funding up to $7 million. The raise includes existing investor Metropolis VC, along with new additions Liquid 2 Ventures, GEM Capital, GPS Ventures and Andrew Filev.
We first noted the company back in 2016, when it pitched a method for using drones to spot construction errors before they become too expense. It’s a pretty massive field that various technology companies are attempting to solve through a variety of different means, ranging from quadrupedal robots to site-scanning hard hats.
Last February, TraceAir announced a new drone management tool. “Haul Router provides the best mathematically objective hauls for each given drone scan,” the company noted at the time. “Any employee can use the tool to design a haul road and export the results to feed into grading equipment.”
The pandemic has thrown the construction industry for a loop (along with countless others). But unlike other sectors, demand still remains high in many places. TraceAir is hoping its solution will prove beneficial as many outfits seek a way to continue the process in spite of uncertainty.
“The Covid-19 pandemic created new challenges for the U.S. and worldwide construction industries, resulting in delayed projects and growing unemployment rates,” CEO Dmitry Korolev said in a release tied to the news. “Our platform allows industry leaders to manage projects more efficiently and collaborate with their teams remotely, minimizing the need for a physical presence on-site.”
TraceAir says the additional funding will go toward its sales and marketing, along with future product developments, including an unnamed product set for release this quarter.
The President-elect will nominate Eric S. Lander to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy, a post left vacant by President Trump for 18 months.
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Rocket launch startup Skyroot is closing out 2020 with a key milestone in the development program for their Vikram-I launch vehicle: A successful test firing of a solid rocket propulsion stage that serves as a demonstrator of the same tech to be used in the production Vikram. This is the first time that a private Indian company has designed, built and tested a solid rocket propulsion stage in its entirety, and follows a successful engine burn test of an upper stage prototype earlier this year.
Skyroot also created its solid rocket stage using a carbon composite structure whose manufacturing process is entirely automated, the company says. That allows it to realize weight savings of up to five times vs. use of steel, a material typically used to house solid rocket propellant stages. The goal is to use the same process in the production of the final version of Vikram-I, which will help the small launch vehicle realize big benefits in terms of cost, in addition to the reliability benefits that come with the relatively uncomplicated fundamental design of solid rockets, which have no moving parts and therefore less opportunity for failure.
The final third-stage Vikram-1 engine will be 4x the size of this demonstrator, and Skyroot is also in the process of manufacturing four other test solid rocket motors which have a carrying range of thrust, and which will be tested throughout the course of next years as work finishes on their construction.
Skyroot aims to perform its first Vikram-I launch by next December, supported in part by the Indian Space Research Organization. The company has raised $4.3 million to date, and says it’s currently in the process of raising another $15 million round which it’ll aim to close next year. It’s set to become the first private Indian company to build and operate private launch vehicles, with the regulatory framework now in place to allow that to happen since India opened up private launcher operations earlier this year.
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It’s only a matter of time now before drones become a key component of everyday logistics infrastructure, but there are still significant barriers between where we are today and that future – particularly when it comes to regulation. Iris Automation is developing computer vision products that can help simplify the regulatory challenges involved in setting standards for pilotless flight, thanks to its detect-and-avoid technology that can run using a wide range of camera hardware. The company has raised a $13 million Series B funding round to improve and extend its tech, and to help provide demonstrations of its efficacy in partnership with regulators.
I spoke to Iris Automation CEO Jon Damush, and Iris Automation investor Tess Hatch, VP at Bessemer Venture Partners, about the round and the startup’s progress and goals. Damush, who took over as CEO earlier this year, talked about his experience at Boeing, his personal experience as a pilot, and the impact on aviation of the advent of small, cheap and readily accessible electric motors, batteries and powerful computing modules, which have set the stage for an explosion in the commercial UAV industry.
“You’ve now shattered some of the barriers that have been in aerospace for the past 50 years, because you’re starting to really democratize the tools of production that allow people to make things that fly much easier than they could before,” Damush told me. “So with that, and the ability to take a human out of the cockpit, comes some interesting challenges – none more so than the regulatory environment.”
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and most airspace regulators around the world, essentially break regulations around commercial flight down into two spheres, Damush explains. The first is around operations – what are you going to do while in flight, and are you doing that the right way. The second, however, is about the pilot, and that’s a much trickier thing to adapt to pilotless aircraft.
“One of the biggest challenges is the part of the regulations called 91.113b, and what that part of the regs states is that given weather conditions that permit, it’s the pilot on the airplane that has the ultimate responsibility to see and avoid other aircraft,” That’s not a separation standard that says you’ve got to be three miles away, or five miles away or a mile away – that is a last line of defense, that is a safety net, so that when all the other mitigations that lead to a safe flight from A to B fail, the pilot is there to make sure you don’t collide into somebody.”
Iris comes in here, with an optical camera-based obstacle avoidance system that uses computer vision to effectively replace this last line of defence when there isn’t a pilot to do so. And what this unlocks is a key limiting factor in today’s commercial drone regulatory environment: The ability to fly aircraft beyond visual line of sight. All that means is that drones can operate without having to guarantee that an operator has eyes on them at all times. When you first hear that, you imagine that this factors in mostly to long-distance flight, but Damush points out that it’s actually more about volume – removing the constraints of having to keep a drone within visual line of sight at all times means you can go from having one operator per drone, to one operator managing a fleet of drones, which is when the economies of scale of commercial drone transportation really start to make sense.
Iris has made progress towards making this a reality, working with the FAA this year as part of its integrated pilot program to demonstrate the system in two different use cases. It also released the second version of its Casia system, which can handle significantly longer range object detection. Hatch pointed out that these were key reasons why Bessemer upped its stake with this follow-on investment, and when I asked if COVID-19 has had any impact on industry appetite or confidence in the commercial drone market, she said that has been a significant factor, and it’s also changing the nature of the industry.
“The two largest industries [right now] are agriculture and public safety enforcement,” Hatch told me. “And public safety enforcement was not one of those last year, it was agriculture, construction and energy. That’s definitely become a really important vertical for the drone industry – one could imagine someone having a heart attack or an allergic reaction, an ambulance takes on average 14 minutes to get to that person, when a drone can be dispatched and deliver an AED or an epi pen within minutes, saving that person’s life. So I really hope that tailwind continues post COVID.”
This Series B round includes investment from Bee Partners, OCA Ventures, and new strategic investors Sony Innovation Fund and Verizon Ventures (disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media Group, though we have no involvement, direct or otherwise, with their venture arm). Damush pointed out that Sony provides great potential strategic value because it develops so much of the imaging sensor stack used in the drone industry, and Sony also develops drones itself. For its part, Verizon offers key partner potential on the connectivity front, which is invaluable for managing large-scale drone operations.
To push the idea that the virus didn’t come from China, the government has misrepresented experts’ remarks and given dubious theories the veneer of science.
Alphabet’s Loon has been using algorithmic processes to optimize the flight of its stratospheric balloons for years now – and setting records for time spent aloft as a result. But the company is now deploying a new navigation system that has the potential to be much better, and it’s using true reinforcement learning AI to teach itself to optimize navigation better than humans ever could.
Loon developed the new reinforcement learning system, which it says is the first to be used in an actual product aerospace context, with its Alphabet colleagues at Google AI in Montreal over the past couple of years. Unlike its past algorithmic navigation software, this one is devised entirely by machine – a machine that’s able to calculate the optimal navigation path for the balloons much more quickly than the human-made system could, and with much more efficiency, meaning the balloons use much less power to travel the same or greater distances than before.
How does Loon know it’s better? They actually pitted the new AI navigation against their human algorithm-based prior system directly, with a 39 day test that flew over the Pacific Ocean. The reinforcement learning model kept the Loon balloon aloft over target areas for longer continuous periods, using less energy than the older system, and it even came up with some new navigational moves that the team has never seen or conceived of before.
After this and other tests proved such dramatic successes, Loon actually then went ahead and deployed across its entire production fleet, which is currently deployed across parts of Africa to serve commercial customers in Kenya.
This is one of few real-world examples of an AI system that employs reinforcement learning to actively teach itself to perform better being used in a real-life setting, to control the performance of real hardware operating in a production capacity and serving paying customers. It’s a remarkable achievement, and definitely one that will be watched closely by others in aerospace and beyond.
Astronomers and residents of Puerto Rico mourned as an eye on the cosmos shuttered unexpectedly overnight.
Infogrid, an IoT startup which can retrofit an existing building to make it ‘smart’, has raised $15.5 million. The Series A funding round was led by Northzone with participation from JLL Spark, Concrete VC, The Venture Collective, Jigsaw VC, an unarmed real estate investment group, and an unnamed large international asset owner, although one report speculated that it is Starwood Capital, the property-focused investor.
Infogrid’s platform combines IoT sensors with proprietary AI analysis and has had some success re-vamping facilities management (FM) for some of the world’s largest FM providers, such as global banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, and the NHS. Infogrid also has an ‘impact-style’ mission to enable businesses to reduce the environmental and social cost of their buildings while simultaneously benefitting their bottom line and asset values.
Infogrid’s system can detect when refrigerated products are being kept outside the required temperature range, measure air quality and check for virus risk indicators such as legionnaires’ disease in water pipes.
William Cowell de Gruchy, founder/CEO and a former British Army officer, said in a statement: “Until now, the lack of viable and scalable technology has meant that facilities management is one of the last industries to be enhanced by digitization, despite covering the world’s largest asset class. Infogrid’s end-to-end smart building system finally arms organizations with insight to take control and take action. This new era of insight and automation will bring about a positive impact on the efficiencies of businesses, the wellbeing of employees, and the environmental footprint of buildings.”
Jeppe Zink, Partner at Northzone added: “With the world undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history, the built environment already generates 39% of annual global carbon emissions. We were instantly drawn to Infogrid for its ability to future-proof buildings in the long-term.”
Researchers at DeepMind say they have solved “the protein folding problem,” a task that has bedeviled scientists for more than 50 years.
3D-printed rocket startup Relativity Space has closed $500 million in Series D funding (making official the earlier reported raise), the company announced today. This funding was led by Tiger Global Management, and included participation by a host of new investors including Fidelity Management & Research Company, Baillie Gifford, Iconiq Capital, General Catalist and more. This brings the company’s total raised so far to nearly $700 million, as the startup is poised to launch its first ever fully 3D-printed orbital rocket next year.
LA-based Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach. Its rocket construction technology, which is grounded in its development and use of the largest metal 3D printers in existence, suffered relatively few setbacks due to COVID-19-related shutdowns and work stoppages since it involves relatively few actual people on the factory floor managing the 3D printing process, which is handled in large part by autonomous robotic systems and software developed by the company.
Relativity also locked in a first official contract from the U.S. government this year, to launch a new experimental cryogenic fluid management system on behalf of client Lockheed Martin, as part of NASA’s suite of Tipping Point contracts to fund the development of new technologies for space exploration. It also put into service its third-generation Stargate 3D metal printers – the largest on Earth, as mentioned.
The company’s ambitions are big, so this new large funding round should provide it with fuel to grow even more aggressively in 2021. It’s got new planned initiatives underway, both terrestrial and space-related, but CEO and founder Tim Ellis specifically referred to Mars and sustainable operations on the red planet as one possible application of Relativity’s tech down the road.
In prior conversations, Ellis has alluded to the potential for Relativity’s printers when applied to other large-scale metal manufacturing – noting that the cost curve as it stands makes most sense for rocketry, but could apply to other industries easily as the technology matures. Whether on Mars or on Earth, large-scale 3D printing definitely has a promising future, and it looks like Relativity is well-positioned to take advantage.
We’ll be talking to Ellis at our forthcoming TC Sessions: Space event, so we’ll ask him more about this round and his company’s aspirations live there, too.
Arturo Sanchez and his co-founders have spent the past two years developing the telemedicine and insurance platform, Sofia, as a way to give customers across Mexico better access to quality healthcare through their insurance plan.
Along with his co-founders, Sebastian Jimenez, a former Google employee who serves as the company’s chief product officer, and Manuel Andere an ex-Patreon employee who’s now Sofia’s chief technology officer, Sanchez (a former Index Ventures employee) is on a path to provide low-cost insurance for middle class consumers across Latin America, starting in Mexico City.
Backing that vision are a clutch of regional and international investors including Kaszek Ventures, Ribbit Capital, and Index Ventures. When Index Ventures came in to lead the company’s $19 million round earlier this year, it was the first commitment that the venture firm had made in Latin America, but given the strength of the market, it likely won’t be their last.
In Sofia, Index has found a good foothold from which to expand its activity. The company which initially started as a telemedicine platform recently received approvals to operate as an insurer as well — part of a long-term vision for growth where it provides a full service health platform for customers.
Founded by three college friends who graduated from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (Mexico’s version of MIT), the company initially launched with COVID-19 related telemedicine service as the pandemic took hold in Mexico.
That service was a placeholder for what Sanchez said was the broader company vision. And while that product alone had 10,000 users signed up for it, the new vision is broader.
“We registered as an insurance company because we want to go deeper into people’s health. We have built a telemedicine solution, which is a core component of the product. The goal is to be an integrated provider that provide primary care and handles more significant types of illnesses,” said Sanchez.
The company already has a core group of 100 physicians in Mexico City and initially will be serving the city with 70 different specialist areas.
All the virtual consultations are covered without an additional payment and in-person or specialty consultations come at a 30% reduced rate to an out-of-pocket payment, according to Sanchez.
Fees depend on age and gender, but Sanchez said a customer would typically pay around $500 per-year or roughly between $40 and $50 per-month.
The company covers 70% of the cost of most treatments that’s capped at $2,000 per-year and coverage maxes out at $75,000. “In Mexico that covers north of 98% of all illnesses or treatment episodes,” said Sanchez.
In Mexico, insurance is even less common than in the US.
“90% of private health spend happens out of pocket. The problem that we’re trying to solve is for these people that are already spending money on healthcare but doing it in an unpredictable and risky way,” said Sanchez. “They buy [our service] and they have access to great quality healthcare that they buy it and it’s a significant step up from what they’ve been living with.”