Suburban women who played a huge role in Joe Biden’s victory are not convinced that they need a white man to win their governor’s race next year.
AMP Robotics, the recycling robotics technology developer backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is close to closing on as much as $70 million in new financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.
The new financing speaks to AMP Robotics’ continued success in pilot projects and with new partnerships that are exponentially expanding the company’s deployments.
Earlier this month the company announced a new deal that represented its largest purchase order for its trash sorting and recycling robots.
That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.
That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.
The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.
As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.
AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.
Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.
It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.
AMP Robotics, the manufacturer of robotic recycling systems, has received its largest purchase order from the publicly traded North American waste handling company, Waste Connections.
The order, for 24 machine learning enabled robotic recycling systems, will be used on container, fiber and residue lines across numerous materials recovery facilities, the company said.
The AMP technology can be used to recover plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons and many other containers and packaging types reclaimed for raw material processing.
The tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells, and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.
So far, AMP’s robots have been deployed in North America, Asia, and Europe with recent installations in Spain, and across the US in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
In January, before the pandemic began, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that would provide residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits.
Working with the building and a waste hauler, Sidewalk Labs would transport the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash will be sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics. Once the waste is categorized, sorted, and recorded Sidewalk will communicate with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.
Sidewalk says that the tips will be communicated through email, an online portal, and signage throughout the building every two weeks over a three-month period.
For residents, it was an opportunity to have a better handle on what they can and can’t recycle and Sidewalk Labs is betting that the information will help residents improve their habits. And for folks who don’t want their trash to be monitored and sorted, they could opt out of the program.
Recyclers like Waste Connections should welcome the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment. About two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.
At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.
AMP Robotics is backed by Sequoia Capital, BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Alphabet that invests in technologies and new infrastructure projects.
After Virginia passed gun laws, conservatives began invoking the state’s colonial-era constitution, which calls for a “well-regulated militia.”
A week after the governor ordered an investigation into reports of racism at the college, Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III says the governor and other officials have lost confidence in his leadership.
Facebook will soon be the latest tech giant to enter the world of cloud gaming. Their approach is different than what Microsoft or Google has built but Facebook highlights a shared central challenge: dealing with Apple.
Facebook is not building a console gaming competitor to compete with Stadia or xCloud, instead the focus is wholly on mobile games. Why cloud stream mobile games that your device is already capable of running locally? Facebook is aiming to get users into games more quickly and put less friction between a user seeing an advertisement for a game and actually playing it themselves. Users can quickly tap into the title without downloading anything and if they eventually opt to download the title from a mobile app store, they’ll be able to pick up where they left off.
Facebook’s service will launch on the desktop web and Android, but not iOS due to what Facebook frames as usability restrictions outlined in Apple’s App Store terms and conditions.
While Apple has suffered an onslaught of criticism in 2020 from developers of major apps like Spotify, Tinder and Fortnite for how much money they take as a cut from revenues of apps downloaded from the App Store, the plights of companies aiming to build cloud gaming platforms have been more nuanced and are tied to how those platforms are fundamentally allowed to operate on Apple devices.
Apple was initially slow to provide a path forward for cloud gaming apps from Google and Microsoft, which had previously been outlawed on the App Store. The iPhone maker recently updated its policies to allow these apps to exist, but in a more convoluted capacity than the platform makers had hoped, forcing them to first send users to the App Store before being able to cloud stream a gaming title on their platform.
For a user downloading a lengthy single-player console epic, the short pitstop is an inconvenience, but long-time Facebook gaming exec Jason Rubin says that the stipulations are a non-starter for what Facebook’s platform envisions, a way to start playing mobile games immediately without downloading anything.
“It’s a sequence of hurdles that altogether make a bad consumer experience,” Rubin tells TechCrunch.
Apple tells TechCrunch that they have continued to engage with Facebook on bringing its gaming efforts under its guidelines and that platforms can reach iOS by either submitting each individual game to the App Store for review or operating their service on Safari.
In terms of building the new platform onto the mobile web, Rubin says that without being able to point users of their iOS app to browser-based experiences, as current rules forbid, Facebook doesn’t see pushing its billions of users to accessing the service primarily from a browser as a reasonable alternative. In a Zoom call, Rubin demoes how this could operate on iOS, with users tapping an advertisement inside the app and being redirected to a game experience in mobile Safari.
“But if I click on that, I can’t go to the web. Apple says, ‘No, no, no, no, no, you can’t do that,’ Rubin tells us. “Apple may say that it’s a free and open web, but what you can actually build on that web is dictated by what they decide to put in their core functionality.”
Rubin, who co-founded the game development studio Naughty Dog in 1994 before it was acquired by Sony in 2001, has been at Facebook since he joined Oculus months after its 2014 acquisition was announced. Rubin had previously been tasked with managing the games ecosystem for its virtual reality headsets, this year he was put in charge of the company’s gaming initiatives across their core family of apps as the company’s VP of Play.
Rubin, well familiar with game developer/platform skirmishes, was quick to distinguish the bone Facebook had to pick with Apple and complaints from those like Epic Games which sued Apple this summer.
“I do want to put a pin in the fact that we’re giving Google 30% [on Android]. The Apple issue is not about money,” Rubin tells TechCrunch. “We can talk about whether or not it’s fair that Google takes that 30%. But we would be willing to give Apple the 30% right now, if they would just let consumers have the opportunity to do what we’re offering here.”
Facebook is notably also taking a 30% cut of transaction within these games, even as Facebook’s executive team has taken its own shots at Apple’s steep revenue fee in the past, most recently criticizing how Apple’s App Store model was hurting small businesses during the pandemic. This saga eventually led to Apple announcing that it would withhold its cut through the end of the year for ticket sales of small businesses hosting online events.
Apple’s reticence to allow major gaming platforms a path towards independently serving up games to consumers underscores the significant portion of App Store revenues that could be eliminated by a consumer shift towards these cloud platforms. Apple earned around $50 billion from the App Store last year, CNBC estimates, and gaming has long been their most profitable vertical.
Though Facebook is framing this as an uphill battle against a major platform for the good of the gamer, this is hardly a battle between two underdogs. Facebook pulled in nearly $70 billion in ad revenues last year and improving their offerings for mobile game studios could be a meaningful step towards increasing that number, something Apple’s App Store rules threaten.
For the time being, Facebook is keeping this launch pretty conservative. There are just 5-10 titles that are going to be available at launch, Rubin says. Facebook is rolling out access to the new service, which is free, this week across a handful of states in America, including California, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and West Virginia. The hodge-podge nature of the geographic rollout is owed to the technical limitations of cloud-gaming– people have to be close to data centers where the service has rolled out in order to have a usable experience. Facebook is aiming to scale to the rest of the U.S. in the coming months, they say.
The guest workers have been restricted to avoid contracting or spreading Covid-19. ‘I never expected to lose my freedom,’ said one, but it has successfully kept down infection rates.
After Bijan Ghaisar’s Jeep was hit by another vehicle in 2017, he left and failed to pull over for the police. “None of that should have led to his death,” a prosecutor said.
With Philip J. Hirschkop, he brought Loving v. Virginia to the Supreme Court, which struck down laws against interracial marriages.
The hurdles to early voting in places like Georgia and Texas resulted from a combination of intense voter interest that stressed local capacity and the sort of messiness long common to American elections.
Today is the last day to register to vote in the commonwealth of Virginia, so of course the official website for updating or managing voter registration is offline. Unlike in Florida, however, Virginia’s site did not crash from high traffic but instead was rendered inaccessible because a vital fiber connecting the state’s digital infrastructure was physically cut.
Twitter users began to notice the state’s voter registration page was failing to load sometime after 8:30 this morning, and at 9:00, the state’s IT agency confirmed that a severed fiber optic cable was the root of all the problems.
“A fiber cut near Rt. 10 in Chester near the Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center (CESC) is impacting data circuits and virtual private network (VPN) connectivity for multiple Commonwealth agencies,” the Virginia Information Technologies Agency wrote in a tweet, adding, “Technicians are on site and working to repair the cut; updates will be provided as work progresses.”
Contact with a puss caterpillar can cause a painful reaction as well as a rash, fever, muscle cramps or swollen glands, experts caution.
A group waving Trump flags and chanting “four more years” created a commotion at a polling location in Fairfax, Va. A county official said some voters and staff members felt intimidated.
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.
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.
Launch provider Rocket Lab has gained a key clearance from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that should mean it’ll be launching from its U.S.-based facility at Wallops Island, Virginia relatively soon. As it had done before for its LC-1 launch pad in New Zealand, Rocket Lab gained a Launch Operator License for its LC-2 pad in Virginia, meaning it can conduct multiple launches from the location without having to petition the agency for a mission-specific license for each individual flight.
Rocket Lab held its official opening ceremony for the Virginia-based LC-2 at the end of last year, and while we don’t yet know exactly when it’ll launch its first Electron from the location, it’s probably that COVID-19 and its related disruptions have had an impact on the planned debut activity at the site. The company expanded first to LC-2, and is now putting the finishing touches on LC-3 back in New Zealand, in order to help ramp its launch capacity – which it says will reach up to 130 launches per year with all three launch pads up and running.
Part of the reason that Rocket Lab spun up the U.S.-based pad to begin with was to serve government customers with rapid, responsive launches that could be put together quickly and often, so having this FAA multi-launch license is a big boon to its operating model. Hopefully that means we’ll see the Wallops location come to life sooner rather than later.
The U.S. military, with its experience in disasters and its multiple medical corps, could do more to end the pandemic.
As Bob Good, an opponent of same-sex marriage, tries to rally Republicans with attacks on transgender rights, Democrats see an opening in the G.O.P.-held district.
One crew member was treated at a hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening, according to the authorities, who said they were investigating the shooting.
Harry H. Rogers, who prosecutors say is an admitted K.K.K. leader, faces three additional counts of attempted malicious wounding, a felony.
The earthquake near the border with Virginia was the strongest in the region since 1916, the authorities said.
Black dancers, musicians and artists have invigorated what had long been considered a whites-only space.
“The doctor’s office is dead.”
That’s the way Nick Desai, the co-founder and chief executive of the Los Angeles-based startup Heal describes the future of traditional healthcare delivery.
While Desai’s bluster may be wishful thinking, the doctor’s office is certainly changing, and that’s thanks in part to companies like Heal, which offer in-home and telemedical consultations — and health insurance providers like Humana that are backing them.
The two companies have announced a new partnership that will see Humana pushing Heal’s in-home and virtual care delivery services to the patients it covers and committing $100 million to spur the Los Angeles-based startup’s growth.
“Humana has a more strategic view of home-based care,” said Desai. “We want all payers to be this strategic. Most insurance partners offer Heal now but we want them to view it more strategically.”
For Desai, the home is the best place to get care because doctors can see the environment that may influence (and in some cases complicate or worsen) a patient’s condition. Heal, Desai says, also works with the digital technologies to provide more remote and persistent patient monitoring, so that doctors can have a better sense of a patient’s health over time, rather than at an acute moment of care.
“You want to talk to the doctor and get continuity of care,” said Desai. “We think we are… an accelerant for the adoption of those services.”
Things like iPhone-based EKG machines, remote diagnostics to determine diabetic retinopathy, digital hubs to provide remote monitoring of body mass and movement are all hardware offerings within Heal’s panoply of care and diagnostic solutions. “We want to be able to gather more and more of those diagnostics remotely,” Desai said. “Anything that makes care more accurate, more data driven, more timely we want to use and ask our patients to utilize so that they can get better care, more quickly and more affordably.”
The new financing from Humana will go to support Heal’s geographic expansion, product development, and sales and marketing, Desai said. Already, the company has expanded into new treatment areas, including teletherapy for mental health.
Discussion between Heal and the Louisville-based Humana began back in December and the two businesses only inked the final terms of their deal last week.
Heal telemedicine, telepsychology (CA only), and digital monitoring services are currently available in New York, New Jersey, Washington, California, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. To date, the company has linked patients with over 200,000 home visits from doctors since its launch in 2015.
Under the terms of the agreement with Humana, will expand to geographies in Chicago, Charlotte and Houston as part of Humana’s “Bold Goal” program focusing on addressing and creating healthcare services that address social determinants and social needs for its population of insured patients.
“The partnership with Heal is part of Humana’s efforts to build a broader set of offerings across the spectrum of home based care, with high quality, value-based primary care being a key foundational element,” said Susan Diamond, Humana’s Segment President, Home Business, who is joining Heal’s Board of Directors as part of the partnership and investment. “We continue to see high levels of customer satisfaction and improved health outcomes when care is delivered in the home. Our goal is to make the healthcare experience easier, more personalized and caring for the people we serve—and is the hallmark of how Humana delivers human care.”
For Desai, the deal is also an indicator of not just his company’s growth, but the growth of the entire Los Angeles technology ecosystem.
“Heal’s funding just proves that LA is as much an epicenter of venture backed ecosystem as any in the country including Silicon Valley,” he said.
Cloudflare today announced the private beta launch of Workers Unbound, the latest step in its efforts to offer a serverless platform that can compete with the likes of AWS Lambda.
The company first launched its Workers edge computing platform in late 2017. Today it has “hundreds of thousands of developers” who use it and in the last quarter alone, more than 20,000 developers built applications based on the service, according to the company. Cloudflare also uses Workers to power many of its own services, but the first iteration of the platform had quite a few limitations. The idea behind Workers Unbound is to do away with most of those and turn it into a platform that can compete with the likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google.
“The original motivation for us building Cloudflare Workers was not to sell it as a product but because we were using it as our own internal platform to build applications,” Cloudflare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince told me ahead of today’s announcement. “Today, Cloudflare Teams, which is our fastest-growing product line, is all running on top of Cloudflare workers and it’s allowed us to innovate as fast as we have and stay nimble and stay agile and all those things that get harder as you as you become a larger and larger company.”
Prince noted that Cloudflare aims to expose all of the services it builds for its internal consumption to third-party developers as well. “The fact that we’ve been able to roll out a whole Zscaler competitor in almost no time is because of the fact that we had this platform and we could build on it ourselves,” he said.
The original Workers service will continue to operate (but under the Workers Bundled moniker) and essentially become Cloudflare’s serverless platform for basic workloads that only run for a very short time. Workers Unbound — as the name implies — is meant for more complex and longer-running processes.
When it first launched Workers, the company said that its killer feature was speed. Today, Prince argues that speed obviously remains an important feature — and Cloudflare Workers Unbound promises that it essentially does away with cold start latencies. But developers also adopted the platform because of its ability to scale and its price.
Indeed, Workers Unbound, Cloudflare argues, is now significantly more affordable than similar offerings. “For the same workload, Cloudflare Workers Unbound can be 75 percent less expensive than AWS Lambda, 24 percent less expensive than Microsoft Azure Functions, and 52 percent less expensive than Google Cloud Functions,” the company says in today’s press release.
As it turned out, the fact that Workers was also an edge computing platform was basically a bonus but not necessarily why developers adopted it.
Another feature Prince highlighted is regulatory compliance. “I think the thing we’re realizing as we talk to our largest enterprise customers is that for real companies — not just the individual developer hacking away at home — but for real businesses in financial services or anyone who has to deal with a regulated industry, the only thing that trumps ease of use is regulatory compliance, which is not sexy or interesting or anything else but like if your GC says you can’t use XYZ platform, then you don’t use XYZ platform and that’s the end of the story,” Prince noted.
Speed, though, is of course something developers will always care about. Prince stressed that the team was quite happy with the 5ms cold start times of the original Workers platform. “But we wanted to be better,” he said. “We wanted to be the clearly fastest serverless platform forever — and the only number that we know no one else can beat is zero — unless they invent a time machine.”
The way the team engineered this is by queuing up the process while the two servers are still negotiating their TLS handshake. “We’re excited to be the first cloud computing platform that [offers], for no additional costs, out of the box, zero millisecond cold start times which then also means less variability in the performance.”
Cloudflare also argues that developers can update their code and have it go live globally within 15 seconds.
Another area the team worked on was making it easier to use the service in general. Among the key new features here is support for languages like Python and a new SDK that will allow developers to add support for their favorite languages, too.
Prince credits Cloudflare’s ability to roll out this platform, which is obviously heavy on compute resources — and to keep it affordable — to the fact that it always thought of itself as a security platform first (the team has often said that the CDN functionality was more or less incidental). Because it performed deep packet inspection, for example, the company’s servers always featured relatively high-powered CPUs. “Our network has been optimized for CPU usage from the beginning and as a result, it’s actually made it much more natural for us to extend our network that way,” he explained. “To this day, the same machines that are running our firewall products are the same machines that are running our edge computing platform.”
Looking ahead, Prince noted that while Workers and Workers Unbound feature a distributed key-value store, the team is looking at adding a more robust database infrastructure and distributed storage.
The team is also looking at how to decompose applications to put them closest to where they will be running. “You could imagine that in the future, it might be that you write an application and we say, ‘listen, the parts of the application that are sensitive to the user of the database might run in Portland, where you are — but if the database is in Ashburn, Virginia, then the parts that are sensitive to latency in the database might run there,” he said.
Agriculture officials in Louisiana, Kansas, Virginia and Washington State are urging residents not to plant the seeds, which were mailed in pouches featuring Chinese characters.
Mr. Lewis, the civil rights giant who died last week, beat out a list that included Barack Obama and Cesar Chavez to have the high school, in Fairfax County, named after him.
Federal employees are being ushered back to office buildings under inconsistent and conflicting reopening plans, against the wishes of leaders in the nation’s capital.
Rocket Lab is set to demonstrate a key element of its value prop with newly-awarded missions set for a Spring 2021 launch timeframe: The rocket company will be flying two back-to-back missions for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office from its Launch Complex 1 facility in New Zealand, using its existing launch pad and one that’s currently under construction at the same site, with a turnaround time of mere weeks between each mission.
First operational in 2017, Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand is the company’s fully owned and operated first launch facility. Rocket Lab has also since established a launch site at Wallops Island in Virginia in the U.S., and is in the process of setting up a second launchpad at its New Zealand Facility. Each new launch site will add to the frequency with which Rocket Lab can fly missions, as its additive manufacturing and robotic assembly processes currently help it produce its Electron launch vehicles at a rapid pace.
Rocket Lab recently returned to active launch status at Launch Complex 1 following a shutdown caused by NZ’s COVID-19 response, with a mission that included a payload for the NRO. This marked the first time an NRO satellite has launched from a non-U.S. launch facility, which is remarkable enough, but it looks like it went well enough that the U.S. spy agency has decided to fly more out of the same site.
While the missions are currently scheduled for “within weeks” of one another, according to Rocket Lab, this is not the outside bounds of how quickly the company could theoretically fly different vehicles from its A and B pads at Launch Complex 1. In fact, it could bring that turnaround time down to just days or even hours, providing responsive launch capabilities in line with what small satellite commercial customers, and national defense agencies, are increasingly seeking as they look to build satellite constellations made up of small, cheap spacecraft that can be launched quickly and often in order to build in network redundancy.
With all three of its launch pads online, which should happen by end of year, Rocket Lab anticipates being able to handle as many as 130 missions per year.
A Virginia school district, determined not to let a pandemic keep students from their summer reading, is delivering books to students via the drone company run by Alphabet.
The pastor, Leon K. McCray, had called to report that five white people were threatening him and taunting him with racial slurs at an apartment complex he owns. He ended up in custody.
Microsoft tried to sell its facial recognition technology to the Drug Enforcement Administration as far back as 2017, according to newly released emails.
The American Civil Liberties Union obtained the emails through a public records lawsuit it filed in October, challenging the secrecy surrounding the DEA’s facial recognition program. The ACLU shared the emails with TechCrunch.
The emails, dated between September 2017 and December 2018, show that Microsoft privately hosted DEA agents at its Reston, Va. office to demonstrate its facial recognition system, and that the DEA later piloted the technology.
It was during this time Microsoft’s president Brad Smith was publicly calling for government regulations covering the use of facial recognition.
But the emails also show that the DEA expressed concern with purchasing the technology, fearing criticism from the FBI’s use of facial recognition at the time that caught the attention of government watchdogs.
Critics have long said this face-matching technology violates Americans’ right to privacy, and that the technology disproportionately shows bias against people of color. But despite the rise of facial recognition by police and in public spaces, Congress has struggled to keep pace and introduce legislation that would oversee the as-of-yet unregulated space.
But things changed in the wake of the nationwide and global protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, which prompted a renewed focus about law enforcement and racial injustice.
Microsoft was the third company last week to say it will no longer sell its facial recognition technology to police until more federal regulation is put into place, following in the footsteps of Amazon, which put a one-year moratorium on selling its technology to police. IBM went further, saying it will wind down its facial recognition business entirely.
But Microsoft, like Amazon, did not say if it would no longer sell to federal departments and agencies like the DEA.
“It is bad enough that Microsoft tried to sell a dangerous technology to a law enforcement agency tasked with spearheading the racist drug war, but it gets worse,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU. “Even after belatedly promising not to sell face surveillance tech to police last week, Microsoft has refused to say whether it would sell the technology to federal agencies like the DEA,” said Wessler.
“This is troubling given the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s record, but it’s even more disturbing now that Attorney General Bill Barr has reportedly expanded this very agency’s surveillance authorities, which could be abused to spy on people protesting police brutality,” he said.
Lawmakers have since called for a halt to the DEA’s covert surveillance of protesters, powers that were granted by the Justice Department earlier in June as protests spread across the U.S. and around the world.
When reached, DEA spokesperson Michael Miller declined to answer our questions. A spokesperson for Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.
Poultry plants continue to run processing lines at a breakneck speed, making it impossible for workers to social distance.
Representative Denver Riggleman of Virginia, who was endorsed by President Trump, lost his re-election bid in an unusual drive-through convention to a self-described “biblical conservative.”
Representative Denver Riggleman could lose his bid for re-election in an unusual drive-through primary held at a Virginia church on Saturday.
Rocket Lab has returned to active launch status from its first launchpad in New Zealand, after the global COVID-19 pandemic temporarily paused its work there. Early this morning, it flew its 12th Electron launch vehicle from its launch site on NZ’s Mahia Peninsula, carrying payloads on behalf of the U.S. National Reconnaisance Office (NRO), NASA, and the University of New South Wales Canberra.
The launch occurred at 1:13 AM EDT (5:13 PM local time) and went off without a hitch. Rocket Lab later confirmed that payload deployment also went exactly to plan once the Electron reached its target orbit.
Rocket Lab has been gearing up for significant expansion of its launch capabilities, with a new launch site in the U.S. on Wallops Island in Virginia. The launch facility is now open, and its first mission had been scheduled to fly earlier this year, but that launch got pushed back in part because of delays resulting from NASA’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 with facility closures and a focus on essential missions.
New Zealand is now fully out of lockdown, however – the country’s fast action and relatively small, dispersed population allowed it to contain cases of COVID-19 fairly quickly, and reduce the infection rate to zero. That’s good news both for Rocket Lab’s existing operation, and for its ongoing work to establish a second launch site at its Mahia facility, which is well underway and could go into operation sometime later this year.
Harry H. Rogers drove into a group of demonstrators near Richmond, Va., on Sunday, the authorities said. The county prosecutor called him “an admitted leader of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Teresa Clayton (and her husband, Steve Clayton) gave 45 couples the opportunity to marry for free last month at their wedding venue in Virginia. Distress over social restrictions led to many ‘happy tears’ in the end.
A statue of the Confederate general in Richmond is controlled by the state, but the city’s mayor said he would propose a bill to remove additional Confederate monuments there.
Dozens came down after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. Protesters outraged over the death of Mr. Floyd are targeting some that remained.
Like many areas around the country, Washington and its suburbs are embracing positive momentum in data on infections to push ahead.
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Drones are being deployed in the fight to curb COVID-19 in the U.S.
Novant is a non-profit healthcare provider with a network in the Southeastern United States.
Through the partnership, Zipline’s drones will make 32 mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s emergency drone fulfillment center in Kannapolis to the company’s medical center in Huntersville, North Carolina — where front line healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.
Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The program has gained approvals by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation — though the FAA offered TechCrunch nuanced guidance on how it classifies the undertaking.
This story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: the capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.
Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo, Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch and landing systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.
The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country. Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.
The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19 related medication and lab samples.
Based on its Africa operations, Zipline was selected by regulators to participate in medical drone delivery testing in the U.S. in 2016, in coordination with the FAA.
The company’s Africa business also led to its pandemic response partnership with Novant Health. The North Carolina based company was in discussion with Zipline on UAV delivery before the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., but the crisis spurred both parties to speed things up, according to Hank Capps, a Senior Vice President at Novant.
According to Capps, the current collaboration using drones to deliver medical supplies from that site could grow beyond the 32 mile route Zipline and Novant began flights on last Friday.
“Right now we plan to expand it geographically within our footprint, which is fairly large within North Carolina, South Florida, and Virginia,” he told TechCrunch on a call.
That, of course, will depend on regulatory approval. The FAA granted Novant Health permission to operate the current program — which the FAA classifies as a distribution vs. delivery operation — through a 107 waiver. This rolls up into the evolving federal code on operation of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. and allows Novant and Zipline to operate “until Oct. 31, 2020, or until all COVID-related restrictions on travel, business and mass gatherings for North Carolina are lifted, whichever occurs first,” according to the FAA. The U.S. regulatory body also stipulated that “Part 107 is a waiver, not a drone licence.”
The FAA offered cautious confirmation that the Zipline, Novant partnership is the first approved long range unmanned delivery service in the United States.
“I am not aware of any that are flying routes as far as what they are doing in North Carolina, but I try to be careful when talking about firsts,” an FAA spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Last month UPS and CVS announced a shorter range drone delivery program of prescription drugs to a retirement village in Florida.
The arrangement between Zipline and Novant is not for financial gain — according to both parties — but still supports Zipline’s profitability thesis advanced by co-founder Keller Rinaudo.
“Healthcare logistics is a $70 billion global industry, and it’s still only serving a golden billion on the planet,” he told me in a 2016 interview.
On a recent call, Rinaudo noted the startup is generating income on operations to serve that market, through the company doesn’t release financial data.
“At the distribution centers that have been operating for more than a year, Zipline is making money on the deliveries that we do,” he said.
Rinaudo pointed to the more favorable margins of autonomous delivery using small, electric powered UAVs versus large internal combustion vehicles.
“I think that these kinds of services are going to operate, much more profitably than traditional logistic services,” he said.
Zipline sold investors on that value proposition. The company has raised (a reported) $233 million in VC from backers including Andreeson Horowitz and Goldman Sachs. Zipline intends to expand its drone delivery business in the U.S. and anywhere in the world it finds demand, according to its CEO.
In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which has supported (and studied) the startup’s Africa operations back to 2016.
The Zipline, Novant launch of UAV delivery of medical supplies in the U.S. is a high-point for the thesis that Africa’s tech ecosystem — which has become a hotbed for VC and startups — can produce innovation with global application.
The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.
For all the talk that COVID-19 may force an isolationist shift across countries, the Zipline, Novant Health partnership is very much a globally incubated solution — applied locally in the U.S. — to an international problem.
The program combines a medical drone delivery startup founded in San Francisco with a model tested in Africa to an American healthcare venture in North Carolina, with a little help from a NASCAR race team. This could reflect the unique application of tech and partnerships to come in the fight against COVID-19.
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Four years ago, Adnan Asar, the founder of the new addiction prevention service Lucid Lane, was enjoying a successful career working as the founding chief technology officer at Livongo Health. It was the serial senior tech executive’s most recent job after a long stint at Shutterfly and he was shepherding the company through the development of its suite of hardware and software for the management of chronic conditions.
But when Asar’s wife was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he stepped away from the technology world to be with his family while she underwent treatment.
He did not know at the time that the decision would set him on the path to founding Lucid Lane. The company’s mission is to help give patients who have been prescribed medications to address pain and anxiety ways to wean themselves off those drugs and avoid addiction — and its purpose is born from the struggle Asar witnessed as his wife wrestled with how to stop taking the medication she was prescribed during her illness.
Asar’s wife isn’t alone. In 2018, there were roughly 168.2 million prescriptions for opioids written in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lucid Lane estimates that 50 million people are prescribed opioids and another 13 million are prescribed benzodiazepines each year either after surgery or in conjunction with cancer treatments — all without a plan for how to manage or taper the use of these highly addictive medications.
For Asar’s wife, it was the benzodiazepine prescribed as part of her cancer treatment that became an issue. “She was hit by very severe withdrawal symptoms and we didn’t know what was going on,” Asar said. When they consulted her physician he gave the couple two options — quitting cold turkey or remaining on the medication.
“My wife decided to go cold turkey,” Asar said. “It was really debilitating for the whole family.”
It took nine months of therapy and regular consultations with psychiatrists to help with tailoring medication dosages and tapering to get her off of the medication, said Asar. And that experience led to the launch of Lucid Lane.
“Our goal is to prevent and control medication and substance dependence,” Asar said.
The company’s telehealth solution is built on a proprietary treatment protocol meant to provide continuous daily support and interventions, along with proactive monitoring of a personalized treatment plan — all on an ongoing basis, said Asar.
And the COVID-19 pandemic is only accelerating the need for telehealth services. “COVID-19 has made telehealth a mandatory service instead of a discretionary service,” said Asar. “There’s a surge in anxiety, depression, substance use and medication use. We’re seeing a surge of patients who are reaching out to us.”
Asar sees Lucid Lane’s competitors as companies like Lyra Health and Ginger, or point solutions building digital diagnostics to detect anxiety and depression. But unlike some companies that are launching to treat addiction or addictive behaviors, Asar sees his startup as preventing dependency and addiction.
“A lot of people are sliding into these addictions through something that happens at the doctor’s office,” said Asar. ” Our solution does not prescribe any of these medications.”
The company is working on clinical studies that are set to start at the Palo Alto VA hospital, and has raised $4 million in seed funding from investors including Battery Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures, the investment firm founded by Jerry Yang.
“We see great potential for Lucid Lane, as it has developed a scalable solution to one of the biggest problems facing society today,” said Battery general partner Dharmesh Thakker, in a statement. “Telehealth solutions have emerged as highly capable of addressing complex problems, and Lucid Lane has embraced remote care from its beginning. Its design enables care anytime, anywhere for patients in their moment of need. This can make a tremendous difference in the battle between recovery and relapse. We believe that it will help millions of people lead better lives.”
Joining Asar in the development of the company and its healthcare protocols are a seasoned team of health professionals, including Dr. Ahmed Zaafran, a board certified anesthesiologist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and assistant professor of anesthesiology (affiliated) at Stanford University School of Medicine; and advisors like Dr. Vanila Singh, who was also previously chairperson of the HHS Task Force in conjunction with the DOD and the VA to address the opioid drug crisis; Dr. Carin Hagberg, the chair of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine of MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Sherif Zaafran, the president of the Texas Medical Board and chair of multiple national committees on pain management, including the subcommittee Taskforce on Pain Management Services for HHS, as well as the department’s Pain Clinical Pathways Committee.
“Lucid Lane provides a patient-centered solution that allows for the best clinical outcomes for patients after surgery and those bravely finishing chemotherapy,” said Dr. Singh, in a statement. “For the many patients who require short-term opioids and benzodiazepine medications, Lucid Lane’s treatment can limit the risk of prolonged dependence of these medications while also ensuring effective pain control with a resulting improved quality of life and functioning.”
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