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Porsche invests in ‘low visibility’ sensor startup TriEye

21 août, par Kirsten Korosec[ —]

Porsche’s venture arm has acquired a minority stake in TriEye, an Israeli startup that’s working on a sensor technology to help vehicle driver-assistance and self-driving systems see better in poor weather conditions like dust, fog and rain.

The strategic investment is part of a Series A financing round that has been expanded to $19 million. The round was initially led by Intel Capital and Israeli venture fund Grove Ventures. Porsche has held shares in Grove Ventures since 2017.

TriEye has raised $22 million to date. Terms of Porsche’s investment were not disclosed.

The additional funding will be used for ongoing product development, operations and hiring talent, according to TriEye.

The advanced driver-assistance systems found in most new vehicles today typically rely on a combination of cameras and radar to “see.” Autonomous vehicle systems, which are being developed and tested by dozens of companies such as Argo AI, Aptiv, Aurora, Cruise and Waymo, have a more robust suite of sensors that include light detection and ranging radar (lidar) along with cameras and ultrasonic sensors.

For either of these systems to function properly, they need to be able to see in all conditions. This pursuit of sensor technology has sparked a boom in startups hoping to tap into demand from automakers and companies working on self-driving car systems.

TriEye is one of them. The premise of TriEye is to solve the low visibility problem created by poor weather conditions. The startup’s co-founders argue that fusing existing sensors such as radar, lidar and standard cameras don’t solve this problem.

TriEye, which was founded in 2017, believes the answer is through short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensors. The startup said it has developed an HD SWIR camera that is a smaller size, higher resolution and cheaper than other technologies. The camera is due to launch in 2020.

The technology is based on advanced nano-photonics research by Uriel Levy, a TriEye co-founder and CTO who is also a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The company says its secret sauce is its “unique” semiconductor design that will make it possible to manufacture SWIR HD cameras at a “fraction of their current cost.”

TriEye’s technology was apparently good enough to get Porsche’s attention.

Michael Steiner, a Porsche AG board member focused on R&D, said the technology was promising, as was the team, which is comprised of people with expertise in deep learning, nano-photonics and semiconductor components.

“We see great potential in this sensor technology that paves the way for the next generation of driver assistance systems and autonomous driving functions,” Steiner said in a statement. “SWIR can be a key element: it offers enhanced safety at a competitive price.”


Peak Design’s Travel Duffel 35L is as simple or as powerful as you need it to be

21 août, par Darrell Etherington[ —]

A good, solid duffel bag is a mainstay for many travelers — especially those who like packing up a car for a weekend away, or frequent flyers who disdain the thought of checking a bag. Peak Design introduced its own take on the duffel bag this year, with a couple of different twists on the concept. The Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L is the most fundamental of the company’s options, and it delivers a lot of packing space and support for Peak’s packing tools if you want to get real serious about space optimization.

I’m an unabashed fan of Peak Design’s Everyday camera bags, its capture clips and basically its entire ecosystem. This is a company that you can tell things deeply about the problems it’s aiming to solve for its customers — because they’re the problems shared by the company’s founders themselves. The Travel Duffel is actually probably a bit more mainstream and less specialized than most of their offerings, but that only makes it more appealing, not less.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 2

You’ll find the same weatherproof nylon coating in this bag that Peak uses in its other packs, and it’s a very durable material that also looks great both up close and at a distance. If there’s a complaint here, it’s that the black color I prefer tends to pretty easily pick up dust, but it also wipes or washes off just as easily. The heavy-duty nylon canvas shell should also stand up to the elements well, and the zipper is the especially weather sealed kind, plus there’s a waterproof bottom liner in case you’re less than careful about where you drop your pack while en route.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 3

Peak Travel Duffel 35 4

The Duffel includes both hand straps and a longer padded shoulder strap, and the unique connector hardware system means you can reposition the straps in a number of ways to suit your carrying preferences. The hand straps double as shoulder straps for wearing it like a backpack and though this is a bit tight for my larger frame, it’s still a way to quickly alleviate shoulder or hand strain for longer treks with the bag in tow. The connectors here are also super smart — there are no moving parts, they just snap on and off the sewn-in loops placed around the bag — which means added durability and ease of use.

[gallery ids="1872070,1872069,1872068"]

Plenty of pockets inside and out give you lots of divided storage options, and there’s also a security loop feature on the main zipper to make it much harder for someone to quickly yank the bag open and grab what’s inside if they’re targeting a quick theft opportunity. A dedicated ID card holder is a nice touch that tells you exactly who this is ideal for, too.

As I alluded to above, there’s also support for the rest of Peak’s packing tools. I’ve got their small camera cube in the bag width-wise in the photo below, and it should be able to fit up to three of these in this orientation. Peak also offers packing cubes, dop kits and more, and you can use the slide hooks provided with those with internal elastic attachment points if you want to ensure things won’t shift around. But the best part about this bag is that it has everything you need in a straightforward duffel out of the box — the rest of the packing tools are totally optional and don’t take away form its fundamental effectiveness at all.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 6

The 35L carrying capacity of this bag is perfect for a weekend trip, or even a few days longer if you’re an economical packer. At $129.95, it’s actually very reasonable for a high-quality duffel bag, too, and definitely one of the better bargains in the Peak lineup when it comes to value for the money.


YC is doubling down on these investment theses in its most recent batch

21 août, par Kate Clark[ —]

Nearly 200 startups have just graduated from the prestigious San Francisco startup accelerator Y Combinator . The flock of companies are now free to proceed company-building with a fresh $150,000 check and three-months full of tips and tricks from industry experts.

As usual, we sent several reporters to YC’s latest demo day to take notes on each company and pick our favorites. But there were many updates to the YC structure this time around and new trends we spotted from the ground that we’ve yet to share.

CTO and HR demo days


Second docking adapter for commercial crew vehicles installed on International Space Station

21 août, par Darrell Etherington[ —]

The International Space Station is now more than ready for crew-carrying spacecraft flown by commercial companies to pay it a visit: The second planned International Dock Adapter (IDA) was installed on the Space Station during a spacewalk by NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan earlier today.

The dock adapter is actually IDA-3, as the first IDA was lost during the SpaceX launch failure of its CRS-7 mission on June 28, 2015. IDA-2, which was intended to be the second installed on ISS, instead became the first and was delivered in July 2016 during the SpaceX CRS-9 resupply mission.

IDA-2 has already proven effective, too: It received its first docking vehicle on March 3 of this year, when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-1 test vehicle used the automated docking procedure designed for this adapter to demonstrate how it will work eventually when crew are on board.

IDA-3 is the second working dock adapter that uses this automated procedure, which makes it so that vehicles arriving at the ISS don’t have to be caught and guided in manually by astronauts with the help of the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. The automated procedure is designed as an industry standard of sorts, and should mean that any commercial crew craft, from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, to Boeing’s CST-100, and any other potential future craft, can easily and automatically dock with the ISS to transfer over passengers and cargo.

Boeing is the company that was contracted to design and build these docking adapters. Each weigh about 1,150 pounds, and they’re about 42 inches high and 63 inches wide, which means it’s a bit of a tight squeeze for crew to come through (these aren’t big step-through passageways like you sometimes see in movies).

Having both the IDAs installed on the Space Station is key milestone in the commercial crew program, but there are still plenty of hurdles left to clear — including the first test flights of commercial Crew vehicles with astronauts on board.


Google updates to a cleaner, simpler Play Store design [Updated]

21 août, par Sarah Perez[ —]

[Update: the Music tab has been relocated] Google’s Play Store has gotten a big visual makeover, the company announced today, with changes that include a cleaner look-and-feel, new navigation, an easier way to to see app information and more. Most notably, however, is that Google has taken a page from Apple’s playbook with the priority given to its two distinct sections for apps and games. It has also removed the “Music” tab from the top-level navigation, likely ahead of planned changes to Google Play Music and YouTube Music.

Though the redesign is in keeping with Google’s Material Design philosophy, it’s hard to miss Apple’s influence here — from the brighter, whiter and cleaner layout to the new navigation and updated app detail page layouts, among other things.

With Apple’s huge App Store revamp in 2017, the company made several changes to refocus user attention away from top charts and rankings to editorial content, stories and tips, recommendations and curated collections. As a part of this redesign, it created two separate tabs for Apps and Games in the App Store app’s main navigation to better direct users to the type of app content they wanted to browse.

The Play Store had already broken out Apps and Games before today, but they had been part of a much larger navigational element at the top of the home page.

The new design now relocates the Play Store’s main navigation to the bottom of the screen, just like on the iOS App Store. It also distills navigation to just four tabs: Games, Apps, Movies & TV and Books. (Music is gone).

Google says its decision to create two main tabs for apps and games will help it to “better serve users the right kind of content.”

Within the Games and Apps sections, users can browse into other sections, including Google’s personalized “For You” suggestions and Top Charts, and more. Here, you’ll find the same sections the Play Store had before (like “New,” “Events,” “Premium,” etc.) — they’ve just been relocated within the new tabs instead of existing as a second-level navigation bar on the Play Store homepage.

When the user finds an app or game they’re interested in, the updated store listing page layout will now surface richer app information at the top of the page and a bigger call-to-action button (e.g. “Install”).

This, too, is similar to iOS, where key details about the app or game — like its rating or age range — are at the top of this app detail page.

The store also features Google’s new icon system, where apps have a uniform rounded square shape. Apple has always enforced standardized app icons.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 2.25.18 PM

The Play Store makeover had already leaked earlier this year, thanks to enterprising developers who got their hands on Google’s tests and published screenshots.

As for the Music tab’s relocation, Google already confirmed it was planning to replace Google Play Music with YouTube Music, and shut down Google Play’s artist hub this April in preparation for that. With the removal of the Music tab from the new Play Store, the completion of this merger appears to be imminent.

Update: The Music tab has been relocated, says Google… it’s a bit buried now

In Google’s announcement today about the redesign, it showed off the new look with a photo (see top photo above).

It’s pretty odd that the app being showcased in Google’s photo, Alto’s Odyssey, is an Apple Design Winner that launched on iOS first — as did its precursor, Alto’s Adventure. When coming to Android, the game development company worked with Android publisher Noodlecake on its Android ports.

In other words, not only is this a non-exclusive game, it comes from an iOS-first shop. Sure, it’s a great game. But that’s also a pretty weird pick on Google’s part.

The Google Play Store has more than two billion monthly active users, Google said in its announcement. The new version of the Play Store is rolling out now.


Our 12 favorite startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 2

21 août, par Lucas Matney[ —]

After two days of founders tirelessly pitching, we’ve reached the end of YC’s Summer 2019 Demo Days. TechCrunch witnessed more than 160 on-the-record startup pitches coming out of Y Combinator, spanning healthcare, B2B services, augmented reality and life-extending.

The full list is worth a gander, you can read about the 84 startups from Day 1 and the 82 companies from Day 2 in the linked posts. You can also check out our votes for the best of the best from day 1.

After conferring on the dozens of startups we saw yesterday, here are our favorites from the second day of Y Combinator pitches.


Twitter picks up team from narrative app Lightwell in its latest effort to improve conversations

21 août, par Ingrid Lunden[ —]

Twitter’s ongoing, long-term efforts to make conversations easier to follow and engage with on its platform is getting a boost with the company’s latest acquihire. The company has picked up the team behind Lightwell, a startup that had built a set of developer tools to build interactive, narrative apps, for an undisclosed sum. Lightwell’s founder and CEO, Suzanne Xie, is becoming a director of product leading Twitter’s Conversations initiative, with the rest of her small four-person team joining her on the conversations project.

(Sidenote: Sara Haider, who had been leading the charge on rethinking the design of Conversations on Twitter, most recently through the release of twttr, Twitter’s newish prototyping app, announced that she would be moving on to a new project at the company after a short break. I understand twttr will continue to be used to openly test conversation tweaks and other potential changes to how the app works. )

The Lightwell/Twitter news was announced late yesterday both by Lightwell itself and Twitter’s VP of product Keith Coleman. A Twitter spokesperson also confirmed the deal to TechCrunch in a short statement today: “We are excited to welcome Suzanne and her team to Twitter to help drive forward the important work we are doing to serve the public conversation,” he said. Interestingly, Twitter is on a product hiring push it seems. Other recent hires Coleman noted were Other recent product hires include Angela Wise and Tom Hauburger. Coincidentally, both joined from autonomous companies, respectively Waymo and Voyage.

To be clear, this is more acqui-hire than hire: only the Lightwell team (of what looks like three people) is joining Twitter. The Lightwell product will no longer be developed, but it is not going away, either. Xie noted in a separate Medium post that apps that have already been built (or plan to be built) on the platform will continue to work. It will also now be free to use.

Lightwell originally started life in 2012 as Hullabalu, as one of the many companies producing original-content interactive children’s stories for smartphones and tablets. In a sea of children-focused storybook apps, Hullabalu’s stories stood out not just because of the distinctive cast of characters that the startup had created, but for how the narratives were presented: part book, part interactive game, the stories engaged children and moved narratives along by getting the users to touch and drag elements across the screen.

hullabalu lightwell

After some years, Hullabalu saw an opportunity to package its technology and make it available as a platform for all developers, to be used not just by other creators of children’s content, but advertisers and more. It seems the company shifted at that time to make Lightwell its main focus.

The Hullabalu apps remained live on the App Store, even when the company moved on to focus on Lightwell. However, they hadn’t been updated in two years’ time. Xie says they will remain as is.

In its startup life, the company went through YCombinator, TechStars, and picked up some $6.5 million in funding (per Crunchbase), from investors that included Joanne Wilson, SV Angel, Vayner, Spark Labs, Great Oak, Scout Ventures and more.

If turning Hullabalu into Lightwell was a pivot, then the exit to Twitter can be considered yet another interesting shift in how talent and expertise optimized for one end can be repurposed to meet another.

One of Twitter’s biggest challenges over the years has been trying to create a way to make conversations (also narratives of a kind) easy to follow — both for those who are power users, and for those who are not and might otherwise easily be put off from using the product.

The crux of the problem has been that Twitter’s DNA is about real-time rivers of chatter that flow in one single feed, while conversations by their nature linger around a specific topic and become hard to follow when there are too many people talking. Trying to build a way to fit the two concepts together has foxed the company for a long time now.

At its best, bringing in a new team from the outside will potentially give Twitter a fresh perspective on how to approach conversations on the platform, and the fact that Lightwell has been thinking about creative ways to present narratives gives them some cred as a group that might come up completely new concepts for presenting conversations.

At a time when it seems that the conversation around Conversations had somewhat stagnated, it’s good to see a new chapter opening up.


Classic Hangouts will hang in there a bit longer

21 août, par Frederic Lardinois[ —]

Earlier this year, Google said it would transition all Hangouts users on G Suite to Hangouts Chat and Meet by October 2019 and then retire the classic version of Hangouts. But a lot of G Suite users love their classic Hangouts, so Google has now revised Hangouts’ retirement date to “no sooner than June 2020.” That leaves the door open for a later date, too, and the company says it will provide a “more definitive date” at some point in the future.

It’s worth stressing that this new timeline is about Hangouts for paying G Suite users, but it will also influence the consumer timeline. What exactly is happening to Hangouts for consumers remains a bit unclear, though, given that Google’s original consumer messaging strategy failed after the disappointment that was Allo.

But here is what we know: Earlier this year, Google said that it wanted to transition consumers over to a free version of Hangouts Chat and Meet after the G Suite transition. A Google spokesperson told me this plan remains in place and it will start after the G Suite transition.

As for G Suite users, Google plans to make the transition for G Suite users easier as it looks to move them over to the new platform. Admins can already jump on an accelerated timeline and disable classic Hangouts right now (but they still need an invitation from Google to do so).


Daily Crunch: DoorDash acquires Scotty Labs

21 août, par Anthony Ha[ —]

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. DoorDash acquires autonomous driving startup Scotty Labs

DoorDash seems to be very interested in self-driving technology — not only did it acquire Scotty Labs (a startup enabling people to remotely control self-driving cars), it also brought on the two co-founders of Lvl5, which was creating high-resolution maps for autonomous driving.

“We’ll share more updates in the near future but for now, we’re really excited to be part of the amazing DoorDash family and looking forward to building something magical together,” Scotty Labs co-founder Tobenna Arodiogbu wrote on in a blog post.

2. Apple, Google and Mozilla block Kazakhstan’s browser spying tactics

Apple, Google and Mozilla have taken the rare step of blocking an untrusted certificate issued by the Kazakhstan government, which critics say it forced its citizens to install as part of an effort to monitor their internet traffic.

3. The 11 best startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 1

We already rounded up all the startups that presented at the accelerator’s Demo Day 1, but now the team has selected their favorites. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. MoviePass exposed thousands of unencrypted customer card numbers

An unprotected MoviePass database included both customer cards (those are the debit cards used to purchase movie tickets) and personal credit card numbers.

5. Waymo releases a self-driving open data set for free use by the research community

The data set isn’t for commercial use, but Waymo’s definition of “research” is fairly broad, and includes researchers at other companies as well as academics.

6. PayPal-backed money lender Tala raises $110M to enter India

Tala looks at behavioral data gathered through an Android app to build a customer’s credit profile. The new round values the company at $750 million.

7. Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

Popular enterprise news and research site The New Stack is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A. (And we’re dead serious about the pancakes.)


Google denies reports of unannounced changes to Android app review process

21 août, par Sarah Perez[ —]

Multiple reports this week claimed Google had quietly rolled out a more in-depth app review process to all developers — changes designed to keep the Play Store safer from spam, malware and copycat apps. Those reports are inaccurate, Google tells TechCrunch. Instead, the company is giving itself more time to review apps from new, unestablished developers on the Play Store, as previously announced, but this hasn’t been extended to all developers.

Concerns about these so-called “unannounced changes” stemmed from a blog post by Choice of Games, which wrote that “all new apps” would be getting an additional review, slowing down app approvals. It claimed new apps would require at least three days for review, and this now included existing developers.

The post cited a conversation with Google Support as the source for its claims.

This led to a ton of confusion, as the development shop behind the post was well-established, having been on the Play Store since 2010 and would have been exempt from Google’s policy of increased reviews for new developers.

As it turns out, it appears there was miscommunication between Google Play Store developer support and the developer, according to the chat transcript that was published. The support person, “Liz,” was alerting the developer to the new policy Google announced in April, which detailed increased review times for Play Store newcomers. She didn’t appear to understand that she was speaking with a developer who had published on Google Play for nearly a decade.

Android Police also picked up the news, writing that Google had “quietly instigated a more involved review process that impacts every app and update.”

Reddit and Hacker News also weighed in. In addition to the reported changes, developers were concerned there was now no way to schedule new app releases through the Timed Publishing feature. (That’s also not true — developers can publish to a closed testing track, then use Timed Publishing to go live to the public.)

A Google Developer Relations team member stepped in to clear things up on Reddit, and we’ve confirmed with Google that his responses were accurate.

Google’s updated app review process, first announced in April, hasn’t changed.

At the time, Google said:

“We will soon be taking more time (days, not weeks) to review apps by developers that don’t yet have a track record with us. This will allow us to do more thorough checks before approving apps to go live in the store and will help us make even fewer inaccurate decisions on developer accounts.”

Google began notifying developers directly in the Play Console in June that new apps by developers without a track record will take a couple of days longer to review. Google says that, since this change, it’s already seen a meaningful increase in the number of harmful apps blocked by Play even before they are published.

It’s not clear why the developer relations support person miscommunicated this information to the developer in question, but it points to a training issue on Google’s part.

It’s also unclear why the established developer’s app was held up in app review, beyond it just being a mistake on Google’s part.

Unfortunately for Google, Play Store developers have come to expect a speedy review process, so any delays feel like unnecessary friction.

Unlike Apple, which employs a large team to carefully review app submissions and make hard calls on controversial apps, Google has more heavily relied on automation over the years. The company disclosed in the past how it uses software to pre-analyze apps for viruses, malware and other content and copyright violations.

That process doesn’t always work, though. Only days ago, dozens of Android apps disguised as harmless photo editors and games were discovered to actually be adware. This follows similar news from January, when 85 apps were found to contain adware… and in May, when adware was discovered in some 200 apps totaling 150+ million installs… and, news from last November, when malware was found across more than a dozen apps with half a million installs… and so on.

While it would make sense for Google to increase its review of all apps, given its inability to address this problem, that was not the case here.


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