#Tech

#Tech


Waresix hauls in $14.5M to advance its push to digitize logistics in Indonesia

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 07:48 PM PDT

Waresix, one of a handful of startups aiming to modernize logistics in Indonesia — the world’s fourth most populous country — has pulled in $14.5 million to grow its 18-month-old business.

This new investment, Waresix’s Series A, is led by EV Growth — the growth-stage fund co-run by East Ventures — with participation from SMDV — the investment arm of Indonesia corporation Sinar Mas — and Singapore’s Jungle Ventures . The startup previously raised $1.6 million last year from East Ventures, SMDV and Monk’s Hill Ventures. It closed a seed round in early 2018.

Waresix is aiming to digitize logistics, the business of moving goods from A to B, which it believes is worth a total of $240 billion in Indonesia.

A large part of that is down to the country’s geography. The archipelago officially has over 17,000, but there are five main ones. That necessitates a lot of challenges for logistics, which are said to account for 25-30 percent of GDP — a figure that is typically below five percent in Western markets — while Indonesia barely scraped the top 50 rankings in World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index.

But, as Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the key market for digital growth in the region, that makes this an attractive problem to solve… or, rather, attractive industry to modernize.

Like others in its space worldwide — which include Chinese unicorn Manbang and BlackBuck in India — Waresix is focused on optimizing logistics by making the process more transparent for clients and more efficient for haulage companies and truckers. That includes removing the chain of ‘middle man’ brokers, who add costs and reduce transparency, and provide a one-stop solution for transportation by land or sea, as well as cold storage and general cargo handling.

As of today, Waresix claims a fleet of more than 20,000 trucks and over 200 warehouses partners across Indonesia. The company said it plans to use this new capital to expand that coverage further. In particular, that’ll include additional land transport options and additional warehouse capacity in tier-two cities and more remote areas. That’s a push that founders Andree Susanto (CEO) and Edwin Wibowo (CFO) — who met at UC Berkley in the U.S. — believe fits with Indonesia’s own $400 billion commitment to improve national infrastructure and transport.

Waresix trucks

Waresix trucks

It is also consistent with East Ventures, the long-standing early-stage VC, which has backed a pack of young companies aiming to inject internet smarts into traditional industries in Indonesia. Some of that portfolio includes Warung Pintar, which develops smart street vendor kiosks, Kedai Sayur, which is digitizing street vendors, and Fore Coffee, which draws inspiration from China’s digital-first brand Luckin Coffee, which recently listed in the U.S.

Now with EV Growth, which reached a final close of $200 million thanks to LPs that include SoftBank, the East Ventures has the firepower to write larger checks that go beyond seed and pre-Series A deals as it has done with Waresix.

But the company is far from alone in going after the logistics opportunity in Indonesia. Its rivals include Kargo, which was started by a former Uber Asia exec and is backed by Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick’s 10100 fund among others, and Ritase.

Ritase, which claims to be profitable, closed an $8.5 million Series A this week. It said it has 7,500 trucks and, on the client side, some 500 SMEs and a smattering of well-known global brands. Kargo has kept its metrics quiet, but it is a later arrival on the scene. The startup only came out of stealth in March of this year when it announced a $7.6 million funding round.

PayU, Naspers’ global fintech firm, enters Southeast Asia with acquisition of Red Dot Payment

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 07:13 PM PDT

PayU, the Naspers owned fintech firm that specializes in emerging markets, is broadening its global reach into Southeast Asia after it announced a deal to buy a majority stake in Singapore-based Red Dot Payment.

Naspers is best known for its payments and fintech business in markets like India, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe, but now it will enter Southeast Asia, a market with over 600 million consumers and rapidly rising internet access.

PayU plans to tap that potential through Red Dot, an eight-year-old startup founded by finance veterans which offers services that include a payment gateway, e-commerce storefronts and online invoicing across Southeast Asia. PayU said it has acquired “a majority stake” in the business. It did not specify the exact size but it did disclose that the deal values Red Dot at $65 million.

It isn’t clear exactly how much Red Dot had raised from investors overall — its Series B was $5.2 million but the value of prior rounds were not disclosed — but its backers include Japan’s GMO, Wavemaker, Skype co-founder Toivo Annus and MDI Ventures. The company said that that “the majority” of its investors exited through this transaction, but some stakeholders — including CEO Randy Tan — are keeping shares with a view to a later buyout in full.

That’s important for PayU, according to CEO Laurent le Moal, who stressed that the company believes in retaining teams and empowering them through acquisitions, rather than simply buying an asset.

“We have to strike the balance between a solid majority [acquisition] and an opportunity” for founders, he told TechCrunch in an interview.

PayU plans to put “real investment” into the startup, whilst also integrating its services into its ‘Hub’ of services and tech, a stack that is shared with its mesh of global business and was built from its acquisition of Israel’s Zooz. PayU’s India business alone is estimated to be worth $2.5 billion, but its overall business is hard to value but more details emerge of its global business as Naspers lists select entities through an IPO in Europe.

Back to the deal, Tan called it “a marriage made in heaven,” and he also revealed that Red Dot had turned down recent investment and acquisition offers from three other suitors.

“They [PayU] operate globally and have over 300,000 merchants, including Facebook, Google and the kind of clients we aspire to win,” he said.

So why Southeast Asia, and why now?

“We want to build the number one payments company for high growth markets,” le Moal said. “If you look at what the top 10 economies will be in 2030, half are in Southeast Asia and the rest are growth markets we are already in

“We are number one in India, in the biggest markets in Africa, the fastest-growing part of Europe and Latin America, but we have no presence in Southeast Asia,” he continued. “It’s fundamental… you want to go where the consumer growth is.”

That’s supported by a report from Google and Temasek that was issued last year and forecasts that the region’s online spending will more than triple by 2025 to reach $240 billion annually.

The initial focus post-deal is to supercharge the Red Dot business through shared tech, networks and expertise, but, further down the line, le Moal has a vision of going deeper into fintech and financial services to offer products such as consumer credit, as it has done in India.

Such a product launch isn’t likely to happen for another 12 months at least, the PayU CEO said. Before then, there will be a focus on growing Red Dot’s cross-border trade business and developing synergy with its business in other markets, especially India.

Laurent Le Moal 2017

PayU CEO Laurent Le Moal said the company is looking to dominate high-growth markets in Southeast Asia following its acquisition of Red Dot Payment

Le Moal hinted also that PayU has ambitions to be in Japan and Korea, although he conceded that the exact strategy — which could include organic growth — is still to be defined. We can certainly expect to see an uptick from the company in Southeast Asia and the wider Asian continent.

“There will be an acceleration of investment and M&A,” le Moal said. “It's just the beginning for us as PayU and Naspers in the region.”

Drifting champion tackles Goodwood with VR, 5G and one tiny startup’s tech

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 02:26 PM PDT

Stunt driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. took a Lincoln MKZ through its paces at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, drifting the vehicle and taking it up a signature hill climb. Except Gittin wasn’t in the car.

Donning a Samsung VR headset, Gittin was controlling the vehicle miles away from the Goodwood arena using a teleoperation system developed by Portland, Ore., startup Designated Driver and Vodafone’s 5G network.

The specially equipped Lincoln MKZ, dubbed the S-Drone, is sporting blacked out windows. The eyes of the vehicle are the numerous Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phones mounted on the roof. Video is transmitted using Vodafone’s 5G network to the Designated Driver remote operating station. That’s where Gittin sits and controls the vehicle.

Samsung Goodwood Designated Driver

Typically, Designated Driver’s remote teleoperations driver would sit in front six screens and use controls like a steering wheel and pedals to control the vehicle. This demonstration, which was held before the Goodwood event officially began Thursday, took it to the next level by adding virtual reality and the 5G network.

Gittin will stunt drive remotely on July 5 and throughout the weekend in the Goodwood Arena at FOS. Or you can watch a demonstration below.

The marketing around 5G can leave one indifferent to the technology. But 5G does hold a lot of promise for autonomous vehicles and teleoperations systems. Remote controlling a vehicle requires instantaneous and constant flow of video and inputs from the vehicle. It simply won’t work safely or consistently if there’s even a second of lag time. A latency-free video connection is critical to properly executing such an operation.

"We’ve pioneered state of the art teleops technology by leveraging 5G,” Designated Driver CEO Manuela Papadopal said. “We’re proud to push boundaries for mobility.”

The demonstration at Goodwood aims to show how 5G can erase those concerns and become a critical technology for safety-critical applications like remote driving a vehicle. It’s also the latest test of Designated Driver’s tech. The startup recently remotely controlled a vehicle at Goodwood from its offices in Portland, Ore., some 5,000 miles and an ocean away. The company believes this was the world’s first transatlantic teleoperations demonstration.

This techcentric demonstration might seem out of place at the annual hill climb event where human driven vehicles wind their way through narrow hay and brick-lined passages. The future is trickling into this historic event. Last year, Roborace became the first self-driving to successfully complete the hill climb, albeit with a bit more caution than the human-driven vehicles.

UnitedMasters releases iPhone app for DIY cross-service music distribution

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 11:25 AM PDT

Alphabet-backed UnitedMasters, the music label distribution startup and record label alternative that offers artists 100 percent ownership of everything they create, launched its iPhone app today.

The iPhone app works like the service they used to offer only via the web, giving artists the chance to upload their own tracks (from iCloud, Dropbox or directly from text messages), then distribute them to a full range of streaming music platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more. In exchange for this distribution, as well as analytics on how your music is performing, UnitedMasters takes a 10% share on revenue generated by tracks it distributes, but artists retain full ownership of the content they create.

UnitedMasters also works with brand partners, including Bose, the NBA and AT&T, to place tracks in marketing use across the brand’s properties and distributed content. Music creators are paid out via PayPal once they connect their accounts, and they can also tie-in their social accounts for connecting their overall online presence with their music.

UnitedMasters

Using the app, artists can create entire releases by uploading not only music tracks but also high-quality cover art, and by entering information like whether any producers participated in the music creation, and whether the tracks contain any explicit lyrics. You can also specific an exact desired release date, and UnitedMasters will do its best to distribute across services on that day, pending content approvals.

UnitedMasters was founded by former Interscope Records president Steve Stoute, and also has funding from Andreessen Horwitz and 20th Century Fox. It’s aiming to serve a new generation of artists who are disenfranchised by the traditional label model, but seeking distribution through the services where listeners actually spend their time, and using the iPhone as manage the entire process definitely fits with serving that customer base.

This solar array expands itself at the right temperature

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 10:21 AM PDT

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a solar panel that’s only there when the sun shines on it? That’s the idea behind this research project, which uses shape-shifting materials to make a solar panel grow from a compressed state to an expanded one with nothing more than a change in temperature.

The flower-like prototype device is made of what’s called a “shape-memory polymer,” a material that can be shaped when cool to one form, then when heated will attempt to return to its original, natural configuration. In this case the cool form is a compressed disc, and the warm one is a much wider one.

The transition (demonstrated here in warm water for simplicity) takes less than a minute. It’s guided by a network of hinged joints, the structure of which was inspired by the children’s toy known as a Hoberman sphere, which changes from a small, spiky ball to a larger spherical one when thrown.

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The cooled-down material would stay rigid during, say, deployment on a satellite. Then when the satellite enters the sun, the mechanism would bloom into the full-sized array, no power necessary. That would potentially save space on a satellite that can’t quite fit a battery or spare solar array to kick-start a larger one.

For now the transformation is one-way; the larger disc must be manually folded back into the smaller configuration — but one can imagine how once powered up, a separate mechanism could accomplish that, stowing itself away until the next chance to absorb some sunlight appears.

Don’t expect to see this on any spacecraft next year, but it’s definitely a cool (and warm) idea that could prove more than a little useful for small satellites and the like in the future. And who knows? Maybe you’ll have a garden of these little blooming arrays on your roof before that.

The research, from Caltech and ETHZ, is documented in the journal Physics Review Applied.

HQ Trivia lays off ~20% as it preps subscriptions

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 09:43 AM PDT

HQ Trivia is struggling after a mutiny failed to oust its CEO. Downloads per month are down 92% versus last June according to Sensor Tower. And now four sources confirm that HQ laid off staff members this week. One said about 20% of staff was let go, and another said six to seven employees were departing. That aligns with Digiday reporter Kerry Flynn’s tweet that 7 employees were let go bringing HQ to under 30 (shrinking from 35 to 28 staffers would be a 20% drop).

That will leave the company short-handed as it attempts to diversify revenue with the upcoming launch of monthly subscriptions. “HQ Words Everyday. Coming next month . . .  Bigger prizes . . . More ways to win. $9.99/mo. subscription” the company tweeted from the account for its second game, the Wheel Of Fortune-style HQ Words. The company has been trying to regain momentum with new hosts since the departure of Quiz Daddy aka Scott Rogowsky, HQ Trivia’s original host.

hq trivia app 1

The cuts hit HQ’s HR, marketing, and product engineering teams, according to LinkedIn profiles of employees let go. The cuts could further hamper morale at the startup following a tough first half of the year. HQ Trivia and co-founder Rus Yusupov did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

HQ Trivia employees petitioned to remove co-founder Rus Yusupov from the CEO position

Following the tragic death of co-founder and CEO Colin Kroll, Yusupov retook control. But staff found him difficult to work with as he’d allowed the product to stagnate and popularity to decline. Yusupov was slow to make changes to the app, and “no one wanted to work under Rus” a source told me.

That led 20 of 35 staffers to sign a letter to HQ Trivia’s board asking them to remove Yusupov, though it was never formally sent. Yusupov caught wind of the plot and fired two of the leaders of the petition. That further sunk morale, leading to the exit of HQ Trivia’s SVP of brand partnerships and its marketing manager. The board began a search for a new CEO, though it’s unclear how that’s panned out.

Since then, new games HQ teased in April haven’t materialized as its download rate continued to suffer. It’s dropped to the #731 US game on iOS according to AppAnnie. HQ Trivia saw just 827,000 downloads from January through June 2019, down 92% from the 10.2 million it saw in the same time frame in 2018 according to Sensor Tower. That's the same percentage drop in downloads from June 2019 versus June 2018, indicating Rogowsky's replacements that started in April couldn’t turn things around.

Interest in the live game show format seems to be waning as a whole. HQ Trivia fan site HQTrivia.fan shut down this week fearing the end was near for the official game, and the (Business) INSIDER-run clone of the game on Facebook Watch called Confetti stopped airing at the end of June.

Rather than solely monetizing a waning audience via in-app purchases and sponsorships, HQ Words announced it would debut a $9.99 monthly subscription sometime this month that would grant access to winning “bigger prizes”. This could be a smart way to squeeze more dollars out of a smaller but more diehard audience.

While HQ Trivia was an inspiring approach to mobile gaming, its twice-daily games didn’t fit the always-on nature of mobile. It’s failed build a proper onboarding experience that gives users a taste of it games right away rather than forcing them to wait for the next scheduled match as we suggested over a year ago. Gamers are fickle, craving instant gratification, and HQ hasn’t tried to meet them in middle.

Perhaps there’s a future for HQ on cable television, or as a small but steady business on mobile catering to loyalists. But all the unfortunate events and mismanagement may make it difficult to exceed the $100 million valuation it raised money at during its peak.

 

An optimistic view of deepfakes

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 09:30 AM PDT

Deepfakes are having a moment.

Their dangers are becoming more known and understood. The media is rife with articles detailing the speed at which the technology has grown in sophistication and become more accessible, as well as the risks involved.

Good.

The negative implications of deepfakes are troubling, and the better we understand them, the better we'll be able to prevent their worst consequences. For better or worse, the technology is here to stay. But there is a "better" here—deepfakes have much in the way of lighthearted upside. 

Though the debate around deepfakes has grown in stature and complexity, we still struggle to agree on a definition of deepfakes. I think of it as any mimicry, manipulation, or synthesis of video or audio that is enabled by machine learning. Face-swapping, body puppetry, copying someone's voice, and creating entirely new voices or images all fall into this category. Your Photoshop efforts, valiant though they are, don't.  

Image synthesis and manipulation can be a powerful tool for creators

Visual storytelling is an expensive business. Hollywood studios spend billions on creating spectacle that wows their audience or transports them to another world. The tools they use to do so—the tools these big players use to close the gap between what they can imagine and what they can create—remain prohibitively expensive for most creators, though less so than a decade ago. Deepfake tech incorporates the ability to synthesize imagery, potentially giving smaller-scale creators a similar capacity for bringing imaginative creativity to life.

Synthesia is a company with a commercial product that uses deepfake tech to do automated and convincing dubbing through automated facial re-animation. They shot to prominence with a video that featured David Beckham talking about Malaria in nine languages, but their product could also be used to expand the reach of creators around the world. If you're a talented artist who isn't working in one of the world's dominant languages, it's potentially career-changing to have access to a product like this, which could make your work viable in additional languages and countries.

Adobe VoCo is software — albeit still at a research and prototyping stage — that makes it easier for creators to produce speech from text and edit it the way they would edit images in Photoshop. So if you want your movie short to be narrated by Morgan Freeman, you might be able to make that happen.

Tinghui Zhou, the founder and CEO of Humen, a company that creates deepfakes for dancing, sums up the industry's goals: "The future we are imagining is one where everyone can create Hollywood-level content." (Disclosure: I am an investor in Humen).  

In the same way YouTube and Instagram shrunk the distribution and creation advantage that entertainment companies and famous photographers enjoyed over talented amateurs and enthusiasts, this bundle of technologies might diminish the production advantage currently possessed by big budgets and visual effects houses.

Mimicry and manipulation of real life have always been part of art.

The applications mentioned above are all to do with closing the gap between creators with different resources, but deepfake tech could also enable entirely new forms of content that rest on the ability to mimic and manipulate material. Every medium of entertainment has incorporated the stretching, reflection, contortion, and appropriation of real source material for the purposes of entertainment. 

We can already see the evidence of these new applications in the still-nascent use of deepfake tech today. While face swapping for porn lies at the malicious end of the spectrum, more benignly the technology's introduction also sparked a wave of face swapping Nicolas Cage into different movies.

It might seem banal, but it was a form of content creation that, while previously technically possible, was practically infeasible before deepfakes. It's not hard to imagine that the next deepfakes content craze will be driven by automated lip-syncing, dance mimicry, or celebrity voice impressions.

Respeecher and Replica.AI are just two companies making voice mimicry accessible to non-techies. Check out my demo with Replica's tech in San Francisco a few weeks ago (recognize the voice?). It's a small slice of the future of entertainment and content. If you believe that culture in the digital era is the culture of remixing, then deepfake tech has an important part to play in the creation of that culture. 

Deepfakes bring us closer to believable virtual humans

The ability to mimic faces, voices, and emotional expressions is one of the most important steps toward building a believable virtual human that we can actually interact with. We're already taking tentative steps down the path to virtual humans. Personal assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana have been around for several years, reached a tipping point of consumer use, and are quickly improving. Having said that, in 2019 they still feel more like a new user interface you have to pass precise instructions to rather than a virtual being you can interact with. Think a command line operated by speech. 

Virtual humans are entering the mainstream in a different way: Through the recent wave of digital influencers. I previously wrote about this trend in the context of animation history, but digital influencers are also meaningful in the context of believable virtual humans. Digital influencers operate on the same planes of interaction — think your Instagrams and Pinterests — that most people do.

As such, you and I can comment on a Lil Miquela post or message Astro. This is interaction with a being that isn't real. The digital influencer isn't really responding to you in their own words — their content is created by storytellers, much as Pixar films have writers. But these digital influencers are laying the social groundwork for interaction with true virtual beings.  

Lil Miquela / Image from Instagram

Deepfakes have the potential to plug the technological holes in smart assistants and digital influencers. Pushing Alexa or Lil Miquela to the level of virtual humans like Samantha from Her or Joi from Bladerunner 2049 requires the capacity to encompass and express human body language, speech, and emotion. If we counted the number of unique combinations of pose, vocal nuance, and facial expressions you've made in your lifetime, it would likely number in the billions. For virtual humans to be believable, their actions can't be preprogrammed in a traditional hard-coded sense, but must instead be extremely flexible.

Deepfake tech typically takes tons of examples of human behavior as inputs and then produces outputs that approximate or elaborate on that behavior. It could grant smart assistants the capacity to understand and originate conversation with much more sophistication. Similarly, digital influencers could develop the ability to visually react in a believable way in real time, thanks to deepfake tech. Bringing Mickey Mouse to life beyond a Disney cartoon or guy in a suit at Disneyland is where we're headed. 3D hologram projections of animated characters (and real people) that are able to speak in a realistic sounding voice, moving like their real world counterpart would. 

Creativity starts with copying. Elaboration follows duplication. It is no different with deepfakes, which will democratize access to creativity tools in entertainment, enable entirely new forms of content, and bring us closer to believable digital humans. That is why I think there is as much reason to be excited about the technology's virtues as there is to be concerned about its vices. 

Watch how Tesla Model 3 earned its 5-star safety rating from Euro NCAP

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 09:22 AM PDT

Tesla has extended its 5-star safety rating streak to Europe.

In a new round of testing, the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) awarded the Model 3 its highest rating of five stars. You can watch a video of Euro NCAP’s crash test below.

As fun as it is to watch a Tesla Model 3 (or any vehicle) get pummeled in crash tests, understanding what helped push the company’s safety rating so high is far more interesting.

 

The testing measures four areas: how the vehicle protects adults and children, how it treats vulnerable road users like pedestrians and safety assist. Tesla has historically achieved high safety ratings thanks to the underlying architecture of the vehicle and its powertrain design, which makes the cars more rigid and better protects occupants. The location of the battery also gives the Model 3 and other Tesla vehicles a low center of gravity, which improves handling and reduces the chance of a rollover.

The Model 3 earned a 96% score for how it protects adults and 86% for crash test performance in keeping children safe. It scored a 74% for how the vehicle handles vulnerable road users. That vulnerable road users score is lower than some of the other 5-star rated vehicles like the 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE, Mercedes-Benz B-Class and the Skoda Scala. 

But it’s the safety assist score, which rates the standard safety features in the vehicle, where the Model 3 stands out. Euro NCAP did not test Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance system that includes adaptive cruise control, can change lanes and keeps the car in its lane.

 

tesla model 3 safety rating

Instead, this assessment focused on the car’s active safety features such as automatic emergency braking system (AEB) or one that prevents drivers from unintentionally drifting into another lane. The Tesla Model 3 earned the highest safety assist score ever awarded by Euro NCAP under its newer 2018-2019 testing protocols.

Tesla improved its AEB system to all Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles built since October 2016 via an over-the-air software update made earlier this year. Tesla also rolled out other new features in May including lane departure avoidance and emergency lane departure avoidance.

The company’s engineers used data collected from the sensor suite of every Tesla made since October 2016 along with inputs from drivers to get a better understanding of how people behave behind the wheel, according to Tesla. That data was used to build out more accurate prediction models, which in turn, allow the features to better mitigate or avoid accidents.

The Model 3 is not the only vehicle to earn a 5-star rating from Euro NCAP. The Audi e-tron, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen T-Cross, Mazda 3, Kia Ceed, and Lexus UX are some of the other 2019 models that earned five stars.

Twelve South’s HiRise Wireless is a super versatile wireless smartphone charger

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 09:15 AM PDT

Wireless charging has been a wonderful addition to mainstream flagship smartphones including the iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy lineup and Google’s Pixel phones. But there hasn’t been a really great option for bringing the benefits of wireless charging with you on the road, while keeping your desktop setup tidy until now, with TwelveSouth’s recently released HiRise Wireless.

The HiRise Wireless builds on the good reputation of the existing HiRise line from TwelveSouth, which includes the Duet, a great combo charger for both iPhone and Apple Watch. The Wireless version, as implied by the name, includes wireless charging of up to 10W, which means you get the fastest cable-free charging rate available for devices that support Qi charging, including the iPhone X, XR and XS, as well as the Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10.

The HiRise is unique in that it provides a charging puck that can both mount in the frame (which has a nice weighted base to stay rock solid on your desk) and pop out to either provide a lie-flat wireless charger (which will work with the new wireless AirPods charging case, for instance) or pack away in a bag.

[gallery ids="1852301,1852304,1852303,1852302,1852300"]

The upright angle the wireless charger provides when mounted in the frame is perfect for registering Face ID unlocks when used with an iPhone X or later, and positioned on your desk. That’s a great way to give yourself access to phone notifications without distracting too much from your desktop work. And the puck itself is a lot smaller than most wireless chargers, which isn’t idea for typical at-home charging, but which is terrific for stowing it in a gadget pouch.

The puck also has a rubberized ring bordering the charging pad to prevent your device from slipping around, and it works with a detachable USB-C to USB-A cable that comes in the box which adds to the portability, and means you can easily use it with whatever USB-C charging cables you already have on-hand for your Mac or other devices.

If you’re in the market for a wireless charger and travel a decent amount, it’s hard to beat the value of the HiRise Wireless. It’s $79.99, which is more than you’ll pay for a lot of quality wireless chargers, but Twelve South’s unique design is worth the premium in this case for people looking for its unique flexibility.

Why you should naturalize — now, not later

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 09:05 AM PDT

It's no secret that America thrives on tech-savvy immigrants who put down permanent roots: Three in five of the country's biggest tech companies — Apple, Facebook, and Google among them — were founded by first- or second-generation immigrants.

Those giants combined boast a market cap of over $4 trillion and employ nearly two million workers. Considering such clear economic benefits, you'd expect an efficient, straightforward process for turning America's tech-savviest new arrivals into U.S. citizens.

But that's not the case. Naturalizing has only gotten harder and more expensive in recent years. And because of those barriers, even immigrants who manage to secure U.S. permanent residence often stop short of officially becoming U.S. citizens. In fact, a third of citizenship-eligible green card holders, or around 9.3 million people, have yet to apply.

If you're among that group, don't wait to take the final step of your immigration journey. After all, U.S. citizenship brings a host of tangible and intangible perks.

Taking the oath of citizenship, for one, is a profound experience and an affirmation that you've finally been welcomed into the American family. From the moment you naturalize, you become an equal stakeholder in our national project — as much an American as anyone born in this nation.

Of course, naturalization offers practical benefits, too. So take some time this Fourth of July to consider all the reasons why you should set your sights on citizenship now, not later:

It won't get easier

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Image via Getty Images / Vaselena

The single best reason to file a citizenship application is to make sure you don't miss the boat. The Trump administration is prone to overhauling immigration rules on short notice — so if you're eligible today, it doesn't necessarily mean you will be tomorrow.

Applying sooner will make the process quicker and cheaper, too. Already, the government plans to further complicate naturalization steps, at an estimated cost to applicants of nearly $205 million a year.

The bottom line: Getting citizenship will only get harder in the months and years ahead — applying for citizenship under the current rules will protect you from the future whims of America's leaders. File your papers today, and save yourself headaches or heartbreak down the line.

Have your say

For many new citizens, this is the big one: As an American, you'll be eligible to vote in all federal, state, and local elections and have your say in who gets to steer the country you've chosen to call home. Still, if you're hoping to pull the lever for your preferred candidate in the 2020 presidential election, you'll need to get a move on — there's now a 10-month average wait just to get your application approved. Add all the other steps, and you could be looking at a total wait time of up to 1.6 years, and the line is only growing longer.

Also worth bearing in mind: Citizenship is a requirement for federal office and most state and local political positions. As a naturalized citizen, you'll be able to run for office yourself.

And while immigrants can't become president, plenty of naturalized Americans already represent their communities in Congress. Get your paperwork squared away if you want to be next.

Plan for the future 

Whether you're starting a business, building your career, or buying a home, it helps to have the security that citizenship affords. Naturalizing also makes it far easier to bring relatives — even your parents and adult children — to America on green cards of their own. Spouses and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens get preferential treatment when it comes to green card applications, which means much shorter waits compared to the spouses and relatives of green cardholders.

Pro tip: If you're a permanent resident and have a pending marriage green card application for your spouse, naturalizing upgrades you to the fast-track process for spouses of U.S. citizens.

Of course, naturalization is also a fantastic gift for your future offspring who are born abroad — they're automatically citizens if you're American at the moment of their birth. As a citizen, you'll be able to register your children as U.S. citizens simply by reporting their birth to the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy.

Access public benefits

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Image via Getty Images / PeterSnow

As an immigrant, you're likely already paying taxes that fund public programs such as Social Security and Medicaid — but in many cases, you can't actually benefit from those programs. In fact, you've probably been justly wary of using any government assistance whatsoever, for fear of being labeled a "public charge" and jeopardizing your immigration status.

As a citizen, all that changes: You'll have as much right as anyone else to public benefits, and you won't have to fret about being penalized for seeking help. You might never need public support beyond Social Security and Medicare — studies show that naturalized citizens use most benefits at much lower rates than the native-born — but it's good to know there's a safety net waiting to catch you if you fall.

Protect yourself

In theory, green cards offer permanent residence, but it's still possible to lose your immigration status if you spend significant time outside the United States, if you have legal problems, or if the rules change. Citizens receive far greater protections and can't be deported even if they run afoul of the law. You'll also have an incontrovertible right to work in America and to win federal jobs and contracts that are off-limits to non-citizens.

One caveat: It's been reported that the U.S. government is planning to "denaturalize" some citizens. This applies mostly to cases where applicants committed identity fraud or were subject to deportation orders that they did not disclose to immigration officers during the application process. That shouldn't affect the vast majority of naturalized citizens, though, and in virtually any legal tangle you'll be better off as a U.S. citizen.

Get a passport, and see the world

In these turbulent times, a U.S. passport is worth its weight in gold. You'll be able to apply for the coveted navy-blue travel document immediately after receiving your Certificate of Naturalization and can look forward to visa-free travel to more than 180 countries. You'll also be able to call on local U.S. embassies for assistance if you run into trouble while traveling.

As a citizen, you won't have to worry about losing your status, regardless of how long you're away from the United States. And remember: The United States allows dual citizenship, so depending on your nation of origin, you might not have to give up your existing passport — let alone your original nationality — in order to become an American.

Give back by getting ahead

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Image via Getty Images / katflare

Getting citizenship is a smart financial decision. Citizens fare better economically than non-citizen immigrants, perhaps because they're better placed to put down roots and invest in their future.

Research shows that naturalized immigrants earn an average of $3,200 more each year than eligible non-citizens and also increase their homeownership rate by 6.3 percent. In fact, it's estimated that if just half of eligible immigrants went ahead and gained citizenship, it would boost America's GDP by up to $52 billion a year.

All those extra earnings translate into billions of dollars in extra local, state, and federal tax revenues, too. That makes naturalization a great way not just to make more money, but also to support your new community and make America a stronger and more prosperous place for yourself and your loved ones.

You've earned it, so go get it

Gaining citizenship is more than just a patriotic gesture; it's a practical step toward building a secure future in America and seizing all the opportunities this country has to offer. As any immigrant knows, the pursuit of happiness is an American ideal — but it's one that's a whole lot easier to achieve if you have citizenship.

If you're eligible to become a U.S. citizen, then you've already earned your place in this country by investing years of your life here, working hard, and playing by the rules. Applying for citizenship is a way to seal the deal, both by underscoring your commitment to the American project and receiving a definitive assurance that you're welcome and wanted in the Land of the Free.

So this Fourth of July, if you're chasing your own little piece of the American dream, bear in mind that there are real and concrete benefits to naturalization. After all, the smoke and noise from the fireworks will eventually fade away — but your American citizenship will last forever.

Apple reportedly shifting to new keyboard design in 2019/2020 MacBooks

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 07:41 AM PDT

Apple is set to replace the technology underlying the keyboards found in its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro computers, according to a new report from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via 9to5Mac). Kuo is frequently accurate in his predictions, which are sourced from within Apple’s supply chain and tend to provide an early indication of forthcoming hardware changes.

In his latest report, Kuo says that the new keyboard designs coming in brand new MacBook Air models set to come out later this year, and new MacBook Pro models which he says won’t be available until 2020, will drop the so-called ‘butterfly’ mechanism design that is used in current-generation versions of both MacBooks. Instead, the new versions will employ ‘scissor switch’-based keyboards, which is what Apple used prior to introducing the ‘butterfly’ mechanism in 2015. Apple’s current standalone Magic Keyboard also still uses scissor switches.

The butterfly switch-based keyboards Apple has used in recent MacBooks have received consistent criticism from users, who report dropped keystrokes and repeated keystrokes, among other issues (I’ve experienced this myself personally on multiple MacBook Pro models since 2015). These can often be resolved using compressed air to blow away any debris under the keyboard, but sometime they require an actual replacement keyboard component from Apple itself.

Apple’s most recent MacBook Pro, introduced earlier this year, features a redesigned butterfly keyboard that employs “new materials” to help mitigate these issues, and it also recently introduced a free keyboard replacement program for MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro which extends to all MacBook models with butterfly-based keyboards. Still, if this report proves accurate, it looks like the company is implementing a more permanent hardware fix that would obviate the need for these other measures entirely.

As always, take any rumors about unreleased products from a third-party with a hefty dose of skepticism, but Kuo’s accuracy and the well-documented issues with this keyboard design do lend credence to this specific report.

Tesla shows off next-gen automated emergency breaking stopping for pedestrians and cyclists

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 06:01 AM PDT

Back in 2017, Tesla introduced an automated emergency breaking (AEB) system for all its vehicles that’s powered by its Autopilot technology, which is available even for vehicles with haven’t purchased the actual Autopilot cruise-assist upgrade. Now, the automaker is showing off some of the more advanced features coming in its next-generation AEB update.

These include automatically engaging the brakes on a vehicle when the Autopilot-based system detects a pedestrian crossing the car’s path, and doing the same for a cyclist. Below, you can see those features reportedly working in real-life situations, according to Tesls’a official Twitter account.

These kinds of features aren’t new, and in fact have been present in some form since inclusion in a version of Volvo’s automated braking system in 2009. Safety organizations and regulators like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have been testing and advocating for these systems for years, as well.

Not all AEB and driver-assist features are built equally, however, and in theory the versions of these systems based on vehicles with more advanced sensors and on-board computation should be more effective at actually avoiding or preventing collisions in practice. Tesla has made bold claims about the capabilities of its own system, especially when paired with its in-house AI processor technology, which will serve as the ‘brain’ on its future autonomous driving technology in Tesla cars.

The cassette player finally goes Bluetooth

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 06:00 AM PDT

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Sony's first Walkman, the portable music player that would forever change the way we consume music. And while the audio cassette long ago fell out of favor for the CD and later digital music, the format's certainly not forgotten. It may not have the same audiophile cache as the vinyl LP, but a a small and passionate contingent of music listeners are keeping the fire burning.

NINM Lab's latest project occupies that same sort of fuzzy technological limbo as past products like the I'm Fine single use camera. It's also got a name to match: It's OK. In this age of political unrest and global disasters, maybe that's exactly the message we need right now. As for a bluetooth cassette player, it's probably true that nobody needs such a thing, hyper specific products are one of the nice byproducts of late capitalism.

The product bridges the seemingly insurmountable gap between state of the art 80s tech and AirPods with Bluetooth 5.0 functionality, with a fittingly retro design that's a nod to the era's Walkmen. There's also a 3.5mm headphone jack on board, giving it a leg up on the latest generation of smartphones.

The device hits Kickstarter today, with pre-orders starting at $63, making it pricey for a cassette player, but cheap compared to other Bluetooth enabled devices. As is the nature of Kickstarter projects, prices only go up from there. Cassette tapes, on the other hand, can be found in bountiful quantities at your neighborhood Goodwill.

Watch SpaceX catch a rocket fairing on a ship at sea after it returns from space

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 05:14 AM PDT

SpaceX managed another first for its reusable rocketry efforts during its most recent launch when it caught part of the fairing in a giant net mounted on a boat named ‘Ms. Tree.’ The nosecone component, used to protect the Falcon Heavy’s cargo during its June 25 launch, typically is either lost or falls into the ocean where it can sometimes be recovered, albeit at great cost.

Now, we have video of the fairing returning back through the atmosphere, and of the actual moment the fairing touches down on the barge, captured by onboard cameras set-up by SpaceX . The fairing return video, below, gives you a good sense of what it’s like when one of these components returns to Earth in terms of the stresses that are on the hardware from the extreme heat generated by friction from the Earth’s atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the video of the fairing touching down on Ms. Tree isn’t quite as dramatic – you basically only see the net change shape slightly as the parachute-guided hunk of metal shielding touches down.

Recovering it means not “throwing away $6 million” according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX has already reduced its launch costs for Falcon 9 rockets from around $62 million to about $50 million by making use of “flight proven” (read: previously used) booster cores, and its Falcon Heavy rockets also save by reflying boosters, with total launch costs ranging from between $90 million and $150 million depending on whether it’s a reusable or expendable configuration. Saving another $6 million by being able to consistently recapture and re-fly fairings would be a significantly positive bump fo the bottom line.

That said, SpaceX still has to demonstrate its ability to actually refurbish and re-fly a fairing once recovered, and it’s also only managed to make this catch once so far, so it’ll need to show it can do it consistently to realize this part of its reusable rocket approach.

BMW and Daimler partner on autonomous driving, first results of team-up in market by 2024

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 04:43 AM PDT

Global automakers BMW and Daimler will join forces in a new long-term partnership to co-develop automated driving technologies, including levels of automation all the way up to SAE Level 4, which is defined as full self-driving, no human intervention required, but only under exactly defined conditions or domains – steering wheel and brakes not necessarily even present I the car.

This BMW/Daimler partnership includes developing automated driving technologies that precede Level 4, too, including advanced driver assistance features like smart cruise control and automated parking. And while it isn’t in scope of this specific arrangement, the two car makers also say that talks continue about expanding their cooperation to cover highly-automated driving within denser urban areas and in city driving conditions.

It’s a non-exclusive arrangement, which is the new normal in autonomous vehicle technology development, where cross-manufacturer partnerships have been increasingly common, and where we’ve also seen legacy automakers turn with fair frequency to startups and younger technology companies to supplement their in-house development efforts.

Daimler and BMW aim to develop a “scalable platform for automated driving” through their combined efforts, which the companies say is open for participation form both other automakers and tech providers. The resulting platform will also be made available to other OEMs under license.

Independently, Daimler is currently working on deploying its first Level 4/Level 5 self-driving vehicle pilot program in an urban environment in partnership with Bosch, and aims to have that operational this year. BMW’s next big automated driving push will be alongside its iNEXT lines of vehicles, with Level 3 technologies targeted release along with the first of those models in 2021. Both partners expect to implement the results of this partnership specifically in their own respective model series vehicles beginning in 2024, however.

Ola gets a taxi license in London and plans to launch services in September

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 04:19 AM PDT

London is one of the world’s biggest markets for consumers that travel using ride-hailing services. Is it now also becoming one of the most crowded when it comes to the companies offering the transportation, too? Today, India’s Ola confirmed that it is the latest of the wave of app-based ride-hailing providers to receive a license to operate in London. A spokesperson told TechCrunch that Ola expects to kick off its services two months from now, in September.

“Ola has been granted a PHV operator license by TFL,” an Ola spokesperson said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. "London is one of the world's most iconic cities and hosts a progressive mobility environment.  We couldn’t be more excited to bring Ola to London in the time ahead! We are looking forward to building world-class mobility offerings for London, by collaborating with drivers, riders, the government and local authorities. Londoners will hear more from us closer to our launch in the city, as we get ready to serve them."

Ola’s international push is an interesting shift for the company, which (like Lyft) was one of the early ride-hailing startups to commit to a strong focus as a regional leader at a time when its arch competitor Uber was burning hundreds of millions of dollars to expand internationally in multiple markets around the world.

And the news of Ola’s London license is not the only international news for the company this week: it comes at the same time that Ola Electric, the company’s spun-out electric vehicle business, has hinted that it will soon be coming to Latin America.

Ola launched in the UK in 2018 and currently operates ride-hailing services in five regions that cover several of the UK’s bigger cities: South Wales (Cardiff, Newport and Vale of Glamorgan), the South West (Bath, Bristol, Exeter, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire), Merseyside (Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and The Wirral), West Midlands (Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton) and Reading.

London is a significant addition to that list for a couple of reasons. One is because of its size, against which the rest of that list is dwarfed; and two is because Transport for London (TfL), the city’s transportation regulator, has over the years proven to be a strict custodian when it comes to issuing licenses to taxi companies, and subsequently enforcing the operating rules that it sets for them — not least because of the lobbying of the city’s black cab drivers, who have staged numerous protests over Uber’s practices:

London’s black cab drivers block Whitehall during a demonstration over the regulation private hire cars using the Uber app in London on April 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

TfL’s actions have led to one provider, Bolt (née Taxify), shutting down its service for 22 months before starting up again last month. Prior to that, Uber found itself in legal hot water, too, when TfL refused to renew its license unless it drastically changed its practices. (Today, Uber operates under a provisional permit as TfL continues to monitor it in competition with other providers.)

The news of Ola getting a London operating license comes at a time when the company — backed by nearly $4 billion from investors that include Didi, Softbank, Accel, Sequoia, Kia and nearly 60 others — continues to add to its international footprint after years of building its service in India, which accounts for the vast majority of the 125 million customers that have taken trips with Ola to date.

The company’s spun-out electric vehicle business, Ola Electric, yesterday announced that it had raised $250 million from Softbank at a $1 billion valuation. While one reason for building Ola Electric is to help meet demand for lower emissions in India, a second track is to use that EV business to take Ola abroad — and specifically to Latin America, according to this exchange between Softbank International CEO and group COO Marcelo Claure and Ola’s founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal.

An Ola spokesperson said that for now, in London the focus will be on rolling out a more standard service akin to what Ola provides in the UK today, and also what you get today from other London ride-hailing providers like Uber, Bolt and many smaller mini-cab firms that have built up networks of drivers who work as contractors on the service using their own vehicles.

In India, Ola is the dominant ride-hailing service provider. In addition to the UK, oher markets where it operates outside of its home country are Australia (where it has services in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and the Gold Coast), and New Zealand (Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch).

Q&A Sessions return to Disrupt Berlin 2019

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 02:00 AM PDT

Some of the world's most fascinating names and leaders in tech startup and investing come to our Disrupt Main Stage to discuss big-picture topics. And that tradition continues at Disrupt Berlin 2019 on 11-12 December.

But what happens when you want to dig into a specific technology or emerging trend? You head for a Q&A Session. These sessions — featuring many of the same folks you'll hear on the Main Stage and moderated by TechCrunch editors — take place in a smaller, more intimate setting.

Hold up a sec. Don't have your Disrupt Berlin pass yet (insert vinyl record scratch here)? Buy your super early-bird ticket now and score super savings.

Q&A Sessions are a series of lively discussions where audience members get to ask panels of subject-matter experts their most pressing questions. They'll cover a range of pivotal, thought-provoking topics related to Disrupt Berlin's category tracks — Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Gaming, Investor Topics, Media, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS, Space and Social Impact & Education.

You'll find all the Q&A Sessions happening on the Extra Crunch Stage, our new home for fireside chats, panel discussions and plenty of actionable, how-to content and tips from successful founders and investors. We're talking stuff you can put into practice in your own startup. We named the stage after the subscription-based how-to content we create for our most engaged readers. It offers in-depth exclusive content on topics like startup-building fundamentals, resources and recommendations and unicorn deep dives. Curious? Learn more about our Extra Crunch content.

Pro Tips:

  • Unlike our Main Stage events, you must physically be in the room to attend a Q&A Session. We don't record or live-stream these sessions.
  • Get to your Q&A Session early. Space is limited, and admission is strictly first come, first served.
  • Sign up to get the latest Disrupt Berlin news.

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December. Buy your super early-bird tickets, unleash your curiosity — and your questions — and dig deep at our Q&A Sessions. We can't wait to see you in Berlin!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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