All posts in “Technology”

Apple reportedly exploring acqui-hire of self-driving startup Drive.ai

Apple is potentially seeking to acquire Silicon Valley autonomous driving startup Drive.ai, according to a new report from The Information. The report describes the acquisition as in process, and says it will be an ‘acqui-hire,’ which means it’s primary goal is to bring in the talent of Drive.ai – with presumably special focus on the engineering talent of the self-driving tech company.

Drive.ai got its start in 2016, founded by a crack team of graduates from Stanford’s AI lab. It focused originally on building out not only the functional autonomy of driving systems, but also intelligent communications systems that would help self-driving vehicles better integrate with existing human drivers and pedestrians.

The company later raised more money with a business model shift focused on retrofitting existing fleets of commercial vehicles, and last year began testing its own self-driving pick-up and drop-off service in Frisco, Texas.

The Information reported earlier this year that Drive.ai started seeking potential buyers for the company after finding fewer options in terms of continued funding and independent operation. Apple, for its part, has had a spotty history with its own efforts around autonomous driving, with some high-profile leadership shifts on its so-called ‘Titan’ car project. It’s still actively testing vehicles on roads, but the scope and shape of its approach aren’t entirely clear.

We’ve reached out to both Apple and Drive.ai, who declined to comment to The Information regarding the original report, and will update if we hear back.

Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

How founders are taking on housing costs worldwide

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.

Sextech company scorned by CES scores $2M and an apology

Lora DiCarlo, a startup coupling robotics and sexual health, has $2 million to shove in the Consumer Electronics Show’s face.

The same day the company was set to announce their fundraise, The Consumer Technology Association, the event producer behind CES, decided to re-award the Bend, Oregon-based Lora DiCarlo with the innovation award it had revoked from the company ahead of this year’s big event.

“We appreciate this gesture from the CTA, who have taken an important step in the right direction to remove the stigma and embarrassment around female sexuality,” Lora DiCarlo founder and chief executive officer Lora Haddock (pictured) told TechCrunch. “We hope we can continue to be a catalyst for meaningful changes that makes CES and the consumer tech industry inclusive for all.”

In January, the CTA nullified the award it had granted the business, which is building a hands-free device that uses biomimicry and robotics to help people achieve a blended orgasm by simultaneously stimulating the G spot and the clitoris. Called Osé, the device uses micro-robotic technology to mimic the sensation of a human mouth, tongue and fingers in order to produce a blended orgasm for people with vaginas.

Lora DiCarlo’s debut product, Osé, set to release this fall. The company says the device is currently undergoing changes and may look different upon release.

“CTA did not handle this award properly,” CTA senior vice president of marketing and communications Jean Foster said in a statement released today. “This prompted some important conversations internally and with external advisors and we look forward to taking these learnings to continue to improve the show.”

Lora DiCarlo had applied for the CES Innovation Award back in September. In early October, the CTA notified the company of its award. Fast-forward to October 31, 2018 and CES Projects senior manager Brandon Moffett informed the company they had been disqualified. The press storm that followed only boosted Lora DiCarlo’s reputation, put Haddock at the top of the speakers’ circuit and proved, once again, that sexuality is still taboo at CES and that the gadget show has failed to adapt to the times.

In its original letter to Lora DiCarlo, obtained by TechCrunch, the CTA called the startup’s product “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with the CTA’s image” and that it did “not fit into any of [its] existing product categories and should not have been accepted” to the awards program. CTA later apologized for the mishap before ultimately re-awarding the prize.

At the request of the CTA, Haddock and her team have been working with the organization to create a more inclusive show and better incorporate both sextech companies and women’s health businesses.

“We were a catalyst to a huge, resounding amount of support from a very large community of people who have been quietly thinking this is something that needs to happen,” Haddock told TechCrunch. “For us, it was all about timing.”

Lora DiCarlo plans to use its infusion of funding, provided by new and existing investors led by the Oregon Opportunity Zone Limited Partnership, to hire ahead of the release of its first product. Pre-orders for the Osé, which will retail for $290, will open this summer with an expected official release this fall.

Haddock said four other devices are in the pipeline, one specifically for clitoral stimulation, another for clitoral and vaginal stimulation, one for anywhere on the body and the other, she said, is a different approach to the way people with vulvas masturbate.

“We are aiming for that hands-free, human experience,” Haddock said. “We wanted to make something really interesting and very different and beautiful.”

Next year, Haddock says they plan to integrate their products with virtual reality, a step that will require a larger boost of capital.

Haddock and her employees don’t plan to quiet down any time soon. With their newfound fame, the team will continue supporting the expanding sextech industry and gender equity within tech generally.

“We’ve realized our social mission is so important,” Haddock said. “Gender equality, at its source, is about sex. We absolutely demonize sex and sexuality … When you talk about removing sexual stigmas, you are also talking about removing gender stigmas and creating gender equity.”

Alibaba-backed facial recognition startup Megvii raises $750 million

One of China’s most ambitious artificial intelligence startups, Megvii, more commonly known for its facial recognition brand Face++, announced Wednesday that it has raised $750 million in a Series D funding round.

Founded by three graduates from the prestigious Tsinghua University in China, the eight-year-old company specializes in applying its computer vision solutions to a range of use cases such as public security and mobile payment. It competes with its fast-growing Chinese peers, including the world’s most valuable AI startup, SenseTime — also funded by Alibaba — and Sequoia-backed Yitu.

Bloomberg reported in January that Megvii was mulling to raise up to $1 billion through an initial public offering in Hong Kong. The new capital injection lifts the company’s valuation to just north of $4 billion as it gears up for its IPO later this year, sources told Reuters.

China is on track to overtake the United States in AI on various fronts. Buoyed by a handful of mega-rounds, Chinese AI startups accounted for 48 percent of all AI fundings in 2017, surpassing those in the U.S. for the first time, shows data collected by CB Insights. An analysis released in March by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence found that China is rapidly closing in on the U.S. by the amount of AI research papers published and the influence thereof.

A critical caveat to China’s flourishing AI landscape is, as The New York Times and other publications have pointed out, the government’s use of the technology. While facial recognition has helped the police trace missing children and capture suspects, there have been concerns around its use as a surveillance tool.

Megvii’s new funding round arrives just days after a Human Rights Watch report listed it as a technology provider to the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, a police app allegedly used to collect detailed data from a largely Muslim minority group in China’s far west province of Xinjiang. Megvii denied any links to the IJOP database per a Bloomberg report.

Kai-Fu Lee, a world-renowned AI expert and investor who was Google’s former China head, warned that any country in the world has the capacity to abuse AI, adding that China also uses the technology to transform retail, education and urban traffic among other sectors.

Megvii has attracted a rank of big-name investors in and outside China to date. Participants in its Series D include Bank of China Group Investment Limited, the central bank’s wholly owned subsidiary focused on investments, and ICBC Asset Management (Global), the offshore investment subsidiary of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Foreign backers in the round include a wholly owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, and Australian investment bank Macquarie Group.

Megvii says its fresh proceeds will go toward the commercialization of its AI services, recruitment and global expansion.

China has been exporting its advanced AI technologies to countries around the world. Megvii, according to a report by the South China Morning Post from last June, was in talks to bring its software to Thailand and Malaysia. Last year, Yitu opened its first overseas office in Singapore to deploy its intelligence solutions to partners in Southeast Asia. In a similar fashion, SenseTime landed in Japan by opening an autonomous driving test park this January.

“Megvii is a global AI technology leader and innovator with cutting-edge technologies, a scalable business model and a proven track record of monetization,” read a statement from Andrew Downe, Asia regional head of commodities and global markets at Macquarie Group. “We believe the commercialization of artificial intelligence is a long-term focus and is of great importance.”

As concerns over medical device security rise, MedCrypt raises $5.3 million

As medical devices move to networked technologies, securing those devices becomes increasingly important.

Regulators, seemingly late to the threat that unsecured medical devices posed, only began requiring protections for medical devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps two years ago, and since then new technology companies have leapt into the breach to begin providing security services for the healthcare industry.

Most recently, MedCrypt, a graduate from the most recent batch of Y Combinator companies, raised $5.3 million in a new round of funding, from investors led by Section 32, the investment firm founded by former Google Ventures partner Bill Maris.

Joining Maris’ firm were previous investors Eniac Ventures and Y Combinator itself.

“Internet-connected medical technology is entering the market at light speed, calling for devices to be secure by design, which leads to a heightened level of patient safety at all times,” said MedCrypt chief executive Mike Kijewski in a statement.

Securing patient data has been a longtime requirement for health technology companies, but both patient records and hospital networks are dangerously vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In 2018, more than 6 million patient records in the U.S. were exposed thanks to network intrusions and cyberattacks, according to the publication Health IT Security. And those were just in the 10 largest security breaches.

The healthcare industry has only managed to achieve 72% compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule for protecting patient data, according to an April report from CynergisTek.

Investors have recognized the problem and are investing more into companies focused on the healthcare market specifically. MedCrypt’s competition for these security dollars include companies like Medigate, which raised $15 million earlier this year.

While Medigate focuses on network security, MedCrypt is focused on securing devices themselves. Both security functions are critical, according to investors.

“With regulators appropriately taking a hard look at medical device security and the sheer growth in the number of devices being added to already complex clinical networks,” there is a significant opportunity for companies tackling medical device security, according to a statement from Dr. Jonathan Root, who has led several IT-enabled healthcare investments for USVP.