All posts in “Innovation”

Our favorite pitches from Alchemist Accelerator’s 16th batch

Alchemist Accelerator, known for its specialty in working with enterprise startups, held its 16th demo day at Microsoft’s offices in Mountain View, California. 18 startups pitched ideas ranging from more traditional marketplaces to frontier aerospace technology.

Addressing the packed auditorium before the pitches began, Ravi Belani, managing partner at Alchemist, reasserted his core mission to surface and support startups serving the unsexy corners of the enterprise. The 16th class of Alchemist did that vision justice, venturing into uncertain territory while remaining anchored to macro growth trends in blockchain and machine intelligence.

We spent the afternoon listening to the founders in the batch and are including some background on five of the pitches we found most interesting.

Three construction innovations that will change the way we build

A number of companies are competing to find ways to automate construction, using bricklaying robots and machines that can 3D print with concrete. 

These innovations are among the most successful prototypes whereby entire buildings were constructed using robots.

Reach Robotics closes $7.5M Series A for its augmented reality bots


After years of research and development, Reach Robotics has closed a $7.5 million Series A, co-led by Korea Investment Partners (KiP) and IGlobe, to bring its augmented reality bots to market in a big way. The Bristol-based startup is looking to expand into the U.S., and the team is exploring opportunities for growth into other European and Asian markets.

Reach Robotics’ first product, MekaMon, launched last fall. Today’s round comes after the company produced and sold an initial run of 500 of its four-legged, crab-like, bots. MekaMon fits into an emerging category of smartphone-enabled augmented reality toys like Anki.

Silas Adekunle, CEO of Reach Robotics, tells me the influx of capital will be used to make some strategic hires and increase brand recognition through marketing. This is the first time the startup has announced a funding round. Adekunle tells me his experience raising capital wasn’t easy; as they say, hardware is hard.

“It was hard to pitch in our early days because people didn’t believe,” explained Adekunle.

MekaMon sits somewhere between toy and full-fledged robot. Unlike the radio-controlled RadioShack robots of yesteryear, MekaMon costs a hefty $329. At first glance this can be hard to swallow, but Adekunle remains adamant that he is building a platform and not a line of toys — think PS4 instead of an expensive, single-use robot collecting dust on a shelf.

Outside of retail sales, another avenue for the company to make money is through partnerships within the entertainment industry. Adekunle says that Reach would never go out of its way to deliver a specific product for a client, but he always keeps an eye out for overlap where a partnership could occur with minimal operational changes.

“People are taken aback that something could be this realistic,” asserts Adekunle. “If you strip back the product and lose that, then you don’t have an innovative company.”

Because Reach is selling software-enabled hardware, it has the opportunity to collect all sorts of interesting data that it can use to fine-tune its products. The startup is able to track retention in aggregate and look at how people actually use their robots. Moreover, if MekaMon suffers leg failure, Reach can analyze indicators like temperature readings and torque.

Adekunle insists on keeping the Reach Robotics team interdisciplinary — one employee helped shape the way robots move in the Transformers movie series. This same team is focused on empowering the next group of developers who will build on the MekaMon platform and create new use cases, beyond the company’s initial vision for the product.

TrueFace.AI busts imposters in the facial recognition game

TrueFace.AI knows if it's looking at a real face or just a photo of one.
TrueFace.AI knows if it’s looking at a real face or just a photo of one.

Image: ian waldie/Getty Images

Facial recognition technology is more prevalent than ever before. It’s being used to identify people in airports, put a stop to child sex trafficking, and shame jaywalkers

But the technology isn’t perfect. One major flaw: It sometimes can’t tell the difference between a living person’s face and a photo of that person held up in front of a scanner. 

TrueFace.AI facial recognition is trying to fix that flaw. Launched on Product Hunt in June, it’s meant to detect “picture attacks.”

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The company originally created Chui in 2014 to work with customized smart homes. Then they realized clients were using it more for security purposes, and TrueFace.AI was born. 

Shaun Moore, one of the creators of TrueFace.AI, gave us some more insight into the technology.

“We saw an opportunity to expand our reach further and support use cases from ATM identity verification to access control for data centers,” said Moore. “The only way we could reach scale across industries would be by stripping out the core tech and building a platform that allows anyone to use the technology we developed.”

“We knew we had to focus on spoof detection and how we could lower false positives.” 

TrueFace.AI can detect when a face or multiple faces are present in a frame and get 68 raw points for facial recognition. But its more unique feature is spoof detection, which can tell real faces from photos.

“While working on our hardware, we tested and used every major facial recognition provider. We believe that doing that (testing every solution available) and applying facial recognition to a very hard use case, like access control and the smart home, allowed us to make a better, more applicable solution,” said Moore. “All of these steps led us to understand how we could effectively deploy technology like ours in a commercial environment.”  

They made their final product by using deep learning. They trained classifiers with thousands of attack examples they collected over the years, and liked the results.

A “freemium” package is available to encourage the development community that helped TrueFace.AI come up with a solution. Beyond that, the Startup Package is $99 per month while the Scale Package is $199 per month. An Enterprise Plan is available via a custom agreement with TrueFace.AI. 

While Moore couldn’t divulge exactly which companies are using the technology, he did say some of them are in the banking, telecommunications, and health care industries.

It’s a service that could become increasingly valuable as companies turn to facial recognition technology. 

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