All posts in “Operating System”

Volvo invests in autonomous vehicle operating system startup Apex.AI through its VC arm

Volvo is making an investment in Palo Alto-based Apex.AI, a startup working on developing a robotic operating system qualified for use in production automobiles. Apex.AI, founded by automated systems engineers Jan Becker and Dejan Pangercic, raised $15.5 million in a Series A last November, and revealed that its focus is on developing an enterprise-focused version of the Robot Operating System open-source middleware.

Apex.AI currently lists two products on its home page: Apex.OS and Apex.Autonomy. The former aims to provide a set of simple-to-integrate APIs that can give automakers and others access to fully certified autonomous mobility technology, while the latter is more focused on specific elements and components for those looking to make use of specific elements of autonomous technology, including perception, localization, path planning and more.

Volvo Group Venture Capital acting CEO Anna Westerberg, who is also the automaker’s SVP of Connected Solutions, said in a press release announcing the news that Volvo Group is “excited to invest in a company that enables easier development of safety-certified systems.” In providing systems that comply with industry-standard safety requirements, Apex.AI could potentially help speed the process of getting autonomous driving systems into production vehicles, across both its commercial and consumer offerings.

The financial details of the investment were not disclosed, with publicly traded Volvo Group saying only that it “has no significant impact” on the overall company’s “earnings or financial position,” which doesn’t mean much, except that it’s not material enough to require a detailed disclosure just now. That still could mean a lot of money coming in for Apex.AI, given the relative yardstick of “material” for a huge multinational automaker, and a two-year-old Silicon Valley startup.

Huawei calls hackers to Munich for secret bug bounty meeting

Chinese tech giant Huawei has asked some of the world’s best phone hackers to a secret meeting in Munich later this month as the company tries to curry favor with global governments, TechCrunch has learned.

Sources with knowledge of the November 16 meeting said Huawei will privately present its new bug bounty program, which would allow researchers to get financial rewards for submitting security vulnerabilities. The sources said the bug bounty will be focused on past and future mobile devices, as well as its new mobile operating system, HarmonyOS, Huawei’s Android competitor.

Other phone makers, including Apple, Google, and Samsung, also have bug bounties.

The move comes at a time of increased pressure on Huawei over its links to the Chinese government. Huawei has denied U.S.-led claims that it could be forced to spy on behalf of Beijing. But that hasn’t stopped the federal government from imposing sanctions and obstacles from operating in the United States. That pressure has led companies like Google from pulling its support for Android, which Huawei relies on for its phones, prompting the tech giant to find or build alternatives.

One source described the event as similar to a secret meeting hosted by Apple in August, in which the tech giant handed its most prized security researchers special “dev” iPhones to hack and find security weaknesses.

The source said that Huawei’s bug bounty meeting was likely a way to show governments that it’s willing to work with hackers and security researchers to bolster the security of its products.

Huawei, which also makes networking equipment for telecom networks, came under fire by U.K. authorities earlier this year for failing to address “serious and systematic defects” in its software at a time it’s trying to prove it’s technologies are do not pose a national security threat.

Chase Skinner, a spokesperson for Huawei, did not respond to a request for comment.

Tesla finally has Spotify, but there are other hacks for the Model 3 screen

I didn’t realize how much I rely on texting until I couldn’t access my messages while in a Tesla. Yes, I could make calls after I connected my iPhone to the car infotainment system in a (borrowed) Model 3 and use the Tesla voice control. But texting wasn’t an option unless I took out my phone, which wasn’t going to happen while driving. 

Tesla’s big draw is that you don’t need your phone mounted to the dash. The central touchscreen and operating system provides everything you need in one place: navigation, traffic, voice control, phone calls, music, podcasts, and much more. But no texting.

I wasn’t the only one frustrated. For years, voice texting and message reading abilities have been highlighted as “missing” Tesla features. Along with Waze features, Apple Music integration, and other console skills, YouTube videos, Reddit pages, and Tesla forums are filled with tricks and tips to push the boundaries of Tesla’s operating system.

Until last week, adding Spotify was a top request for the streaming music section of the all-electric vehicle. With the latest Tesla software update, known as V10, Spotify is finally directly built into the music player. 

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For YouTuber “Tesla Raj,” that means his workaround video for streaming Spotify is no longer needed. In a phone call this week, the 37-year-old Model 3 owner in the Bay Area said he wasn’t offended that the video is now useless. As a Tesla fan, he said he understands that Tesla is constantly going through a long list of priorities on how to improve the vehicles. Eventually this one made it to the top of the queue.

For other capabilities, he explained how some screen features are hidden or buried, like adding favorite locations to your navigation screen. “Sometimes what you’re looking for is there, but might not be one-click access,” he said in a call from his Navy blue Model 3 that he bought last year. Take this quick way to skip the update timer, no software or plugins needed:

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For other features, like multiple stop planning or Waze features like red light camera warnings, you need a legit workaround, at least until it’s available. Tesla CEO Elon Musk added Sentry Mode after much pleading from drivers back in February. Tesla over-the-air updates make the cars suddenly have a new set of skills, similarly to updating your iPhone to the latest iOS version.

But until Tesla or Musk himself prioritizes what the community wants, users like Raj and many others are figuring out how to take advantage of the Tesla interfaces, mainly through the car screen web browser. Now, video players from the V10 update (there’s Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Tesla video tutorials) are available as well. 

Finally.

Finally.

Image: tesla / mashable composite

Raj, who declined to give his full name, mentioned fellow YouTuber “MotherFrunker” as “someone who’s figured out a way to bring that information to you.” He said his third-party hacks for the car, (like calculator, weather, and notes apps for the central screen) are “making our cars more powerful.”

I came across MotherFrunker from his Tesla video for how to add a texting app to the Model 3. 

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In an online conversation with MotherFrunker, a 28-year-old technology teacher named Franklin in Toronto, the Tesla hack guru explained that he  based his hack on the web app he created for Tesla. It lets him see what tools and features are most popular. His web app has about 1 million page views. 

The top five tools people use in the Tesla through the MotherFrunker web browser page are maps (which includes a Waze workaround), calculator, games beyond the ones Tesla offers in its arcade, sticky notes, and weather. Franklin, who wouldn’t share his full name, separately built out the Tesla Tasker to automate features typically controlled through the Tesla mobile app.

A big caveat is that certain “hacks” or workarounds to add more functions to the Tesla console only work with Android, like with Franklin’s text message tool. “Android users once again have a huge advantage when it comes to being able to do really cool and fancy things with their Tesla,” Franklin said. For Apple users, the Tesla experience is less customizable. But hey, iPhone users got Siri to work with the Model 3 last year, so there’s hope yet.

Even as Tesla keeps adding skills and features to the operating system, there’s a never-ending list of requests that drivers want. Just look at Musk’s Twitter page:

Without Tesla making official updates and changes, YouTubers and other Tesla community members and fans stay plenty busy showing drivers how to make the car function just like they want. 

“I have and will continue to push the limits based on what we are given access to,” Franklin vowed.

Google releases Android 10

Android 10 is now available, assuming you have a phone that already supports Google’s latest version of its mobile operating system. For now, that’s mostly Google’s own Pixel phones, though chances are that most of the phones that were supported during the beta phase will get updated to the release version pretty soon, too.

Since the development of Android pretty much happens in the open these days, the release itself doesn’t feature any surprises. Just like with the last few releases, chances are you’ll have to look twice after the update to see whether your phone actually runs the latest versions. There are plenty of tweaks in Android 10, but some of the most interesting new features are a bit hidden and (at least in the betas) off by default.

The one feature everybody has been waiting for is a dark mode and here, Android 10 doesn’t disappoint. The new dark theme is now ready for your night-time viewing, with the promise of improved battery life for your OLED phone and support from a number of apps like Photos and Calendar. Over time, more apps will automatically switch to a dark theme as well, but right now, the number seems rather limited and a bit random, with Fit offering a dark mode while Gmail doesn’t.

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The other major tweak is the updated gesture navigation. This remains optional — you can still use the same old three-button navigation Android has long offered. It’s essentially a tweak of the navigation system the launched with Android Pie. For the most part, the new navigation gestures work just fine and feel more efficient than those in Pie, especially when you try to switch between apps. Swiping left and right from the screen replaces the back button, which isn’t immediately obvious, and a slightly longer press on the side of the screen occasionally opens a navigation drawer. I say ‘occasionally,’ because I think this is the most frustrating part of the experience. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The trick to opening the drawer, it seems, is to swipe at an angle that’s well above 45 degrees.

Also new is an updated Smart Reply feature that now suggests actions from your notifications. If a notification includes a link, for example, Smart Reply will suggest opening it in Chrome. Same for addresses, where the notification can take you right to Google Maps, or YouTube videos that you can play in — you guessed it — Youtube. This should work across all popular messaging apps.

There are also a couple of privacy and security features here, including the ability to only share location data with apps while you use them and a new Privacy section in Settings that gives you access to controls for managing your web and app history, as well as your ad settings in a slightly more prominent place.

The new Google Play system updates, the company can now also push important security and privacy fixes right to the phone from the Google Play store, which allows it to patch issues without having to go through the system update process. Given the slow Android OS upgrade cycles, that’s an important new feature, though it, too, is an evolution of Google’s overall strategy to decouple these updates and core features from the OS updates.

Two other interesting new features are still in beta or won’t be available until later this year, but Google prominently highlights Focus mode, which allows you to silence specific apps for a while and which is now in beta, and Live Caption, which will launch in the fall on Pixel phones and which can automatically caption videos and audio across all apps. I’ve been beta testing Focus Mode for a bit and I’m not sure it has really made a difference in my digital wellbeing, but the ability to mute notifications from YouTube during the workday, for example, has probably made me a tiny bit more productive.

Oh, and there’s also native support for foldable phones, but for the time being, there are no foldable phones on the market.

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Like with most recent releases, those are just some of the highlights. There are plenty of small tweaks, too, and chances are you’ll notice a few new fonts and visual tweaks here and there. For the most part, though, you can continue to use Android like you always have. Even major changes like the updated gesture controls are optional. It’s very much an evolutionary update, but that’s pretty much the case for any mobile OS these days.

Y Combinator graduate PredictLeads helps VCs hunt for unicorns

The Slovenian founders behind PredictLeads, another recent Y Combinator graduate, applied to the prestigious accelerator five times before they were admitted.

Their business, which helps venture capital firms and sales teams identify high growth companies, i.e. potential investments and potential customers, had come a long way since it was founded in 2016. And earlier this year — finally — YC gave them the green light to complete its three-month accelerator program.

“We almost ran out of money in 2017 and then I took a loan from my mother because that bank wouldn’t give me the loan at that point,” PredictLeads chief executive officer Roq Xever tells TechCrunch. “But by then, the data was getting much better and we were able to make higher-value sells and that got us to profitability.”

You read that right. Unlike most of today’s tech startups, PredictLeads is profitable, though, only out of pure necessity: “We didn’t know we would ever get into YC to raise the money we needed, so we structured the company to make more money than we spent.”

Xever leads the small PredictLeads team alongside marketing chief Miha Stanovnik and chief technology officer Matic Perovsek. Xever tells TechCrunch it wasn’t until they realized the opportunity to sell their product to VCs that YC became interested. Today, PredictLeads has eight venture firms as customers, the names of which they were not able to disclose.

The tool helps investors track companies they’ve considered in the past. PredictLeads notifies users if certain companies start getting traction so they can reevaluate the deal and helps investors become aware of startups they may not have otherwise heard of.

More and more venture capital firms are turning to third-party tools to help them make sense of and leverage data in the investment and company-tracking process, leading to the birth of new data-focused companies. Social Capital co-founder Chamath Palihapitiya is spinning out a company from his venture capital fund-turned-family-office, TechCrunch learned earlier this year. The new entity, temporarily dubbed CaaS (short for capital-as-a-service) Technologies, will focus on providing data-driven insights to VC firms, for example.

Startups have also realized the importance of data. Narrator, another recent YC graduate, is betting big on this trend. The startup wants to become the operating system for data science by providing companies software that claims to fulfill the same service as a data team for the price of an analyst.

PredictLeads, for its part, collects data from websites, press releases, news articles, blogs and career sites, then uses supervised machine learning to extract and structure the data. The startup tracks 20 million public and private companies.

Now that it’s a graduate of YC, the team is in the process of moving its headquarters to the U.S. Either New York or San Francisco, says Xever, who’s currently navigating the difficult visa application process.

The startup is today raising a $1.5 million seed financing at a $10 million valuation. They plan to use the capital to expand their service to cater to quant funds, build a Salesforce app to better support sales teams, and, of course, expand their small team.