With long summer evenings comes the perfect opportunity to dust off your old boxes of circuits and wires and start to build something. If you’re short on inspiration, you might be interested in artist and engineer Dan Macnish’s how-to guide on building an AI-powered doodle camera using a thermal printer, Raspberry pi, a dash of Python and data set. “Playing with neural networks for object recognition one day, I wondered if I could take the concept of a Polaroid one step further, and ask the camera to re-interpret the image, printing out a cartoon instead of a faithful photograph.” about the project, called Draw This. To make this work, Macnish drew on Google’s object recognition neural network and created for the game Google Quick, Draw! Tying the two systems together with some python code, Macnish was able to have his creation recognize real images and print out the best corresponding doodle in the Quick, Draw! data set But since output doodles are limited to the data set, there can be some discrepancy between what the camera “sees” and what it generates for the photo. “You point and shoot – and out pops a cartoon; the camera’s best interpretation of what it saw,” Macnish writes. “The result is always a surprise. A food selfie of a healthy salad might turn into an enormous hot dog.” If you want to give this a go for yourself, Macnish has uploaded the instructions and code needed to build this project.
Smart speaker maker has filed to go public. In , the company says it’s aiming to raise up to $100 million in the IPO. However, that number may simply be a placeholder, or it could change as the IPO approaches. Sonos says that as of March 31, it’s sold a total of 19 million products to 6.9 million households, with customers listening to 70 hours of content each month. Revenue is growing — in the six months ending on March 31, the company brought in $655.7 million, up 18 percent year-over-year. In its most recent full fiscal year (2017), it brought in $992.5 million in revenue, an increase of 10 percent from 2016, while its net loss shrank from $30.9 million to $15.6 million. Looking at the broader landscape, Sonos emphasizes its role as an independent player that can work with music streaming services like Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify and TuneIn. It also points to the opportunity presented by growing interest in voice assistants — Sonos released its first voice-enabled speaker, , last year, but rather than building its own assistant, it integrates with Amazon Alexa and has plans to add support for Apple’s Siri (via Airplay 2) and Google Home this year. “Our system is not — and never will be — an entry gate into a walled garden,” writes CEO Patrick Spence. “We’re deeply committed to keeping Sonos open to every voice assistant, streaming service and company that wants to build on our platform. This approach is unique in our industry, and it requires substantial investment and long-term thinking.” In terms of risk factors, the company points to its history of losses, the unpredictability of its revenue growth and the fact that it operates in “highly competitive markets” and is “dependent on partners who offer products that compete with our own.”
The Model 3 can now park itself. Called Summon, the feature is now available on the company’s new sedan. It’s a clever feature that takes advantage of the vehicle’s connectivity and autonomous driving capabilities. With Summon owners can command their Model 3 to pull into a parking spot and power down. It can even control garage doors — all without a driver behind the wheel or controlling the vehicle remotely. added the feature to Model S and Model X vehicles last year. Note, no one is in the car or controlling remotely. Car is driving entirely by itself. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) This is the latest feature added to the Model 3 after its launch. The company is in a frenzy to keep up with production goals and the nature of the Model 3’s connected platform allows the company to added features to already-built vehicles.
Welcome to . Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions. Over the last couple weeks TechCrunch reviewed computer bags. We featured waxed canvas bags, camera backpacks, trail-ready commuter bags and bags designed with women in mind. Here’s a round-up of most of the bags. Did we fail to feature your favorite bag? Drop a comment below or email TechCrunch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to a supply chain report, Apple is preparing to release three iPhone lines this fall. One, a 5.8-inch iPhone X with improved specs and lower price. Two, a new 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus with an OLED screen. And three, a 6.1-inch iPhone with Face ID, which is said to come in a variety of colors including grey, white, blue, red and orange. Ming-Chi Kuo reports, via , that the 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus is said to take the $1000 price point from the iPhone X. This will cause the next iPhone X to be less expensive than its current incarnation. The colorful 6.1-inch iPhone will be the least expensive model with a price tag around $700. Information about storage was not included in the report. The least-expensive iPhone is said to resemble the iPhone X and include FaceID though Apple might concede the dual-camera option to the higher price models. The analyst expects this $700 option to account for 55% of new iPhone sales and increase through 2019. If the part about the colors is correct, Apple is set introduce a slash of color to the monochrome phone market. Currently, phones are mostly available in greys and blacks with most vendors offering a couple color options through special editions. That’s boring. Apple tried this in the past with its budget-minded iPhone 5c. Making its best-selling model available in colors is a distinct shift in strategy. It’s highly likely other firms such as Samsung and will follow the trend and push the smartphone world into a rainbow of colors.
Damn. These are good looking headphones. The V-Moda Crossfade II Wireless could be the best looking headphones available. Better yet, they sound good, too. As the name suggests, this is the second generation of this series of headphones from V-Moda. The drivers are different and the company improved on the build quality. The originals were already one of my favorite headphones and the followup is even better. [gallery ids="1667954,1667951,1667952,1667950,1667953,1667955,1667956"] Here’s what I like: The build quality of these headphones is superb. The V-Moda Crossfade II Wireless headphones feel like they’ll last a lifetime. I have headphones from Bose, Definitive, Denon, Shinola, Audeze and more and none look or feel as good as these. They’re comfortable. Even on my large head, they fit nicely and I’m able to wear them for hours at a time without issue. The headphones sound great, too. To be clear, they’re not the best sounding headphones available, but the sound is on par for the price. The sound stage is full and wide with great separation between the channels. The V-Moda Crossfade II Wireless are most comfortable with the mid tones found in rock, country, jazz and pop. That’s not to say low and high tones are absent; they’re present but not noteworthy. The headphones are balanced nicely with a preference to sounds in the middle of the range. I always use a few tracks to test headphones. Save Tonight by Eagle-Eye Cherry is one of them. The track is mixed in a way that produced a narrow soundstage. On headphones the audio can be either muddled or clean. On these headphones, it’s closer to clean but not perfect. The lyrics come across clear while the instruments are a bit blended. 4 Non Blondes’ What’s Up sounds fantastics. You can hear the strumming of the guitars and feel the emotion of the band. The Cranberries’ Linger is more of the same. It’s just lovely on these headphones. The wide soundstage is put on display for Look At Me Now. Busta sits in the middle and his lyrics flow in the middle while the beat comes in from the sides. Reproduced correctly, it’s an immersive experience and these headphones do it correctly. Meek Mill’s Dreams and Nightmares is another great example. These headphones put Meek in the center of the stage while the piano tracks sits on the side of the stage. The headphone’s tuning makes the track a stunning example of properly tuned headphones. These headphones get loud. They’re among the loudest headphones I’ve tested. And since the headphones lack active noise cancelation, that’s a good thing. I’m pleased to report, there is very little distortion when the headphones are at their max volume. Wireless battery life is excellent. V-Moda claims 14 hours. I used these headphones for several days and never found the bottom of the battery. That’s good enough for me. Here’s what I don’t like: The headphones lack on key feature: They keep playing when taken off. That’s a big no-no and an unfortunate miss from V-moda. It’s not a dealbreaker, though. These are wireless headphones and therefore they have a limited battery life even though they have great battery life. Such headphones need to have the ability to stop playing audio when removed from the head. Bottom line: The headphones are available in several colors through retailers or buyers can use V-Moda’s customizer to build a custom pair. Want a set of headphones with 14k gold plated side plates? That’s an option though it adds hundreds to the cost. Platinum headphones? That’ll cost $26,000. I love the V-Moda Crossfade II Wireless headphones. These are great headphones and I whole heartily recommend them. At $350, they punch above their weight class. These are solid headphones with a build quality that seem like they’ll last longer than other options.
The Fourth of July will be a little different tomorrow at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. Instead of fireworks, 500 Shooting Star drones will take to the sky to perform an aerial routine in honor of the holiday and the base’s 75th anniversary. These are the same drones that preformed at , and the Olympics. One person controls the fleet of drones thanks to a sophisticated control platform that pre-plans the route of each drone. Intel engineers told me that the system can control an unlimited amount of drones. In the version I saw, the drones used GPS to stay in place and the drones lacked any collision detection sensors. It’s an impressive show of technology. I was in attendance for the first show at Disney World and the drones are a wonderful alternative to fireworks. Sure, fireworks are a Fourth of July tradition, but they can’t do the things these drones can do, plus, because they’re much more quiet, more people can enjoy the show.
. The company of today is not the company that helped start the smartphone revolution. That’s a shame, too. In the early years of the smartphone, HTC released some of the best devices available. Here’s a look back at ten of the company’s most iconic devices.
the company behind the wild L16 camera, is building a smartphone equipped with multiple cameras. , the company is prototyping a smartphone with five to nine cameras that’s capable of capturing a 64 megapixel shot. The entire package is not much thicker than an iPhone X, the Post reports. The additional sensors are said to increase the phone’s low-light performance and depth effects and uses internal processing to stick the image together. This is the logical end-point for Light. The company introduced the $1,950 L16 camera back in 2015 and . The camera uses sixteen lenses to capture 52 megapixel imagery. The results are impressive especially when the size of the camera is considered. It’s truly pocketable. Yet in the end, consumers want the convenience of a phone with the power of a dedicated camera. Light is not alone in building a super cameraphone. that rocks a modular lens system and can be used as a viewfinder for RED’s cinema cameras. Huawei also just released the P21 Pro that uses three lenses to give the user the best possible option for color, monochrome and zoom. Years ago, Nokia played with high megapixel phones, stuffing a 41 MP sensor in the Lumia 1020 and PureView 808. Unfortunately addtional details about the Light phone are unavailable. It’s unclear when this phone will be released. We reached out to Light for comment and will update this report with its response.
Some Samsung users are complaining that their smartphones randomly sent photos and scheduled texts to contacts. According to posts on Reddit and Samsung’s official support boards , the devices affected include the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy Note 8. Their owners say that Samsung Messages, the default texting app for Galaxy devices, pushed photos and scheduled texts to random contacts, but left no record of the messages being sent. One Reddit user sent his entire photo library to a contact in the middle of the night while he was asleep (fortunately, that contact was his partner). The poster says that even though there was no evidence of the mass photo sharing in Samsung Messages, it showed up on his T-Mobile logs. He also added that he has never used the Shared tab in Samsung Gallery app, which lets users send photos through messaging apps, email or social media without leaving their photo gallery. The issue also appears to be affecting some text messages. On , a user said Samsung Messages became buggy after an T-Mobile RCS/advanced messaging update on his phone. Errors included scheduled text messages ending up in the wrong threads. Many complaints posted online are from people who said they are customers and recently updated Samsung Messages, leading to a theory that the issue may have been triggered by the carrier’s recent RCS (Rich Communication Services) updates. RCS is supposed to improve texting by like group chat, video and GIF support and file and location sharing. Since several accounts said photos had been randomly sent to partners or family members, there is also speculation that the problem affects shared plans. In a statement, a Samsung spokesperson said “We are aware of the reports regarding this matter and our technical teams are looking into it. Concerned customers are encouraged to contact us directly at 1-800-SAMSUNG.” TechCrunch has also reached out to T-Mobile for comment. The carrier told Gizmodo that “it’s not a T-mobile issues” and asked users to contact Samsung. There are currently two fixes if you are worried about the issue affecting your device. First, you can go into its app settings and revoke Samsung Message’s ability to access your storage, which means it won’t be able to send anything stored on your phone, including photos. This may be a pain, however, because it means if you do want to send photos or files through the app, you need to restore permission in settings again. The second fix is to stop using Samsung Messages until the company says the issue has been resolved and switch to a third-party messaging app instead.
Welcome to . Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions. The impresses. I used it during a muddy week at Beaumont Scout Reservation and it performed flawlessly as a rugged, bike-ready backpack. It stood tall in the miserable rain and insufferable heat that engulfed northern Ohio during the camping trip. If it can withstand these conditions, it can withstand an urban commute. For those following along, Bag Week 2018 ended a week ago. That’s okay. Consider this as bonus content. Before publishing a review on this bag, I wanted to test it during a camping trip, and last week’s trip provided a great testing ground for this bag. [gallery ids="1667188,1667180,1667181,1667189,1667187,1667185,1667183,1667184"] Osprey markets the Momentum 32 as an everyday pack with a tilt toward bicyclists. There’s a clip on the outside to hold a bike helmet and a large pocket at the bottom to store bicycle shoes — or just another pair of shoes. The back panel features great ventilation and the shoulder straps have extra give to them thanks to integrated elastic bands. It’s the ventilated back panel that makes the pack stand out to me. It’s ventilated to an extreme. Look at me. I’m in my mid-thirties and on a quest to visit all of Michigan’s craft breweries. I sweat and it was hot during my time with this bag. This bag went a long way in helping to keep the sweat under control — much more so than any other commuter bag I’ve used. There was never a time when I was using this bag that I felt like a sweaty dad, even though the temp reached into the 90s. I appreciate that. The internal storage is sufficient. There’s a good amount of pockets for gadgets and documents. There’s even a large pocket at the bottom to store a pair of shoes and keep them separated from the rest of the bag’s contents. As any good commuter bag, it has a key chain on a retractable cord so you can get access to your keys without detaching them from the bag. The bag also has a rain cover, which saved me in several surprise rain showers. The rain cover itself is nothing special; a lot of bags have similar covers. This cover is just part of a winning formula used on this bag. The Osprey Momentum is a fantastic bag. It stands apart from other bags with extreme ventilation on the back panel and features cyclist and commuters will appreciate.
My friends and I collaborate on independent films in our spare time to break the monotony of daily routine. It’s a daunting task, but it’s a labor of love, even when the end result isn’t an epic piece of cinema. Equipment, however, is expensive, and often we found ourselves improvising, like using $5 IKEA lamps and frosted shower curtains to light scenes. And now with Apple touting iPhone X’s video camera capabilities and a slew of companies making gimbals and lenses for them, filmmaking has become even more accessible to the average person. Freefly sent us a Movi gimbal to test out for a week. Instead of a straight review, the video team thought it would be fun to make a movie. By “make a movie,” I mean, we grabbed a bunch of gear from the studio and shot a short scene in the park (see above). The experience First of all, dogs are finicky little monsters, and we could’ve used a script supervisor, but on to the gear. We used: iPhone X Moment portrait lens Freefly Movi gimbal Zoom recorder Sennheiser boom microphone generic boom pole from Amazon (though, if you’re on a super-tight budget, you can substitute with a tree branch, duct tape and hair ties — I successfully tried this in college) Mounting the Moment lens on the iPhone X was a cinch, but balancing the Movi took a little practice. The Movi also included an app for adjusting the camera and gimbal settings. We weren’t able to use the Moment wide lens with the Movi because you can see the gimbal in the shot. Sliding it out of frame set the camera off balance, so we stuck with the portrait lens. We were later told Moment made counterweights to fix this issue. Video quality was… adequate. We weren’t able to lock down the same exposure for every shot on the iPhone X, so a lot of time was spent in Premiere Pro matching shots. Since we won’t be able to get our hands on the Moment anamorphic lens until later this month, we faked the 2:39:1 with some black bars, tossed on a LUT and added a little After Effects magic. People sometimes forget how important audio is, especially in our case, when we decided to shoot outdoors. Our windscreen wasn’t sufficient for harsh Bay Area wind. We should’ve picked up a dead cat windshield, but still, the Sennheiser shotgun did pretty well compared to iPhone X’s onboard recorder. Ultimately, we probably could’ve put in a little more effort in pre-production, but it was fun getting out of the office for an afternoon. Video quality was decent enough for a web series, but we’re not quite ready for Sundance or Cannes.
Right now, the cable that comes with a new iPhone does not plug into a new MacBook Pro without a dongle. #donglelife is for real. If , though, that wrong might soon be righted. Photos have surfaced showing what is an engineering prototype of an 18 W USB-C charger, which is supposedly to be bundled with the next iPhone. If correct, this will let owners take advantage of the iPhone’s fast charging capabilities without purchasing anything else. Plus, it will let users connect the iPhone to a MacBook Pro out of the box. , too, though no photos ever surfaced to back up the claim. If true, this adapter will mark the first major change in the iPhone’s wall charger. Apple has long bundled a 5W charger with the iPhone. It works fine, but does not supply the phone with the necessary power to charge at its fastest possible speed. Even if the photos here show something other than an official Apple product, chances are Apple is readying something similar. show something similar. Apple included fast charging in the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X but didn’t include the necessary charger to take advantage of the technology. Owners have to buy a third party charger of the $50 30W charger from Apple.
Gather around, campers, and hear a tale as old as time. Remember the Dream? The Evo 4G? The Google Nexus One? What about the Touch Diamond? All amazing devices. The HTC of 2018 is not the HTC that made these industry-leading devices. That company is gone. It seems by cutting 1,500 jobs in its manufacturing unit in Taiwan. After the cuts, HTC’s employee count will be less than 5,000 people worldwide. Five years ago, in 2013, HTC employed 19,000 people. HTC started as a white label device maker giving carriers an option to sell devices branded with their name. The company also had a line of HTC-branded connected PDAs that competed in the nascent smartphone market. or Research in Motion as it was called until 2013, ruled this phone segment, but starting around 2007 HTC began making inroads thanks to innovated devices that ran Windows Mobile 6.0. In 2008 HTC introduced the Touch line with the Touch Diamond, Touch Pro, Touch and Touch HD. These were stunning devices for the time. They were fast, loaded with big, user swappable batteries and microSD card slots. The Touch Pro even had a front-facing camera for video calls. HTC overplayed a custom skin onto of Windows Mobile making it a bit more palatable for the general user. At that time, Windows Mobile was competing with BlackBerry’s operating system and Nokia’s Symbian. None were fantastic, but Windows Mobile was by far the most daunting for new users. HTC did the best thing it could do and developed a smart skin that gave the phone a lot of features that would still be considered modern. In 2009 HTC released the first device with Google. Called the HTC Dream or G1, the device was far from perfect. But the same could be said about the iPhone. This first Android phone set the stage for future wins from HTC, too. The company quickly followed up with the Hero, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G and, in 2010, the amazing Nexus One. After the G1, HTC started skinning Android in the same fashion as it did Windows Mobile. It cannot be overstated how important this was for the adoption of Android. HTC’s user interface made Android usable and attractive. HTC helped make Android a serious competitor to iOS. In 2010 and 2011, Google turned to Samsung to make the second and third flagship Nexus phones. It was around this time Samsung started cranking out Android phones, and HTC couldn’t keep up. That’s not to say HTC didn’t make a go for it. The company kept releasing top-tier phones: the One X in 2012, the One Max in 2013, and the One (M8) in 2014. But it didn’t matter. Samsung had taken up the Android standard and was charging forward, leaving HTC, and to pick from the scraps. , HTC was the leading smartphone vendor in the United States. it trailed Apple, Samsung, and LG with around a 6% market share in the US. In 2017 HTC captured 2.3% of smartphone subscribers and , some reports peg HTC with less than a half percent of the smartphone market. Google in 2017 for $1.1 billion. The deal transferred more than 2,000 employees under Google’s tutelage. They will likely be charged with working on Google’s line of Pixel devices. It’s a smart move. This HTC team was responsible for releasing amazing devices that no one bought. But that’s not entirely their fault. Outside forces are to blame. HTC never stopped making top-tier devices. The HTC of today is primarily focused on the product line. And that’s a smart play. The HTC Vive is one of the best virtual reality platforms available. But HTC has been here before. Hopefully, it learned something from its mistakes in smartphones.
Lasers! Everybody loves them, everybody wants them. But outside a few niche applications they have failed to live up to the destructive potential that Saturday morning cartoons taught us all to expect. In defiance of this failure, a company in China claims to have produced a “laser AK-47” that can burn targets in a fraction of a second from half a mile away. But skepticism is still warranted. The weapon, dubbed the ZKZM-500, is as being about the size and weight of an ordinary assault rifle, but capable of firing hundreds of shots, each of which can cause “instant carbonization” of human skin. “The pain will be beyond endurance,” added one of the researchers. Now, there are a few red flags here. First is the simple fact that the weapon is only described and not demonstrated. Second is that what is described sounds incompatible with physics. Laser weaponry capable of real harm has eluded the eager boffins of the world’s militaries for several reasons, none of which sound like they’ve been addressed in this research, which is long on bombast but short, at least in the SCMP article, on substance. First there is the problem of power. Lasers of relatively low power can damage eyes easily because our eyes are among the most sensitive optical instruments ever developed on Earth. But such a laser may prove incapable of even popping a balloon. That’s because the destruction in the eye is due to an overload of light on a light-sensitive medium, while destruction of a physical body (be it a human body or, say, a missile) is due to heat. Existing large-scale laser weapons systems powered by parallel arrays of batteries struggle to create meaningful heat damage unless trained on targets for a matter of seconds. And the power required to set a person aflame instantly from half a mile away is truly huge. Let’s just do a little napkin math here. The article says that the gun is powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the same in principle as those in your phone (though no doubt bigger). And it is said to be capable of a thousand two-second shots, amounting to two thousand seconds, or about half an hour total. A single laser “shot” of the magnitude tested by airborne and vehicle systems is on the order of tens of kilowatts, and those have trouble causing serious damage, which is why they’ve been by those developing them. Let’s just pretend they work for a second, at those power levels — they use chemical batteries to power them, since they need to be emptied far faster than lithium ion batteries will safely discharge. But let’s say even then that we could use lithium ion batteries. The Tesla Powerwall is a useful comparator: it provides a few kilowatts of power and stores a few kilowatt-hours. And… it weighs more than 200 pounds. There’s just no way that a laser powered by a lithium-ion battery that a person could carry would be capable of producing the kind of heat described at point blank range, let alone at 800 meters. That’s because of attenuation. Lasers, unlike bullets, scatter as they progress, making them weaker and weaker. Attenuation is non-trivial at anything beyond, say, a few dozen meters. By the time you get out to 800, the air and water the beam has traveled through enough to reduce it a fraction of its original power. Of course there are lasers that can fire from Earth to space and vice versa — but they’re not trying to fry protestors; all that matters is that a few photons arrive at the destination and are intelligible as a signal. I’m not saying there will never be laser weapons. But I do feel confident in saying that this prototype, ostensibly ready for mass production and deployment among China’s anti-terrorist forces, is bunk. As much as I enjoy the idea of laser rifles, the idea of one that weighs a handful of pounds and fires hundreds of instantly skin-searing shots is just plain infeasible today. The laser project is supposedly taking place at the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Hopefully they give a real-world demonstration of the device soon and put me to shame.
Amazon is addressing one of the — support for Spotify’s streaming music service, with the option to filter out explicit lyrics. The news was announced on Friday alongside new content from Disney for the Kids Edition device. However, Amazon says the Spotify support would not be available until next week. Lack of access to one of the most popular streaming services was one of my personal with the Kids Edition. As a Spotify household, it was hard to use the device here because of its limited support for music services outside Amazon and iHeartRadio Family. Our favorite playlists and music was not available, because we don’t pay for Amazon’s on-demand music service. This will be a welcome change. When Spotify is enabled, Amazon says the explicit filter will also be turned on by default — but parents can turn it off on their FreeTime dashboard. Along with the support on the Kids Edition device, the update will also now allow Spotify customers who don’t subscribe to FreeTime the option to turn off explicit lyrics, as they already can do with Amazon Music and Pandora. In addition, Amazon says the Echo Dot Kids Edition is gaining a host of new content from Disney this week and next. It has already added a new kids skill called Disney Dailies that includes jokes and sketches taking place in the “Zootopia” world, which are updated every day. Next week, there also will be new character alarms featuring characters from Pixar’s “Coco,” Disney’s “Moana” and others. And Disney has updated its Daily Stories with stories from “Incredibles 2,” “Doc McStuffins,” “Wall-E,” “Moana” and more. The Kids Edition is a combo package of an Echo Dot with a protective case and a year of FreeTime Unlimited, which includes exclusive Alexa skills for Kids Edition owners, as well as other content, like games, apps, books and videos. It’s $79.99 on Amazon.
And there we have it: one of the emerging massively-hyped Scooter startups, has roped in its next pile of funding by picking up another $300 million in a round led by Sequoia Capital. The company announced the long-anticipated round this morning, with Sequoia’s Roelof Botha joining the company’s board of directors. This is the second round of funding that Bird has raised over just the span of a few months, in May to a $2 billion valuation by the end of June. In March, the company , but the Scooter hype train has officially hit a pretty impressive inflection point as investors pile on to get money into what many consider to be the next iteration of resolving transportation at an even more granular level than cars or bikes. New investors in the round include Accel, B Capital, CRV, Sound Ventures, Greycroft and e.ventures, and previous investors Craft Ventures, Index Ventures, Valor, Goldcrest, Tusk Ventures, and Upfront Ventures are also in the round. (So, basically everyone else .) Scooter mania has captured the hearts of Silicon Valley and investors in general — including Paige Craig, who —with a large amount of capital flowing into the area about as quickly as it possibly can. These sort of revolving-door fundraising processes are not entirely uncommon, especially for very hot areas of investment, though the scooter scene has exploded considerably faster than most. Bird’s round comes amid reports of , one of its competitors, with the company reportedly raising another $250 million led by GV, and Skip . “We have met with over 20 companies focused on the last mile problem over the years and feel this is a multi-billion dollar opportunity that can have a big impact in the world,” CRV’s Saar Gur, who did the deal for the firm, said. “We have a ton of conviction that this team has original product thought (they created the space) and the execution chops to build something extremely valuable here. And we have been long term focused, not short term focused, in making the investment. The “hype” in our decision (the non-zero answer) is that Bird has built the best product in the market and while we kept meeting with more startups wanting to invest in the space – we kept coming back to Bird as the best company. So in that sense, the hype from consumers is real and was a part of the decision. On unit economics: We view the first product as an MVP (as the company is less than a year old) – and while the unit economics are encouraging, they played a part of the investment decision but we know it is not even the first inning in this market.” There’s certainly an argument to be made for Bird, whose scooters you’ll see pretty much all over the place in cities like Los Angeles. For trips that are just a few miles down wide roads or sidewalks, where you aren’t likely to run into anyone, a quick scan of a code and a hop on a Bird may be worth the few bucks in order to save a few minutes crossing those considerably long blocks. Users can grab a bird that they see and starting going right away if they are running late, and it does potentially alleviate the pressure of calling a car for short distances in traffic, where a scooter may actually make more sense physically to get from point A to point B than a car. There are some considerable hurdles going forward, both theoretical and in effect. In San Francisco, though just a small slice of the United States metropolitan area population, the company is facing significant pushback from the government and scooters for the time being . There’s also the , though Gur said that it likely wouldn’t be an issue and “the unit economics appear to be viable even if tariffs were to be added to the cost of the scooters.” (, for example.)
That moment when you drop your phone and everything stops. You can hear your heart beat — the buzz of the world around you is silenced — all cognition stops — you see as if in slow motion the pirouette of your $700 piece of electronics toward the cement. How will it land? Will you get lucky this time? Or is this it? But if you had this case on it, you’d then see it spring horns and land with a jaunty bounce. , a bit like an airbag for your phone, is the brainchild of Philip Frenzel, an engineer at Aalen University in Germany. His idea won the top award from the German Society for Mechatronics, which considered projects from students all over the country, and you can see him explain its genesis . Frenzel, like me, doesn’t like compromising his phone’s aesthetic with some ugly protective shell, but he likes even less the shattered countenance that inevitably results from this aesthetic decision. Why not something that only deploys when the phone is in danger, then? He got to work. The activation mechanism he arrived at early: sensors that detect when the phone is in free fall and activate the next step. But what was that step? In his tinkering, he initially thought of installing an actual airbag mechanism on the phone. But that, and a foam-based alternative, and a few others, simply didn’t prove practical. Finally inspiration struck. Instead of something soft, why not something springy? Perhaps… springs. As you see above, what he arrived at is a set of eight thin metal curls that normally lie flat inside the case. But when released, they pop out and curl up, protecting the edges of the phone from impact and softening the blow considerably compared with a full stop on the concrete. When you pick up your (hopefully undamaged) phone, you simply fold the springs back into their holsters, priming them for their next deployment. Of course, there’s the consideration that having these things deploy while the phone is still in your pocket would be at best embarrassing and at worst rather painful. One assumes there are considerations in place for that — tapping into the phone’s proximity sensor, for instance, to see if it’s in a pocket or bag. Frenzel has already applied for a patent, and even printed T-shirts with a catchy logo. So this thing is practically for sale. Next stop: Kickstarter.
Makula Dunbar Contributor Makula Dunbar is a writer with . More posts by this contributor Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with . When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch earn affiliate commissions. When life gets busy, cooking is one of the first activities that many forego to get a bit more free time. However, after a while, ordering out and eating sub-par meals gets old. Kitchen gadgets that assist in quickly preparing meals and drinks are not only helpful but essential in creating balance — and time — to conquer the day. Whether it’s a cold brew coffee maker that saves you money or sous vide gear that’ll upgrade your chef skills, we’ve gathered some of our favorite appliances that are enjoyable to use — and that give you another reason to spend more time in the kitchen. The OXO Good Grips Spiralizer comes with three blade attachments (from left to right): a ⅛-inch spaghetti blade, a ribbon blade, and a ¼-inch fettuccine blade. Photo: Michael Hession Spiralizer: OXO Good Grips Spiralizer Thinking about the steps that go into making a really good salad or vegetable dish is enough to make some grab a take-out menu. If you always jump at the opportunity to cross chopping and dicing fresh vegetables off of your agenda, a is a simpler alternative to use when prepping food. The is our top recommendation; it creates noodles, ribbons and chips that can be used as garnish or a full meal. After you secure it to your countertop, choose a blade and select your vegetable (or fruit) of choice, this gadget does the majority of the work. Pile your zucchini noodles or butternut squash ribbons high and freeze them to be eaten later in the week. Personal Blender: NutriBullet Pro 900 Series Most would agree that the effort it takes to make a smoothie is usually more than worth it. After researching more than 24 models, we tested 10 and chose the as our top pick. Compared to other blenders we put to the test, it performed best powering through kale, frozen fruit, fresh ginger fiber and dates, as well as a mid-range full-size blender. It’s a great device to have on hand, it pays for itself and quickly produces whatever puree or smoothie you’re in the mood for. Consider an for soups and purees that you want to cook in a pot or that call for ingredients that won’t fit in a personal blender. Photo: Michael Hession Electric Pressure Cooker: Instant Pot Duo 6-Quart Aside from being able cook a meal — or the most time-consuming components of a meal — in one pot, the biggest perk of using an is finishing the task in a fraction of the time. The has three temperature settings and can be used for slow-cooking and sautéing. New cooks or those intimidated by stove-top pressure cookers can rest assured knowing that electric pressure cookers are safe, durable and easy to use. It’ll come in handy more often than not, as you can make almost anything, including stews, sushi rice, braised meat and even cake. Photo: Tim Barribeau Sous Vide Cooker: Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi When it’s time to impress your friends or do something in the kitchen that’s cooler than the norm, breaking out a will do the trick. The is an immersion circulator, which means it simultaneously circulates and heats water in which vegetables, eggs, steak, salmon, Greek yogurt and a list of other foods can be cooked. It clips to the side of a variety of containers and pots, and although it doesn’t require Wi-Fi to work, it enables its timer and temperature to be controlled from anywhere. You’ll need to vacuum seal your food before it’s cooked — and for a finishing sear we recommend using the searing torch. The OXO brewer makes flavorful, money-saving concentrate, looks good on a counter and is easier to use and store than any other pick. Photo: Michael Hession Cold Brew Coffee Maker: OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker If grabbing coffee at your local café has become a routine, making it at home can be a thing, too. There’s no better time than the summer to invest in a if waking up, getting out the door or surviving the day requires a caffeine boost. We like the because it’s compact and has a great design. More importantly, it produced the boldest, most flavorful cup of coffee during testing — plus, its features make brewing and storing coffee easy. Cold brew machines are the best option for iced coffee that’s otherwise diluted and weaker-tasting when it’s made from refrigerated coffee. This guide may have been updated by . Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.
has announced that it will no longer pursue its dream of building a gigantic, solar-powered plane to blast internet to underserved communities via laser. Surprisingly, it’s just not practical. on the company’s coding sub-site, Facebook’s Yael Maguire announced that “we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgewater.” Closing the facility comes with the loss of 16 jobs specific to the development and maintenance of the aircraft, the company confirmed to TechCrunch, though plenty relating to other aspects of the project were unaffected. The company will continue its work with partners, , to help advance “high altitude platform stations” (HAPS) like the Aquila. The program has been underway since 2014 ( seems to have been its real start) and , and had its — resulting in a “structural failure,” hard landing, and . The second test flight was , but far from perfect. The craft itself, an enormous flying V that stayed aloft at extremely low power draw replenished by solar cells, seems to have worked quite well, actually, despite a few hiccups. But Facebook isn’t the only company looking to get into low-power, high-altitude communications craft. “As we’ve worked on these efforts, it’s been exciting to see leading companies in the aerospace industry start investing in this technology too — including the design and construction of new high-altitude aircraft,” wrote Maguire. Considering the considerable scale of investment required to build a craft like this from scratch, and the vast gap in expertise and core competencies between a social network and a veteran aerospace company, it’s not surprising that Facebook decided to cut its losses. The decision was preceded by that the project had more or less stalled: its head head and chief engineer left last month after, from reading between the lines, efforts to double down on the project with a redesign and private hangar were rejected. The plan, like other ambitious connectivity ideas, some still in the offing, was conceived in a period one might call “peak Facebook,” when it was at the height of its growth, before it attracted nearly the level of criticism it faces today, and when its goals were lofty in several ways. No doubt the company plans to pursue “the next billion” in a way that isn’t quite so costly or unprecedented. Maguire does indicate that work will continue, just not in such a direct way: Going forward, we’ll continue to work with partners like Airbus on HAPS connectivity generally, and on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries. On the policy front, we’ll be working on a proposal for 2019 World Radio Conference to get more spectrum for HAPS, and we’ll be actively participating in a number of aviation advisory boards and rule-making committees in the US and internationally. It’s hard to fault Facebook for its ambition, though even at the time there were plenty who objected to this extremely techno-utopian idea of how internet could be delivered to isolated communities. Surely, they said, and will continue to say, that money would be better spent laying fiber or establishing basic infrastructure. We’ll see. I asked Facebook for more information, such as what projects specifically it will be backing, and what will happen to the IP and hardware the Aquila program comprised. Although a Facebook representative declined to answer my specific questions, they emphasized the fact that the Aquila project was both successful and wide-ranging; although an actual aircraft will no longer be part of it (that duty falls to actual aerospace companies), there were many other advances in transmission, propulsion, and so on that are still very much in active development. What exactly the company plans to do with those is still unclear, but we can probably expect news on that front over the next few months as the program adjusts focus.