Savioke, a robotics startup out of Sunnyvale led by the former CEO of the now-defunct but influential Willow Garage robotics startup, is announcing a seed round of funding today, $2 million from Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures, Google Ventures, Morado Venture Partners and other individual investors. It is planning to use the money to develop and build its first robot, an as-yet unnamed piece of hardware that will be focused on the services industry.
Why the services industry? CEO Steve Cousins says that he and his team see a “huge untapped opportunity” to target that vertical. “Hospitals, elder care facilities, hotels, restaurants, office services all provide large opportunities for robots to take on dirty, dull and dangerous work, improve process efficiency, reduce cost, and most importantly free up people to help other people,” he says. “We see the services industry as the next logical step for robotics, moving out from behind the fences in factories and out from research labs to provide value around people, where we live and work.”
I asked, but was told that there are not yet any models, names or other details available for the new services robot. What we do know is that it will be built on the open source robot operating system ROS, which was originally developed at Willow Garage under Cousins. Savioke says it plans to begin customer trials later this year.
Indeed, Cousins was at the startup at a significant time. In addition to creating the ROS, Willow Garage spun off some eight startups — Suitable Technologies (maker of the Beam remote presence system); Industrial Perception, Inc.; Redwood Robotics; HiDOF (ROS and robotics consulting); Unbounded Robotics; the Open Source Robotics Foundation; the OpenCV Foundation and the Open Perception Foundation. Two of those spinoffs, Industrial Perception, Inc. and Redwood Robotics, were eventually acquired by Google in 2013. It also created the PR2 robot as well as the open source TurtleBot.
Savioke, founded in 2013, was not strictly a spinoff, but it is nevertheless a Willow Garage off-shoot, with not only Cousins at the helm but a number of other staff also coming over (in fact, everyone but one of Savioke’s full-timers and an intern are ex-WG). Even its name seems to be a hat-tip to Willow Garage’s arboreal theme, pronounced “Savvy Oak.”
What’s interesting about the concept behind Savioke is that it’s a signal of how the robotics world, and those developing for it, are trying for more targeted products as the space continues to mature. “There’s a unique entrepreneurial excitement surrounding Silicon Valley’s robotics industry today, and much of that is due to the efforts of the team at Savioke,” noted AME’s Jerry Yang in a statement. “As the market for service robots continues to grow, AME is pleased to offer our support to Savioke.”
And, in a world where robotics are equal parts exciting and challenging businesses (the demise of Willow Garage is direct enough evidence of that) Cousins’ track record feels like a good bet for investors.
“As the lines continue to blur between industrial and personal robotics industries, Google Ventures is thrilled to be working with an exceptional group of people at Savioke,” noted Andy Wheeler, a general partner at Google Ventures. “Steve and his team already have had a lot to do with moving the robotics industry forward. The next act promises to be even more revolutionary.”
Lots of things can happen in 11 minutes. You can grill a nice steak, you can bake a pan of cookies, or you can raise over $400,000 to build an ultra-compact 3D printer that, for a brief period, cost a mere $199. Called the Micro, the printer smashed its Kickstarter goal of $50,000 and is now well on its way to becoming one of the most interesting projects on the site.
Created by a team in Bethesda, MD, the Micro originally sold for $199 for early birds and his since risen by $100. It’s a tiny printer, to be sure, with a 4.5 cubic-inch build volume and a special internal spool that holds the filament inside the printer’s case. It can build objects 4.5-inches high, which isn’t much but it’s enough to have a bit of fun.
Now, for the tough question: can M3D pull this off? The case for the printer itself should cost a little less than $20 and the extruder, pieced out separately, probably costs about $100 or so. A very simple extruder costs $65 retail, so you could reduce that price slightly. Shipping will cost a few dollars – probably 20 – depending on where it’s manufactured, so the $199 model was definitely a loss leader. That said, $299 is an entirely feasible price for a mini 3D printer.
The founders, Michael Armani and David Jones, have done something quite intelligent: they’re building a very bare-bones printer with some very interesting software. If this image is any indication, you’ll be able to search for an open-source object and print it right from the app. The app resizes the object and prepares it for printing and the wee printer does the rest. It also has a self-leveling print bed, an amazing addition at the price.
I doubt this will be the last $199 printer we see – the price will soon fall precipitously and when HP gets into the mix things will really change – but even at $299 this seems like a nice little entry-level device. Caveat emptor, though, because if this campaign takes off I’ll be very curious to see when and how these guys are able to ship all of the printers they sell.
See the original post here: The First $299 3D Printer Hits Its Kickstarter Goal In 11 Minutes
Over the last few weeks, all the major cloud providers announced large price drops for most of their services. Rackspace CTO John Engates said at the Cloud Factory conference in Banff, Canada, today, that this is yet another example of the commoditization of the cloud. It seems Rackspace doesn’t quite believe this is the way to go.
“People are dropping prices,” Engates said. “They are doing things that are in some ways not always the smartest things to do if you want to grow your business in the long run.” The current price wars, he argues, are nothing more than a race to the bottom.
He says those who most benefit from this right now are the early adopters, the companies that already run most of their applications on the cloud. The problem with that, though, is that most companies aren’t using public clouds yet. The big wave of cloud adoption is still to come, and those companies will look for more than just cheap cloud computing instances and storage.
“In the early cloud, you really need to know what you are doing,” Engates said. But big companies don’t always have the right expertise in-house, and those that want to make use of public clouds often still have to stitch those services together with their legacy systems.
When it comes to infrastructure and technology, Engates believes that those services will be commoditized and prices will continue to drop. Because of this, that’s not where the value is going to be. What businesses are looking for, however, is expertise and a community — especially given that many of the cloud services companies rely on having open source underpinnings.
For Rackspace, this means an investment in OpenStack and participating in the open-source community. The company has also decided to focus on DevOps, data and digital as the areas where it believes it can add a lot of value.
It’s worth noting that at least for the time being, Rackspace has not matched the latest price cuts from its competitors. In the long run, however, it will have to drop its prices, too.
Read the rest here: Rackspace CTO On Price Cuts And The Commoditization Of The Cloud
Not to be outflanked by rivals, Intel has released the $99 Minnowboard Max, a tiny single-board computer that runs Linux and Android. It is completely open source – you can check out the firmware and software here – and runs a 1.91GHz Atom E3845 processor.
The board’s schematics are also available for download and the Intel graphics chipset has open-source drivers so hackers can have their way with the board. While it doesn’t compete directly with the Raspberry Pi – the Pi is more an educational tool and already has a robust ecosystem – it is a way for DIYers to mess around in x86 architected systems as well as save a bit of cash. The system uses break-out boards called Lures to expand functionality.
Intel is interested in this space mostly because it has been out of it for so long. Raspberry Pi runs a Broadcomm system-on-chip with a 700Mhz ARM processor and is probably one of the most popular SBCs available. The Minnowboard brings Intel’s low-power Atom processor back into the hands of hackers and makes Intel relevant in that space again – at least that’s the goal.
Facebook has officially denied a claim by a New York Times source saying the social network will plaster its logo and interface onto the hardware of its new $2 billion acquisition Oculus.
The New York Times’ Nick Wingfield and Vindu Goel wrote ”According to a person involved in the deal who was not allowed to speak publicly because he was not authorized by either company, Facebook eventually plans to redesign the Oculus hardware and rebrand it with a Facebook interface and logo.”
A Facebook spokesperson tells me this is “not true and not in the spirit of our relationship [with Oculus].” The NYT source was likely referring to Oculus’ Rift virtual reality headset. The Oculus doesn’t exactly have a default interface but instead plays a variety of games and cinematic experiences, and Facebook hasn’t shown off any sort of virtual reality navigation system. So the idea of Facebook “rebranding” Oculus with its “interface” doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Facebook says it will allow Oculus to operate independently, similar to it says it runs Instagram, and plans to run WhatsApp — it’s two other biggest major acquisitions. That hasn’t kept Kickstarter backers of the Oculus for complaining about the acquisition.
Though Facebook may keep Oculus independent, that doesn’t mean the parent company will be completely uninvolved. It’s expected to contribute research and development funding, engineering talent, recruiting help, and more to Oculus similar to how Facebook did to supercharge Instagram.
[Image via The Daily Dot]
Let’s say you’re building an iOS app.
Your iOS app has lots of little animations, and you (or your designers) want to get the timing on those animations just right. Should that fancy expanding-drawer effect take half a second, or three-fourths of a second?
Normally, a developer would take a guess at the timing that seems right, compile their app, test, change, recompile, rinse, lather, repeat. Given that complicated apps can take quite a while to compile, those little changes start to gobble up your time. You start to hate the progress bar.
Why recompile for something so simple? And what if the person perfecting the timing is more of a designer than a coder? Should they have to dig about the source just to change the animation speed?
There are all kinds of shortcuts, of course. You could, for example, tie the animation speed’s variable to an on-screen slider, which any user running a pre-release copy of your app could adjust on-the-fly — but you’d have to manually code that in, and remember to take it out before release. It’s a completely valid option — but it’s not very standardized, and each thing you want to be able to change on-the-fly means extra lines of code. It could be better.
Facebook thinks they’ve done it better.
They’ve just released a library called “Tweaks”, which lets developers easily mark certain things — like the timing of an animation, or the color of a button, or the translucency of an image — as one that can change on-the-fly once the app is actually running on the device. The library tucks all of these tweakable variables into a snazzy little hidden settings screen, then cleans it all up when it’s time to actually release the app.
As Facebook puts it:
The best way to improve an app is to use it every day. Even when ideas can be tested out in advance — for example, with Origami — it can still take some time with the app to see how it works in practice.
Occasionally, it’s perfect the first try. Sometimes, the idea doesn’t work at all. But often, it just needs a few minor adjustments. That last case is where Tweaks fits in. Tweaks makes those small adjustments easy: with no code changes and no computer, you can try out different options and decide which works best.
When an application is compiled in debug mode, shaking the phone would bring up a screen that allows the user to muck with any settings the developer has exposed. When it’s compiled into its normal “release” mode (as in, when it’s prepped for the App Store), the “Tweak” value is replaced with a normal, unchangeable value, and that hidden configuration screen disappears for good. There’s very little extra code to add in, and very little to forget to remove.
The only real change a developer would have to make in their code: instead of hardcoding a value, they set that value to be a “Tweak”. In code speak, instead of:
CGFloat animationDuration = 0.5
CGFloat animationDuration = FBTweakValue(@”Category”, @”Group”, @”Duration”, 0.5);
So what’s the point?
For developers, it means being able to fine-tune applications faster and with less code. As an added bonus, it lets any of their designers who might not love to code help figure out the best settings without having to pop into the source or pester the dev team for a million new builds. Everybody wins! Hurray!
Facebook has released Tweaks on GitHub (for free under a rather non-restrictive BSD license) right over here.
The National Security Administration hacked Chinese networking giant Huawei and apparently gained access to the company’s source code, according to documents seen by The New York Times and the German publication Spiegel Online.
These latest leaked documents indicate that the NSA began an operation called “Shotgiant” against Huawei, the world’s second largest supplier of networking equipment behind U.S.-based Cisco Systems.
The U.S. has long been concerned that Huawei’s products were being used as a Trojan Horse enabling the Chinese government to spy on the networking company’s customers. Now, it appears that the U.S. government simply cut out the middleman in its own efforts to monitor the goings on around Huawei.
Not only did the U.S. security agency manage to intercept emails, but it also gained access to the company’s source code of specific products, according to the Spiegel report. That’s the crown jewels of any tech company — laid bare by America’s technology espionage apparatus.
Luckily for concerned netizens and corporations a spokeswoman for the U.S. assured the Times that any spying was only done for national security purposes.
“We do not give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” White House spokesperson Caitlin M. Hayden told the Times. “Many countries cannot say the same.”
Meanwhile, the unintended comedy of the situation was not lost on Huawei, whose spokesman issued the following statement to Spiegel:
“If it is true, the irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us,” [said Bill Plummer, Huawei spokesman]. “If such espionage has been truly conducted, then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation.”
In the last two months, tiny Silicon Valley startups have proven their ability to upset the well-laid plans of autocrats half a world away.
Just this week, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, failed spectacularly at banning Twitter, as local citizens found easy workarounds with tech tools, skirting blocks with tens of thousands of tweets mocking the impotent censors.
“I think that startups can perform functions once reserved to government, but they are well-served to be as educated as possible before they wade into foreign affairs,” Secretary Hilary Clinton’s former senior adviser, Alec Ross, writes to me.
The State Department is no longer the only bridge between a pajama-clad hacker and dissidents in the Middle East. Anyone with an Internet connection can wade into the dicey diplomatic waters of revolution, once reserved for governments. This new unregulated power has its promises and perils.
In Turkey, anti-censorship tech has thus far provided a safe and almost embarrassingly easy workaround for clumsy government censors. Erdoğan brazenly threatened to “wipe out” Twitter after courts approved a ban on the micro-blogging service for hosting anti-government content.
Almost immediately after the ban was instituted, information for workarounds spread virally. Twitter announced a text-messaged-based workout:
Citizens sprayed graffiti instructions to subvert censors through Google’s alternative routing system (DNS):
Mobile app downloads for software that secretly funnels traffic into servers outside of the host country (a virtual private network) spiked. The most popular, Anchorfree’s Hotspot Shield, went from 10,000 to 270,000 downloads in 12 hours, according to statistics provided by the company (screenshot of the Turkish app store below):
Free from the shackles of the government censors, Turkish users flooded Twitter with roughly 17K tweets a minute, breaking a new record, according to The Guardian. Below is a graph provided by Brandwatch of the number of tweets before and after the ban.
And, then, the mocking of the efforts to quash the service began:
“This is an attempt by Erdoğan to control an uncontrollable space,” Ross explained to me.
So far, anti-censorship tech has been safe and effective, but that might not last for long and it certainly doesn’t hold true for all countries.
Mission And Caution
Like many startup optimists, Anchorfree is out to change the world. “AnchorFree is a mission-driven company, with a mission to provide secure access to the world’s information for every person on the planet,” writes founder David Gorodyansky to me.
But, giving people access to the Internet can encourage unintentionally risky behavior. “I’d encourage Turkey’s Twitter users to be careful about how they access Twitter, even if access is restored. Syria also restored Twitter access just before the revolution and used it to identify protesters,” writes Ian Schuler, founder of Development Seed and a former State Department Official. Indeed, during last Summer’s protests, Turkish authorities arrested 25 dissidents for the high crime of using Twitter.
Skirting government censors has traditionally been a cat-and-mouse game with the select group of activists willing to fight back; cryptographers rarely design software to be used on the same country-wide scale as Angry Birds.
The go-to solution for activists has been less-than-user friendly, open-source apps such as TOR, a free set of tools for anonymous browsing. Many of the experts we spoke with only trust non-commercial software. Speaking about Anchorfree, Enrique Piracés of the human rights technology groupBenetech, wrote to me, “Their solution seems to be convenient and cost-effective, and some of their features are very clever, but unless there is access to the source code it is hard to think of it as secure or trustworthy solution.”
In other words, commercial products may sacrifice security for usability. Encryption was never meant to be a one-click process. Andrew Lewman, executive director of the TOR project, told me “Free and open source software at least gives someone the ability to review, improve, and audit the code on which the app is based.”
Ross, an adviser to Anchorfree, says that he believes the company has done its due diligence on the security side and that commercial products have an important role to play. “I understand the bias toward open source, but one ought not take a religious view on the question of what can best help dissidents.”
Indeed, it seems that in the heat of the moment, citizens-turn-dissidents just grab anything that’s available. One Venezuelan activist we spoke to described how he came upon anti-censorship tech during protests last February.
“The choice of the app in this case did not depend on the brand (because there are several apps that offer pretty much the same service)… It was just a matter of grabbing a VPN app to avoid the block the government was imposing! I just learned about this app when everything started (Feb. 12th). Before that… I just did not know about VPN apps. I just installed it and it worked perfect!”
The upshot is that the majority of users in these situations are novices and don’t completely understand the risks. Easily downloadable software is great for feeding the ranks of grassroots protests, but it puts the onus of security on startups.
Disaster and Calls to Action
“If a technology is not secure or a strategy is unsound, it can get people killed,” warns Ross.
Project Haystack was one such road to disaster paved with good intentions. When a 26-year-old Ohio-born hacker developed anti-censor tech for Iranian dissidents in 2010, he never thought it would paint a big red target on the backs of its users. After serious security holes were discovered, Haystack was immediately taken off the market. “If you have a copy of the test program, please refrain from using it,” the makers warned users.
At the mass scale of country-wide revolutions, awkwardly designed tools don’t cut it. Dissidents will grab whatever they can find, and that’s usually the same places they go to download Words with Friends. So, there’s a huge opportunity for startups to help, but it means also a margin of error is as thin as a knife’s edge.
“My advice is for startup activists to confer with officials in government not necessarily for approval,” says Ross, “but for situational awareness that can help inform their strategies.”
Follow this link: When Startups And Revolutions Collide
We aren’t supposed to get our mitts on Windows 8.1 Update 1 for more than a month yet, but it seems that a simple registry tweak is letting folks not only get their hands on the new code, but also get it straight from the source: Microsoft via Windows Update.
TechCrunch has confirmed with a trusted source that the tweak works, and that the update is material. The only potential issue at hand is whether the new software is the full Update 1 or a portion of it. This source, who is corroborated by others claiming to have executed the software update, confirmed that it allows for the pinning of Metro apps to the task bar, and that non-desktop apps now include an ‘X’ to allow for their simple closing.
Microsoft has not returned a request for comment.
You can find the details of how to execute the upgrade here. Standard rules: Your luck if you try this; brick your PC and I will have no pity. Also, Microsoft could slam the leak shut, so hurry if you’re game.
Update 1: Microsoft ate its Wheaties this morning, and appears to have plugged the hole already. Hard to confirm, given how large the globe is, but expect a new set of leaks to follow.
Update 2: Microsoft provided TechCrunch with the following
non-comment: “We look forward to sharing details about the update soon.”
Intel has won the Basis auction, we’re hearing, at a price of around $100 million, according to one source. A second source pegs the deal at closer to $150 million.
Basis makes wristwatch health trackers, capturing 7 percent of the market versus competitor Jawbone’s 21 percent. As Intel was all about the wearables this year at CES, we’re assuming that this buy is an attempt to further its foothold (wristhold?) in the space.
Intel made a lot of noise with its own reference designs at the conference, including a Siri-like Bluetooth headset named Jarvis and a smart chip it dubbed Edison, which has myriad applied uses, including smart baby clothing and even smart mugs.
Intel likely doesn’t have aspirations to compete in the consumer electronic marketplace; the company wants to sell chipset platforms. But by acquiring Basis, it gains access to a team that has built one of the most powerful and comprehensive wearables to date, which it then can set upon its own designs.
Intel is playing catch-up to rivals such as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics, which are currently providing the bulk of the sensors for wearables. Intel not only needs to sell brands on buying Intel’s wearable platforms, but provide complete solutions in order to jumpstart adoption. With its robust online suite, Basis provides a solid foundation for that complete package.
We had heard that Basis had been talking to Google and others about an acquisition, at a price that was less than $100 million. Perhaps Intel outbid them all? Or a couple of suitors passed?
Basis is funded by Norwest Venture Partners, Mayfield Fund and Intel Capital, with over $30 million invested in the company. The Intel Capital connection is especially interesting considering the company’s new ownership.
Additional reporting by Matt Burns.
See the article here: Basis Goes To Intel For Around $100M