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Updated: 7 hours 35 min ago

Onward raises $1.5 million to offer round-trip rides to older adults needing assistance

9 hours 55 min ago

Uber and Lyft aren’t designed to transport people who need a little help getting out of the house or need someone to help get them from the doctor’s waiting room back to their home. While Uber, for example, has launched Uber Health to help patients get to their appointments, the drivers are not vetted with patient assistance in mind. This is where Onward comes in.

Onward, with $1.5 million in seed funding from Royal Street Ventures, Matchstick Ventures and JPK Capital, launched a few months ago in the San Francisco Bay Area to help seniors safely get from point A to point B. Unlike Uber and Lyft, Onward offers round-trip, door-to-door rides and aims to provide freedom for older adults who may feel isolated, Onward co-founder Mike Lewis told TechCrunch.

The idea for Onward emerged from Lewis’ experience with his mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. It got him and his co-founder, Nader Akhnoukh, thinking about the idea of aging in place and how older people may feel isolated as they become unable to do the tasks they’ve spent their whole lives doing, like driving.

“The minute you can’t do that, it’s sad and scary,” Lewis said.

Onward has three types of customers: older adults who are no longer able to drive, someone who can’t drive for medical reasons (surgeries, eye exams, etc.) and caregivers who are unable to provide transportation to their loved ones.

Similar to Uber and Lyft, Onward drivers are 1099 contractors, but a key difference is that they are paid hourly — at least $20 per hour. Currently, there are more than 25 drivers on board who are all trained in CPR, dementia, and have gone through a background check and car inspection.

Onward also ensures its drivers know how to fold wheelchairs, though, only some drivers have the ability to transport those in powered wheelchairs. This time next year, Onward expects to have hundreds of drivers. Lewis says he also expects the number of vehicles with the ability to transport people in powered wheelchairs to increase as the company grows.

For riders, they can expect to pay $35 per hour. The minimum charge for the trip is one hour, so this is definitely geared toward people who may need the driver to wait for them during a doctor’s appointment, for example. After the first hour, Onward charges by the minute.

That hourly fee gets riders round-trip rides with the driver waiting for you at the destination, door-to-door assistance at each stop and the ability to request favorite drivers.

Onward completed its first ride in March in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the rest of the year, Onward plans to focus on San Francisco as well as one other launch market. To date, Onward has completed more than 500 trips.

Categories: Business News

Meet 500 Startups’ 25th batch of startups

13 hours 14 min ago

It’s that time of year again. When startup founders fret for weeks on end as the long-awaited Demo Day approaches. Investors pore through lists of startups participating in various accelerator programs and have their associates ping dozens of founders for coffee meetings.

Demo Day season is upon us. Soon Y Combinator’s latest cohort of startups will pitch to investors for two days, beginning August 19, and 500 Startups, another San Francisco-based accelerator program for early-stage companies, will host its own Demo Day on August 22.

We’ll report live from YC’s Demo Day next month. For now, here’s a closer look at all the startups finishing out 500 Startups’ latest program. As a reminder, through its four-month seed program, the 500 Startups seed fund invests $150,000 in participating companies in exchange for 6% equity. The companies below include a mix of fintech, digital health, edtech and e-commerce businesses, 33% of which 500 Startups says are women-led and 40% have Black or Latinx founders.

  • Alluva: Rewards individual users for their blockchain and crypto price predictions.
  • AMPAworks: An inventory management tool focused on hospitals. The startup uses computer vision AI to track and manage inventory in real time.
  • BeatDapp: Helps music labels and artists track their songs to collect royalties by providing real-time audit reports of streaming-play counts.
  • BlackCart: A try-before-you-buy app for fashion e-commerce stores.
  • Blue Studios: The Peloton of STEM education focused on teaching 1 billion kids STEM skills.
  • Blue Wire: A sports podcasting network.
  • Bytez: Helps developers and data scientists work faster.
  • Chemtech: An AI-product for manufacturing plant automatization.
  • Crash: A tool to help people launch their career.
  • Curie: A camera-based AI shopping assistant.
  • Dispatchr: Helps electric utilities prevent wildfires, catastrophes and crippling outages.
  • Docket: A system of record and workflow management SaaS for legal teams.
  • EINO: An AI platform that produces predictive and historical insights on localized population movement and their intention in urban areas for enterprise business users.
  • EZFarming: A marketplace that helps farmers finance their business and sell their produce.
  • FitzyTV: An internet TV platform designed to help consumers watch and record all their streaming TV channels across multiple services.
  • Gentem: A tool that provides instant claims reimbursements for physicians.
  • Glyph: A digitally knit shoe company.
  • Hearo Live: Turns passive media into a powerful, live social experience for games, sports, streaming and more.
  • Heartex: Helps companies quickly build AI products and features.
  • HYVE: Helps users navigate their social media universe by allowing them to follow more people.
  • InnerTrends: A data science service for SaaS that uncovers insights in customer onboarding, retention and engagement without the need for data scientists.
  • KIKI: The first app that pays you for having fun. A social marketplace where you can meet people, and buy and share experiences with them.
  • Lucidact Health: An AI assistant for nurses and case managers to help them know what to do faster and eliminate errors.
  • Nanno: The first on-demand childcare app that lets parents book vetted sitters nationwide.
  • Nanogrid: Building advanced cost calculation technology that enables home energy companies to ensure their customers get the most value out of their products.
  • NewoldStamp: An email signatures platform that turns every employee’s email into a marketing tool.
  • Renaissance: Allows users to earn loyalty points by listening to music.
  • Resonado: Reimagining audio systems for businesses with patented Flat Core Speaker technology.
  • RestAR: 3D capturing and product visualization for e-commerce using AI with any mobile device.
  • Rovilus: Developing safe and reliable battery packs for industrial vehicles and light electric aircraft.
  • Send4: Enables retailers to offer a seamless post-purchase experience to their customers.
  • Sharebee: A vertically integrated marketplace where anyone can book moving and storage in a couple of minutes for half of the traditional price.
  • Tradespace: A global IP marketplace for companies to buy, sell, license and invest in technology.
  • Visionful: Connects smart cities and autonomous vehicles leveraging AI and computer vision to provide full automation for parking and traffic monitoring.
  • Voogy: An IP to domain name database that allows companies to track and discover the anonymous web visitors that do not convert into their sales funnel.

A look at all the companies participating in 500 Startups’ 24th accelerator program

Categories: Business News

The roles tools play in employee engagement

13 hours 33 min ago
Christina Janzer Contributor Christina Janzer is Slack’s Director of Research & Analytics, responsible for leading all global research and product analytics efforts that provide insights about people and work.

Employee engagement isn’t just about the morale of individual workers—it also enables broader workforce productivity and leads to better business outcomes. In fact, research conducted by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) argues that an understanding of the role employee engagement plays in driving morale and productivity is critical to business success.

At Slack, my team of researchers and analysts spends time studying how people work and what they need to do their best work. We consistently find that an important signal of employee engagement lies in how people feel about the tools they use at work.

Good tools can enable both productivity as well as increase morale. We’ve done research to learn more about successful and thriving Slack teams, and what it is about Slack that enables them to do better work.

These teams don’t just talk about how Slack improves efficiency, but also how it builds community and in some ways modernizes the company. We also found that the top three emotions people associate with Slack are happy, fun and easy, which you might not expect from a productivity tool.

Technology overall has impacted how, for how long, and from where we work, as well as our efficiency in getting things done. Engaging employees with technology isn’t just about supplying more robust software, but giving people tools that they look forward to using everyday as much as their preferred personal apps.

When products and technology reflect the nuances of human communication, while at the same time making information more accessible, employees feel more connected — both with the workplace and with their co-workers – resulting in a stronger, more trusting relationships and better performance.

So, how can we challenge ourselves to set higher expectations for the work products we build and use every day, and what would it look like to bring more humanity, fun and delight into the tools we use for work? Here are some principles to keep in mind.

Add emotional context to improve communication

Categories: Business News

Serverless, Inc. expands free Framework to include monitoring and security

14 hours 37 min ago

Serverless development has largely been a lonely pursuit until recently, but Serverless, Inc. has been offering a free framework for intrepid programmers since 2015. At first, that involved development, deployment and testing, but today the company announced it is expanding into monitoring and security to make it an end-to-end tool — and it’s available for free.

Serverless computing isn’t actually server-free, but it’s a form of computing that provides a way to use only the computing resources you need to carry out a given function — and no more. When the process is complete, the resources effectively go away. That has the potential to be more cost-effective than having a server that’s always on, regardless of whether you’re using it or not. That requires a new way of thinking about how developers write code.

While serverless offers a compelling value proposition, up until Serverless, Inc. came along with some developer tooling, early adherents were pretty much stuck building their own tooling to develop, deploy and test their programs. Today’s announcement expands the earlier free Serverless, Inc. Framework to provide a more complete set of serverless developer tools.

Company founder and CEO Austen Collins says that he has been thinking a lot about what developers need to develop and deploy serverless programs, and talking to customers. He says that they really craved a more integrated approach to serverless development than has been available until now.

“What we’re trying to do is build this perfectly integrated solution for developers and developer teams because we want to enable them to innovate as much as possible and be as autonomous as possible,” Collins told TechCrunch. He says at the same time, he recognizes that operations need to connect to other tools, and the Serverless Framework provides hooks into other systems, as well.

The new tooling includes an integrated environment, so that once you deploy, you can simply click an error or security event and drill down to a dashboard for more information about the issue. You can click for further detail to see the exact spot in the code where the issue occurred, which should make it easier to resolve more quickly.

While no tool is 100% comprehensive, and most large organizations, and even individual developers, will have a set of tools they prefer to use, this is an attempt to build a one-stop solution for serverless developers for the first time. That in itself is significant, as serverless moves beyond early adopters and begins to become more of a mainstream kind of programming and deployment option. People starting now probably won’t want to cobble together their own toolkits, and the Serverless, Inc. Framerwork gives them a good starting point.

Serverless, Inc. was founded by Collins in 2015 out of a need for serverless computing tooling. He has raised more than $13.5 million since inception.

Serverless and containers: Two great technologies that work better together

Categories: Business News

UK challenger bank Atom raises another £50M from BBVA and more at £530M valuation

2019, July 22 - 11:53pm

Another hopeful among Europe’s so-called challenger banks — startups taking on the big names in consumer banking by targeting niche groups of users with a more modern set of tools to manage users’ money — has raised a sizeable round of funding to expand its business.

Atom Bank — which targets mainly millennial-aged consumers (current slogan: “It’s all about you, you, you”) with mobile-first savings accounts and mortgages as well as small business loans — has raised a further £50 million in funding. It’s not disclosing its valuation officially, but sources confirm it’s £530 million (or around $660 million at current rates), up from £450 million previously.

“What’s important to customers is good products, good service and good value so that’s where we’ve spent the majority of our time and energy,” said Mark Mullen, Atom’s CEO, in a statement. “We’re growing our team here in the North East and will add 50 new roles this year to help us expand the range of products and services we offer, starting with Instant Access savings in the autumn. More than ever we are convinced of the importance of Atom’s role to drive positive change in UK banking.”

This latest round included investments from banking giant BBVA — which led its last round of £149 million in 2018 — as well as Toscafund, Woodford Patient Capital Trust and funds advised by Perscitus LLP. Other high-profile investors have included the likes of musician and embracer of all things future technology, will.i.am.

The startup was co-founded by one of the industry’s earlier “banking disruptors” — Anthony Thomson, who previously co-founded one of the first entities to challenge the dominance of High Street banks in the U.K., Metro Bank. Atom’s rise mirrors a larger trend in Europe, and especially in the U.K., of what are collectively referred to as challenger banks.

Atom, founded several years ago, was one of the first, but there are now a number of others building banking offerings — sometimes on top of more legacy infrastructure, which they take as white-label services — that appeal to younger earners and savers because of lower fees, more flexibility in how money can be moved and borrowed and perks aimed specifically at their demographic. Others include Monese, Monzo, Revolut, Starling, N26 and Tandem.

Atom says that in the last year its total lending, covering both homeowners and small businesses, was up by 76%, to £2.4 billion, with deposings accounting for £1.8 billion of that (up from £1.4 billion). Atom says it gets applications of up to £20 million of business loans and £10 million of residential mortgage each week.

All good signs, but the crowded market of challengers, alongside bigger banks finally getting their new business strategies in order, is in part what is spurring this investment and what the company plans to do with it.

In November 2018, Atom announced that it would be partnering with a fintech startup called Thought Machine — founded by an ex-Googler several years ago — to migrate all of its banking technology to Thought Machine’s Blockchain-based platform called Vault. The plan has been to move Atom’s operations into the cloud, and to a much more modern set of infrastructure, to reduce the costs to run it, and also to start to introduce new services — although Atom doesn’t specify when.

Still, it appears that the company’s current metrics and the progress it’s had so far in its Thought Machine migration is encouraging investors.

“This latest raise recognises the enormous progress that we have made on our journey to disrupt UK banking, and is a clear signal of our investor’s support for our future plans,” said Bridget Rosewell, Atom’s chairwoman, in a statement.

Categories: Business News

Microsoft invests $1 billion in OpenAI in new multiyear partnership

2019, July 22 - 10:37pm

Microsoft is making a $1 billion bet on OpenAI, the company formed by notable founders including Elon Musk and Sam Altman three years ago with the aim of doing research and development work to steer the growth of artificial intelligence toward the “friendlier” end of the spectrum, in order to help mitigate what Musk sees as a potential existential threat from AI if it isn’t developed responsibly while it grows in capability.

On Monday, Microsoft and OpenAI announced a multiyear “exclusive computing partnership” that will include the two companies building new AI supercomputing technologies for Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, and OpenAI will also port its existing services to work on Azure. Microsoft will also now be “OpenAI’s preferred partner” when it comes to the commercialization of new AI technologies it develops in the future.

All the talk of “exclusivity” and “preference” in this announcement is particularly interesting because one of OpenAI’s founding principles was to “freely collaborate” among other AI researchers, and make both its work and patents available to others. But there are some caveats, including that there is OpenAI Inc. the nonprofit organization, and its for-profit corporate subsidiary OpenAI LP, and that its current charter includes a provision that out of “safety and security concerns” it may reduce its public publishing of its work as it moves forward.

The goal of this partnership for Microsoft seems to be to provide it an edge in building out a broad-scale Azure AI platform, and ensure its supercomputing technologies are involved in the development of artificial general intelligence. OpenAI benefits because Microsoft will be party to its principles around developing advances in AGI safely and with humanity’s interest in mind — and there’s the $1 billion, too.

This $1 billion isn’t a lump-sum up-front investment — instead, it’s a total amount that can be delivered anytime over the next decade, in installments that correspond with funding efforts on OpenAI’s side that feed back into Microsoft’s own AI ambitions, as detailed by The New York Times.

While the exact breakdown of the nature of the investment wasn’t made public, an account apparently belonging to CTO Greg Brockman on HackerNews said that it was “a cash investment.”

Update (11:30am PT): long after the press releases hit the wire at 6am this morning, OpenAI contacted us with a bit more detail about the announcement. Here is the statement we received from OpenAI co-founder and CTO Greg Brockman: “It’s a cash investment into OpenAI LP. It uses a standard capital commitment structure, to be called as we need it. We plan to spend it in less than five years, and possibly much sooner.”

At its launch, OpenAI noted that it had $1 billion committed from Musk, Altman and co-founder Brockman, as well as Reid Hoffman, Jessica Livingston, Peter Thiel, Amazon Web Services (this makes the Azure angle here particularly interesting), Infosys and YC Research, though it did not anticipate spending that much in the ensuing few years.

Categories: Business News

Airbnb introduces new search tools for business travelers

2019, July 22 - 10:00pm

As more companies turn to Airbnb for Work to arrange work trips, the vacation rentals, homes and experiences business is making things easier for business travelers.

The company already provides thousands of listings catered to business travelers, complete with flexible access, personal kitchens for home-cooked meals and/or on-site laundry. Now, customers can easily locate those listings with Airbnb’s new search capabilities for business trips.

Airbnb’s work trip toggle, available globally as of today, allows guests to customize their search results for work travel and make more informed booking decisions by immediately filtering out vacation homes and other less convenient offerings. Airbnb is relying partly on social recommendations to ensure the correct listings — which includes entire homes, Airbnb Plus homes and boutique hotels — are showcased, including listings that have positive ratings from business travelers specifically.

Airbnb for Work launched in 2014 and has quickly grown to account for a large chunk of the company’s overall bookings. Last year, to account for the popularity of the service, Airbnb expanded its work arm to include Airbnb Experiences tailored for teams and more. Today, 500,000 companies are using Airbnb for Work to help manage their business travel.

Airbnb’s latest product tweak shows how personalized the platform can become — and is becoming — as it accumulates data from its massive trove of customers. The company, which counts 6 million listings in more than 100,000 cities, is doubling down on customization, M&A and more as it prepares for an initial public offering expected soon.

Airbnb wants to get into streaming media… because why not?

Categories: Business News

Sennder raises $70M on $300M valuation to take on the freight-forwarding industry

2019, July 22 - 6:27pm

Logistics and the movement of freight from point A to B (and C and beyond) is one of the more antiquated, and less-understood, aspects of the world of commerce. But one look at Amazon and how it has grown its empire on the strength of its logistics prowess (and another glance or two at the companies that have fallen down on supply and shipment costs and issues), and you can see just how much of a cornerstone it is for a business to get right. Today, a Berlin-based startup called Sennder is announcing a significant round of funding to take on that antiquated logistics market with an updated, digital platform. It has raised a Series C of $70 million, with a valuation that we understand is in the region of $300 million.

The funding — led by Lakestar with participation from Accel, Next47, H14, HV Holtzbrinck Ventures, Project A and Scania Growth Capital — is notable in that it’s the second round that Sennder has raised this year alone. (It announced a Series B of $30 million this past spring.) That underscores the current surge of investor and market interest in logistics, which is estimated to be a $400 billion market in Europe alone.

Other big funding rounds in the market have included others that compete directly with Sennder in the area of freight forwarding, such as Flexport out of the U.S. bagging an investment from SoftBank at a $3.2 billion valuation; Zencargo out of the U.K. raising $20 million; and FreightHub raising $30 million. In the wider market of logistics, Bringg has raised $25 million and NEXT is raising $97 million.

That speaks to a very crowded market, which is where Sennder’s specialization comes into play. Its focus specifically is on one part of the market called the “full truck load” (FTL) market, which is aimed at organising, logging and optimising the cargo that lorry drivers are packing up onto their pallets, with a specific focus on smaller and mid-size trucking companies.

It’s an area that is estimated to be valued at $120 billion in Europe alone. As with other startups in logistics, the aim is to bring cloud-based communications and better record keeping, along with more efficient logistical mapping organization, to an industry that has been operating largely by way of faxed or shipped invoices and even, in some cases, handshakes.

In the case of Sennder, that includes not just better communication between truckers, those shipping the goods and those receiving them, but GPS tracking to help with arrivals estimates and invoicing between truckers and shippers. Given its emphasis on small and medium trucking companies, it often works directly with the owners of the trucks themselves.

“We have pooled our knowledge and experience gathered in our previous roles to improve operational excellence in this highly complex market. Our relentless focus on product and industry pain points has helped us to deliver an impressive portfolio of global, highly satisfied enterprise clients,” said David Nothacker, who co-founded the company with Nicolaus Schefenacker and Julius Koehler, in a statement. “We believe that sennder is leading the way for the industry on digitisation, reliability and customer service.”

Categories: Business News

Visa invests in India-based B2B payments platform PayMate’s $25M round

2019, July 22 - 5:54pm

PayMate, a Mumbai-based startup that helps businesses automate and digitize their payments, is raising $25 million in a new round, its founder said, as it looks to expand its presence within India and in international markets.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Ajay Adiseshann, founder and CEO of PayMate, said the startup has already raised a substantial amount of the $25 million it is eyeing in its Series D. These funds came from Recruit Strategic Partners, Brand Capital, Visa and existing investor Mayfair 101. Adiseshann said he expects the round to close in 60 days.

The 13-year-old startup, which had raised $18 million prior to the Series D, began its journey as a consumer-facing payments service. But it quickly shifted its attention to opportunities in the business-to-business payments market, Adiseshann said.

PayMate today develops and offers cloud-based solutions for SME and enterprise customers to help them manage invoices and payments from vendors and customers. It also works with Visa and issuing banks to offer crediting financial options to customers.

Last year, PayMate acquired Z2P Technologies, a startup that offers lending technologies, to bring a lending stack on its platform. It looks at transactional data on its platform to score SMEs and offer them credits from third-party lenders. PayMate also serves as a discounting marketplace, allowing large enterprises to electronically negotiate offers with SMEs.

In India, and the same is true of some other markets, small and medium businesses often struggle to secure financing options from major banks. “India is very collateral-based in financing. On our platform, we have the visibility of their transactional data,” he said. This helps establish transparency and trust between all the stakeholders.

The startup has more than 35,000 business customers that use its platform to process more than $5 billion in payments each year. It began operations in UAE earlier this year and will use the new capital to expand in Africa and parts of Europe, Adiseshann said.

Categories: Business News

UVeye snaps up $31M for its hyper-detailed, AI-based drive-thru vehicle-scanning platform

2019, July 22 - 4:57pm

The race is on for the car of the future, equipped with self-driving capabilities, on-board personalised information and entertainment, and an ever-smaller carbon footprint. Today, however, comes news of a startup that’s improving car performance from the outside.

UVeye, a Tel Aviv-based company that has built a set of drive-through external scanners that can take images of the exterior of a vehicle (including the tires and undercarriage) and then — using computer vision and AI — instantly read those scans to detect for anomalies, has raised $31 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue expanding its technology, as well as building out the rest of its business.

Today, UVeye is already finding applications in assessing the state of rental and used cars, helping with insurance adjustments, inspecting vehicles to diagnose mechanical or other problems, and as part of wider security efforts. Its customers include car giants, their OEM partners, insurance companies, security services and governments, rental companies, on-demand ride-hailing companies, and many others in the transportation industry whose businesses are based on maintaining or inspecting vehicles.

Amir Hever, the CEO and co-founder, noted that while there are, for example, six OEMs already working with his company, there is also a long waiting list of companies that want to work with the startup. So this is part of the reason for the funding, too: to scale up and meet that demand.

The key to UVeye is that its vertically-integrated system (which includes the scanning hardware as well as the software to read and understand the scans) is fully automated. “We give accurate reports of vehicle based on AI algorithms that are very accurate and will produce consistent results every time,” said Hever. “It’s harder to do this many inspections today because they are basically human based.”

Toyota Tsusho, Volvo Cars and previous investor W. R. Berkley Corporation are leading this round, along with another returning investor, F.I.T. Ventures, and others — strategic partners that underscore the company’s progress so far, and what trajectory it would like to follow.

UVeye said that Toyota Tsusho (a member of the Toyota Group that provides a number of car-related services such as exporting, alongside non-automotive interests) will be using its technology in used car centers and the wider automotive trading market. Volvo will be rolling UVeye out in its factories, dealerships and for aftermarket support — or “whole lifecycle” management, in the words of Hever. And W. R. Berkeley, an insurance company, has been working on business models incorporating the use of UVeye’s scanning technology to help with registrations and subsequent claims, as well as those security applications.

This funding is the first significant money that the startup has raised and brings the total raised by UVeye to about $35 million. Its strategic partners include Daimler and Skoda. (Impressive to note the traction so far, in fact, on so little capital.)

“Premium quality standards are at the core of the Volvo brand and we are intrigued by the possibilities that UVeye’s technology offers,” Zaki Fasihuddin, CEO of the Volvo Cars Tech Fund said in a statement. “This type of advanced scanning technology could allow us to take the next step in quality.”

“When we made our initial investment in UVeye two years ago, we believed its system could have game-changing impact within security and inspection applications globally,” said Mike Nannizzi, director of fintech investments at W. R. Berkley Corporation, in a statement. “Today’s announcement validates that early hypothesis.  We congratulate UVeye, Toyota Tsusho and Volvo Cars for building a cohesive partnership with enormous potential.”

UVeye’s technology is aiming to replace — or at least augment — a very antiquated and analog way of inspecting cars from the outside. Typically and traditionally, inspections are done by human mechanics, who then compare their findings against previous human-made assessments to identify issues. The vehicle also needs to be completely stationary during these checks. The whole process can take hours or days.

UVeye brings that down to seconds, Hever said. Currently a car can be moving up to 20 miles per hour and still be “read” as well as a car that is stationary, with the size of cosmetic anomalies — scratches and the like — capable of being as small as 2 millimeters in size. The system continues to get optimized all the time, Hever added.

Today the company continues to focus on vertical integration — that is, UVeye manufactures all its own hardware as well as develops the software that runs on it. I asked if at any point it might be able to work with the kind of camera you might typically find on a smartphone. These are improving all the time, and they are already being used as portable computers by, for example, customer service assistants at rental agencies to check-in vehicles after they have been returned by customers.

Hever said that while this may be the case, the aim for his company is to fully automate the inspection to the point that no human would need to be involved at all in that aspect.

“The market has really improved and cameras are chaning all the time,” said Hever, “But what is unique about our solution is that we are trying to make them automated.”

So, for example, scanning points could be set up at the car rental entrance / exit point to automatically take in the car details before and after it’s been used — or equally on an assembly line of a car maker or at an inspection station for an insurance company, eliminating the need for manual operators. (This obviously presents a higher IT cost to the customer, of course, although it might be justified by reducing the number of customer service agents that need to be on the payroll, and more importantly speed up the procurement and return of cars.)

Longer term, the plan will be to continue expanding UVeye’s capabilities and applications, as well as business partners. The possibilities for what it might tackle next are very interesting:

Tapping into the rise of autonomous vehicle technologies, one area that UVeye is starting to explore is how its exterior system might better communicate with the kinds of diagnostics that a car’s own internal systems are producing, to provide even more accurate assessments of problems a car might be having. (For example, in the case of engine problems and leaks, or small cracks in some of the parts, or problems with tires.)

And UVeye’s platform could potentially include expand to scanning what might be on the inside as well as the outside. Today, a lot of this is done with x-rays but there are new technologies involving sound waves and other parameters to be able to identify and verify cargo shipments — which could take the company into other verticals around shipping and logistics, as well as become even more relevant to security inspections.

Categories: Business News

Streaming video service Iflix raises more than $50 million led by Fidelity International as it prepares to go public

2019, July 22 - 4:40pm

Iflix, the streaming video service that competes with Netflix in Southeast Asia and other emerging markets, announced today that it has raised a new round of funding led by Fidelity International, with participation from returning investors Catcha Group, Hearst, Sky and EMC. The Malaysia-based company did not disclose the amount of the round, but said it totals more than $50 million and will be used for growth ahead of a potential public offering.

Iflix also added new media companies as investors, including MNC, Yoshimoto Kogyo and JTBC, from Indonesia, Japan and South Korea, respectively. The company currently claims 17 million active users, up from 9 million six months ago. In a press release, co-founder and chairman Patrick Grove said “These investments are a clear affirmation of IFlix’s business model and growth prospects, and strengthens our ties to some of the region’s largest providers of local content.”

The company announced seven months ago that it had sold off its remaining shares in its Africa business, called Kwesé Iflix, to focus on its markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The latest round brings its total funding raised so far to more than $350 million, according to Crunchbase.

Categories: Business News

Startups Weekly: The opportunities & challenges for mental health tech

2019, July 20 - 9:00pm

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Zoom and Superhuman’s PR disasters. Before that, I noted the big uptick in VC spending in 2019.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

Now let’s talk about mental health startups. VCs may be confident in the potential of teletherapy, but struggling companies in the space tell another story.

Nine months ago Basis launched a website and app for guided conversations via chat or video with pseudo-therapists or people trained in research-backed approaches but who lack the same certifications as a counseling or clinical psychologist. I wrote a story noting that the company, led by former Uber VP Andrew Chapin, had raised a $3.75 million round from Bedrock, Wave Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

But last month, things took a turn for the worse. Basis quietly shut down its website and app, its co-founder and chief science officer, Lindsay Trent, a former research psychologist at Stanford, exited and a good chunk of eight-person team went out the door.

Basis was one of many startups to benefit from VCs’ growing appetite for innovative businesses in the mental health sector. As the stigma associated with seeking mental health support has dwindled and technology developments have allowed for personalized mental health tools and practices, more entrepreneurs have entered the space. Basis, despite having many of the ingredients needed for startup success, couldn’t achieve success with its direct-to-consumer approach to therapy.

Basis co-founder and CEO Andrew Chapin (center) with the founding team last year

When asked why the Basis app and website were no longer active, Chapin said the company is in the process of “shifting business models.” He declined to provide further details. Lightspeed declined to comment. Wave Capital and Bedrock did not respond to requests for comment.

Basis, which did not claim to treat diagnosable conditions like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, charged $35 per 45-minute phone call with its paraprofessionals. Its use of unlicensed therapists sparked concern in the mental health provider community. Harley Therapy founder Sheri Jacobson, an accredited counselor and psychotherapist, noted flaws with the service: “For me, replacing professional therapists and all of their lived experience and empathy with telepsychiatry administered by novice advisers could be potentially dangerous,” Jacobson said in a statement. “Would you let a learner driver navigate an oil tanker?”

What could go wrong?

“Because Basis works with paraprofessionals — people trained in research-backed approaches but who don’t have the same certifications as a counseling or clinical psychologist — it’s a much cheaper alternative to paying for a therapist.”

— Christina Farr (@chrissyfarr) October 4, 2018

Consumer mental health startups continue to attract capital from private market investors. Workplace mental health service Unmind, Blackthorn Therapeutics (a neurobehavioral health company using machine learning to create personalized medicine for mental health) and Talkspace (a leader in the online counseling space) have all closed funding rounds in 2019.

Whether Basis will find its footing is TBD. What’s clear is VCs are still willing to dole out checks as they experiment with the mental health space, but if startups don’t start proving viable business models and learn to navigate the complex adoption curve, we’ll see additional startups cease operations and mental health tech’s moment in the sun will end all too soon.

Now for a quick look at the top VC and startup news of the week:

Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Adam Neumann did what?

The eccentric co-founder and CEO of the international real estate co-working startup WeWork has reportedly cashed out of more than $700 million from his company ahead of its upcoming IPO. According to Axios, a majority of that capital came in the form of loans while the remaining $300 million came from stock sales. The size and timing of the payouts is unusual, considering that founders typically wait until after a company holds its public offering to liquidate their holdings. But even with the big sale, Neumann remains the single largest shareholder in WeWork.

Medallia soars

The customer experience management platform priced shares of its stock at $21 apiece Thursday, closing up Friday a whopping 76%. Money left on the table? I think so, and I bet Bill Gurley does too. The nearly two-decades-old company sold a total of 15.5 million shares in its IPO, raising $326 million at a $2.5 billion valuation in the process. Medallia’s $268 million in VC funding came from Sequoia Capital — which owned a roughly 40% pre-IPO stake — Saints Capital, TriplePoint Venture Growth and Grotmol Solutions.

The stock was dramatically mispriced by an archaic hand allocated matching process that needs to go away. This is 2019 and everyone intelligent knows there is a better way to match supply and demand. These are failures.

— Bill Gurley (@bgurley) June 29, 2019


Uber finally sets diversity and inclusion goals

Within the next three years, Uber aims to increase the percentage of women at levels L5 and higher (manager and above) to 35% and increase the percentage of underrepresented employees at levels L4 and higher to 14%. Currently, Uber is 9.3% black and 8.3% Latinx compared to just 8.1% black and 6.1% Latinx last year. Uber’s tech team, however, is just 3.6% black, 4.4% Latinx and 2.7% multi-racial. Unsurprisingly, there’s little representation of black and brown people in leadership roles. While Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi commented that he’s proud the promotion rates for women have improved over the last couple of years, he added, “I can’t yet say the same for promotions for people of color.”

Email platforms and productivity apps and subscription tools, oh my!

Startups focused on improving productivity and email are unstoppable this year. The latest to close VC rounds are Substack and Notion. Andreessen Horowitz is betting that there’s still a big opportunity in newsletters, leading a $15.3 million Series A in Substack. The company, which consists of just three employees working out of a living room, says that newsletters on the platform have now amassed a total of 50,000 paying subscribers (up from 25,000 in October) and that the most popular Substack authors are already making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. As for Notion, The Information reported this week that it raised $10 million at an $800 million valuation. Notion is a note-taking and task management app that hasn’t sought much VC funding and, as a result, VCs have been desperately knocking at its door.

Other notable funding events of the week:

The trouble with blitzscaling

Silicon Valley has many dreams. One dream — the Hollywood version anyway — is for a down-and-out founder to begin tinkering and coding in their proverbial garage, eventually building a product that is loved by humans the world over and becoming a startup billionaire in the process. But when it comes to that Silicon Valley dream of a nice house from a decent return on exit, it’s getting narrower and less widely distributed. Blitzscaling is making a lot of people a lot of wealth, but early employees? Not so much.

Read more from TechCrunch editor Danny Crichton.

TechCrunch’s senior transportation reporter Kirsten Korosec.

Get ready for … The Station

TechCrunch senior transportation reporter Kirsten Korosec has something great in the works. All of us here at TechCrunch are very excited to announce The Station, a new TechCrunch newsletter all about mobility. Each week, in addition to curating the biggest transportation news, Kirsten will provide analysis, original reporting and insider tips on the fast-growing industry. Sign up here to get The Station in your inbox beginning in August.

~Extra Crunch~

While we’re on the subject of amazing TechCrunch #content, it’s probably time for a reminder for all of you to sign up for Extra Crunch. For a low price, you can learn more about the startups and venture capital ecosystem through exclusive deep dives, Q&As, newsletters, resources and recommendations and fundamental startup how-to guides. Here are some of my personal favorite EC posts from the past week:

#EquityPod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm and I debate Forbes’ latest next billion-dollar startups list.

Extra Crunch subscribers can read a transcript of each week’s episode every Saturday. Read last week’s episode here and learn more about Extra Crunch hereEquity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

That’s all, folks.

Categories: Business News

Medallia stock up 76% following first day trading on the NYSE

2019, July 20 - 5:03am

Customer experience management platform Medallia (NYSE: MDLA) rose more than 70% in its New York Stock Exchange debut Friday.

The nearly two-decades-old business priced its shares at $21 apiece, the top of its proposed range, Thursday evening and traded as high as $39.54 the following morning. Medallia closed up roughly 76% at about $37 per share on Friday.

Medallia sold a total of 15.5 million shares in its IPO, raising $326 million at a $2.5 billion valuation in the process.

San Mateo-headquartered Medallia, led by chief executive officer Leslie Stretch, operates a platform meant to help businesses better provide for their customers. Its core product, the Medallia Experience Cloud, provides employees real-time data on customers collected from online review sites and social media. The service leverages that data to provide insights and tools to improve customer experiences.

The company is backed by four venture capital firms: Sequoia Capital — which owned a roughly 40% pre-IPO stake — Saints Capital, TriplePoint Venture Growth and Grotmol Solutions, the latter which invested a small amount of capital in 2010. Medallia has raised a total of $268 million in equity funding, including a $70 million Series F funding earlier this year.

Sequoia’s 40% stake was worth upwards of $1.8 billion at Medallia’s high price Friday.

Categories: Business News

Deadline extended! Apply to the All Raise female founder program at Disrupt SF 2019

2019, July 20 - 4:00am

We’ve got great news for all the time-strapped female founders out there. Yeah, we’re looking at you, sister. We’re extending the application deadline to apply for the All Raise “ask me anything” (AMA) sessions at Disrupt SF 2019. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to meet with a leading female VC and, well, ask her anything. Apply for an AMA session by August 15.

Not familiar with All Raise? This startup nonprofit, dedicated to accelerating female founder success, will host a day-long AMA event on October 3 at Disrupt SF 2019 — in a dedicated section of Startup Alley. Each AMA session lasts 30 minutes and consists of three founders and one VC. All Raise expects more than 100 female founders to take part in at least 30 sessions scheduled throughout the day.

Don’t bring your pitches, bring your questions — the kind of questions that keep you up at night. It’s a rare opportunity to ask a leading VC advice on topics like your next raise, key hires, your competition. Imagine receiving business advice from any of these female VCs:

  • Dayna Grayson, NEA
  • Susan Lyne, BBG
  • Shauntel Garvey, Reach Capital
  • Eurie Kim, Forerunner
  • Jess Lee, Sequoia
  • Kara Nortman, Upfront
  • Sara Guo, Greylock,
  • Anarghya Vardhana, Maveron
  • Eva Ho, Fika Ventures
  • Sarah Smith, Bain Capital Ventures
  • Jess Lin, Work-Bench

You can apply for an All Raise AMA session if you’re a U.S.-based woman founder and you’ve raised at least $250,000 in a seed, A or B round. All Raise gives special consideration to founders from underrepresented groups (e.g. Black, Latinx or LGBTQIA women).

All Raise will review the applications and notify the founders. Acceptance is based on availability for session spots, investor fit with industry sector and company stage, as well as demand for certain categories.

If you’re selected, your next step is to buy any pass to Disrupt SF (including Expo Only). All Raise will send an email to let you know what time they’ve scheduled your session.

Networking opportunities of this caliber don’t come along very often — especially for women in tech. Build connections, learn from expert female VCs and move your startup forward. Take advantage of the deadline extension and apply for an AMA session before August 15. We want to see you in San Francisco!

If you are interested in sponsoring this event or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2019, fill out this form to get in contact with our sales team.

Categories: Business News

India’s Oyo valued at $10B after founder purchases $2B in shares

2019, July 20 - 3:13am

The fast-growing Indian hospitality business Oyo has garnered a valuation of $10 billion after its founder, Ritesh Agarwal, purchased $2 billion in shares from venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners, the company announced Friday.

Agarwal, 25, founded Oyo in 2013 at the age of 19. Following immense growth of the now global hotel chain business, Agarwal opted to increase his 10% stake to 30% via a Cayman Islands company called RA Hospitality Holdings, according to The Wall Street Journal. SoftBank has also increased its percent ownership as part of this round, now owning nearly half of the company.

Oyo has raised a whopping $1.6 billion in equity funding to date, reaching a valuation of $5 billion at its last funding round. Other investors in the company include Airbnb, Grab Holdings and Didi Chuxing.

Oyo is active in 800 cities in 80 countries, with more than 23,000 hotels in its portfolio. Recently, the company announced plans to invest $300 million in the U.S. market, where it currently operates more than 50 Oyo Hotels in 35 cities and 10 states.

Earlier this week, the Gurgaon-headquartered firm introduced Oyo Workspaces. The new entity was born out of its acquisition of Innov8, a co-working startup with more than 200 employees. The four-year-old startup was acquired for about $30 million, according to reporting by TechCrunch’s Manish Singh.

Categories: Business News

Self-driving startup AutoX expands beyond deliveries and sets its sights on Europe

2019, July 20 - 3:01am

AutoX, the Hong Kong and San Jose, Calif.-based autonomous vehicle technology company, is pushing past its grocery delivery roots and into the AV supplier and robotaxi business.

And now, it’s taking its business to Europe.

AutoX has partnered with NEVS — the Swedish holding company and electric vehicle manufacturer that bought Saab’s assets out of bankruptcy — to deploy a robotaxi pilot service in Europe by the end of 2020. Under the exclusive partnership, AutoX will integrate its autonomous drive technology into a next-generation electric vehicle inspired by NEVS’s “InMotion” concept that was shown at CES Asia in 2017.

This next-generation vehicle is being developed by NEVS in Trollhättan, Sweden. Testing of the autonomous NEVs vehicles will begin in the third quarter of 2019. The vehicles will hit public roads in Europe next year, the companies said. 

AutoX founder and CEO Jianxiong Xiao, commonly referred to as Professor X, noted that this particular vehicle is ideal for an autonomous taxi service because it is purpose-built for this specific application, doesn’t produce tailpipe emissions, can be used 24 hours a day and can help reduce the number of vehicles in the streets.

The companies ultimately want to deploy a large fleet of robotaxis globally.

The partnership with NEVs is the latest sign that AutoX has broader ambitions for its autonomous vehicle technology than delivery services. AutoX launched in 2016 and was initially focused on using self-driving vehicles for delivering packages, namely groceries. Last August, the startup kicked off a grocery delivery and mobile store pilot in a limited area in San Jose in partnership with GrubMarket.com and local high-end grocery store DeMartini Orchard.

But more recently, the company, which has raised about $58 million from venture and strategic investors, has expanded its plans. The company now wants to supply manufacturers with autonomous vehicle technology and launch its own robotaxi service.

In June, AutoX became the second company to receive permission from California regulators to transport passengers in its robotaxis. AutoX is calling its California robotaxi service xTaxi.

The California Public Utilities Commission has also granted Pony.ai, Waymo and Zoox permits to participate in the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, which prohibits the companies from charging for these robotaxi rides.

Professor X has previously said his mission is to open up autonomous vehicles to everyone, and so this expansion shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a goal the company contends can be reached using economical (and better) hardware. The company does use light detection and ranging radar, known as lidar. But instead of loading up its self-driving vehicles with numerous expensive lidar units, AutoX relies more on cameras, which it argues have better resolution. The company’s proprietary AI algorithms tie everything together.

For now, the xTaxi pilot in California will be rather limited. It will operate in the same operational design domain as the delivery service in San Jose, an area of about five square miles. But the company clearly has ambitions to expand both in size and geographic reach. AutoX has more than 115 employees, and plans to hire more than 50 people this year.

The company is also working with San Jose city government to launch another pilot downtown. It has yet to reveal details, although the pilot could launch as early as next month.

AutoX also has a permit to operate a robotaxi service in Shenzhen, China. It’s not clear whether the company will operate this service on its own or follow the model it set in Europe with NEVS. It’s possible AutoX will partner with BYD in China. AutoX is already working with the Chinese company to integrate its AV tech into BYD vehicles.

Categories: Business News

How to go to market in middle America

2019, July 20 - 1:39am
Deborah Eisenberg Contributor Share on Twitter Deborah Eisenberg is the founder of TechStarts PR, where she helps technology companies both big and small hone their message and reach their audience.

There comes a time for many startup companies where they either realize they need to do a nationwide rollout, or they need to actively target buyers in the middle of the country. If you are a startup on either the East or the West Coasts, it’s worth thinking about how this market might present its own set of unique challenges, and how you plan to overcome them.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what some people call “flyover country,” and as a San Francisco native who spent two decades in New York, Washington DC, and Boston before moving to Pittsburgh, I can assure you they are almost all wrong. Without getting into specifics, the reality of “middle America” is that it’s the same as anywhere else.

Income, education, world view, and waistlines are all varied. It’s pretty accurate that San Francisco possesses a culture obsessed with fitness and entrepreneurship, but California isn’t necessarily all like that, and if you think it is, I encourage you to go to Bakersfield, the Central Valley, or Eureka sometime.

In addition, just because the stereotypes are wrong doesn’t mean there’s nothing different about doing business here. As you think about how to conduct your rollout, here are some things you should consider:

Table of Contents

Research

As with any market, research is key since it informs every other aspect of the rollout. Start by looking into who your competition is.

Since there are fewer VC-backed startups in middle America, and smaller companies tend to get less press, the research may be harder. However, there are some major universities that are actively putting money into their own Entrepreneurship programs and those spinoffs often do very well.

Categories: Business News

Mylk Guys wants to be the online vegan grocery store that non-vegans can love

2019, July 20 - 1:21am

Gaurav Maken, the chief executive officer of the online vegan grocery store Mylk Guys, doesn’t think of his company as a place to just buy food. For him, it’s a testing ground and platform for all of the new food products he expects to be developed as startup entrepreneurs and established food companies start tackling the plant-based and alternative-meat market in earnest.

The company has raised $2.5 million in support of that vision from investors, including Khosla Ventures, Pear Ventures and Fifty Years.

“Today we’re an online grocery store,” says Maken. “We are also a place for cultured meats and any genetically engineered food that allows us to scale our food production and allows us to keep feeding people.”

Maken isn’t wedded to plant-based products and envisions a virtual store stocked with products that create more sustainable consumption options for its customers. In fact, 40% of the company’s customers are not vegan, according to Maken.  

“We don’t only think about vegans. We think about sustainable food systems,” says Maken. “Our audience is an educated consumer who wants to have less of an impact from their diet… They’re just folks trying to do better with their eating habits.”

Right now, the company sells around 1,300 products through its site. And the pitch that Maken makes to suppliers is that they can access the data around their customers (unlike other online retailers, whose name rhymes with shmamazon).

“We provide analytics and a way for brands to unlock the data coming from their customers,” Maken says. “Our focus is how can we get you a personalized staple that works for you.” 

The company’s top sellers are vegan cheeses like Sparrow Camembert, lines of vegan jerkies and the Beyond Burger, Maken said.

“You can build brands that are successful that are $1 million brands or $5 million brands and the reason why you haven’t is because they haven’t had the platform to provide national distribution to be successful,” says Maken.  

Mylk Guys launched in 2018 and went through the Y Combinator accelerator program. Now, with its new capital, the company is focusing on expanding its sales and marketing on the East Coast, opening a new warehouse for distribution and reaching out to the vegan community on the Eastern Seaboard.

The model for selling more sustainable foods directly to the consumer has at least one precedent. Los Angeles-based Thrive Market raised $111 million in a 2016 round of funding for its online sustainable product-focused grocery store.

As recent reports indicate, the sustainable food business is only growing. Citing reports from Ecovia Intelligence, the publication Environmental Leader reported that organic food sales topped $100 billion for the first time in 2018.

Categories: Business News

Lexion raises $4.2M to bring AI to contract management

2019, July 19 - 10:00pm

Contract management isn’t exactly an exciting subject, but it’s a real pain point for many companies. It also lends itself to automation, thanks to recent advances in machine learning and natural language processing. It’s no surprise then, that we see renewed interest in this space and that investors are putting more money into it. Earlier this week, Icertis raised a $115 million Series E round, for example, at a valuation of more than $1 billion. Icertis has been in this business for ten years, though. On the other end of the spectrum, contract management startup Lexion today announced that it has raised a $4.2 million seed round led by Madrona Venture Group and law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which was also one of the first users of the product.

Lexion was incubated at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), one of the late Microsoft co-founders’ four scientific research institutes. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Gaurav Oberoi, is a bit of a serial entrepreneur, whose first startup, BillMonk, was first featured on TechCrunch back in 2006. His second go-around was Precision Polling, which SurveyMonkey then acquired shortly after it launched. Oberoi founded the company together with former Microsoft research software development engineering lead Emad Elwany, and engineering veteran James Baird.

“Gaurav, Emad, and James are just the kind of entrepreneurs we love to back: smart, customer obsessed and attacking a big market with cutting edge technology,” said Madrona Venture Group managing director Tim Porter. “AI2 is turning out some of the best applied machine learning solutions, and contract management is a perfect example – it’s a huge issue for companies at every size and the demand for visibility into contracts is only increasing as companies face growing regulatory and compliance pressures.”

Contract management is becoming a bit of a crowded space, though, something Oberoi acknowledge. But he argues that Lexion is tackling a different market from many of its competitors.

“We think there’s growing demand and a big opportunity in the mid-market,” he said. “I think similar to how back in the 2000s, Siebel or other companies offered very expensive CRM software and now you have Salesforce — and now Salesforce is the expensive version — and you have this long tail of products in the mid-market. I think the same is happening to contracts. […] We’re working with companies that are as small as post-seed or post-Series A to a publicly-traded company.”

Given that it handles plenty of highly confidential information, it’s no surprise that Lexion says that it takes security very seriously. “I think, something that all young startups that are selling into business or enterprise in 2019 need to address upfront,” Oberoi said. “We realized, even before we raised funding and got very serious about growing this business, that security has to be part of our DNA and culture from the get-go.” He also noted that every new feature and product iteration at Lexion goes through a security review.

Like most startups at this stage, Lexion plans to invest the new funding into building out its product — and especially its AI engine — and go-to-market and sales strategy.

Categories: Business News

Tiny UK startup takes on Google’s Wing in the race to a drone traffic control system

2019, July 19 - 8:07pm

A future where drones can easily and cheaply do many useful things such as deliver packages, undertake search and rescue missions and deliver urgent medical supplies, not to mention unclogging our roads with flying taxis, seems like a future worth shooting for. But before all this can happen, we need to make sure the thousands of drones in the sky are operating safely. A drone needs to be able to automatically detect when entering into the flight path of another drone, manned aircraft or restricted area and to alter its course accordingly to safely continue its journey. The alternative is the chaos and danger of the recent incidences of drones buzzing major airports, for instance.

There is a race on to produce just such a system. Wing LLC, an offshoot of the Alphabet / Google-owned X company, has announced a platform it calls OpenSky that it hopes will become the basis for a full-fledged air-traffic control system for drones. So far, it’s only been approved to manage drone flights in Australia, although it is also working on demonstration programs with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

But this week, Altitude Angel, a U.K.-based startup backed by Seraphim Capital and with $4.9 million in funding, has launched its own UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) system.

Its Conflict Resolution System (anti-collision) is basically an automatic collision-avoidance technology. This means that any drone flying beyond the line of sight will remain safe in the sky and not cross existing flight plans or into restricted areas. By being automated, Altitude Angel says this technology will prevent any mid-air collisions, simply because by knowing where everything else is in the sky, there’ll be no surprises.

Altitude Angel’s CRS has both “strategic” and “tactical” aspects.

The strategic part happens during the planning stages of a flight, i.e. when someone is submitting flight plans and requesting airspace permission. The system analyses the proposed route and cross-references it with any other flight plans that have been submitted, along with any restricted areas on the ground, to then propose a reroute to eliminate any flight-plan conflicts. Eventually, what happens is that a drone operator does this from an app on their phone, and the approval to flight is automated.

The next stage is tactical. This happens while the drone is actually in flight. The dynamic system continuously monitors the airspace around the aircraft both for other aircraft or for changes in the airspace (such as a temporary flight restriction around a police incident) and automatically adjusts the route.

The key aspect of this CRS is that drones and drone pilots can store flight plans with a globally distributed service without needing to exchange private or potentially sensitive data with each other while benefiting from an immediate pre-flight conflict resolution advice.

Altitude Angel CEO and founder Richard Parker says: “The ability for drones and automated aircraft to strategically plan flights, be made aware of potential conflict and alter their route accordingly is critical in ensuring safety in our skies. This first step is all about pre-flight coordination, between drone pilots, fleet operators and other UTM companies. Being able to predict and resolve conflict mid-flight by providing appropriate and timely guidance will revolutionize automated flight. CRS is one of the critical building blocks on which the drone and automated flight industries will grow.”

Altitude Angel won’t be the last to unveil a CRS of this type, but it’s instructive that there are startups confident of taking on the mighty Google and Amazon — which also has similar drone delivery plans — to achieve this type of platform.

Categories: Business News

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