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Uber in fatal crash detected pedestrian but had emergency braking disabled


The initial report by the National Transportation Safety Board on the fatal self-driving Uber crash in March confirms that the car detected the pedestrian as early as 6 seconds before the crash, but did not slow or stop because its emergency braking systems were deliberately disabled.

Uber told the NTSB that “emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior,” in other words to ensure a smooth ride. “The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.” It’s not clear why the emergency braking capability even exists if it is disabled while the car is in operation. The Volvo model’s built-in safety systems — collision avoidance and emergency braking, among other things — are also disabled while in autonomous mode.

It appears that in an emergency situation like this this “self-driving car” is no better, or substantially worse, than many normal cars already on the road.

It’s hard to understand the logic of this decision. An emergency is exactly the situation when the self-driving car, and not the driver, should be taking action. Its long-range sensors can detect problems accurately from much further away, while its 360-degree awareness and route planning allow it to make safe maneuvers that a human would not be able to do in time. Humans, even when their full attention is on the road, are not the best at catching these things; relying only on them in the most dire circumstances that require quick response times and precise maneuvering seems an incomprehensible and deeply irresponsible decision.

Here’s how Uber’s self-driving cars are supposed to detect pedestrians

According to the NTSB report, the vehicle first registered Elaine Herzberg on lidar 6 seconds before the crash — at the speed it was traveling, that puts first contact at about 378 feet away. She was first identified as an unknown object, then a vehicle, then a bicycle, over the next few seconds (it isn’t stated when these classifications took place exactly).

The car following the collision.

During these 6 seconds, the driver could and should have been alerted of an anomalous object ahead on the left — whether it was a deer, a car, or a bike, it was entering or could enter the road and should be attended to. But the system did not warn the driver and apparently had no way to.

1.3 seconds before impact, which is to say about 80 feet away, the Uber system decided that an emergency braking procedure would be necessary to avoid Herzberg. But it did not hit the brakes, as the emergency braking system had been disabled, nor did it warn the driver because, again, it couldn’t.

It was only when, less than a second before impact, the driver happened to look up from whatever it was she was doing, and saw Herzberg, whom the car had known about in some way for 5 long seconds by then. It struck and killed her.

It reflects extremely poorly on Uber that it had disabled the car’s ability to respond in an emergency — though it was authorized to speed at night — and no method for the system to alert the driver should it detect something important. This isn’t just a safety issue, like going on the road with a sub-par lidar system or without checking the headlights — it’s a failure of judgement by Uber, and one that cost a person’s life.

Arizona, where the crash took place, barred Uber from further autonomous testing, and Uber yesterday ended its program in the state.

Uber offered the following statement on the report:

Over the course of the last two months, we’ve worked closely with the NTSB. As their investigation continues, we’ve initiated our own safety review of our self-driving vehicles program. We’ve also brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture, and we look forward to sharing more on the changes we’ll make in the coming weeks.

Dog-sitting startup Rover just raised $155M


Rover, a dog-walking and dog-boarding service that merged with DogVacay around this time last year, is now the second of such startups this year to raise a massive new round of funding with its announcement of a $155 million financing round.

While competitor Wag has become a juggernaut, there seems room for both room for a second player and the potential to outmaneuver Wag even with its massive influx of capital. Both DogVacay and Rover had a very similar model and eventually merged in an all-stock deal, creating a more substantial competitor for Wag. The round consisted of $125 million in equity financing led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, with a $30 million credit facility with Silicon Valley Bank. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the round values Rover at $970 million.

Wag earlier this year picked up $300 million in a massive funding round led by SoftBank. That was, of course, SoftBank — which is investing massive piles of capital into startups and pretty much altering the calculus of venture capital in the process. But it also signaled a huge interest in various dog-care services, including apparently Rover, as a potential business opportunity for the millions of dog owners in the world. If you’ll walk anywhere in San Francisco, you’re destined to run into a very large number of very good dogs, and it makes enough sense that there should be an opportunity to capitalize on dog-ownership as a whole.

Rover connects dog owners with various users that will walk, board, or generally take care of dogs — a critical service for anyone who might be traveling, or just work in a non-dog friendly office. Users just book a dog walker or sitter through the app, which connects them with area sitters. It’s an area where Wag has faced a lot of criticism following a major Bloomberg report regarding poor service (and losing dogs). There are, of course, many challenges for any service that offloads some kind of daily need to a third party starting in a similar fashion to Uber.

Rover, interestingly, notes on its website that it “accepts less than 20% of potential sitters,” perhaps a dig at the criticism for Wag or the space in general and as an attempt to soothe concerns from potential users. Rover says it has more than 200,000 sitters throughout North America. The company previously raised $156 million, and previous investors include A-Grade Investments, Foundry Group, Madrona Venture Group, Menlo Ventures, OMERS Ventures, Petco, and StepStone Group.

Microsoft’s Twitch rival Mixer gets a revamp, including new developer tools for interactive gameplay


Microsoft is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its game streaming service and Twitch competitor, Mixer, with a host of new features, including a refresh of the user experience and the launch of an expanded developer toolkit called MixPlay. The new streamer tools will roll out along with the revamped version of Mixer .com across desktop and mobile web, and will initially be available to Mixer Pro subscribers.

The company claims the service saw more than 10 million monthly active users in December 2017 – a figure, we should point out, may be higher because of holiday sales and the accompanying bump in game downloads and playtime seen across platforms.

However, Microsoft also says that the Mixer viewing audience has grown over four times since its launch, and the number of watched streams has grown more than five times. These are still not hard numbers, but third-party reports have put Mixer well behind Twitch’s sizable and still-growing lead in terms of both concurrent streamers and viewers. (Those reports aren’t 100% accurate either, though, because they can’t track Xbox viewership.)

Microsoft says the updated Mixer.com rolls out beginning today, with a focus on making it easier for viewers to find the games and streamers they want to watch, as well as those broadcasting in creative communities.

While Pro subscribers will gain access first, they’ll have to opt-in by visiting their Account Settings and turning the new look on manually. (To do so, select the “Site Version” dialog, then the “Feature/UI Refresh” option, Microsoft says.)

The full refresh will arrive to all Mixer users later this summer.

As part of the new experience, the company is also rolling out more tools for developers with the launch of MixPlay.

As Microsoft explains, instead of just adding buttons below a stream, MixPlay lets developers build experiences on top of streams, in panels on the sides of the video, as widgets around the video, or as free-floating overlays – all of which can be designed to mimic the look-and-feel of the streamed content. Basically, this means the entire window is now a canvas, not just a portion of the stream itself.

One example of what MixPlay can enable can be seen in April’s launch of Mixer’s “Share Controller” feature, which created a virtual Xbox controller that could be shared by anyone broadcasting from their Xbox One.

This allowed gamers and viewers to play along in real-time from the web.

 

In addition, MixPlay will enable other games that are only playable on Mixer where controls blend into the stream –  like Mini Golf, which launched this month and now has 300,000 views, or Truck Stars, for example.

Three new MixPlay-enabled games are launching today, as well, including Earthfall, which lets viewers interact with streamers or even change the game; Next Up Hero, where viewers can help a streamer by taking control or freeze the streamer at the worst possible moment, depending on their mood; and Late Shift, a choose-your-own-adventure crime thriller you control.

These sorts of MixPlay experiences shift the idea of Mixer being just another game streaming service to one where viewers can actively participate by playing themselves, or at least guiding the action. That could also serve as a differentiator for Mixer as it tries to carve out a niche for itself in the battle with Twitch and YouTube Gaming.

 

But MixPlay isn’t just for interactive experiences, Microsoft notes. It can also help developers build experiences that simply enhance streams with additional content, too, like a stats dashboard.

Another update involves the Mixer Create app, which offers mobile support to streamers. Now, streamers can kick of a co-stream by clicking the co-stream button on their Mixer Create profile, then send out invites, among other things.

This is live on Android in beta today, and will launch soon on iOS beta, with a full rollout in early June.

In terms of perks, Microsoft is running an “anniversary” promotion offering $5 of Microsoft Store credit along with any Direct Purchase of $9.99 or more. A second promotion is giving away a free, 1-month channel subscription and up to 90 days of Mixer Pro to anyone who reaches Level 10 on their account between May 24th, 2018 at 12:00AM UST and May 28th, 2018 at 11:59PM PDT.

The company additionally announced a new partnership with ESL on esports, which will bring over 15,000 hours of programming from top competitive games to Mixer, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Dota 2. These tournaments will take advantage of Mixer’s FTL technology for “sub-second latency,” the company says.

Other announcements around games and esports are mentioned in the Mixer blog post, too.

Trek’s Commuter+ 7 is a beautiful – if pricey – electric bike


At $3,700, Trek’s Commuter+ 7 is a hard sell in a world of commodity e-bikes. But, thankfully, Trek has added superior components, great styling, and surprising durability to the package, making this pedal-assist ebike one of the best I’ve ridden.

The bike has a matte black finish, fenders, and a motor guard to keep your ebike safe from passing rocks and trash. The 250-watt Bosch Performance CX runs at a maximum of 20 miles per hour and the removable battery lets you swap out packs if things run low.

I enjoyed the ride on this thing and, although it could be prohibitively expensive, you do get some solid components on a well-tested brand. Give it a ride like I did and see for yourself.

Klevio launches its smart intercom and app that lets you open doors remotely


Klevio, a smart home startup out of the U.K., is officially launching its first product: a smart intercom system that lets you control your front door lock via an iOS and Android app on your phone and remotely.

Dubbed “Klevio One,” the device is designed to be retrofitted to existing electric strike-enabled locks, and also interfaces with intercom systems found on the communal doors of apartment blocks. This, say its makers, means that it is better suited to flats than smart locks already on the market.

In a call with Klevio co-founder and CEO Aleš Špetič, he explained that the approach the London-based company has taken is different to smart locks that typically use a motor to turn the lock and require tearing out and replacing your existing lock. In contrast, if you already have an electric strike as part of your lock — which a lot of apartments do — the Klevio One can simply be wired to interface with it. If you don’t, a Klevio installer can fit one to your existing lock for you.

This major upside of this approach is that Klevio isn’t re-inventing the whole wheel, but taking years old, tried and tested electric strike technology, and simply adding smart connectivity to it.

It means the Klevio One works with multiple doors and there’s no need to modify the communal area of apartment buildings when installing it, since the device is located within an individual apartment. You can also still use your old physical keys as a backup, and the company says the use of Klevio won’t be obvious to anyone outside the building.

And as you’d expect, the Klevio system is cloud-connected so that you can control your lock remotely, and issue virtual and one-time use keys. It comes in a WiFi only version, and a subscription version with added 4G.

The startup’s back story is noteworthy, too. The Klevio’s original concept and eureka moment came at Onefinestay, the ‘upscale Airbnb’ acquired by Accor in 2016. After the exit, Onefinestay co-founder Demetrios Zoppos teamed up with CubeSensors’ Aleš Špetič and Marko Mrdjenovič to start the new company, including purchasing the needed patents from Onefinestay.

In addition, Onefinestay co-founder Greg Marsh is an investor in Klevio, alongside LocalGlobe’s partner Robin Klein (who I’m told has invested in a personal capacity). To date Klevio has raised £1.2 million in funding.

Meanwhile, Špetič tells me that prior to today’s wider launch — where it can be ordered via the Klevio website — the Klevio One has been piloted with 1,000 users across London.

Samsung adds ‘The Incredibles’ to its AR Emojis


Samsung’s AR Emojis were met with a…lukewarm reception when they launched alongside the Galaxy S9. The augmented reality avatars were regarded as a me-too response to Apple’s Animojis — and more to the point, were downright creepy.

But at launch, the company brought one key element to the offering that Apple hasn’t: a content partnership. And not just any content partnership, mind. A Disney content partnership. So far, it’s rolled out the iconic likes of Mickey, Minnie and Donald, and now, just in time for the latest Pixar sequel, it’s offering up the cast of The Incredibles 2.

Starting today, Galaxy S9 and S9+ owners can download  Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, Dash, Jack-Jack and new character Frozone, for all of their AR Emoji-related needs. So users can send a birthday greeting, reach out to a loved one or break up with an ex as their favorite super baby.

The new content pack is available directly through the camera software’s built-in AR Emoji mode. The tech uses in excess of 100 facial features to map the user’s movements.

Apple offers a $50 credit for some out-of-warranty iPhone battery purchases


If you bought a battery replacement for an out-of-warranty iPhone last year, you may be eligible for a $50 credit from Apple. The company issued a new support page post this week, announcing the rebate policy, which applies to purchases made at authorized locations.

The move is part of on-going restitution in the wake of an admission that the company was throttling processing speeds on older model phones, in order to save on battery life. Late last year, Apple apologized for not informing users about the issue, promising to be more transparent in the future.

Soon after, the company began offering $29 battery replacements — a $50 discount on out-of-warranty battery replacements. This credit covers those who purchased a battery out-of-warranty any point in 2017, leading up to that new offer.

The company has promised to send an email to all eligible users with instructions on how to get the credit transferred to their account between now and July 27. Those who don’t get a notification, but still believe themselves to be eligible, can contact Apple directly between now and the end of the year.



Ring’s Jamie Siminoff and Clinc’s Jason Mars to join us at Disrupt SF


Disrupt SF is set to be the biggest tech conference that TechCrunch has ever hosted. So it only makes sense that we plan an agenda fit for the occasion.

That’s why we’re absolutely thrilled to announce that Ring’s Jamie Siminoff will join us on stage for a fireside chat and Jason Mars from Clinc will be demo-ing first-of-its-kind technology on the Disrupt SF stage.

Jamie Siminoff – Ring

Earlier this year, Ring became Amazon’s second largest acquisition ever, selling to the behemoth for a reported $1 billion.

But the story begins long ago, with Jamie Siminoff building a WiFi-connected video doorbell in his garage in 2011. Back then it was called DoorBot. Now, it’s called Ring, and it’s an essential piece of the overall evolution of e-commerce.

As giants like Amazon move to make purchasing and receiving goods as simple as ever, safe and reliable entry into the home becomes critical to the mission. Ring, which has made neighborhood safety and home security its main priority since inception, is a capable partner in that mission.

Of course, one doesn’t often build a successful company and sell for $1 billion on their first go. Prior to Ring, Siminoff founded PhoneTag, the world’s first voicemail-to-text company and Unsubscribe.com. Both of those companies were sold. Based on his founding portfolio alone, it’s clear that part of Siminoff’s success can be attributed to understanding what consumers need and executing on a solution.

Dr. Jason Mars – Clinc

AI has the potential to change everything, but there is a fundamental disconnect between what AI is capable of and how we interface with it. Clinc has tried to close that gap with its conversational AI, emulating human intelligence to interpret unstructured, unconstrained speech.

Clinc is currently targeting the financial market, letting users converse with their bank account using natural language without any pre-defined templates or hierarchical voice menus.

But there are far more applications for this kind of conversational tech. As voice interfaces like Alexa and Google Assistant pick up steam, there is clearly an opportunity to bring this kind of technology to all facets of our lives.

At Disrupt SF, Clinc’s founder and CEO Dr. Jason Mars plans to do just that, debuting other ways that Clinc’s conversational AI can be applied. Without ruining the surprise, let me just say that this is going to be a demo you won’t want to miss.

Tickets to Disrupt are available here.

Vivo’s all-screen phone with a flip-up camera could arrive in June


The all-screen smartphone is an inevitability. The question at this point, really, is who will get there first and how they’ll accomplish that feat. I spoke to a LG rep at the G7 launch, who suggested that the notch is going to be fact of life for the next couple of years, but a number of manufacturers are pushing to get there a heck of a lot quicker.

Back at MWC in Febrary, Vivo’s Apex handset seemed like little more than a concept, but a couple of new teasers suggest otherwise. A new video demonstrates the handset’s flip-up selfie camera in action, along with a “Save the Date” notice for a June 12 event in Shanghai. The handset appears to be, at the very least, a close relative of the concept phone. 

A February press release highlights the concept in a bit more detail.

“In keeping with the promise to continuously support user habits,” the company notes, “Apex also features an 8MP Elevating Front Camera. The camera seamlessly rises in 0.8 seconds when it is required and retracts after use. Together with the hidden proximity sensor and ambient light sensor, this eliminates the space taken up by conventional front cameras, while offering the same selfie experience to users.”

Vivo’s just one of a number of companies who think they’ve got the answer here. When we met with Doogee back in February, the company showed off a number of prototypes aimed at circumventing the notch, including a similar pop up model and a version that slides to reveal a camera inside.

And then, of course, there’s the Lenovo Z5, which a VP for the company showed off via social media earlier this month. Though that presently seems to amount to little more than a sketch. For the moment, all of this feels like a bunch of companies showing off concepts aimed at demonstrating that they “thought of it first.”

Perhaps next month, however, Vivo will be ready to put its money where its mouth is.

Tempow raises $4 million to improve Bluetooth


French startup Tempow has raised a $4 million funding round. Balderton Capital led the round, with C4 Ventures also participating. The company has been working on improving the Bluetooth protocol to make it more versatile.

Smartphones, speakers and connected devices all use Bluetooth in one way or another. There are only a handful of Bluetooth chipset manufacturers in the world, such as Qualcomm and Broadcom. While Bluetooth chips have become incredibly efficient as they use much less power than they used to, it’s been stagnant on the software front.

Tempow is a software company that wants to rewrite the Bluetooth stack from scratch. The company started with an audio profile.

Thanks to Tempow’s technology, you can connect a phone to multiple Bluetooth speakers at once. This is just a software improvement — it works with standard Bluetooth chipsets and all Bluetooth audio devices out there.

Lenovo liked this idea and licensed the technology for its Moto X4 handset. More than 5 million devices with Tempow’s Bluetooth stack have been sold.

With today’s funding round, the startup wants to tackle more use cases. For instance, Tempow wants to optimize the pairing process, enhance the security of the protocol and work on battery consumption. “Maybe you could pay using Bluetooth instead of NFC,” co-founder and CEO Vincent Nallatamby told me.

At the same time, the startup is negotiating with multiple manufacturers. You can expect to see Tempow’s technology in more devices in the future.

The company currently has 7 patents pending and just got its first patent last week. Eventually, Tempow thinks it can build a team of Bluetooth experts who push the protocol forward.