Silicon Valley startup Aeva aims to give driverless cars better vision

In January, with funding from Lux Capital and other venture capital firms, two former members of Apple’s Special Projects Group, Soroush Salehian and Mina Rezk, started Aeva.

The company aims to improve the ability of self-driving cars to see their surroundings, according to New York Times report. Salehian and Rezk are reimagining Lidar—that is, Light Detection and Ranging—technology, which today’s self-driving cars use along with cameras, radar, GPS antennas, and other implements to create a picture of the world around them.

Aeva’s lidar, the company says, measures distances more accurately than other such systems. And, unlike other lidar systems, Aeva’s judges velocity. It is also smaller and less expensive than today’s lidar technology.

Aeva aims to have it on the market by 2018.

Traditional lidar devices emit pulses of light and measure their wavelength and return times to determine how far away a given object is. Then, computers use the data to construct three-dimensional models of the surrounding world.

But, today’s lidar systems can only detect objects that are relatively close, and cannot always differentiate between one object and another, the Times notes. As a result, they do not perform well in bad weather or when moving at high speeds.

Radar, which uses electromagnetic waves rather than light waves to map the world, can detect objects at greater distances, making it more suitable when traveling at high speeds, and cameras can “read” street signs and differentiate between, say, a pedestrian and a crosswalk.

So, cameras, radar, lidar and other devices work together to “drive” today’s autonomous vehicles. Driverless cars will likely continue to employ this combination for the foreseeable future, as multiple detection systems represent multiple layers of security.

Lidar devices, along with the rest of the ensemble, are expensive. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to outfit a self-driving car with the necessary hardware. The prohibitive cost of production prevents companies from marketing self-driving cars to average consumers. So, the first self-driving cars are not privately owned; rather, they have debuted in the fleets of companies like Lyft and Uber.

But, the Times cites a report by the Boston Consulting Group that projects that the self-driving car market will be worth $42 billion by 2025. For that to happen, companies must find ways to produce the vehicles more affordably.

The Times equates Aeva’s system to a cross between lidar—which is ideal for judging distances—and radar, which is best at detecting speed. Rather than emitting a series of light pulses, the device sends out a constant wave of light. This approach, Rzek told the Times, allows Aeva lidar to produce a better resolution, work better in inclement weather, and handle reflective surfaces better than standard systems do.

“I don’t even think of this as a new kind of lidar,” Tarin Ziyaee, co-founder and chief technology officer at the self-driving taxi start-up Voyage, who has seen the Aeva prototype, told the Times. “It’s a whole different animal.”

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, developed a similar continuous-wave lidar system back in 2014, the Times notes. Other companies that develop lira technology, such as Velodyne and Oryx Vision, are exploring similar options, according to said publication.

Lidar’s applications go well beyond driverless cars. Law enforcement uses the technology to create automated speed traps. Lidar may one day track a user’s movements for virtual-reality environments.

Today, video game systems like the Xbox Kinect do not use Lidar, because Lidar devices are too expensive, too bulky, and too power-consumptive for the purpose. But, continuous-wave Lidar systems are cheaper and lighter than pulse-based ones.

Behnam Behroozpour of U.C. Berkeley told phys.org in 2014 that he envisions that Lidar can be used for “a host of new applications that have not even been invented yet.” For instance, cell phones could use the technology to recognize a user and detect his hand motions from across the room, allowing him to control the device with simple hand gestures.

BMW’s first level-5 self-driving offering, which the company plans to release by 2021, will allow human riders to use hand gestures to order Amazon packages, make a dinner reservation, and perform a range of other actions.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

High-tech retail startup Bodega raises $2.5 million in funding round

Bodega, a San Francisco-based startup that operates fully-automated kiosks roughly the size of vending machines, introduced itself to the world Wednesday. The company has raised $2.5 million in a funding round led by venture capital firms Homebrew and First Round Capital, TechCrunch reports.

Thirty Bodega kiosks (which the company calls “bodegas”) are already operational in apartment buildings, gyms and office buildings throughout the Bay Area. The company will presumably use the seed money to expand.

Bodega users create an account on the company’s smartphone app and input their credit card information. As a customer approaches a kiosk, he/she inputs a three-digit, kiosk-specific code via the app. The code unlocks the kiosk so the customer can reach in and grab what he/she needs.

Cameras track the movement of the customer’s hand to determine what he has picked out, and then automatically charge the customer’s credit card.

Though the eight-square-foot cabinets may sound like high-tech vending machines (essentially, they are), Bodega kiosks stock a wider and more customized range of products than traditional vending machines do. The particular items stocked at a given kiosk are tailored to the demands of the customers who use that kiosk. A Bodega in an apartment building, for instance, may offer everything from toothbrushes to Solo cups. A kiosk located in a gym might have health food, sportswear, etc.

Depending on its location, a kiosk will come stocked with a “base set of products” (TechCrunch’s words). As customers begin to buy things, the Bodega system tracks the purchases to gauge which products are in demand at a given kiosk, and surveys repeat customers to ask what they would like to see added. The company refines the offerings accordingly.

The kiosks bring “the relevant slice of a store” to within 100 feet of a customer, the company’s website says

“Retailers are contouring their business around this fact that users want convenience,” said Paul McDonald, a thirteen-year Google veteran who now runs the startup. “There’s really only been two options: you can go to the store, or you can order something online. What we’re trying to do is introduce a third option, a new way of buying things. Shrink the store, bring the best parts in a smaller form factor and bring it to where you are.”

Some have criticized the “Bodega” name and its implication that the company intends to compete with local corner stores like the bodegas in New York and Los Angeles, which are often centerpieces in their communities.

“Bodega” is a Spanish word meaning, more or less, “local shop.” McDonald says, per GQ.com, that his company surveyed the Latin American community as to whether the name was a misappropriation of the term, and 97 percent of respondents said “no.”

“But it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people,” McDonald admits. 

“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning, we apologize. Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration.”

McDonald said the company would review the criticism and consider changing the name.

Many are concerned Bodega, whatever it is called, will threaten traditional bodegas.  The company indicated Wednesday that it intends to offer the “same ease and convenience” the ubiquity of corner stores in places like New York City affords.

Bodega clarified that it does not intend to compete with tradition bodegas, which, McDonald says, stock more products than a Bodega kiosk ever could, and offer “integral human connection” between patrons and clerks. Rather than challenge established bodegas, the company says it wants to “bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist.”

Still, it seems that, in the places where they do appear, the high-tech Bodegas might siphon a certain amount of business away from local shops. For instance, a person who generally goes to the local bodega when he/she needs milk at 2 a.m., might be inclined to get that milk at a Bodega kiosk were one available in his/her apartment building.

Bodega notes the grocery market is but one of many markets it is targeting. The company envisions itself a competitor more to huge chains like Wal-Mart than small, local shops.

“The market we’re going after is some combination of the grocery, gym market, and everyday essentials. Eventually, what we see is a world where you don’t have to go to the 30,000 square foot stores. Instead, we distribute the store based on products you buy once a week or month,” said McDonald.

The autonomy of Bodega kiosks may threaten retail jobs. “Retail in The U.S. is huge, 10% of Americans work in retail,” McDonald himself notes. “The folks who are retailers want technology to reduce their costs and bring products closer [to consumers].”

In reducing employers’ costs, one may infer, Bodega may take employees’ jobs.

But, McDonald says: “Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega—delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open.”

Featured image via http://observatoriodainternet.br

Uber Reaches Tipping Point

In light of recent events concerning Uber, most significant of which is Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, taking a leave of absence in order to quell corporate behavior news reports, Uber has reported a series of changes that it has named the 180 days of change in order to help re-brand and help redesign Uber’s business model. Among the intended changes is the introduction of tipping Uber drivers, a practice that has not for the first time been met with controversy.

Uber’s stance on tipping has for the longest time rejected including tipping based on the consequences affecting both drivers and riders that may occur, including but not limited to drivers discriminating against poorer neighborhoods in favor of wealthier neighborhoods and higher tips, or drivers being rewarded different tipping amounts for the same work due to the personal preference of riders. It is clear that including tipping changes both the business model as well as the quality of service, and not necessarily for the better. This leads to the question, why include tipping, especially considering the tension that resulted in Kalanick taking a leave of absence?

Financial gain is the driving stimulator behind introducing tipping. Despite having a significantly stronger first quarter this year compared to the first quarter of 2016, the poor publicity since has had a detrimental effect, with a lower annual growth of 40 percent compared to 2016’s 55 percent, and a decreased market share throughout the first quarter. Tipping helps compensate driver salaries without extra cost of behalf of Uber, as these will be covered by the customer instead. In doing so Uber can increase its profit margin, but is contingent on the riders adequately compensating the drivers. If done correctly, Uber will greatly benefit from tipping and help stabilize itself against its competition, and the drivers will see more flexibility and potential earnings.

Speaking of competition, Uber’s current market competitor Lyft, a similar company on a smaller scale that provides the same services. Lyft already includes tipping in their business model, providing riders with predetermined tipping amounts or the ability to choose their own. The fact that Uber’s main competitor already utilizes tipping, and that has been utilized effectively, suggests another reason for why Uber wishes to introduce tipping into their own business model. Uber is essentially missing out on a large amount of potential revenue on the expectations that it would prove too controversial and prove a detriment. But if another company can use it effectively, then it is understandable that Uber re-evaluates their stance on tipping, considering the benefits that can arise out of tipping.

One concern that needs to be addressed is the loss of a competitive edge that lacking tipping provides. Riders have expressed disdain for tipping, often preferring to opt for an upfront, fair amount, rather than need to adjust tips based on the performance of drivers. One can argue that it provides riders with more control over the quality of services rendered, as a low performance results in a poor tip. However, this is not necessarily true, based on the considerations previously mentioned concerning neighborhoods. Furthermore, Uber already has an established service rating system, and the inclusion of tipping either makes the former redundant, or prove that it is ineffective.

Uber has highlighted that the tipping service will be rolled out slowly, starting in several cities including Seattle, Minneapolis and Houston, to test the benefits and reception of tipping, and only if the results are positive will Uber then implement a larger scale of the tipping function. Tipping is currently considered the most impactful of Uber’s prospective changes; let us see whether Uber changes will prove beneficial.

Featured Image via Wikimedia

How Startups Take Over: The World of Uber

Consider this: it’s raining on a Saturday “night” at three a.m., and you’re alone (and possibly tired/wasted/lost/cold etc. You could try to catch a cab (‘try’ being the operative word here), but the odds of that happening are slim at best. So you brave the rain and drudge on home, right? Wrong! Because with Uber, the most valuable startup that has sparked a transportation revolution, car-less civilians can be set up with a luxury vehicle in (literally) a matter of minutes—all from an app.

To its humble beginnings as any other standard Silicon Valley startup, Uber (originally based in San Francisco) has already expanded to a staggering forty-five countries. Uber’s piece-of-mind-enhancing features—from background checks, driver profiles, and anonymous feedback—along with its quick service are what really sets it apart from typically taxi services.

Via Uber
Via Uber

Once you create an Uber account, all it takes is a few clicks (where you’re located, what kind of car you would prefer, finalizing the transaction with the “request” button) before you never have to worry about getting caught in the rain again (or, say, when you oversleep/loathe subways/just because you’re feeling tired). Valued at an approximate $18.2 billion, Uber effortlessly beat out other profitable startups such as Airbnb, Dropbox, and Xiaomi—all of which are valued at a considerably lesser $10 billion, according to Statista.com.

CEO Travis Kalanick said, “The company has evolved from being a scrappy Silicon Valley tech startup to being a way of life for millions of people in cities around the world,” Kalanick told Fox Business. He says that it is Uber’s “mission to turn ground transportation into a seamless service and to enable a transportation alternative in cities that makes car ownership a thing of the past.”

Via Business Insider
Via Business Insider

With an annual revenue of approximately $213 million for 2013, according to TechCrunch.com-confirmed financial statements, it is safe to say that Uber will continue to be a constant power force in the transportation industry (not that the company is a stranger to a fair share of driver protests and bad publicity). It is quite evident that Uber’s smalltime startup days are officially over, with global expansion happening every day, and new additions to the company (such as UberPool, a kind of carpooling service designed to cut transportation costs even further, and UberRush, a Manhattan-only delivery service) taking off.

Will Uber’s consistent profits continue to reign supreme in the transporation industry? Do they ever plan on expanding their services (perhaps bringing UberRush to other cities—and maybe even countries—if it succeeds in Manhattan?) to more residential areas? All of these questions are just some of the daily issues and conundrums faced by any growing startup.

 

Photo Via Uber

Congress Backs Entrepreneurs with ‘Startup Day Across America’

From either side of the aisle, Congress members are backing startups because they see the potential for job growth for Americans. House Representatives Darrell Issa, California (R.), and Jared Polis, Colorado (D.) are working together to promote an official day dedicated to promoting startup businesses.

Startup Day Across America, which will be held on Aug. 5, will host special events geared toward putting the spotlight on these job-creating startup companies.  According to Upstart Business Journal, startup companies “have created 2 million jobs in the United States since 2008.”

Issa and Polis, who both have backgrounds in small-business ownership, have formed the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This caucus is meant to stimulate American startups by removing barriers to job creation and seeking support from local communities, educational institutions and venture capital firms, according to The Hill.

“As our nation’s economic success continues to rely on innovation, entrepreneurs and small-business owners are in the best position to evolve and adapt,” the Congressmen wrote in an op-ed published by The Hill.

They also wrote, “…many members of our communities do not know these innovative companies exist, while many startup companies themselves may not know how or where to access available resources to help their company succeed.”

Their caucus aims to push the economy forward by bringing these business-minded individuals together, and spreading knowledge about the untapped potential of startups and how they and the government can help boost each other financially.

 

 

‘Normal’ Earphones Are 3D-Printed for Custom Fit

The start-up manufacturer of customized earphones called Normal produced an informational video that was anything but normal. Their quirky video featured a bespectacled Brit who demanded the attention of the viewer by walking backwards through Normal’s apparent, yet fictional, facility that resembles a 1960s-era Bond villain’s complex as he explained Normal’s innovative earphones product.

Although the video shows a bizarre man, referred to as “the Tailor,” who uses his “dexterous fingers” to craft each pair of custom earphones, Normal is actually using 3D-printing technology to manufacture earphones that will fit snugly into the consumer’s “ear-hole,” as the Brit referred to them.

 

Read also: Recyclable LYF Shoes Made-to-Order

 

nrmlearphones
via Normal

“People have been talking about 3D printing and mass customization as the new future of manufacturing, but there hasn’t been a really good consumer application for that technology,” Normal founder Nikki Kaufman said.

According to Tech Crunch, Kaufman had the idea last August while working as an executive for Quirky, when she was introduced to 3D-printing technology, as well as hardware sourcing and manufacturing. Kaufman explained that it would normally cost thousands of dollars and take weeks for a consumer to buy custom-engineered earphones that could fit in their distinctive ears.

 

Read also: Geckotek 3D Printer Innovation Meets Kickstarter Goal in One Day

 

Consumers are to use the Normal app, which is available on Apple’s iOS and Android, to send pictures of their ears so that Normal can form the earphones to match the shape of their ears. For sizing, the consumer is directed to place a coin next to their ear, and Normal is able to scale the ear’s dimensions off of that, according to Tech Crunch.

In addition to matching the consumer’s unique ear shape, Normal headphones offer other customizable options. Consumers can select the length and color of the cords, as well as the color of the earphones themselves.

Once the consumer has completed the process on the app, their customized earphones will be shipped to them in just two days.

Normal also boasts about the improvements to sound quality that a custom-fit earphone can offer.

“Anyone would really appreciate that sound. We went out to find the best components we could find, and it’s about the engineering too,” Kaufman said, according to Tech Crunch. Kaufman explained that because Normal earphones are engineered and manufactured to fit the consumer’s ear, the sound quality will be improved.

“In general, leakage is never good. Especially when it comes to sound. A proper fit helps every single note go directly into your sound craters. No noise left behind!” Normal claimed on their website.

Normal has priced these personalized earphones at $199. Comparatively, Beats Studio headphones are priced at $299.95, and Beats Tour earphones, which offer better sound quality than typical earbuds, are priced at $149.95.

Investors are confident that Normal will be very marketable, as consumers have already shown they are willing to dispense a fair amount of money on high-end headphones. Normal has raised over $5 million from various venture capitalist firms.

 

 

 

She Started It: A Documentary About Young Female Founders

She Started It – a documentary co-directed by Insiyah Saeed and Nora Poggi – over the course of one year, details the journeys of four young women entrepreneurs who have recently created their own successful startup companies. The message behind the film is to inspire and empower young women to delve into the world of technology and business and to give rise to a new generation of female leaders.

In the Filmmaker’s Statement on their website, the directors quote: “The Kauffman Foundation estimates that women have formed only 3% of tech startups. Only 4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. In Silicon Valley, women earn only 49 cents to a man’s dollar and get less than 10% of all VC funding. The numbers are indeed changing, but perhaps not enough.”

The filmmakers decided to profile young female entrepreneurs in the tech business in order to demonstrate just how possible it is for young women to run their own companies and make their ideas come to life. The featured women are 17-year old Brienne Ghafourifar, co-founder of universal messenger startup, Entefy; Stacey Ferreira, Co-Founder of username and password storage service MySocialCloud and Admoar; Agathe Molinar Founder and CEO of lingerie company Lemoncurve; and Thuy Truong, Co-Founder and CEO of the whiteboard application, GreenGar.

Ghafourifar, co-founder of Entefy, who works 14 to 15 hour days says that by being a part of this documentary, she feels she is able to reach out in some way to help young girls and women. She told CNN: “I want to help, mentor, inspire, and guide. I’m not even old enough to do all that. But if there’s anything I can do to help, I will.”

The film’s director-producer told CNN: “You don’t have to be Bill Gates to be the founder of a company. It’s more important to be resourceful, ambitious, and confident. There are girls who say they aren’t good at math so they won’t get into the STEM fields. Men who get C’s don’t second guess their ability. Men may not have the best ideas, but they are more likely to have the confident. We want to break that trend.”

The film is set to release in October on an educational tour throughout middle schools, high schools, and colleges throughout the U.S.

GeckoTek 3D Printer Innovation Meets Kickstarter Goal in One Day

GeckoTek, a Cincinnati-based startup company, has innovated an integral part for 3D printers that had yet to be perfected.

GeckoTek presents the first build plate with “a permanent coating that is scientifically developed for 3D printing,” according to their Kickstarter campaign page. The “build plate” is the base on which three-dimensional objects are printed. Their Kickstarter goal of $15,000 was met on June 18, one day after it was launched. They currently have $28,009 in pledges.

“3D Printers offer the ability to create new materials at a lower cost with greater accuracy,” co-founder Aniket Vyas said.

AT&T is looking into the future marketplace 3D printers with the idea that they could become a household item. They offer individuals the unique ability to customize jewelry, household tools and office items, all from one machine. Many other companies still view the machines as a novelty for their time-consuming process and high price.

GeckoTek may have changed that.

“We believe GeckoTek has solved the last major problem that is preventing 3D printers from going completely mainstream and having one in every home,” co-founder Brad Ruff said. Their design ensures less production time and more reliable printing.

“One problem [current build plates] have is the plastic comes out hot and when it cools it tends to shrink and warp and peel away from the platform it builds on,” Ruff told Upstart Business Journal. “There’s a number of things you can do like hairspray or blue painter’s tape to keep it stuck to the bed,” but these methods are tedious, costly and unreliable.

“Kapton tape is expensive, hard to apply, and requires a heated bed. Blue tape doesn’t work with [all 3D printers], and doesn’t last very long. Hairspray is messy to apply and can make the part impossible to remove,” Ruff said on their promotional video.

Vyas’ Ph.D in polymer science and Ruff’s background in nanotechnology enabled GeckoTek to develop a coating material that “has the perfect level of adhesion to [the] printed parts while remaining extremely durable.”

Their easy-to-use prototype works for all 3D printers and most popular extrusion materials. Ruff believes their prototype can “add fuel to the fire that is the 3D printing revolution.”


 

 

Photo: Kickstarter

 

Treehouse to Train 10,000 Oregon Residents Coding

Treehouse is an online tech training platform geared toward all people who aim to learn computer programming and web design.

Ryan Carson, founder and CEO of Treehouse, believes workshops and conferences that require students to be physically present narrow their outreach. Conferences can host a finite amount of students, and their class is limited to students who can afford the travel expenses.

“We wanted to do something we felt could impact millions of people couldn’t afford it,” Carson said.

According to Treehouse, “Over 75,000 students and companies, ranging from beginners to professionals, use Treehouse to develop and improve their skills.”

Americans who learn web design through Treehouse on average earn $73,000 per year, which is 41 percent higher than the national average, according to Treehouse.

treehouse-ryan-carson-

 

On June 19, Treehouse kicked off “Code Oregon,” which seeks to train 10,000 Oregonians for high-paying tech jobs.

Treehouse’s Code Oregon forms a partnership with Worksystems, the local workforce investment board. Worksystems is in charge of the distribution of Treehouse’s accounts. According to an Upstart Business Journal article, their courses will include HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and Ruby, in addition to development for iOS, Android and WordPress.

Treehouse acknowledges that tech executives are always looking for talent.

“This should create a new talent pool to hire from,” Carson said. “The main issue is there isn’t enough people to do the design and development work, especially in smaller markets like Portland. We’re excited about changing that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Courtesy photo/Treehouse’s Ryan Carson is on track to meeting his ambitious work-training goal. / Upstart

ers