modulates


Monthly Archives: October 2018

China’s Youon expands into Europe as other bike startups backpedal worldwide



A little known Chinese bike company is riding into Europe as its peer Ofo has applied the brakes to its global expansion strategy in recent months.

Youon, which gets by manufacturing public bikes for city governments across China, has formed a joint venture with UK-based bike-sharing startup Cycle.land, it says in a statement. The deal allows the Chinese firm to sit back in its headquarters in eastern China while its British partner deploys its bikes and takes care of on-the-ground operation.

Youon’s fleet of 1,000 public bikes will start appearing in London next March, making the UK the fourth country in its international expansion after Russia, India, and Malaysia.

Youon’s name may not ring a bell, but its subsidiary Hellobike is increasingly turning heads as its dockless bikes win over users in China’s smaller cities where its larger rivals Ofo and Mobike lack a presence. This is in part thanks to Hellobike’s partnership with its investor Ant Financial, Alibaba’s financial affiliate, which lets users skip Hellobike’s standalone app and access the service on Ant’s Alipay wallet, which has over 500 million MAUs.

While Hellobike’s mobile penetration recorded a 20 percent month-over-month increase (link in Chinese) in September, Mobike and Ofo barely saw any growth in the same period, according to data service provider Jiguang.

Away from home, Youon’s partnership approach is also noticeably different from that of Mobike and Ofo, which have chosen to run their own overseas operation. Teaming up with local players gives Youon insight into customers abroad, suggests market research firm Analysys.

“User behavior in Europe and North America is very different and it will be reckless for a [Chinese] firm to abruptly set up its own operations overseas,” Sun Naiyue, an analyst at Analysys, tells TechCrunch.

China’s Youon partnered with peer-to-peer bike-sharing startup Cycle.land to expand to the UK [Image via Youon]

Having a local ally also helps Youon avoid government protectionism and regulatory meddling in the foreign market, Sun adds. London has already greenlighted the company to place bikes in the city and the company will “follow local demand and rules to deploy bikes accordingly,” Cycle.land says of its partner.

Contrasting the prospects of Youon’s latest push is the bleak outlook of its peer. The past few months have seen Ofo retreat from its overseas markets to prioritize profitability. To date, Ofo has shut down in Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Israel, and scaled back operation in a host of other countries.

Source

The game is afoot with Justin Trudeau's delightful Halloween costume



Justin Trudeau’s family is at it again with another year of delightful Halloween costumes.

Canada’s prime minister dressed up as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character Sherlock Holmes for the spooky holiday, donning the fictional detective’s signature deerstalker hat, pipe, and clue-hunting magnifying glass.

But Trudeau wasn’t alone in his costumed festivities, with his whole family joining in:

We’re dressed and ready to go… or should I say, the game is afoot! #HappyHalloween pic.twitter.com/uOCp0oJd95

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) November 1, 2018 Read more…

More about Halloween, Justin Trudeau, Halloween Costumes, Halloween 2018, and Halloween 2018

Influencer sued for not promoting Snap's Spectacles enough



For us mere follower-less mortals, making money as a social media influencer seems dead easy.

Like for Grown-ish actor Luka Sabbat, who was paid by Snapchat’s public relations agency PR Consulting (PRC) to promote Spectacles with posts on Instagram. 

But now he’s being sued for allegedly not doing his job.

According to a complaint filed in the New York Supreme Court on Tuesday, Sabbat was paid $45,000 upfront in an influencer marketing deal worth $60,000 for four unique posts.

Sabbat, who has 1.4 million Instagram followers, was to deliver one Instagram feed post, and three Instagram stories of him at New York, Milan or Paris fashion weeks. One of these posts would include a provided swipe up link to Snap’s Spectacles, smart sunglasses that can record short videos for Snapchat. Read more…

More about Tech, Influencers, Influencer Marketing, Spectacles, and Snap

First teaser of Henry Cavill in 'The Witcher' inspires glorious memes



Netflix dropped a Halloween surprise by releasing a very brief first look at Justice League star Henry Cavill in the TV adaptation of The Witcher video game.

But the real journey was not the 10 seconds of footage with no dialogue — it was the memes we made along the way.

Cavill has the thankless job of being the live-action embodiment of a video game character. Which, in the case of Geralt, means wearing the most 1995 Dungeons and Dragons wig you’ve ever seen on a human man.

The jokes came in hot, silvery, and with the accuracy of arrow to the face. Namely, in how closely he resembles Christopher Lambert from another video game adaptation, 1995’s Mortal Kombat. Read more…

More about Watercooler, Entertainment, Netflix, Henry Cavill, and Web Culture

Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya says ‘we need to return to the roots of venture investing’



In the first of many annual letters Chamath Palihapitiya will be penning as part of his firm’s new era as a technology holding company, the founder of Social Capital criticized the venture capital industry.

After highlighting the latest trends within VC — i.e. SoftBank’s Vision Fund, private equity activity in VC deals and inflated valuations — Palihapitiya divulged the asset class’s biggest problems. A copious amount of capital is flowing through the industry and VCs have an insatiable appetite for “unicorn status.” As a result, investors are paying more and more for equity in startups at all stages, hurting both startup employees and limited partners, who ultimately have to foot the bill.

“The dynamics we’ve entered is, in many ways, creating a dangerous, high stakes Ponzi scheme,” Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, wrote. “Highly marked up valuations, which should be a cost for VCs, have in fact become their key revenue driver. It lets them raise new funds and keep drawing fees.”

LPs and startup employees are suffering as a result of VC greed. Why? According to Palihapitiya, LPs are seeing delayed returns and startup employees are being offered stock options at inflated prices to match a company’s sky-high valuation.

“VCs bid up and mark up each other’s portfolio company valuations today, justifying high prices by pointing to today’s user growth and tomorrow’s network effects. Those companies then go spend that money on even more user growth, often in zero-sum competition with one another. Today’s limited partners are fine with the exercise in the short run, as it gives them the markups and projected returns that they need to keep their own bosses happy.”

“Ultimately, the bill gets handed to current and future LPs (many years down the road), and startup employees (who lack the means to do anything about the problem other than leave for a new company, and acquire a ‘portfolio’ of options.)”

Social Capital has had a rough go of it lately. The firm made the call to stop accepting outside capital about a month ago, with plans to invest off a “multi-billion dollar balance sheet of internal capital only.” That decision followed a string of high-profile exits that cemented the supposition that Social Capital, as we’ve known it, was over.

In his new role as a leader of a tech holding company, not a VC firm, Palihapitiya claims to have the solution to the aforementioned problem plaguing the venture and startup industry: “Return to the roots of venture investing.”

“The real expense in a startup shouldn’t be their bill from Big Tech but, rather, the cost of real innovation and R&D,” he said. “The second is to break away from the multilevel marketing scheme that the VC-LP-user growth game has become. At Social Capital, we did this by actively shifting away from funds and LPs to rely only on our own permanent capital moving forward.”

“Are we crazy to reject tens of millions of dollars a year in fees? We think not, and we believe it’s time to wait patiently as the air is slowly let out of this bizarre Ponzi balloon created by the venture capital industry.”

You can read the full letter here.

Source

Tarform debuted new e-motorcycles but is there a U.S. market?



With more failures in the electric motorcycle industry than going concerns and a contracting American motorcycle market, now would seem to be an odd time to launch a new bike into the EV arena. But Tarform, a new startup that unveiled its first vehicle last month in Brooklyn, is undeterred.

That’s despite the fact that the company will likely face an uphill ride selling its high-end, higher priced e-motos.

The EV upstart recently pulled the cover off its first e-motorcycles—prototype Café and Scrambler models at Brooklyn’s NewLab.

The 295 and 320 pound machines bring 7 kilowatt-hour (KwH) Lithium-ION batteries, 43 horsepower, a top speed of 93 miles per hour, and 92 mile city riding ranges.

With the debut, the New York and Stockholm based startup now moves into testing phase and taking orders for its first production electric two-wheelers, expected to manufacture by late 2019.

Before getting back to the sobering EV topic of achieving scale and profitability, Tarform is committed to bringing a fresh design aesthetic to the motorcycle world.

The startup’s stated mission is “to set a new standard for two-wheeled transport by developing fully electric, zero-emission premium motorcycles, using sustainable materials and smart connectivity.”

For its prototype debut, the company did more than source parts and slap batteries into motorcycle frames.

Launching Tarform Motorcycles

“In order to distill the form to only the essentials, we were challenged to redesign every component,” said CEO and founder Taras Kravtchouk—an industrial design specialist, former startup head, and passionate motorcyclist.

From the swingarm to the pegs, speedo, fairing and handlebars—the company custom engineered a large portion of the Café and Scrambler prototype parts. Each also has a custom sound produced by a transducer inside the tank that matches a low pitch hum to motor revs.

A lot of the important stuff—such as the battery, suspension, and current power regulation system are sourced—but Tarform looks to shift toward more proprietary features, including a digital power delivery system with AI functions.

 “Were talking to a company in Sweden to do a custom vehicle control unit to integrate Bluetooth connectivity [and ultrasonic proximity sensors],” Kravtchouk told TechCrunch.

“You’ll be able to sync your ride to an app…and get inputs on your riding behavior…to become a better rider.”

Tarform will offer two variants of its production motorcycles. Version one will be a 9kWh, 53 horsepower, 350 pound two-wheeler with a 95 mile per hour top speed and 129 mile range.

A larger 13.5 kWh battery, 80 horsepower, 395 pound model will be good for 168 miles.

Charging time will be 3.5 hours to 80 percent and 8 hours to full power using a standard electrical outlet. A fast-charger option will get the bikes to 80 percent in less than an hour.

The starting price to pre-order one of Tarform’s first production motorcycles is $18,000.

That compares to $8K for an entry level FX from Zero—America’s highest selling e-motorcycle manufacturer—and $24K for an Eva EsseEsse9 from Energica, a high-performance Italian EV startup with a U.S. sales network.

As for market positioning, Tarform aims to attract buyers by hitting that optimum balance of performance and design, according to Kravtchouk.

On power and range, “the question is how much we compromise the design [for a bigger battery], without making the bikes look fat and ugly. We’re trying to find a compromise,” he said.

Some people may want to have “a bike that looks sweet” with a slightly shorter ride distance, versus “a bike that goes further with a big battery jammed into it,” he said.

And that pivots to the business side of the equation for Tarform as an EV startup. A core part of the company’s value proposition is to create motorcycles that recapture the imagination of young folks.

As we’ve covered here at TechCrunch, the U.S. motorcycle industry has been in the doldrums since the recession.

New U.S. sales dropped roughly 50 percent since 2008, with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40. Motorcycle manufacturers are now largely competing for an aging and shrinking American buying demographic.

Females are one of the only growing ownership segments. And per an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, total motorcycles on the road actually increased from 2008 to 2017—though nearly 75 percent of registrations are for bikes over seven years old.

So some Americans are buying motorcycles—but often not new ones—and the industry is (by and large) not connecting with 20 and 30 somethings.

Tarform believes e-motos (theirs in particular) can bring at least some segment of a more tech and design savvy younger generation back to motorcycles.

Of course, they’re not the only ones, and as mentioned, there have already been several flops in the U.S. market. Electric motorcycle startups Brammoand Mission Motors already tried and failed. And per TechCrunch’s recent reporting, California based Alta Motors—that had $45 million in VC—ceased operations two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Energica and Zero Motorcycles have revved up U.S. promotion, distribution and sales.  The two have extensive R&D facilities and roughly $90 million in VC among them.

Then there’s Harley Davidson’s full commitment to EVs. This year the company announced the debut of a production e-moto by 2019, an expanded electric line-up to follow, and the opening of a Silicon Valley research facility to support it all.

With their largely untested and higher priced product Tarform, faces a rough ride to compete with these companies in what is still a shrinking U.S. motorcycle market.

But going head to head with Harley or capturing existing market share from other e-moto startups isn’t necessarily Tarform’s strategy, according to CEO Kravtchouk.

“We’re not in the arms race. We’re not saying we’re faster than anyone else…We think our positioning is a little bit different,” he said.

“Since we started showing the design…so many people who are not motorcycle riders have come forward and said, ‘I want to ride that thing,” explained Tarform’s CEO.

“So maybe our demographic is not existing motorcycle riders, but people who wished they were motorcycle riders. That’s what industry, gas or EV, has had such a hard time capturing.”

Over the next year Tarform will look to see “how the market responds” to its first offering before raising a round.

“Before getting big funding we want to show we’re able to build this in a small garage in Brooklyn. Then the startup will “want to partner up with major manufacturers to take it to the next level,” said Kravtchouk.

Source

Watching this guy play piano with his cats will soothe all your worries



This post is part of Hard Refresh, a soothing weekly column where we try to cleanse your brain of whatever terrible thing you just witnessed on Twitter.


Prepare for your heart to explode.

Between the pictures of your friends having fun without you and the barrage of creepily specific ads, who even wants to scroll through Instagram anymore? But among the Boomerangs and #foodporn, here’s the wholesome escape from reality: Sarper Duman’s piano videos. 

The Istanbul-based musician and animal rescuer is the proud father of 19 (yes 19) cats. His videos of himself playing soothing piano compositions while his cats lounge on his keyboard will cure whatever stress you have.  Read more…

More about Instagram, Cats, Hard Refresh, Culture, and Web Culture

Some law enforcement drones are dropping out of the sky



The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority is cautioning police departments and other emergency services to suspend operations of a specific drone model after some of the devices lost power unexpectedly and fell while in flight.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) safety warning applies to DJI Matrice 200 series drones, used by some emergency services in the U.K. The failures were first reported by West Midlands police department, though law enforcement in Norfolk, Devon, Cornwall and the West Midlands also uses DJI drones. Devon and Cornwall have grounded two affected drones out of their fleet of 20, according to the BBC.

According to the CAA, “A small number of incidents have been recently reported where the aircraft has suffered a complete loss of power during flight, despite indications that there was sufficient battery time still remaining.” No injuries have been reported, despite “immediate loss of lift with the remote pilot unable to control its subsequent flight path.”

While no reports have surfaced in the U.S. so far, a study by Bard College noted that 61 U.S. public safety agencies (law enforcement, fire departments, EMS, etc.) use the specific model of Mavic drone affected. Collectively, drone models by DJI dominate the space, though the Matrice is not the most popular model.

The manufacturer has responded to the reports, urging Matrice operators to push a firmware update that resolves the issue. “When prompted on the DJI Pilot App, we recommend all customers to connect to the internet on the app or DJI Assistant 2 and update the firmware for their aircraft and all batteries to ensure a safe flight with their drone,” the company wrote in a product warning.

DJI faced a similar issue last year when some of its DJI Spark consumer-grade drones suddenly lost power and fell from the sky.

Source

Watch this little robot transform to get the job done



Robots just want to get things done, but it’s frustrating when their rigid bodies simply don’t allow them to do so. Solution: bodies that can be reconfigured on the fly! Sure, it’s probably bad news for humanity in the long run, but in the meantime it makes for fascinating research.

A team of graduate students from Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania made this idea their focus and produced both the modular, self-reconfiguring robot itself and the logic that drives it.

Think about how you navigate the world: If you need to walk somewhere, you sort of initiate your “walk” function. But if you need to crawl through a smaller space, you need to switch functions and shapes. Similarly, if you need to pick something up off a table, you can just use your “grab” function, but if you need to reach around or over an obstacle you need to modify the shape of your arm and how it moves. Naturally you have a nearly limitless “library” of these functions that you switch between at will.

That’s really not the case for robots, which are much more rigidly designed both in hardware and software. This research, however, aims to create a similar — if considerably smaller — library of actions and configurations that a robot can use on the fly to achieve its goals.

In their paper published today in Science Robotics, the team documents the groundwork they undertook, and although it’s still extremely limited, it hints at how this type of versatility will be achieved in the future.

The robot itself, called SMORES-EP, might be better described as a collection of robots: small cubes (it’s a popular form factor) equipped with wheels and magnets that can connect to each other and cooperate when one or all of them won’t do the job. The brains of the operation lie in a central unit equipped with a camera and depth sensor it uses to survey the surroundings and decide what to do.

If it sounds a little familiar, that’s because the same team demonstrated a different aspect of this system earlier this year, namely the ability to identify spaces it can’t navigate and deploy items to remedy that. The current paper is focused on the underlying system that the robot uses to perceive its surroundings and interact with it.

Let’s put this in more concrete terms. Say a robot like this one is given the goal of collecting the shoes from around your apartment and putting them back in your closet. It gets around your apartment fine but ultimately identifies a target shoe that’s underneath your bed. It knows that it’s too big to fit under there because it can perceive dimensions and understands its own shape and size. But it also knows that it has functions for accessing enclosed areas, and it can tell that by arranging its parts in such and such a way it should be able to reach the shoe and bring it back out.

The flexibility of this approach and the ability to make these decisions autonomously are where the paper identifies advances. This isn’t a narrow “shoe-under-bed-getter” function, it’s a general tool for accessing areas the robot itself can’t fit into, whether that means pushing a recessed button, lifting a cup sitting on its side, or reaching between condiments to grab one in the back.

A visualization of how the robot perceives its environment.

As with just about everything in robotics, this is harder than it sounds, and it doesn’t even sound easy. The “brain” needs to be able to recognize objects, accurately measure distances, and fundamentally understand physical relationships between objects. In the shoe grabbing situation above, what’s stopping a robot from trying to lift the bed and leave it in place floating above the ground while it drives underneath? Artificial intelligences have no inherent understanding of any basic concept and so many must be hard-coded or algorithms created that reliably make the right choice.

Don’t worry, the robots aren’t quite at the “collect shoes” or “collect remaining humans” stage yet. The tests to which the team subjected their little robot were more like “get around these cardboard boxes and move any pink-labeled objects to the designated drop-off area.” Even this type of carefully delineated task is remarkably difficult, but the bot did just fine — though rather slowly, as lab-based bots tend to be.

The authors of the paper have since finished their grad work and moved on to new (though surely related) things. Tarik Tosun, one of the authors whom I talked with for this article, explained that he’s now working on advancing the theoretical side of things as opposed to, say, building cube-modules with better torque. To that end he helped author VSPARC, a simulator environment for modular robots. Although it is tangential to the topic immediately at hand, the importance of this aspect of robotics research can’t be overestimated.

You can find a pre-published version of the paper here in case you don’t have access to Science Robotics.

Source

GM looks to cut costs by offering buyouts to 18,000 employees



General Motors has offered voluntary buyouts to 18,000 salaried employees in North America who have at least 12 years experience, as the automaker looks to cut costs all while investing in its electric and autonomous future.

The company has described this as a proactive measure aimed at preparing for coming headwinds such as  slow sales in North America and China, commodity prices and tariffs.

But it’s just as much about preparing for the future. The company has been undergoing a transformation over the past four to five years, ditching expensive, money-losing programs like the Opel brand in Europe, and investing more into electrification and autonomous vehicle technology.

And it’s not wasting any time.

GM is giving these employees until Nov. 19 to decide whether they’ll take the buyout offer. Those who accept will receive severance beginning Feb. 1, 2019.

About 36% of the company’s 50,000 employees in North America are eligible for the buyout. A GM spokesman declined to say how many employees it expected to take the buyout, except to predict that it was unlikely the number would be anywhere close to 18,000.

GM has been on a three-year $6.5 billion cost-cutting mission that it expects to hit by the end of the year. GM CFO Dhivya Suryadevara said in the company’s earnings call Wednesday that GM had made $6.3 billion in cost-saving measures as of the end of the third quarter.

GM’s cost-cutting measures have happened in parallel with its investments and commitments to electrification and autonomous technology. GM acquired Cruise Automation for $1 billion in 2016. Earlier this year, the automaker said it would invest another $1.1 billion into its self-driving unit as part of bigger deal with Softbank. Cruise Holdings has said it will launch a commercial autonomous vehicle ride-hailing service in 2019.

It has also focused on hiring more software engineers, and will continue to add those kinds of jobs even as the buyouts begin, according to GM.

GM’s plan to launch 20 new all-electric vehicles globally by 2023 and increase production of the Chevy Bolt. At an event in September, GM chairman and CEO  Mary Barra  said the company is poised to build more all-electric vehicles as improvements continue at its recently expanded battery lab and a new LG Electronics plant in Michigan comes online.

The LG Electronics facility in Hazel Park will start making battery packs this fall to supply GM’s Orion Assembly Plant, where the automaker builds the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt.

Source

Subscribe to our mailing list

Join our online network:

Copyright © 2011-2018 Modulates