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Squarefoot raises $7M to give offices an easier way to find space

While smaller companies are seeing a lot of new options for distributed office space, or can pick up a couple offices in a WeWork, eventually they get big enough and have to find a bigger office — but that can end up as one of the weirdest and most annoying challenges for an early-stage CEO.

Finding that space is a whole other story, outside of just searching on Google and crossing your fingers. It’s why Jonathan Wasserstrum started Squarefoot, which looks to not only create a hub for these vacant offices, but also have the systems in place — including brokers — to help companies eventually land that office space. Eventually companies as they grow have to graduate into increasingly larger and larger spots, but there’s a missing sweet spot for mid-stage companies that are looking for space but don’t necessarily have the relationships with those big office brokers just yet, and instead are just looking through a friend of a friend. The company said today that it has raised $7 million in a new financing round led by Rosecliff Ventures, with RRE Ventures, Triangle Peak Partners, Armory Square Ventures, and others participating.

“If you talk to any CEO and you ask what they think about commercial real estate brokers, they’ll say, ‘oh, the guys that send an email every week,’” co-founder Jonathan Wasserstrum said. “The industry has been slow to adopt because the average person who owns the building is fine. They don’t wake up every morning and say this process sucks. But the people who wake up and say the process sucks are looking for space. That was kind of one fo the early things that we kind of figured out and focused a lot of attention on aggregating that tenant demand.

Squarefoot starts off on the buyer side as an aggregation platform that localizes open office space into one spot. While companies used to have to Google search something along the lines of “Chelsea office space” in New York — especially for early-stage companies that are just starting to outgrow their early offices — the goal is to always have Squarefoot come up as a result for that. It already happens thanks to a lot of efforts on the marketing front, but eventually with enough inventory and demand the hope is that building owners will be coming to Squarefoot in the first place. (That you see an ad for Squarefoot as a result for a lot of these searches already is, for example, no accident.)

Squarefoot is also another company that is adopting a sort of hybrid model that includes both a set of tools and algorithms to aggregate together all that space into one spot, but keep consultants and brokers in the mix in order to actually close those deals. It’s a stance that the venture community seems to be increasingly softening on as more and more companies launch with the idea that the biggest deals need to have an actual human on the other end in order to manage that relationship.

“We’re not trying to remove brokers, we have them on staff, we think there’s a much better way to go through the process,” Wasserstrum said. “When I am buying a ticket to Chicago, I’m fine going to Kayak and I don’t need a travel agent. But when I’m the CEO of a company and about to sign a three-year lease that’s a $1.5 million liability, and I’ve never done this before, shouldn’t I want someone to help me out? I do not see in the near future this e-commerce experience for commercial real estate. You don’t put it in your shopping cart.”

And, to be sure, there are a lot of platforms that already focus on the consumer side, like Redfin for home search. But this is a big market, and there already is some activity — it just hasn’t picked up a ton of traction just yet because it is a slog to get everything all in one place. One of the original examples is 42Floors, but even then that company early on faced a lot of troubles trying to get the model working and in 2015 cut its brokerage team. That’s not a group of people Wasserstrum is looking to leave behind, simply because the end goal is to actually get these companies signing leases and not just serving as a search engine.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Artificial Intelligence

Nvidia’s researchers teach a robot to perform simple tasks by observing a human

Industrial robots are typically all about repeating a well-defined task over and over again. Usually, that means performing those tasks a safe distance away from the fragile humans that programmed them. More and more, however, researchers are now thinking about how robots and humans can work in close proximity to humans and even learn from them. In part, that’s what Nvidia’s new robotics lab in Seattle focuses on and the company’s research team today presented some of its most recent work around teaching robots by observing humans at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in Brisbane, Australia.

Nvidia’s director of robotics research Dieter Fox.

As Dieter Fox, the senior director of robotics research at Nvidia (and a professor at the University of Washington), told me, the team wants to enable this next generation of robots that can safely work in close proximity to humans. But to do that, those robots need to be able to detect people, tracker their activities and learn how they can help people. That may be in small-scale industrial setting or in somebody’s home.

While it’s possible to train an algorithm to successfully play a video game by rote repetition and teaching it to learn from its mistakes, Fox argues that the decision space for training robots that way is far too large to do this efficiently. Instead, a team of Nvidia researchers led by Stan Birchfield and Jonathan Tremblay, developed a system that allows them to teach a robot to perform new tasks by simply observing a human.

The tasks in this example are pretty straightforward and involve nothing more than stacking a few colored cubes. But it’s also an important step in this overall journey to enable us to quickly teach a robot new tasks.

The researchers first trained a sequence of neural networks to detect objects, infer the relationship between them and then generate a program to repeat the steps it witnessed the human perform. The researchers say this new system allowed them to train their robot to perform this stacking task with a single demonstration in the real world.

One nifty aspect of this system is that it generates a human-readable description of the steps it’s performing. That way, it’s easier for the researchers to figure out what happened when things go wrong.

Nvidia’s Stan Birchfield tells me that the team aimed to make training the robot easy for a non-expert — and few things are easier to do than to demonstrate a basic task like stacking blocks. In the example the team presented in Brisbane, a camera watches the scene and the human simply walks up, picks up the blocks and stacks them. Then the robot repeats the task. Sounds easy enough, but it’s a massively difficult task for a robot.

To train the core models, the team mostly used synthetic data from a simulated environment. As both Birchfield and Fox stressed, it’s these simulations that allow for quickly training robots. Training in the real world would take far longer, after all, and can also be more far more dangerous. And for most of these tasks, there is no labeled training data available to begin with.

“We think using simulation is a powerful paradigm going forward to train robots do things that weren’t possible before,” Birchfield noted. Fox echoed this and noted that this need for simulations is one of the reasons why Nvidia thinks that its hardware and software is ideally suited for this kind of research. There is a very strong visual aspect to this training process, after all, and Nvidia’s background in graphics hardware surely helps.

Fox admitted that there’s still a lot of research left to do be done here (most of the simulations aren’t photorealistic yet, after all), but that the core foundations for this are now in place.

Going forward, the team plans to expand the range of tasks that the robots can learn and the vocabulary necessary to describe those tasks.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Delhi

58-year-old NRI masturbates sitting beside woman on board flight, held at Delhi airport

The security control room at the IGI Airport was informed in the early hours today that there was an “unruly passenger” on board a Turkish Airlines flight approaching Delhi.

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Delhi

After tens of thousands of pre-orders, 3D audio headphones startup Ossic disappears

After taking tens of thousands of crowd-funding pre-orders for a high-end pair of “3D sound” headphones, audio startup Ossic announced this weekend that it is shutting down the company and backers will not be receiving refunds.

The company raised $2.7 million on Kickstarter and $3.2 million on Indiegogo for their Ossic X headphones which they pitched as a pair of high-end head-tracking headphones that would be perfect for listening to 3D audio, especially in a VR environment. While the company also raised a “substantial seed investment,” in a letter on the Ossic website, the company blamed the slow adoption of virtual reality alongside their crowdfunding campaign stretch goals which bogged down their R&D team.

“This was obviously not our desired outcome. The team worked exceptionally hard and created a production-ready product that is a technological and performance breakthrough. To fail at the 5 yard-line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities.”

We have reached out to the company for additional details.

Through January 2017, the San Diego company had received more than 22,000 pre-orders for their Ossic X headphones. This past January, Ossic announced that they had shipped out the first units to the 80 backers in their $999 developer tier headphones. In that same update, the company said they would enter “mass production” by late spring 2018.

In the end, after tens of thousands of pre-orders, Ossic only built 250 pairs of headphones and only shipped a few dozen to Kickstarter backers.

Crowdfunding campaign failures for hardware products are rarely shocking, but often the collapse comes from the company not being able to acquire additional funding from outside investors. Here, Ossic appears to have been misguided from the start and even with nearly $6 million in crowdfunding and seed funding, which they said nearly matched that number, they were left unable to begin large-scale manufacturing. The company said in their letter, that it would likely take more than $2 million in additional funding to deliver the existing backlog of pre-orders.

Backers are understandably quite upset about not receiving their headphones. A group of over 1,200 Facebook users have joined a recently-created page threatening a class action lawsuit against the team.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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