March 21, 2019

Pritam Gupta - page 1391

Pritam Gupta has 7973 articles published.

StatMuse lets you ask a sports question and hear a response from an NFL star

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StatMuse, the sports statistics database that can be queried using natural language inquiries, just announced that it’s become the second startup accepted into the NFL Players Association’s accelerator.

As a refresher the accelerator, called The One Team Collective, was built to help smaller startups get access to player licensing rights in return for equity.

We first wrote about Statmuse when it was accepted into Disney’s accelerator in 2015, then again when it raised a $10M Series A early last year. Back then the startup was pretty focused on providing users with helpful graphs and charts that could be pulled up by typing in a question like “most points scored by an NFL team this year”. But soon after raising their Series A, the startup decided to shift its focus to voice apps.

So today Statmuse is launching its own iOS App and Alexa app, where you can access its database and ask questions with your voice – and have them answered by your favorite NFL player.

Here’s how it works. The company did recording sessions with dozens of NFL players and legends – ranging from Payton Manning to Jerry Rice. These players spent about 90 minutes recording a range of phrases, which StatMuse then strings into complete sentences on the fly when generating a response.  The startup also has players record different verb combinations and styles of the same word, so the algorithm sound more realistic by saying the same thing in a few different ways.

Right now there are 7 players launching, and the startup hopes to add about one a week going forward. This means that players won’t answer every question – they’ll only respond to ones about them or their team. For general sports inquiries StatMuse enlisted Scott Van Pelt of ESPN, who spend nearly 10 hours recording a much broader catalogue of phrases and player names from the sports world, meaning his voice can respond to basically any question that StatMuse’s database can handle.

The technology isn’t perfect – some of the pauses between words are a bit awkward, and occasionally there’s an AI-generated word mixed in to supplement a word that the athlete didn’t record himself. But even in its first iteration the feature is cool. Sure, GPS services like Waze have already added voice recordings of celebrities, but its a different experience hearing them respond to a question that you ask with your voice.

The app is totally free to use, but going forward StatMuse sees a trend towards small dollar consumer subscriptions – meaning they may charge a dollar or two a month to talk to your favorite player.

You can check out StatMuse in the iOS App Store now, and on Alexa devices in the next few days.

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Plex’s Live TV service comes to the web and Fire TV

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Plex’s Live TV service, a service offering cord cutters a way to watch and record live television via an antenna, is now available to use via the web as well as on Amazon Fire TV. From the desktop, only the Live TV service itself is available, but on Fire TV, you can use both the streaming TV service and the newer DVR feature. Plex Live TV was previously available on Android TV, Apple TV, iOS and Android.

Having just exited from beta back in August, Live TV is Plex’s big bet to capitalize in the shift to streaming TV online, instead of through traditional cable and satellite TV providers. The company last fall introduced a DVR feature that let Plex subscribers record TV shows and movies from a TV tuner and antenna, connected to their Plex setup.

This summer, Plex added the capability to live stream television and then later added the ability to pause, rewind and fast-forward through programs.

The solution is more of a DIY alternative to paying for something like Sling TV, Vue, Hulu Live TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV NOW, or others offering live television subscriptions over the internet. However, Plex is limited to only those free channels you can get over-the-air with an antenna. Still, that’s a lot of content, given that you can pick up the main broadcast stations like NBC, FOX, CBS, ABC, PBS, CW, and more without paying for cable.

To use Plex’s service, you only need a Plex Pass subscription, which is just $4.99 per month – far less than the entry point for most live TV subscriptions, which begin at about $20 per month and go up from their as you customize your bundle with add-ons and other features. The subscription also includes access to other features, including a TV programming guide, Mobile and Cloud Sync, Premium Music, full access to Plex apps, parental controls and more.

The announcement comes shortly after Plex got itself into hot water over a poorly thought through change to its privacy policy that didn’t make it clear to users that Plex wasn’t spying on the content in their video libraries. The company quickly responded to clarify the issue, but some users claimed they’d move on regardless.

That exodus may or may have not actually happened, though – Plex’s mobile apps are maintaining their current positions, more or less – a top 150 Entertainment app on iOS, and top 30 video player app on Android.

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Pendo acquires Insert to add mobile apps to its user analytics and engagement platform

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Pendo helps businesses understand and assist their customers with tools like analytics, polls and walkthroughs. Until now, however, CEO Todd Olson said the company has been focused on the web (both desktop and mobile), with just a single mobile developer on the team.

“We as a team constantly had a lot of internal debates about how much to invest in [mobile],” he said. “If you want to do it, you have to really invest in it.”

That’s why the company has made its first acquisition — it’s buying Insert, a mobile marketing startup based in Israel. Olson told me that he connected with Insert through Battery Ventures, which backed both companies, and he saw their product as doing “essentially what we do, but for mobile devices.”

There are some differences, he acknowledged, since Insert is more focused on mobile messaging and less on analytics. But in Olson’s view, the Insert team has already done “all the hard work” of creating a platform that marketers and product designers can use, and integrating that product with native mobile apps.

“The key is doing it without developers,” he said. So with Insert, Pendo can build a platform that allows teams to engage with customers and improve their product across devices, and to do so without developer assistance: “The vision is to combine the products into one simple platform.”

Pendo recently raised a $25 million Series C, partly to fund acquisitions and international expansion — it looks like the Insert deal covers both. (Insert’s Tel Aviv office will also become Pendo’s first international location.) Insert, meanwhile, raised a $10 million round from Battery last year.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Olson said the combined companies have a headcount of 145 employees.

“With Insert, Pendo acquires a team that shares its passion for great product experiences,” said Insert founder and CEO Shahar Kaminitz in the acquisition announcement. “This combined platform allows product teams to better understand mobile users and deliver personalized experiences on the right mobile moments, when users are likely to get the best value.”

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Favor, the on-demand service focused on Texas, picks up $22 million Series B

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The on-demand economy is great for consumers but hard for the companyies that provide on-demand services. While many are still struggling to stabilize their business model and optimize their work force, Favor has seemed to find a bit of success by focusing in on a specific region.

Favor is an on-demand delivery service that operates in Texas. Much like Postmates, the service lets users order food (as well as other stuff) from their favorite restaurants and has runners pick it up and deliver it to the end-user.

The company has today announced the close of a $22 million Series B financing round led by existing investor S3 Ventures. Moreover, Favor says that the company has achieved profitability (overall profitability; not unit-economic profitability) as of this year.

Part of that has to do with the way that Favor has scaled back and focused on growing up a small number of markets.

Favor came on to the scene at SXSW in 2014, and took the same approach that most on-demand services do, which is to rapidly expand to new markets. However, Favor announced in July 2016 that it would be shuttering service across five major markets — Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Washington, DC — and shifting focus to Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets, instead.

The plan was to target markets with low density but high population, and it worked for a while. But the company has now drawn back into its home state of Texas, serving 11 markets within the state.

CEO Jag Bath sees Texas as a great place to learn how to grow up a market. After all, Texas has the second-largest economy of any state in the country, with a GDP greater than that of many countries.

As part of the funding deal, Favor is bringing on 25,000 new runners and working out a plan to expand to more markets within Texas. Eventually, Bath tells TechCrunch, the company will proceed outside of the state of Texas, but for now they’re working on making Favor as strong as possible in Texas.

Speaking of, Favor has mobilized its workforce to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, and built out tools offering users the option to donate a care package of relief supplies or make a monetary donation.

Like most on-demand delivery companies, Favor makes a portion of its revenue from its delivery fee, which it splits with the runner — runners keep 100 percent of their tips. But, beyond that, Favor also has paid partnership deals with businesses and restaurants, taking a percentage of the business they bring in for those partners.

“Our biggest challenge is to continue to win on service against many competitors who have deeper pockets and raised a lot of funding,” said Bath. “We don’t try to buy customers or runners, but instead try to provide the best possible service. It’s difficult to compete with free food all the time.”

That’s a clear dig at Postmates, which frequently uses promotions and discounts to turn up engagement on the platform. Postmates also operates in some of the same markets as Favor in Texas.

With this new $22 million, Favor has now raised a total of $34 million.

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SpaceX successfully launches mysterious X-37B spaceplane and recovers first stage

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SpaceX can add another first to its ever-increasing list: On Thursday, it successfully launched an the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B experimental spaceplane for the first time. This makes it the only launch provider to accomplish this besides the United Launch Alliance, and should help ensure SpaceX gets more business from U.S, defense contracts in future.

The launch vehicle used was SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which took off from the company’s LC-39A launch facility at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday morning at 10 AM ET (7 AM PT). The Falcon 9 deployed the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, as the payload is officially called, and then its first stage booster returned to Earth for a planned recovery at Cape Canaveral Air Force base via SpaceX’s LZ-1 landing pad. The goal was to get the launch up before the arrival of Hurricane Irma, and they succeeded.

While the specifics of the X-37B’s mission aren’t available to the public, it will be “conducting experiments” post-launch. Its last mission saw it orbit Earth for two years before returning via a landing in May. The X-37B, built by Boeing, is an uncrewed vehicle, but resembles the Space Shuttle on a smaller scale. It’s also designed to land like the Shuttle, using a landing strip like you’d use for an airliner.

The X-37B is the first uncrewed space plane for the U.S., and is designed for reusability at a reasonable cost. It’s aim is to fly and test new tech, and to return experimental results in a way that protects cargo and makes it suitable for post-operation examination. One of the goals with this launch was basically just to prove SpaceX as a viable launch option, which Boeing says will help ensure the flexibility and continued viability of the X-37B for experimental use.

For SpaceX, this marks the 16th recovery of a Falcon 9 first stage. The next mission to reuse a refurbished recovered booster is EchoStar 105’s SES-11 mission, which is taking place in October and which will reuse a booster first used for the CRS-10 ISS resupply mission.

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