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May 23, 2019
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MultiVu raises $7M seed round for its next-gen 3D sensor

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MultiVu, a Tel Aviv-based startup that is developing a new 3D imaging solution that only relies on a single sensor and some deep learning smarts, today announced that it has raised a $7 million seed round. The round was led by crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, Cardumen Captial and Hong Kong’s Junson Capital.

Tel Aviv University’s TAU Technology Innovation Momentum Fund supported some of the earlier development of MultiVu’s core technology, which came out of Prof. David Mendlovic’s lab at the university. Mendlovic previously co-founded smartphone camera startup Corephotonics, which was recently acquired by Samsung.

The promise of MultiVu’s sensor is that it can offer 3D imaging with a single-lens camera instead of the usual two-sensor setup. This single sensor can extract depth and color data in a single shot.

This makes for a more compact setup and, by extension, a more affordable solution since it requires fewer components. All of this is powered by the company’s patented light field technology.

Currently, the team is focusing on using the sensor for face authentication in phones and other small devices. That’s obviously a growing market, but there are also plenty of other application for small 3D sensors, ranging from other security use cases to sensors for self-driving cars.

“The technology, which passed the proof-of-concept stage will bring 3D Face Authentication and affordable 3D imaging to the mobile, automotive, industrial and medical markets,” MultiVu CEO Doron Nevo said. “We are excited to be given the opportunity to commercialize this technology.”

Right now, though, the team is mostly focusing on bringing its sensor to market, though. The company will use the new funding for that, as well as new marketing and business development activities.

“We are pleased to invest in the future of 3D sensor technologies and believe that MultiVu will penetrate markets, which until now could not take advantage of costly 3D imaging solutions,” said OurCrowd Senior Investment Partner Eli Nir. “We are proud to be investing in a third company founded by Prof. David Mendlovic (who just recently sold CorePhotonics to Samsung), managed by CEO Doron Nevo – a serial entrepreneur with proven successes and a superb team they have gathered around them.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Travel activities platform Klook raises $225M led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund

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We recently noted that SoftBank’s Vision Fund has stepped up its deal-making in Asia this year, and today it added a new company to its roster: travel services platform Klook.

Hong Kong-based Klook announced today that it has raised a $225 million round led by the Vision Fund with participation from existing investors. The deal — which is described as a “Series D plus” — comes just eight months after Klook announced its $200 million Series D at a valuation of over $1 billion. The company didn’t confirm what its new valuation is, but co-founder and president Eric Gnock Fah (second from right in the photo above) did confirm to TechCrunch that it has increased.

Klook was founded in 2014 and it serves as an activities platform for users who travel overseas. That covers areas like visits to adventure parks, scuba diving, more localized tours or basics such as train travel, food or airport transfers, all of which can be found, paid for and taken using Klook’s platform. Today, Klook claims to host 100,000 activities across over 270 destinations. Its team has grown to over 1,000 staff and it has 20 offices, including sites in Europe and the U.S. as well as, of course, on its home turf in Asia Pacific.

This new injection means that Klook has now raised $425 million to date. Its investors include Sequoia China, Matrix Partners, TCV, OurCrowd, Goldman Sachs, Boyu Capital, Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) among others.

Gnock Fah said that Klook has maintained a dialogue with SoftBank “for a while.” The company only recently raised its Series D so didn’t need the additional capital, but he said that it was moved by SoftBank’s “bigger vision” and its potential role in the SoftBank “ecosystem.”

That, in particular, means opportunities to work with other Vision Fund-backed startups in Asia. Gnock Fah specifically name-checked ride-hailing firm Grab in Southeast Asia and hospitality company OYO, as well as e-commerce companies Coupang in Korea and Tokopedia in Southeast Asia.

“We don’t do point to point or on demand so it’s synergistic on both ends,” he said of potential tie-ins with Grab — which is already working with OYO — while he cited Klook’s ongoing work with Alibaba, which has relationships with Tokopedia and Lazada in Southeast Asia.

(From left to right) David Liu, Chief Product Officer; Bernie Xiong, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder; Anita Ngai, Chief Revenue Officer; Eric Gnock Fah, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder; Ethan Lin, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder (PRNewsfoto/Klook)

The new funds will be used to go after growth in Western markets, Gnock Fah explained, as well as increasing Klook’s efforts in Japan — where it has been ramping up ahead of the Summer Olympics in 2020, and now has the SoftBank connection.

“Now is the time to scale up the fundamentals we’ve built in Western regions,” Gnock Fah said in an interview. “We already have a team on the ground — fundamentals are built — now it is about investing more on the supply-demand side.”

That sounds like increased online advertising spend — I often wonder how handsomely Facebook and Google profit from Vision Fund investments — while in Japan the company is working to cater to more Japanese travelers heading overseas on trips as well as inbound tourism. SoftBank has launched a number of joint ventures with Vision Fund companies to bring their services to the Japanese market — Paytm, WeWork, OYO and Didi Chuxing immediately come to mind — but Gnock Fah said nothing definitive has been decided.

“We’re in a lot of conversations with their team about how to work closely with them,” he said, pointing out that — unlike those aforementioned examples — Klook already has a presence in Japan.

Whenever the Vision Fund has invested in Asia-based companies, I’ve asked the founders how they handle the fund’s links to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is widely believed to have ordered the killing, and he runs Public Investment Fund (PIF), the main LP anchor behind the Vision Fund.

Clearly, based on an increase in deals in Asia this year, the link isn’t putting founders off.

Most founders of Vision Fund portfolio startups that TechCrunch spoke to have supplied fairly platitudinous comments or declined to say anything at all — you can read a collection of them here — but Gnock Fah suggested a new (and unique) perspective.

“Because it is a relatively new fund, there’s more spotlight” on the Vision Fund, he offered.

Klook declined to provide a further statement on the Vision Fund and the Khashoggi murder following our interview despite a request from TechCrunch.

“The new capital isn’t about capital per se — our economics are heath — but more for a strategic investment angle,” he said, getting back to more fundamental founder talking points.

The Vision Fund-led cash infusion does mean that Klook, which has been pretty candid about a potential IPO, is putting off plans for a liquidity exit further down the road.

“Right now, there is no fixed timeframe,” Gnock Fah said. “Back in the early days, we had that aspiration… back then, if we wanted to raise $300-400 million [then] IPO was the way to get that.”

“We believe Klook is a leader in taking a mobile-first approach to the travel activities and services industry. The company has seen great success in scaling its business across different geographies and cultures, and we are excited to help them drive further innovation in the global travel industry,” said SoftBank partner Lydia Jett in a statement.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Edgybees’s new developer platform brings situational awareness to live video feeds

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San Diego-based Edgybees today announced the launch of Argus, its API-based developer platform that makes it easy to add augmented reality features to live video feeds.

The service has long used this capability to run its own drone platform for first responders and enterprise customers, which allows its users to tag and track objects and people in emergency situations, for example, to create better situational awareness for first responders.

I first saw a demo of the service a year ago, when the team walked a group of journalists through a simulated emergency, with live drone footage and an overlay of a street map and the location of ambulances and other emergency personnel. It’s clear how these features could be used in other situations as well, given that few companies have the expertise to combine the video footage, GPS data and other information, including geographic information systems, for their own custom projects.

Indeed, that’s what inspired the team to open up its platform. As the Edgybees team told me during an interview at the Ourcrowd Summit last month, it’s impossible for the company to build a new solution for every vertical that could make use of it. So instead of even trying (though it’ll keep refining its existing products), it’s now opening up its platform.

“The potential for augmented reality beyond the entertainment sector is endless, especially as video becomes an essential medium for organizations relying on drone footage or CCTV,” said Adam Kaplan, CEO and co-founder of Edgybees. “As forward-thinking industries look to make sense of all the data at their fingertips, we’re giving developers a way to tailor our offering and set them up for success.”

In the run-up to today’s launch, the company already worked with organizations like the PGA to use its software to enhance the live coverage of its golf tournaments.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Transportation Weekly: Waymo unleashes laser bear, Bird spreads its wings, Lyft tightens its belt

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Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fifth edition of our newsletter and we love the reader feedback. Keep it coming.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming). 

This week, we explore the world of light detection and ranging sensors known as LiDAR, young drivers, trouble in Barcelona, autonomous trucks in California, and China among other things.


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

This week, we’re going to put our on analysis hats as we explore the world of LiDAR, a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. LiDAR is considered by most in the self-driving car industry (Tesla CEO Elon Musk being one exception) a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.

There are A LOT of companies working on LiDAR. Some counts track upwards of 70. For years now, Velodyne has been the primary supplier of LiDAR sensors to companies developing autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012.

Dozens of startups have sprung up with Velodyne in its sights. But now Waymo has changed the storyline.

To catch you up: Waymo announced this week that it will start selling its custom LiDAR sensors — the technology that was at the heart of a trade secrets lawsuit last year against Uber.

Waymo’s entry into the market doesn’t necessarily upend other companies’ plans. Waymo is going to sell its short range LiDAR, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, to companies outside of self-driving cars. It will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.

It does put pressure on startups, particularly those with less capital or those targeting the same customer base. Pitchbook ran the numbers for us to determine where the LiDAR industry sits at the moment. There are two stories here: there are a handful of well capitalized startups and we may have reached “peak” LiDAR. Last year, there were 28 VC deals in LiDAR technology valued at $650 million. The number of deals was slightly lower than in 2017, but the values jumped by nearly 34 percent.

The top global VC-backed LiDAR technology companies (by post valuation) are Quanergy, Velodyne (although mostly corporate backed), Aurora (not self-driving company Aurora Innovation), Ouster, and DroneDeploy. The graphic below, also courtesy of Pitchbook, shows the latest figures as of January 31, 2019.

Dig In

Researchers discovered that two popular car alarm systems were vulnerable to a manipulated server-side API that could be abused to take control of an alarm system’s user account and their vehicle.

The companies — Russian alarm maker Pandora and California-based Viper (or Clifford in the U.K.) — have fixed the  security vulnerabilities that allowed researchers to remotely track, hijack and take control of vehicles with the alarms installed. What does this all mean?

Our in-house security expert and reporter Zack Whittaker digs in and gives us a reality check. Follow him @zackwhittaker.

Since the first widely publicized car hack in 2015 proved hijacking and controlling a car was possible, it’s opened the door to understanding the wider threat to modern vehicles.

Most modern cars have internet connectivity, making their baseline surface area of attack far greater than a car that doesn’t. But the effort that goes into remotely controlling a vehicle is difficult and convoluted, and the attack — often done by chaining together a set of different vulnerabilities — can take weeks or even longer to develop.

Keyfob or replay attacks are far more likely than say remote attacks over the internet or cell network. A keyfob sends an “unlock” signal, a device captures that signal and replays it. By replaying it you can unlock the car.

This latest car hack, featuring flawed third-party car alarms, was far easier to exploit, because the alarm systems added a weakness to the vehicles that weren’t there to begin with. Car makers, with vast financial and research resources, do a far greater job at securing their vehicle than the small companies that focus on functionality over security. For now, the bigger risk comes from third parties in the automobile space, but the car makers can’t afford to drop their game either.


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

blinky-cat-bird

The California Department Motor Vehicles is the government body that regulates autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. The job of enforcement falls to the California Highway Patrol.

In an effort to gauge the need for more robust testing guidelines, the California Highway Patrol decided to hold an event at its headquarters in Sacramento. Eight companies working on autonomous trucking technology were invited. It was supposed to be a large event with local and state politicians in attendance. And it was supposed to validate autonomous trucking as an emerging industry.

There’s just one problem: only one AV trucking company is willing and able to complete this course. We hear that this AV startup actually already went ahead and completed the test course.

The California Highway Patrol has postponed event, for now, presumably until more companies can join.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.


Deal of the week

Instead of highlighting one giant deal, let’s step back and take a broader view of mobility this week. The upshot: 2018 saw a decline in total investments in the sector and money moved away from ride-hailing and towards two-wheeled transportation.

According to new research from EY, mobility investments in 2018 reached $39.1 billion, down from $55.2 billion in the previous year. (The figures EY provided was through November 2018).

Ride-hailing companies raised $7.1 billion in 2018, a 73 percent decline from the previous year when $26.7 billion poured into this sector.

Investors, it seems, are shifting their focus to other business models, notably first and last-mile connectivity. EY estimates $7 billion was invested in two-wheeler mobility companies such as bike-sharing and electric scooters in 2018. The U.S. and China together have contributed to more than 80 percent of overall two-wheeler mobility investments this year alone, according to EY research shared with TechCrunch.

Other deals:


Snapshot

Let’s talk about Generation Z, that group of young people born 1996 to the present, and one startup that is focused on turning that demographic into car owners.

There’s lots of talk and hand wringing about young people choosing not to get a driver’s license, or not buying a vehicle. In the UK, for instance, about 42 percent of young drivers aged 17 to 24, hold a driver’s license. That’s about 2.7 million people, according to the National Travel Survey 2018 (NTS) of the UK government’s department of transport. An additional 2.2 million have a provisional or learner license. Combined, that amounts to about 13 percent of the car driving population of the UK.

In the UK, evidence suggests that a rise in motoring costs have discouraged young people from learning. And there lies one opportunity that a new startup called Driver1 is targeting.

Driver 1 is a car subscription service designed exclusively for first car drivers aged 17 to 24. The company has been in stealth mode for about a year and is just now launching.

“The young driver market is being underserved by the car industry, Driver1 founder Tim Hammond told TechCrunch. “And primarily it’s the financing that’s not available for that age group. It’s also something that’s not really affordable for any of the car subscription models like Fair.com and it’s not suitable for the OEM subscription services either financially or from an age perspective for young drivers.”

The company’s own research has found this group wants a newer car for 12 to 15 months.

“The car is the extension of their device,” Hammond said, noting these drivers don’t want the old junkers. “They want their iPhones and they want the car that goes with it.”

The company is working directly with leasing companies — not dealerships — to provide young drivers with 3 to 5-year-old cars that have lost 60 percent or so of their value. Driver1 is targeting under $120 a month for the customer and has a partnership with remarketing company Manheim, which is owned by Cox Automotive.

The startup is focused on the UK for now and has about 600 members who have reserved their cars for purchase. Driver1 is aiming to capture about 10 percent of the 1 million or so young people in the UK who pass their learners permit each year. The company plans it expand to France and other European countries in the fall.


Tiny but mighty micromobility

Bird Rocking Out GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Ca-caw, ca-caw! That’s the sound of Bird gearing up to launch Bird Platform in New Zealand, Canada and Latin America in the coming weeks. The platform is part of Bird’s mission to bring its scooters across the world “and empower local entrepreneurs in regions where we weren’t planning to launch to run their own electric-scooter sharing program with Bird’s tech and vehicles,” Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden told TechCrunch.

MRD’s two cents: Bird Platform seems like a way for Bird to make extra cash without having to do any of the work i.e. charging the vehicles, maintaining them and working with city officials to get permits. Smart!

Meanwhile, the dolla dolla bills keep pouring into micromobility. European electric scooter startup Voi Technology raised an additional $30 million in capital. That was on top of a $50 million Series A round just three months ago.

Oh, and because micromobility isn’t just for startups, Volkswagen decided to launch a kind of weird-looking electric scooter in Geneva. Because, why not?

Megan Rose Dickey

One more thing …

Lyft is trimming staff to prepare for its IPO. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden learned that the company has laid off about 50 staff in its bike and scooter division. It appears most of these folks are people who joined the Lyft through its acquisition of  electric bike sharing startup Motivate a deal that closed about three months ago.


Notable reads

It’s probably not smart to suggest another newsletter, but if you haven’t checked out Michael Dunne’s  The Chinese Are Coming newsletter, you should. Dunne has a unique perspective on what’s happening in China, particularly as it related to automotive and newer forms of mobility such as ride-hailing. One interesting nugget from his latest edition: there are more than 20 other new electric vehicle makers in China.

“Most will fall away within the next 3 to 4 years as cash runs out,” Dunne predicts.

Other quotable notables:

Here’s a fun read for the week. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney wrote about a YC Combinator startup Jetpack Aviation.The startup has launched pre-orders this week for the moonshot of moonshots, the Speeder, a personal vertical take-off and landing vehicle with a svelte concept design that looks straight out of Star Wars or Halo.


Testing and deployments

Spanish ride-hailing firm Cabify is back operating in Barcelona, Spain despite issuing dire warnings that new regulations issued by local government would crush its business and force it to fire thousands of drivers and leave forever. Turns out forever is one month.

The Catalan Generalitat issued a decree last month imposing a wait time of at least 15 minutes between a booking being made and a passenger being picked up. The policy was made to ensure taxis and ride-hailing firms are not competing for the same passengers, following a series of taxi strikes, which included scenes of violence. Our boots on the ground reporter Natasha Lomas has the whole story.

Sure, Barcelona is just one city. But what happened in Barcelona isn’t an isolated incident. The early struggles between conventional taxis and ride-hailing operations might be over, but that doesn’t mean the matter has been settled altogether.

And it’s not likely to go away. Once, robotaxis actually hit the road en masse — and yes, that’ll be awhile — these same struggles will pop up again.

Other deployments, or, er, retreats ….

Bike share pioneer Mobike retreats to China

On the autonomous vehicle front:

China Post, the official postal service of China, and delivery and logistics companies Deppon Express, will begin autonomous package delivery services in April. The delivery trucks will operate on autonomous driving technologies developed by FABU Technology, an AI company focused on intelligent driving systems.


On our radar

There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month. Come find me.

SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW. And there is a lot of mobility action here. Aurora CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson was on stage Saturday morning with Malcolm Gladwell. Mayors from a number of U.S. cities as well as companies like Ford and Mercedes are on the scene. Here’s where I’ll be. 

  • 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (local time) March 9 at the Empire Garage for the Smart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
  • 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (local time) March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
  • 3:30 p.m (local time) over at the Hilton Austin Downtown, I’ll be moderating a panel Re-inventing the Wheel: Own, Rent, Share, Subscribe. Sherrill Kaplan with Zipcar, Amber Quist, with Silvercar and Russell Lemmer with Dealerware will join me on stage.
  • TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here

Nvidia GTC

TechCrunch (including yours truly) will also be at Nvidia’s annual GPU Technology Conference from March 18 to 21 in San Jose.

Self Racing Cars

The annual Self Racing Car event will be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.

There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at contact@selfracingcars.com.

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos la próxima vez.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Red Hat acquires hybrid cloud data management service NooBaa

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Red Hat is in the process of being acquired by IBM for a massive $34 billion, but that deal hasn’t closed yet and, in the meantime, Red Hat is still running independently and making its own acquisitions, too. As the company today announced, it has acquired Tel Aviv-based NooBaa, an early-stage startup that helps enterprises manage their data more easily and access their various data providers through a single API.

NooBaa’s technology makes it a good fit for Red Hat, which has recently emphasized its ability to help enterprise more effectively manage their hybrid and multicloud deployments. At its core, NooBaa is all about bringing together various data silos, which should make it a good fit in Red Hat’s portfolio. With OpenShift and the OpenShift Container Platform, as well as its Ceph Storage service, Red Hat already offers a range of hybrid cloud tools, after all.

“NooBaa’s technologies will augment our portfolio and strengthen our ability to meet the needs of developers in today’s hybrid and multicloud world,” writes Ranga Rangachari, the VP and general manager for storage and hyperconverged infrastructure at Red Hat, in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled to welcome a technical team of nine to the Red Hat family as we work together to further solidify Red Hat as a leading provider of open hybrid cloud technologies.”

While virtually all of Red Hat’s technology is open source, NooBaa’s code is not. The company says that it plans to open source NooBaa’s technology in due time, though the exact timeline has yet to be determined.

NooBaa was founded in 2013. The company has raised some venture funding from the likes of Jerusalem Venture Partners and OurCrowd, with a strategic investment from Akamai Capital thrown in for good measure. The company never disclosed the size of that round, though, and neither Red Hat nor NooBaa are disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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