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February 24, 2019
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Helen Yiang and Andy Wheeler will be speaking at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI April 18 at UC Berkeley

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We’re just under two months out from this year’s TC Sessions: Robotics + AI event, and we’ve still got a lot left to announce. As noted, we’ll have Anca Dragan, Marc Raibert, Alexei Efros, Hany Farid, Melonee Wise, Peter Barrett, Rana el Kaliouby, Arnaud Thiercelin and Laura Major at the April event, and today we’ve got a pair of names to add to the ever-growing speaker list.

Today we’re excited to announce to additions to our VC panel, who will be discussing the wild world of robotics investments.

Founding and Managing Partner of FoundersX Ventures, Helen Liang will be joining us at the event to discuss the 20 early stage robotics and AI startups she has invested in. Liang brings a decade of product development to her work at her early-stage capital fund and also serves as Founding President at Tech for Good.

Andy Wheeler is a founding partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), focusing on bringing early-stage tech to market. He is a co-founder of Ember Corporation and a veteran of MIT Media Lab. His list of early investments include Carbon, Farmer’s Business Network, Abundant Robotics and Orbital Insight.

Early bird tickets are now on sale – book your $249 ticket today and save $100 before prices go up. Students, did you know that you can save $45 with a heavily-discounted student ticket? Book your student ticket here.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Opera adds a free VPN to its Android browser app

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Opera became the first browser-maker to bundle a VPN with its service, and now that effort is expanding to mobile.

The company announced today that its Android browser app will begin offering a free VPN. The feature will be rolled out to beta users on a gradual basis. The VPN is free and unlimited, and it can be set to locations in America, Europe and Asia as well as an ‘optimal’ setting which hooks up the faster available connection. Switching on the VPN means that user traffic data isn’t collected by Opera, while it makes it harder for websites to track location and user data.

There are granular settings too, which include limiting VPN usage to private tabs and switching it off for search engines to get more local results.

Opera previously offered a free VPN app for Android and iOS but that project was closed last year. The new strategy, it seems, was to bake that technology directly into the browser to give it a more competitive advantage and use the tech to bring more users into the Opera ecosystem. There’s no word on an iOS launch.

“The reason why we are including this built-in VPN in our Android browser is because it gives you that extra layer of protection that you are searching for in your daily mobile browsing,” the company — which listed on the Nasdaq last year — said in a blog post.

The VPN — which is powered by a 2015 acquisition — is one of a number of privacy features that Opera offers. Others include cookie dialogue box blocking, cryptojacking and ad blocking. The company has also offered support for crypto with the addition of a crypto wallet, support for Web 3 apps and — as of this week — a feature that lets users buy crypto from inside their browser.

Besides its core apps, Opera also offers a ‘Touch’ browser that is optimized for devices that don’t have a home button. It launched on Android and expanded to iOS late last year.

News Source = techcrunch.com

With its Greenlots acquisition, Shell is moving from gas stations to charging stations

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In a bid to show that it’s getting ready for the electrification of American roads, Royal Dutch Shell is buying Greenlots, a Los Angeles-based developer of electric vehicle charging and energy management technologies.

Shell, which is making the acquisition through its Shell New Energies US subsidiary, snatched the company from Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech-focused investment firm.

“As our customers’ needs evolve, we will increasingly offer a range of alternative energy sources, supported by digital technologies, to give people choice and the flexibility, wherever they need to go and whatever they drive,” said Mark Gainsborough, Executive Vice President, New Energies for Shell, in a statement. “This latest investment in meeting the low-carbon energy needs of US drivers today is part of our wider efforts to make a better tomorrow. It is a step towards making EV charging more accessible and more attractive to utilities, businesses and communities.”

Courtesy of Ed Robinson/Shell

Since Greenlots raised its cash from Energy Impact Partners, the company has become the partner of choice for utilities for electric vehicle charging, according to the firm. Greenlots was selected as the sole software provider for VolksWagen’s “Electrify America” charging program  last January.

“Utilities are playing a pivotal role in accelerating the transition to a future electric mobility system that is safer, cleaner and more efficient,” said Greenlots CEO Brett Hauser, adding, “We look forward to now working with the resources, scale and reach of Shell to further accelerate this transition.”

“Greenlots is on an incredible trajectory and, in the hands of a company with the resources such as Shell, will be able to advance the important electrification of transportation even faster,” said EIP managing partner Hans Kobler in a statement.

For Shell, the deal adds to a portfolio of electric charging assets including the Dutch-based company, NewMotion.

Across the board energy companies are spending more time and money backing and deploying electric charging technology companies. ChargePoint, a Greenlots competitor, raised $240 million in a November financing that included Chevron Technology Ventures, while BP bought the UK-based public charging network Chargemaster last year.

Despite pushback in some corners of America to the increasing electrification of U.S. highways and byways, the future of mobility needs to be electric if there’s any hope of slowing (and ideally halting and reversing) climate change globally.

Some signs of hope can be found in the latest earnings statement from Tesla, which points to increased uptake of its electric vehicles.  The teased release of an electric truck could potentially even help win converts among those drivers who like to “roll coal” in the presence of hybrids or electric cars.

 

States are already investing heavily in electric infrastructure themselves to promote the adoption of vehicles. California, New York, and New Jersey announced last June a total of $1.3 billion in new infrastructure projects focused on electric vehicle charging.

That’s still not enough to meet the goals necessary to reduce greenhouse gases significantly enough. In all, the U.S. needs to put roughly 13 million electric vehicles on the road in order to meet the targets put forward in the Paris Accords climate treaty (which the U.S. walked away from last year).

According to estimates from the Center for American Progress, the U.S. needs to spend $4.7 billion through 2025 to buy and install the 330,000 public charging outlets the nation will need to meet that electric demand.

“As power and mobility converge, there will be a seismic shift in how people and goods are transported,” said Brett Hauser, Chief Executive Officer of Greenlots. “Electrification will enable a more connected, autonomous and personalized experience. Our technology, backed by the resources, scale and reach of Shell, will accelerate this transition to a future mobility ecosystem that is safer, cleaner and more accessible.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook is reportedly testing solar-powered internet drones again — this time with Airbus

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Facebook last year grounded its ambitious plan to develop a solar-powered drone to beam internet across the world, but the company isn’t done with the concept, it seems. The social media giant is working with aeronautics giant Airbus to test drones in Australia, according to a new report from Germany’s NetzPolitik.

Using a request under Australia’s Freedom of Information Act, NetzPolitik got hold of a document that shows the two companies spent last year in talks over a collaboration with test flights scheduled for November and December 2018. The duo have collaborated before on communication systems for satellite drones.

Those trials — and it isn’t clear if they took place — involved the use of Airbus’ Zephyr drone, a model that is designed for “defence, humanitarian and environmental missions.” The Zephyr is much like Facebook’s now-deceased Aquila drone blueprint; it is a HAPS — “High Altitude Pseudo Satellite” — that uses solar power and can fly for “months.”

The Model S version chosen by Facebook sports a 25-meter wingspan, can operate at up to 20km altitude and it uses millimeter-wave radio to broadcast to the ground.

The Zephyr Model S and Model T as displayed on the Airbus website

The Facebook and Airbus were designed to test a payload from the social network — doubtless internet broadcasting gear — but, since the document covers planning and meetings prior to the tests, we don’t know what the outcome or results were.

“We continue to work with partners on High Altitude Platform System (HAPS) connectivity. We don’t have further details to share at this time,” a Facebook spokesperson told NetzPolitik.

TechCrunch contacted Facebook for further comment (06:55 am EST), but the company had not responded at the time of writing.

Facebook has a raft of projects that are aimed at increasing internet access worldwide, particularly in developing regions such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. The drone projects may be its boldest, they are aimed at bringing connectivity to remote areas, but it has also used software and existing infrastructure to try to make internet access more affordable.

That has included the controversial Internet.org project, which was outlawed in India because it violated net neutrality by selecting the websites and apps that could be used. Since renamed to Free Basics — likely promoted by the Indian setback — it has been scaled back in some markets but, still, Facebook said last year that the program has reached nearly 100 million people to date. Beyond that top line number, little is known about the service, which also includes paid tiers for users.

That aside, the company also has a public-private WiFi program aimed at increasing hotspots for internet users while they are out and about.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Hany Farid and Peter Barrett will be speaking at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI April 18 at UC Berkeley

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We’re very excited to announce our first guests for this year’s TC Sessions: Robotics. TechCrunch is returning to the U.C. Berkeley campus again this April for another full-day session delving into all aspects of robotics. As we mark our third year, we’ve decided to add programming devoted to artificial intelligence, because you can’t really do robotics without AI.

We’ve got a ton of speakers, panels and demos to announce in the coming months, but we’re excited to start with a pair who encompass two distinct parts of the industry.

Hany Farid is Dartmouth’s Albert Bradley 1915 Third Century Professor of Computer Science, with a focus on human perception, image analysis and digital forensics. A recipient of the National Academy of Inventors, Alfred P. Sloan and John Simon Guggenheim fellowships, Farid is set to join the U.C. Berkeley faculty in July of this year.

Peter Barrett is the CTO of Playground Global, an investment firm that has backed a number of robotics startups, including Agility, Canvas, Common Sense, Skydio and Righthand Robotics. Prior to co-founding Playground, Barrett founded Rocket Science Games and served as the CTO of CloudCar and Microsoft TV.

TC Sessions: Robotics + AI is being held April 18 at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.

Early Bird tickets are on sale now for $249 and students get a big discount with tickets running at just $45.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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