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May 23, 2019
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Reality Check: The marvel of computer vision technology in today’s camera-based AR systems

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British science fiction writer, Sir Arther C. Clark, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Augmented reality has the potential to instill awe and wonder in us just as magic would. For the very first time in the history of computing, we now have the ability to blur the line between the physical world and the virtual world. AR promises to bring forth the dawn of a new creative economy, where digital media can be brought to life and given the ability to interact with the real world.

AR experiences can seem magical but what exactly is happening behind the curtain? To answer this, we must look at the three basic foundations of a camera-based AR system like our smartphone.

  1. How do computers know where it is in the world? (Localization + Mapping)
  2. How do computers understand what the world looks like? (Geometry)
  3. How do computers understand the world as we do? (Semantics)

Part 1: How do computers know where it is in the world? (Localization)

Mars Rover Curiosity taking a selfie on Mars. Source: https://www.nasa.gov/jpl/msl/pia19808/looking-up-at-mars-rover-curiosity-in-buckskin-selfie/

When NASA scientists put the rover onto Mars, they needed a way for the robot to navigate itself on a different planet without the use of a global positioning system (GPS). They came up with a technique called Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) to track the rover’s movement over time without GPS. This is the same technique that our smartphones use to track their spatial position and orientation.

A VIO system is made out of two parts.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Where top VCs are investing in media, entertainment & gaming

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Most of the strategy discussions and news coverage in the media & entertainment industry is concerned with the unfolding corporate mega-mergers and the political implications of social media platforms.

These are important conversations, but they’re largely a story of twentieth-century media (and broader society) finally responding to the dominance Web 2.0 companies have achieved.

To entrepreneurs and VCs, the more pressing focus is on what the next generation of companies to transform entertainment will look like. Like other sectors, the underlying force is advances in artificial intelligence and computer power.

In this context, that results in a merging of gaming and linear storytelling into new interactive media. To highlight the opportunities here, I asked nine top VCs to share where they are putting their money.

Here are the media investment theses of: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Alex Taussig (Lightspeed), Matt Hartman (betaworks), Stephanie Zhan (Sequoia), Jordan Fudge (Sinai), Christian Dorffer (Sweet Capital), Charles Hudson (Precursor), MG Siegler (GV), and Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau).

Cyan Banister, Partner at Founders Fund

In 2018 I was obsessed with the idea of how you can bring AI and entertainment together. Having made early investments in Brud, A.I. Foundation, Artie and Fable, it became clear that the missing piece behind most AR experiences was a lack of memory.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Startups Weekly: Will the Seattle tech scene ever reach its full potential?

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Greetings from Seattle, the land of Amazon, Microsoft, two of the world’s richest men and some startups.

I’m always surprised the Seattle startup ecosystem hasn’t grown to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley — or at least Boston and New York City — since the dot-com boom. Today, it’s the strongest it’s has been due to the successes of companies like the newly minted unicorn Outreach, trucking business Convoy and, of course, the dog walking startup Rover. But the city still lags behind, failing to adopt the culture of entrepreneurship that defines San Francisco.

I spent a lot of time wondering why it hasn’t reached its full potential. Is it because Microsoft and Amazon pay their employees so well they don’t have the same urge to build something from the ground up? Is it a lack of access to capital? Is the city not attracting top talent? If you have thoughts, send them my way.

“We think part of the issue is a lack of capital and a lack of help,” Rover and Pioneer Square Labs co-founder Greg Gottesman told TechCrunch earlier this year. “If we can provide a little bit of both of those things, we can really put Seattle where it deserves to be, should be and will be.”

Despite its shortcomings, there is still some action in the city I want to highlight this week. A same-day delivery business, Dolly, is on the rise. The startup told me on Thursday it had raised a $7.5 million round from Unlock Venture Partners, Maveron and Jeff Wilke, the chief executive officer of Amazon Worldwide Consumer. Maveron, if you remember, is the VC fund co-founded by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz.

In other Seattle news, Madrona Venture Group, a well-regarded fund, raised an additional $100 million this week. Typically, Madrona focuses on companies based in the Pacific Northwest, but this fund will deploy capital throughout the entire U.S. Hmmm, that’s not necessarily a good sign for Seattle founders, but great progress for the ecosystem nonetheless.

If you’re interested in learning more about Seattle tech, I’ve covered it a bit because it’s my hometown! Start with this story, which dives deep into a Seattle accelerator that’s working hard to encourage entrepreneurship in the city. Alright, on to other news.

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IPO corner!

WeWork: The co-working giant now known as The We Company submitted confidential IPO documents to the SEC, the company confirmed in a press release Monday. Is this the next massive startup win or a house of cards waiting to be toppled by the glare of the public markets? TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton investigates.

Slack: The business is in its final steps toward a much-anticipated direct listing, with one source telling TechCrunch the listing will be complete within 45 days. The WSJ reported this week that Slack will make an online presentation to potential shareholders on May 13. This week, we dug deep into Slack’s S-1 and decided to evaluate just how well the tech press, us included, did in covering the company. For the most part, the tech press did decently well, except for one curious, $162 million gap.

Uber: Finally! That ride-hailing company is going public next week. That latest news? Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick won’t be ringing the opening bell. Uber would not be where it is today without Kalanick, but him being there would surely be a reminder of Uber’s rocky past.

Beyond Meat: Shares of the company surged up 135 percent in their market opener last week, valuing the company as high as $3.52 billion. Volatility was so high on the company’s stock that the Nasdaq had to pause trading of “BYND” shares.

Micro-mobility instability:

Ofo has run into its fair share of issues, laying off hundreds of workers, shutting down its international division and more. Now, you can buy a piece of the startup’s history.

In other micro-mobility news, Lyft’s head of scooter & bikes Liam O’Connor, who was hired to help transportation company Lyft build its bike and scooter operations, has left after seven months with the newly-public company. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden has the scoop. Plus, Bird, the electric scooter unicorn doing its best to overcome regulatory barriers, has made its way back to San Francisco. Bird is using its business license in San Francisco to introduce monthly personal rentals in the city. The program enables people to rent a scooter for $24.99 a month with no cap on the number of rides. We’ll how that goes.

WTF?

For some reason, people are giving Magic Leap more money. The company has secured another $280 million in a deal with Japan’s largest mobile operator, Docomo. Do you know what that means? The developer fo AR/VR headsets has raised a total of $2.6 billion. We’re just as confused as you.

Brand new venture capital funds:

Unshackled Ventures raised $20 million. 

Jungle Ventures closed on $175 million.

And Toyota AI Ventures launched a $100 million fund.

Startup Capital

Uber investors exit

I have the inside story on Menlo Ventures early Uber stake and TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos goes deep with early Uber backer Bradley Tusk.

Extra Crunch!

This week, we offer TechCrunch Extra Crunch subscribers exclusive tips on building extraordinary teams. Plus, the final piece in TechCrunch’s Greg Kumparak’s series on Niantic, the fast-growing developer of Pokemon Go. If you recall, we’ve captured much of Niantic’s ongoing story in the first three parts of our EC-1, from its beginnings as an “entrepreneurial lab” within Google, to its spin-out as an independent company and the launch of Pokémon GO, to its ongoing focus on becoming a platform for others to build augmented reality products upon.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton chat about updates at the Vision Fund, Cheddar’s big exit and more of this week’s headlines.

News Source = techcrunch.com

First China, now Starbucks gets an ambitious VC-funded rival in Indonesia

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Asia’s venture capital-backed startups are gunning for Starbucks .

In China, the U.S. coffee giant is being pushed by Luckin Coffee, a $2.2 billion challenger surfing China’s on-demand wave, and on the real estate side, where WeWork China has just unveiled an on-demand product that could tempt people who go to Starbucks to kill time or work.

That trend is picking up in Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, where an on-demand challenger named Fore Coffee has fuelled up for a fight after it raised $8.5 million.

Fore was started in August 2018 when associates at East Ventures, a prolific early-stage investor in Indonesia, decided to test how robust the country’s new digital infrastructure can be. That means it taps into unicorn companies like Grab, Go-Jek and Tokopedia and their army of scooter-based delivery people to get a hot brew out to customers. Incidentally, the name ‘Fore’ comes from ‘forest’ — “we aim to grow fast, strong, tall and bring life to our surrounding” — rather than in front of… or a shout heard on the golf course.

The company has adopted a similar hybrid approach to Luckin, and Starbucks thanks to its alliance with Alibaba. Fore operates 15 outlets in Jakarta, which range from ‘grab and go’ kiosks for workers in a hurry, to shops with space to sit and delivery-only locations, Fore co-founder Elisa Suteja told TechCrunch. On the digital side, it offers its own app (delivery is handled via Tokopedia’s Go-Send service) and is available via Go-Jek and Grab’s apps.

So far, Fore has jumped to 100,000 deliveries per month and its app is top of the F&B category for iOS and Android in Indonesia — ahead of Starbucks, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut .

It’s early times for the venture — which is not a touch on Starbuck’s $85 billion business; it does break out figures for Indonesia — but it is a sign of where consumption is moving to Indonesia, which has become a coveted beachhead for global companies, and especially Chinese, moving into Southeast Asia. Chinese trio Tencent, Alibaba and JD.com and Singapore’s Grab are among the outsiders who have each spent hundreds of millions to build or invest in services that tap growing internet access among Indonesia’s population of over 260 million.

There’s a lot at stake. A recent Google-Temasek report forecast that Indonesia alone will account for over 40 percent of Southeast Asia’s digital economy by 2025, which is predicted to triple to reach $240 billion.

As one founder recently told TechCrunch anonymously: “There is no such thing as winning Southeast Asia but losing Indonesia. The number one priority for any Southeast Asian business must be to win Indonesia.”

Forecasts from a recent Google-Temasek report suggest that Indonesia is the key market in Southeast Asia

This new money comes from East Ventures — which incubated the project — SMDV, Pavilion Capital, Agaeti Venture Capital and Insignia Ventures Partners with participation from undisclosed angel backers. The plan is to continue to invest in growing the business.

“Fore is our model for ‘super-SME’ — SME done right in leveraging technology and digital ecosystem,” Willson Cuaca, a managing partner at East Ventures, said in a statement.

There’s clearly a long way to go before Fore reaches the size of Luckin, which has said it lost 850 million yuan, or $124 million, inside the first nine months in 2018.

The Chinese coffee challenger recently declared that money is no object for its strategy to dethrone Starbucks. The U.S. firm is currently the largest player in China’s coffee market, with 3,300 stores as of last May and a goal of topping 6,000 outlets by 2022, but Luckin said it will more than double its locations to more than 4,500 by the end of this year.

By comparison, Indonesia’s coffee battle is only just getting started.

News Source = techcrunch.com

WeWork could challenge Starbucks in China with new on-demand service

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The rise of Starbucks in China, like that in the west, is closely linked to its function as a “third space” for people to hang out between home and work. In recent years, a bevy of coffee entrepreneurs are trying to topple the American giant’s dominance in China and lately, an unexpected contender — WeWork — has joined their camp.

This month, the office tenant and workplace service provider launched WeWork Go, a new feature that allows China-based users to rent a desk by the minute so they are no longer tied to long-term leases. While Starbucks provides free accommodation and charges for coffee, WeWork flips the equation to offer free coffee and paid space. Starbucks is already being squeeze in China by emerging rival Luckin Coffee, a well-funded startup that explicitly pledges to take on the Seattle-based giant with a model that focuses on coffee delivery.

WeWork Go works a bit like other shared services, with an app that lets users check the occupancy of a list of offices in real time before they travel over. Upon arrival, users scan a QR code at the gate, pop the door open, get seated in the common area and the billing begins.

wework go china

WeWork Go available through a WeChat mini program. Screenshot: TechCrunch

The firm says it monitors traffic flow closely so the common space isn’t flooded with fleeting users. Booking private rooms require additional fees. Go claims to have picked up 50,000 registered users so far after piloting for three months across an inventory of 18 locations in Shanghai, where WeWork nestles its China headquarters.

Made for China

Instead of building a native app, WeWork Go operates via a WeChat mini program, a form of a stripped-down app that works within China’s largest social network. Mini programs are an increasingly popular way for startups to trial ideas thanks to their relative ease to develop. “[Go] is a key development of our China localization,” a WeWork spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Go is tailoring to the so-called “part-time users.” “These people would not purchase the monthly membership. They would work at home or a coffee shop, restaurant, or library,” Dominic Penaloza, who heads innovation and technology at WeWork China, told TechCrunch. He first conceptualized the on-demand workplace service at Naked Hub, a smaller local rival WeWork China bought out for $400 million last year. After the merger, the executive alongside his tech team joined WeWork and continued with the project that would later become Go.

The pay-as-you-go feature is also getting rolled out stateside at a new Manhattan location last week.

Penaloza admits Go could be competing with coffee shops for it offers “an alternative type of the third space for freelancers, mobile workers, business travellers or those who want to briefly step aside from their offices for a mental break.” The obvious target is Starbucks, which commands a whopping 51 percent share of the country’s booming coffee market.

Made for WeWork

For WeWork, Go serves as a trial for those deciding whether to sign on monthly subscriptions. What they are weighing is the 1,830 yuan ($271) price tag for a hotdesk in downtown Shanghai. By comparison, Go starts at 15 yuan and goes up to 30 yuan an hour at more prime locations, offering the same perks as the full-time hotdesking plan, which includes access to common spaces, beverages and wifi.

Users can do their math. “If you started as a WeWork Go member, and if you use our service quite a lot, you will realize it’s much more economical to purchase monthly subscriptions. WeWork Go enables WeWork to reach an entirely new market segment,” suggests Penaloza.

The flexible pricing may help WeWork — which generates the bulk of its revenues from large corporations — reach a wider user base. The shared office industry in China has entered what real-estate researcher Jones Lang LaSalle calls the “second phase,” with big firms moving into premium workplaces like WeWork and local player Soho 3Q. Cash-strapped startups, on the other hand, increasingly turn to government-backed incubators for lower costs.

wework china

Photo: WeWork China

Several early users of Go told TechCrunch they found the service delivering a “quieter” and “more comfortable” vibe than most cafes, but distance is key when they are in a rush. WeWork currently has about 60 locations across a dozen major Chinese cities, whereas Starbucks reaches a dense network of 3,330 stores and is shooting for 6,000 by the end of 2022. WeWork China got a boost for locations with the Naked Hub acquisition last year and says it’s open to adding third-party spaces such as restaurants into its inventory, though it has not taken a solid step towards that vision.

“There is a very interesting opportunity in the really downtown area, where WeWork locations and Naked Hub locations are quite full starting from after lunch until 5 pm,” notes Penaloza. “What’s amazing is that restaurants around those locations are quite empty at exactly the same time, so there’s a fascinating opportunity there but we haven’t done anything about it yet.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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