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January 17, 2019
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Google raises its G Suite prices

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Google today announced that it is raising the price of its G Suite subscriptions for the first time. In the U.S., the prices of G Suite Basic and G Suite Business editions will increase by $1 and $2 per user/month, respectively, while increases in other regions will be adjusted according to the local currency and market. G Suite Enterprise pricing will remain the same.

The new pricing will go into effect on April 2; those on annual plans will pay the new price when their contract renews after that date.

Usually, a $1 or $2 price increase wouldn’t be a big deal, but this is the first time Google has raised the price of its G Suite subscriptions. The company argues that it has added plenty of new services — like video conferencing with Hangouts Meet, team messaging with Hangouts Chat, increased storage quotas and other security and productivity tools and services — to the platform since it first launched its paid service with its core productivity tools back in 2006.

That seems like a fair argument to me, though a 20 percent price increase may be hard to swallow for some small businesses. It’s also worth remembering that G Suite is now big business for Google. There are now more than 4 million businesses on G Suite, after all, and while some of them are surely on enterprise plans with a price point their teams negotiated privately, the vast majority of them are surely on the standard monthly or annual plans.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Resolute Ventures sticks to its knitting with $75 million fourth fund

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Resolute Ventures, an early-stage firm with offices in San Francisco and Boston, just closed its fourth fund with $75 million.

It’s an almost shockingly conservative amount of capital in today’s era of big-is-better funds. And with valuable companies like the real estate startup OpenDoor, the applicant tracking system company Greenhouse and the dog products company BarkBox in its portfolio, one imagines that seven-year-old Resolute could have raised more.

It didn’t want to do that, says firm founder Mike Hirshland, who spent 17 years with Polaris Partners before founding Resolute and soon after bringing aboard the firm’s only other general partner, Raanan Bar-Cohen, a former exec with WordPress parent company Automattic.

It’s much the same story as Hirshland shared with us back in 2017, when the firm closed its third fund with $65 million. As he told us in a call yesterday, “There was a lot of interest in having us raising a larger fund, but that would require a shift in strategy, and we want to stick with what we do.” What that is, exactly: investing “very early, in some cases, pre-product and pre-launch.” Says Hirshland, “Much of the seed-stage industry has become more focused on early signs of traction, but we’re really still betting on teams.”

Hirshland points to OpenDoor, calling its team so “phenomenal” that it “didn’t take a genius to say yes to that one.”

Greenhouse was meanwhile “two guys and a really crappy PowerPoint” when Resolute met with the team. Founders Daniel Chait and Jon Stross “wildly impressed” Hirschland, but their pitch also resonated. Says Hirshland, “There was nothing special or sexy about this big recruiting jobs market” the company was chasing. But Chait and Stross had “both done a bunch of stuff at large companies” and “seemed like the perfect team. Daniel was very CEO-like. He had a technical background but also knows how to run a business; Jonathan was the quintessential product guy.”

OpenDoor was most recently valued at roughly $2 billion. Greenhouse has not disclosed its valuation, but it has raised $110 million to date, including from Riverwood Capital and Benchmark.

“On the spectrum,” says Hirshland, “we lean toward going with a team. However, we fundamentally need to believe in the market opportunity.” Yet even then there are exceptions to the rule, he says. One case in point is BarkBox, the New York-based pet supplies company that is surviving and — says Hirshland — thriving on customers who pay it a monthly subscription fee.

Founder Matt Meeker, who previously founded Meetup.com, had “had worked with me [when I was with Polaris],” says Hirshland, and “I did not like the idea. I didn’t think a subscription doggy business would be a big one. But,” he continues, “I’d back Matt any day of the week, and now BarkBox is enjoying hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, so we know who was right and wrong about that one.”

Resolute looks to fund between 30 and 35 companies with each fund. Its median size check is $750,000.  It also prefers to lead deals, typically securing 10 percent of a startup’s equity by working with teams at their most nascent stages.

Asked whether Resolute has taken advantage of the vibrant secondary market to sell any of its still-private shares, he suggests it has not, but that it may well. Asked if Resolute might raise an opportunity fund at some point to support its breakout winners, Hirshland says that that’s “always on the table. We’ve been approached about one, but we don’t have the conviction yet that we know the right answer.”

For now, he says, the firm relies from time to time instead on special purpose vehicles — basically pop-up funds created to back one company at a time — to ensure its investors have as much exposure as possible to Resolute’s hardiest startups.

It has also seen a few outright exits in its portfolio, including the sale of the calendaring app Sunrise to Microsoft for more than $100 million in 2015, and the sale of Orbitera, a platform for cloud marketplaces, which also sold for a reported $100 million, to Google the following year.

News Source = techcrunch.com

TV broadcaster Sinclair launches STIRR, a free streaming service with local news and sports

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Local TV broadcasting company Sinclair Broadcast Group today announced the launch of a new streaming service called STIRR that aims to bring local TV news and other content to the growing number of cord cutters across the U.S. The company today owns over 190 TV stations, which it’s leveraging in order to create its own “skinny bundle.” However, unlike TV streaming services such as Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV, or YouTube TV, for example – STIRR will be free and ad-supported instead of a paid subscription.

The service will offer access to national news, sports, entertainment and digital-first channels and a video-on-demand library in addition to its local content, which serves as the anchor for the new service.

In a special channel called STIRR CITY (yes, all caps), the service will stream a curated, 24/7 program lineup based on where the viewer lives. This will include local news, local and regional sports, entertainment and city-focused lifestyle programming from the local Sinclair TV station in that city.

STIRR CITY joins other original channels developed for the service, including STIRR Movies (for some reason, no caps), STIRR Sports, and STIRR Life.

STIRR Sports and Life will offer locally focused programs, we’re told. For example, the Sports channel may show high school football, and the Life channel might show a local lifestyle show like “Seattle Refined.” When local content isn’t available, the channels will be fleshed out with content aggregated from other networks on STIRR.

STIRR Movies will also be aggregated content, but the company is exploring additional deals, we’re told.

At launch, there are over 20 national networks and digital-first stations available, but few are notable.

The list includes: BUZZR, Charge, Cheddar, Comet, CONtv, Dove Channel, DUST, FailArmy, Futurism, Gravitas, Mobcrush, MovieMix, NASA TV, Outdoor America, The Pet Collective, SOAR, Stadium, TBD, The T, and World Poker Tour.

The company says it plans to grow its selection to over 50 networks by the end of 2019.

It’s clear, however, that the network selection won’t be the draw here – it’s the local content.

Today, it’s still fairly difficult for cord cutters to access local programming. While consumers can use a digital antenna to capture over-the-air TV signals for free, it requires the installation of a not-very-aesthetically-pleasing antenna. (At least Amazon’s Fire TV Recast gives you the option of hiding the antenna in a back room so as not to junk up your entertainment center.)

But even with an antenna, signals can be hit-or-miss – some areas have poor reception, or are too far from the signal’s source for a good experience.

And while the new crop of live TV streaming services provide another means of accessing local channels, they are not free.

Plus, the live TV services include cloud DVRs which subscribers use to record programs then skip the ads. STIRR doesn’t have a recording option, which may make it attractive to advertisers.

“Despite the explosive growth of new national over-the-top (OTT) services, local TV station’s programming, especially local news, has remained some of the most popular and desired content to audiences and advertisers alike,” said Adam Ware, STIRR’s General Manager, in a statement. “By creating the STIRR CITY channel format, local TV stations can now extend their programming strength to OTT,” he added.

Ware also points out that STIRR will give advertisers a way to reach a different demographic who is no longer watching traditional TV.

“Local broadcast traditional skews older. Streaming skews younger,” he tells TechCrunch. “This brings the two together for the first time,” he says.

STIRR’s ad sales will be coordinated between Sinclair Digital, OTT Compulse and Sinclair’s local stations. And its ad revenue is shared with content partners. (The company hasn’t ruled out a premium version that eliminates ads, we understand, but has nothing like that at launch.)

Also of note, you don’t have to live in a particular city to tune into its local programming via STIRR. That’s good, too, because STIRR doesn’t have a presence in all major metros. But it will suggest your closest markets when you load the app.

One caveat about STIRR: while local programming is available, STIRR won’t stream the primetime shows that these networks carry – you’ll still need your antenna or a paid streaming service for that. (Or, if you’re like a growing number of TV viewers, you don’t watch much network TV these days, in favor of streaming shows on Netflix and Amazon.)

In time, STIRR’s selection of content could be enhanced by more regional sports channels, as it’s a top bidder for those being sold by Disney and Fox. That could make the service more compelling.

STIRR is available for free on the web, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku.

*We’ve run into some launch bugs when testing STIRR, and have gotten page load errors when trying to access the Channel Guide. Hopefully these will smooth out in time as traffic stabilizes.

 

 

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Robots learn to grab and scramble with new levels of agility

in Artificial Intelligence/Berkeley/Delhi/ETHZ/Gadgets/Hardware/India/Politics/robotics/robots/Science/TC by

Robots are amazing things, but outside of their specific domains they are incredibly limited. So flexibility — not physical, but mental — is a constant area of research. A trio of new robotic setups demonstrate ways they can evolve to accommodate novel situations: using both “hands,” getting up after a fall, and understanding visual instructions they’ve never seen before.

The robots, all developed independently, are gathered together today in a special issue of the journal Science Robotics dedicated to learning. Each shows an interesting new way in which robots can improve their interactions with the real world.

On the other hand…

First there is the question of using the right tool for a job. As humans with multi-purpose grippers on the ends of our arms, we’re pretty experienced with this. We understand from a lifetime of touching stuff that we need to use this grip to pick this up, we need to use tools for that, this will be light, that heavy, and so on.

Robots, of course, have no inherent knowledge of this, which can make things difficult; it may not understand that it can’t pick up something of a given size, shape, or texture. A new system from Berkeley roboticists acts as a rudimentary decision-making process, classifying objects as able to be grabbed either by an ordinary pincer grip or with a suction cup grip.

A robot, wielding both simultaneously, decides on the fly (using depth-based imagery) what items to grab and with which tool; the result is extremely high reliability even on piles of objects it’s never seen before.

It’s done with a neural network that consumed millions of data points on items, arrangements, and attempts to grab them. If you attempted to pick up a teddy bear with a suction cup and it didn’t work the first ten thousand times, would you keep on trying? This system learned to make that kind of determination, and as you can imagine such a thing is potentially very important for tasks like warehouse picking for which robots are being groomed.

Interestingly, because of the “black box” nature of complex neural networks, it’s difficult to tell what exactly Dex-Net 4.0 is actually basing its choices on, although there are some obvious preferences, explained Berkeley’s  Ken Goldberg in an email.

“We can try to infer some intuition but the two networks are inscrutable in that we can’t extract understandable ‘policies,’ ” he wrote. “We empirically find that smooth planar surfaces away from edges generally score well on the suction model and pairs of antipodal points generally score well for the gripper.”

Now that reliability and versatility are high, the next step is speed; Goldberg said that the team is “working on an exciting new approach” to reduce computation time for the network, to be documented, no doubt, in a future paper.

ANYmal’s new tricks

Quadrupedal robots are already flexible in that they can handle all kinds of terrain confidently, even recovering from slips (and of course cruel kicks). But when they fall, they fall hard. And generally speaking they don’t get up.

The way these robots have their legs configured makes it difficult to do things in anything other than an upright position. But ANYmal, a robot developed by ETH Zurich (and which you may recall from its little trip to the sewer recently), has a more versatile setup that gives its legs extra degrees of freedom.

What could you do with that extra movement? All kinds of things. But it’s incredibly difficult to figure out the exact best way for the robot to move in order to maximize speed or stability. So why not use a simulation to test thousands of ANYmals trying different things at once, and use the results from that in the real world?

This simulation-based learning doesn’t always work, because it isn’t possible right now to accurately simulate all the physics involved. But it can produce extremely novel behaviors or streamline ones humans thought were already optimal.

At any rate that’s what the researchers did here, and not only did they arrive at a faster trot for the bot (above), but taught it an amazing new trick: getting up from a fall. Any fall. Watch this:

It’s extraordinary that the robot has come up with essentially a single technique to get on its feet from nearly any likely fall position, as long as it has room and the use of all its legs. Remember, people didn’t design this — the simulation and evolutionary algorithms came up with it by trying thousands of different behaviors over and over and keeping the ones that worked.

Ikea assembly is the killer app

Let’s say you were given three bowls, with red and green balls in the center one. Then you’re given this on a sheet of paper:

As a human with a brain, you take this paper for instructions, and you understand that the green and red circles represent balls of those colors, and that red ones need to go to the left, while green ones go to the right.

This is one of those things where humans apply vast amounts of knowledge and intuitive understanding without even realizing it. How did you choose to decide the circles represent the balls? Because of the shape? Then why don’t the arrows refer to “real” arrows? How do you know how far to go to the right or left? How do you know the paper even refers to these items at all? All questions you would resolve in a fraction of a second, and any of which might stump a robot.

Researchers have taken some baby steps towards being able to connect abstract representations like the above with the real world, a task that involves a significant amount of what amounts to a sort of machine creativity or imagination.

Making the connection between a green dot on a white background in a diagram and a greenish roundish thing on a black background in the real world isn’t obvious, but the “visual cognitive computer” created by Miguel Lázaro-Gredilla and his colleagues at Vicarious AI seems to be doing pretty well at it.

It’s still very primitive, of course, but in theory it’s the same toolset that one uses to, for example, assemble a piece of Ikea furniture: look at an abstract representation, connect it to real-world objects, then manipulate those objects according to the instructions. We’re years away from that, but it wasn’t long ago that we were years away from a robot getting up from a fall or deciding a suction cup or pincer would work better to pick something up.

The papers and videos demonstrating all the concepts above should be available at the Science Robotics site.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Ubiquity6 acquires AR music startup Wavy

in Augmented Reality/Delhi/Exit/India/Politics/Startups/TC/Ubiquity6/Wavy by

Today, Ubiquity6 has announced that it is acquiring Wavy, a small AR music startup founded last year.

In a blog post, the Wavy team confirmed that they’ll be joining the Ubiquity6 team and won’t be continuing their work on the Wavy app. “When we met the team at Ubiquity6, it became apparent that joining the team there would be a leap forward towards our shared mission of enabling creators to edit reality,” the post reads.

Wavy’s app had sought to give musicians an outlet to bring concerts into phone-based AR users’ living rooms.

The tight team of 3 joins Ubiquity6 after what was generally a rough year for the consumer-focused AR industry. While the number of supported devices climbed, the actual user base didn’t see much growth. A lot of the progress came in the platform tools such as Ubiquity6, the startup closed a $27 million Series B led by Benchmark and Index Ventures in August. The company now has just shy of 40 employees.

The Wavy app shares some essential DNA with what Ubiquity6 is looking to build. The app allows people to drop 3D objects into spaces and upload videos of the “music experiences” unfolding in front of them. It’s very fundamental stuff but at its base level asks questions about how 3D content can interact with spaces and people and how those new environments change the context of the art and music.

This fits into what Ubiquity6’s idea of a spatial internet, where users can stumble upon 3D environments where AR content lives based on where they are and what their phone camera is seeing. The company hasn’t launched widely, but the had a pilot program with the SFMOMA last year and have also announced that they are working with Disney.

We chatted with Ubiquity6 CEO Anjney Midha at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the consumer-focused AR industry.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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