Dec
31
2020
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How artificial intelligence will be used in 2021

Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang doesn’t need a crystal ball to see where artificial intelligence will be used in the future. He just looks at his customer list.

The four-year-old startup, which recently hit a valuation of more than $3.5 billion, got its start supplying autonomous vehicle companies with the labeled data needed to train machine learning models to develop and eventually commercialize robotaxis, self-driving trucks and automated bots used in warehouses and on-demand delivery.

The wider adoption of AI across industries has been a bit of a slow burn over the past several years as company founders and executives begin to understand what the technology could do for their businesses.

In 2020, that changed as e-commerce, enterprise automation, government, insurance, real estate and robotics companies turned to Scale’s visual data labeling platform to develop and apply artificial intelligence to their respective businesses. Now, the company is preparing for the customer list to grow and become more varied.

How 2020 shaped up for AI

Scale AI’s customer list has included an array of autonomous vehicle companies including Alphabet, Voyage, nuTonomy, Embark, Nuro and Zoox. While it began to diversify with additions like Airbnb, DoorDash and Pinterest, there were still sectors that had yet to jump on board. That changed in 2020, Wang said.

Scale began to see incredible use cases of AI within the government as well as enterprise automation, according to Wang. Scale AI began working more closely with government agencies this year and added enterprise automation customers like States Title, a residential real estate company.

Wang also saw an increase in uses around conversational AI, in both consumer and enterprise applications as well as growth in e-commerce as companies sought out ways to use AI to provide personalized recommendations for its customers that were on par with Amazon.

Robotics continued to expand as well in 2020, although it spread to use cases beyond robotaxis, autonomous delivery and self-driving trucks, Wang said.

“A lot of the innovations that have happened within the self-driving industry, we’re starting to see trickle out throughout a lot of other robotics problems,” Wang said. “And so it’s been super exciting to see the breadth of AI continue to broaden and serve our ability to support all these use cases.”

The wider adoption of AI across industries has been a bit of a slow burn over the past several years as company founders and executives begin to understand what the technology could do for their businesses, Wang said, adding that advancements in natural language processing of text, improved offerings from cloud companies like AWS, Azure and Google Cloud and greater access to datasets helped sustain this trend.

“We’re finally getting to the point where we can help with computational AI, which has been this thing that’s been pitched for forever,” he said.

That slow burn heated up with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Wang, noting that interest has been particularly strong within government and enterprise automation as these entities looked for ways to operate more efficiently.

“There was this big reckoning,” Wang said of 2020 and the effect that COVID-19 had on traditional business enterprises.

If the future is mostly remote with consumers buying online instead of in-person, companies started to ask, “How do we start building for that?,” according to Wang.

The push for operational efficiency coupled with the capabilities of the technology is only going to accelerate the use of AI for automating processes like mortgage applications or customer loans at banks, Wang said, who noted that outside of the tech world there are industries that still rely on a lot of paper and manual processes.

Jul
31
2019
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Calling all hardware startups! Apply to Hardware Battlefield @ TC Shenzhen

Got hardware? Well then, listen up, because our search continues for boundary-pushing, early-stage hardware startups to join us in Shenzhen, China for an epic opportunity; launch your startup on a global stage and compete in Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen on November 11-12.

Apply here to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019. Why? It’s your chance to demo your product to the top investors and technologists in the world. Hardware Battlefield, cousin to Startup Battlefield, focuses exclusively on innovative hardware because, let’s face it, it’s the backbone of technology. From enterprise solutions to agtech advancements, medical devices to consumer product goods — hardware startups are in the international spotlight.

If you make the cut, you’ll compete against 15 of the world’s most innovative hardware makers for bragging rights, plenty of investor love, media exposure and $25,000 in equity-free cash. Just participating in a Battlefield can change the whole trajectory of your business in the best way possible.

We chose to bring our fifth Hardware Battlefield to Shenzhen because of its outstanding track record of supporting hardware startups. The city achieves this through a combination of accelerators, rapid prototyping and world-class manufacturing. What’s more, TC Hardware Battlefield 2019 takes place as part of the larger TechCrunch Shenzhen that runs November 9-12.

Creativity and innovation no know boundaries, and that’s why we’re opening this competition to any early-stage hardware startup from any country. While we’ve seen amazing hardware in previous Battlefields — like robotic armsfood testing devicesmalaria diagnostic tools, smart socks for diabetics and e-motorcycles, we can’t wait to see the next generation of hardware, so bring it on!

Meet the minimum requirements listed below, and we’ll consider your startup:

Here’s how Hardware Battlefield works. TechCrunch editors vet every qualified application and pick 15 startups to compete. Those startups receive six rigorous weeks of free coaching. Forget stage fright. You’ll be prepped and ready to step into the spotlight.

Teams have six minutes to pitch and demo their products, which is immediately followed by an in-depth Q&A with the judges. If you make it to the final round, you’ll repeat the process in front of a new set of judges.

The judges will name one outstanding startup the Hardware Battlefield champion. Hoist the Battlefield Cup, claim those bragging rights and the $25,000. This nerve-wracking thrill-ride takes place in front of a live audience, and we capture the entire event on video and post it to our global audience on TechCrunch.

Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen takes place on November 11-12. Don’t hide your hardware or miss your chance to show us — and the entire tech world — your startup magic. Apply to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019, and join us in Shenzhen!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

May
17
2019
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Under the hood on Zoom’s IPO, with founder and CEO Eric Yuan

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Kate Clark sat down with Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of video communications startup Zoom, to go behind the curtain on the company’s recent IPO process and its path to the public markets.

Since hitting the trading desks just a few weeks ago, Zoom stock is up over 30%. But the Zoom’s path to becoming a Silicon Valley and Wall Street darling was anything but easy. Eric tells Kate how the company’s early focus on profitability, which is now helping drive the stock’s strong performance out of the gate, actually made it difficult to get VC money early on, and the company’s consistent focus on user experience led to organic growth across different customer bases.

Eric: I experienced the year 2000 dot com crash and the 2008 financial crisis, and it almost wiped out the company. I only got seed money from my friends, and also one or two VCs like AME Cloud Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures.

nd all other institutional VCs had no interest to invest in us. I was very paranoid and always thought “wow, we are not going to survive next week because we cannot raise the capital. And on the way, I thought we have to look into our own destiny. We wanted to be cash flow positive. We wanted to be profitable.

nd so by doing that, people thought I wasn’t as wise, because we’d probably be sacrificing growth, right? And a lot of other companies, they did very well and were not profitable because they focused on growth. And in the future they could be very, very profitable.

Eric and Kate also dive deeper into Zoom’s founding and Eric’s initial decision to leave WebEx to work on a better video communication solution. Eric also offers his take on what the future of video conferencing may look like in the next five to 10 years and gives advice to founders looking to build the next great company.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Kate Clark: Well thanks for joining us Eric.

Eric Yuan: No problem, no problem.

Kate: Super excited to chat about Zoom’s historic IPO. Before we jump into questions, I’m just going to review some of the key events leading up to the IPO, just to give some context to any of the listeners on the call.

May
02
2019
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Takeaways from F8 and Facebook’s next phase

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois discuss major announcements that came out of Facebook’s F8 conference and dig into how Facebook is trying to redefine itself for the future.

Though touted as a developer-focused conference, Facebook spent much of F8 discussing privacy upgrades, how the company is improving its social impact, and a series of new initiatives on the consumer and enterprise side. Josh and Frederic discuss which announcements seem to make the most strategic sense, and which may create attractive (or unattractive) opportunities for new startups and investment.

“This F8 was aspirational for Facebook. Instead of being about what Facebook is, and accelerating the growth of it, this F8 was about Facebook, and what Facebook wants to be in the future.

That’s not the newsfeed, that’s not pages, that’s not profiles. That’s marketplace, that’s Watch, that’s Groups. With that change, Facebook is finally going to start to decouple itself from the products that have dragged down its brand over the last few years through a series of nonstop scandals.”

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Josh and Frederic dive deeper into Facebook’s plans around its redesign, Messenger, Dating, Marketplace, WhatsApp, VR, smart home hardware and more. The two also dig into the biggest news, or lack thereof, on the developer side, including Facebook’s Ax and BoTorch initiatives.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Apr
30
2019
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Oculus announces a VR subscription service for enterprises

Oculus is getting serious about monetizing VR for enterprise.

The company has previously sold specific business versions of the headsets, but now they’re adding a pricey annual device-management subscription.

Oculus Go for business starts at $599 (64 GB) and the enterprise Oculus Quest starts at $999 (128 GB). These fees include the first year of enterprise device management and support, which goes for $180 per year per device.

Here’s what that fee gets you:

This includes a dedicated software suite offering device setup and management tools, enterprise-grade service and support, and a new user experience customized for business use cases.

The new Oculus for Business launches in the fall.

Mar
05
2019
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Matterport raises $48M to ramp up its 3D imaging platform

The growth of augmented and virtual reality applications and hardware is ushering in a new age of digital media and imaging technologies, and startups that are putting themselves at the center of that are attracting interest.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Matterport — which started out making cameras but has since diversified into a wider platform to capture, create, search and utilise 3D imagery of interior and enclosed spaces in immersive real estate, design, insurance and other B2C and B2B applications — has raised $48 million. Sources tell us the money came at a pre-money valuation of around $325 million, although the company is not commenting on that.

From what we understand, the funding is coming ahead of a larger growth round from existing and new investors, to tap into what they see as a big opportunity for building and providing (as a service) highly accurate 3D images of enclosed spaces.

The company in December appointed a new CEO, RJ Pittman — who had been the chief product officer at eBay, and before that held executive roles at Apple and Google — to help fill out that bigger strategy.

Matterport had raised just under $63 million prior to this and had been valued at around $207 million, according to PitchBook estimates.This current round is coming from existing backers, which include Lux Capital, DCM, Qualcomm Ventures and more.

Matterport’s roots are in high-end cameras built to capture multiple images to create 3D interior imagery for a variety of applications, from interior design and real estate to gaming. Changing tides in the worlds of industry and hardware have somewhat shifted its course.

On the hardware side, we’ve seen a rise in the functionality of smartphone cameras, as well as a proliferation of specialised 3D cameras at lower price points. So while Matterport still sells its own high-end cameras, it is also starting to work with less expensive devices with spherical lenses — such as the Ricoh Theta, which is nearly 10 times less expensive than Matterport’s Pro2 camera — and smartphones.

Using an AI engine — which it has been building for some time — packaged into a service it calls Matterport Cloud 3.0, it converts 2D panoramic and 360-degree images into 3D images. (Matterport Cloud 3.0 is currently in beta and will be launching fully on the 18th of March, initially supporting the Ricoh Theta V, the Theta Z1, the Insta360 ONE X and the Leica Geosystems BLK360 laser scanner.)

Matterport is further using this technology to grow its wider database of images. It already has racked up 1.6 million 3D images and millions of 2D images, and at its current growth rate, the aim is to expand its library to 100 million in the coming years, positioning it as a Getty for 3D enclosed images.

These, in turn, will be used in two ways: to feed Matterport’s machine learning to train it to create better and faster 3D images; and to become part of a wider library, accessible to other businesses by way of a set of APIs.

And, from what I understand, the object will not just be to use images as they are: people would be able to manipulate the images to, for example, remove all the furniture in a room and re-stage it completely without needing to physically do that work ahead of listing a house for sale. Another is adding immersive interior shots into mapping applications like Google’s Street View.

“We are a data company,” Pittman told me when I met him for coffee last month.

The ability to convert 2D into 3D images using artificial intelligence to help automate the process is a potentially big area that Matterport, and its investors, believe will be in increasing demand. That’s not just because people still think there will one day be a bigger market for virtual reality headsets, which will need more interesting content, but because we as consumers already have come to expect more realistic and immersive experiences today, even when viewing things on regular screens — and because B2B and enterprise services (for example design or insurance applications) have also grown in sophistication and now require these kinds of images.

(That demand is driving the creation of other kinds of 3D imaging startups, too. Threedy.ai launched last week with a seed round from a number of angels and VCs to perform a similar kind of 2D-to-3D mapping technique for objects rather than interior spaces. It is already working with a number of e-commerce sites to bypass some of the costs and inefficiencies of more established, manual methods of 3D rendering.)

While Matterport is doubling down on its cloud services strategy, it also has been making some hires to take the business to its next steps. In addition to Pittman, they have added Dave Lippman, formerly design head at eBay, as its chief design officer; and engineering veteran Lou Marzano as its VP of hardware, R&D and manufacturing, with more hires to come.

Jan
08
2019
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Daily Crunch: The age of quantum computing is here

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. IBM unveils its first commercial quantum computer

The 20-qubit system combines the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications into a single package. While it’s worth stressing that the 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most commercial applications, IBM sees this as the first step towards tackling problems that are too complex for classical systems.

2. Apple’s trillion-dollar market cap was always a false idol

Nothing grows forever, not even Apple. Back in August we splashed headlines across the globe glorifying Apple’s brief stint as the world’s first $1 trillion company, but in the end it didn’t matter. Fast-forward four months and Apple has lost more than a third of its stock value, and last week the company lost $75 billion in market cap in a single day.

3. GitHub Free users now get unlimited private repositories

Starting today, free GitHub users will now get unlimited private projects with up to three collaborators. Previously, GitHub had a caveat for its free users that code had to be public if they didn’t pay for the service.

Photo credit: Chesnot/Getty Images

4. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

Uber’s public debut later this year is undoubtedly the most anticipated IPO of 2019, but the company’s lofty valuation (valued by some as high as $120 billion) has some investors feeling uneasy.

5. Amazon is getting more serious about Alexa in the car with Telenav deal

Amazon has announced a new partnership with Telenav, a Santa Clara-based provider of connected car services. The collaboration will play a huge role in expanding Amazon’s ability to give drivers relevant information and furthers the company’s mission to bake Alexa into every aspect of your life.

6. I used VR in a car going 90 mph and didn’t get sick

The future of in-vehicle entertainment could be VR. Audi announced at CES that it’s rolling out a new company called Holoride to bring adaptive VR entertainment to cars. The secret sauce here is matching VR content to the slight movements of the vehicle to help those who often get motion sickness.

7. Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

Nothing like some CES drama to start your day. AT&T recently shared a shady marketing campaign that labeled its 4G networks as 5G and rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are having none of it.

Nov
30
2018
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Enterprise AR is an opportunity to ‘do well by doing good,’ says General Catalyst

A founder-investor panel on augmented reality (AR) technology here at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin suggests growth hopes for the space have regrouped around enterprise use-cases, after the VR consumer hype cycle landed with yet another flop in the proverbial ‘trough of disillusionment’.

Matt Miesnieks, CEO of mobile AR startup 6d.ai, conceded the space has generally been on another downer but argued it’s coming out of its third hype cycle now with fresh b2b opportunities on the horizon.

6d.ai investor General Catalyst‘s Niko Bonatsos was also on stage, and both suggested the challenge for AR startups is figuring out how to build for enterprises so the b2b market can carry the mixed reality torch forward.

“From my point of view the fact that Apple, Google, Microsoft, have made such big commitments to the space is very reassuring over the long term,” said Miesnieks. “Similar to the smartphone industry ten years ago we’re just gradually seeing all the different pieces come together. And as those pieces mature we’ll eventually, over the next few years, see it sort of coalesce into an iPhone moment.”

“I’m still really positive,” he continued. “I don’t think anyone should be looking for some sort of big consumer hit product yet but in verticals in enterprise, and in some of the core tech enablers, some of the tool spaces, there’s really big opportunities there.”

Investors shot the arrow over the target where consumer VR/AR is concerned because they’d underestimated how challenging the content piece is, Bonatsos suggested.

“I think what we got wrong is probably the belief that we thought more indie developers would have come into the space and that by now we would probably have, I don’t know, another ten Pokémon-type consumer massive hit applications. This is not happening yet,” he said.

“I thought we’d have a few more games because games always lead the adoption to new technology platforms. But in the enterprise this is very, very exciting.”

“For sure also it’s clear that in order to have the iPhone moment we probably need to have much better hardware capabilities,” he added, suggesting everyone is looking to the likes of Apple to drive that forward in the future. On the plus side he said current sentiment is “much, much much better than what it was a year ago”.


Discussing potential b2b applications for AR tech one idea Miesnieks suggested is for transportation platforms that want to link a rider to the location of an on-demand and/or autonomous vehicle.

Another area of opportunity he sees is working with hardware companies — to add spacial awareness to devices such as smartphones and drones to expand their capabilities.

More generally they mentioned training for technical teams, field sales and collaborative use-cases as areas with strong potential.

“There are interesting applications in pharma, oil & gas where, with the aid of the technology, you can do very detailed stuff that you couldn’t do before because… you can follow everything on your screen and you can use your hands to do whatever it is you need to be doing,” said Bonatsos. “So that’s really, really exciting.

“These are some of the applications that I’ve seen. But it’s early days. I haven’t seen a lot of products in the space. It’s more like there’s one dev shop is working with the chief innovation officer of one specific company that is much more forward thinking and they want to come up with a really early demo.

“Now we’re seeing some early stage tech startups that are trying to attack these problems. The good news is that good dollars is being invested in trying to solve some of these problems — and whoever figures out how to get dollars from the… bigger companies, these are real enterprise businesses to be built. So I’m very excited about that.”

At the same time, the panel delved into some of the complexities and social challenges facing technologists as they try to integrate blended reality into, well, the real deal.

Including raising the spectre of Black Mirror style dystopia once smartphones can recognize and track moving objects in a scene — and 6d.ai’s tech shows that’s coming.

Miesnieks showed a brief video demo of 3D technology running live on a smartphone that’s able to identify cars and people moving through the scene in real time.

“Our team were able to solve this problem probably a year ahead of where the rest of the world is at. And it’s exciting. If we showed this to anyone who really knows 3D they’d literally jump out of the chair. But… it opens up all of these potentially unintended consequences,” he said.

“We’re wrestling with what might this be used for. Sure it’s going to make Pokémon game more fun. It could also let a blind person walk down the street and have awareness of cars and people and they may not need a cane or something.

“But it could let you like tap and literally have people be removed from your field of view and so you only see the type of people that you want to look at. Which can be dystopian.”

He pointed to issues being faced by the broader technology industry now, around social impacts and areas like privacy, adding: “We’re seeing some of the social impacts of how this stuff can go wrong, even if you assume good intentions.

“These sort of breakthroughs that we’re having are definitely causing us to be aware of the responsibility we have to think a bit more deeply about how this might be used for the things we didn’t expect.”

From the investor point of view Bonatsos said his thesis for enterprise AR has to be similarly sensitive to the world around the tech.

“It’s more about can we find the domain experts, people like Matt, that are going to do well by doing good. Because there are a tonne of different parameters to think about here and have the credibility in the market to make it happen,” he suggested, noting: “It‘s much more like traditional enterprise investing.”

“This is a great opportunity to use this new technology to do well by doing good,” Bonatsos continued. “So the responsibility is here from day one to think about privacy, to think about all the fake stuff that we could empower, what do we want to do, what do we want to limit? As well as, as we’re creating this massive, augmented reality, 3D version of the world — like who is going to own it, and share all this wealth? How do we make sure that there’s going to be a whole new ecosystem that everybody can take part of it. It’s very interesting stuff to think about.”

“Even if we do exactly what we think is right, and we assume that we have good intentions, it’s a big grey area in lots of ways and we’re going to make lots of mistakes,” conceded Miesnieks, after discussing some of the steps 6d.ai has taken to try to reduce privacy risks around its technology — such as local processing coupled with anonymizing/obfuscating any data that is taken off the phone.

“When [mistakes] happen — not if, when — all that we’re going to be able to rely on is our values as a company and the trust that we’ve built with the community by saying these are our values and then actually living up to them. So people can trust us to live up to those values. And that whole domain of startups figuring out values, communicating values and looking at this sort of abstract ‘soft’ layer — I think startups as an industry have done a really bad job of that.

“Even big companies. There’d only a handful that you could say… are pretty clear on their values. But for AR and this emerging tech domain it’s going to be, ultimately, the core that people trust us.”

Bonatsos also pointed to rising political risk as a major headwind for startups in this space — noting how China’s government has decided to regulate the gaming market because of social impacts.

“That’s unbelievable. This is where we’re heading with the technology world right now. Because we’ve truly made it. We’ve become mainstream. We’re the incumbents. Anything we build has huge, huge intended and unintended consequences,” he said.

“Having a government that regulates how many games that can be built or how many games can be released — like that’s incredible. No company had to think of that before as a risk. But when people are spending so many hours and so much money on the tech products they are using every day. This is the [inevitable] next step.”

Nov
27
2017
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AWS launches Amazon Sumerian to build AR, VR and 3D apps quickly

 We’d heard months ago that Amazon would be using its Re:Invent AWS event to roll out some a new service related to building in mixed reality — augmented reality and virtual reality. And on the eve of the conference kicking off, it’s done just that. Today the company announced Amazon Sumerian, a new platform for developers to build and host VR, AR and 3D apps quickly and… Read More

Oct
11
2017
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Everything announced at Oculus’ Connect 4 VR conference

 Standalone headsets, VR replacements for your computer monitor and ways to share VR to the News Feed were highlights of today’s big Oculus conference. Click through or scroll down to get just the need-to-know info and GIFs from our in-depth coverage of Facebook’s vision for the future of virtual reality.
  Read More

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