Monday, December 13, 2021

German Bionic debuts a new exoskeleton with upper- and lower-body assistance

Late last year, German Bionic announced a $20 million Series A round led — in part — by Samsung Catalyst Fund. It was a curious alliance, given that Samsung has shown off its own robotic exoskeleton technology. I took Samsung’s Gait Enhancing and Motivation System out for a spin a few CESes ago — and while it was limited in functionality, it worked well for walking assistance.

Of course, it’s never entirely clear just how seriously we’re meant to take Samsung’s robotic ambitions. Thus far, the company’s offerings seem largely for show. German Bionic, on the other hand, has been at this for a while. In fact, the company just announced the fifth generation of its robotics exoskeleton, Cray X — which, fittingly, will be on display at next year’s CES in a few short weeks (shudder).

The system is set to debut early next year, available as a hardware-as-a-service subscription model, with a starting price of $499 a month Put simply, you’re probably not going to rent one of these things to move furniture around the house.

Image Credits: German Bionic

The new system is capable of supporting up to 66 additional pounds per lift. It also adds walking assistance to the mix. That’s a first for the Cray X line — and a combination of support that is generally split between separate devices. The company notes, “It works by gently pushing the legs forward when loads need to be moved from a to b. It thereby helps reduce premature exhaustion and preserve the energy levels of workers conducting tasks involving both lifting and walking.”

The new model is IP54 water/dust resistant and features a new hot swappable battery for continued support. German Bionic is hardly alone in the space. A wide range of companies big and small are working to blur the line between human and robotic workers by offering mechanical assistance for physically demanding manual labor. The company does have a nice base of support, however, with clients including Ikea and BMW.

Read more about CES 2022 on TechCrunch



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Mozilla expects to generate more than $500M in revenue this year

The Mozilla Foundation today released its financial report for 2020. As usual, this gives us a good picture of the organization’s financial health from a year ago, but for the first time this year, Mozilla also provided us with more recent data.

It’s no secret that Mozilla recently went through a number of difficult years, with major layoffs in 2020 as it restructured its for-profit arm, Mozilla Corporation. Its flagship Firefox browser, despite a number of technical advances, is also struggling in a marketplace that is now dominated by Chromium-based browsers. Still, in 2020, Mozilla Corporation’s revenue was $466 million from its search partnerships (largely driven by its search deal with Google), subscriptions and advertising revenue. That’s essentially the same as in 2019, when Mozilla Corporation generated $465 million from these sources.

For 2021, the organization forecasts revenue of over $500 million.

What’s maybe most important, though, is that Mozilla’s new products like its Mozilla VPN service, Firefox Relay Premium, Pocket and other commercial initiatives are slowly but surely starting to pay off.  As Mozilla executive VP Angela Plohman and CFO Eric Muhlheim noted in today’s announcement, revenue from new product offerings will grow 150% this year and account for 14% of the organization’s revenue in 2021. The Mozilla VPN service saw a revenue increase of 450% from 2020 to 2021.

Still, in 2020, 86% of Mozilla’s revenue in 2020 came from its search deal with Google. That may be down from 88% in 2019, but for all intents and purposes, Mozilla remains fully dependent on Google for the time being.

Diversifying its revenue sources is really the only way for Mozilla to decrease its reliance on a search deal with a company that is both a competitor, thanks to its dominant Chrome browser, and is increasingly out of alignment with Mozilla’s overall philosophy.

“As advertising changes and the future of the web’s business model hangs in the balance, we have been exploring new and responsible ways to monetize that align with our values and set us apart,” Mitchell Baker, CEO and chairwoman of Mozilla Foundation, writes in today’s announcement. “We’ve long believed the deprecation of cookies and a reckoning of the online advertising ecosystem was coming — and was much needed. Now it is here, and we are positioned to navigate the industry toward a new model of responsible advertising that respects people while delivering value to companies. By building products for the future, we are building a business for the future.”

At the end of the day, though, what Mozilla needs is for more users to adopt (or come back to) its services, whether that’s its browser or its VPN. There is a window here for a non-Chrome browser, with users increasingly skeptical about Google’s motivations and Microsoft’s Edge team making a few missteps in recent months. Yet at the same time, Mozilla’s efforts to bring sponsored suggestions and ads to Firefox haven’t necessarily endeared the organization to its own users either.



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Former Twitter India head leaving firm to start an edtech platform

Manish Maheshwari, the former head of Twitter India who recently moved to San Francisco to work at a different division within the company, is leaving the firm to launch an edtech startup, according to nine people familiar with the matter.

Maheshwari and Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment two weeks ago. Sources requested anonymity as the details are private.

Maheshwari has engaged with a handful of investors in recent weeks to raise funds for a new Bangalore-headquartered edtech startup that promises to deliver MBA courses in four months, according to some of the investors to whom he has pitched the new startup. Maheshwari’s Bangalore home is registered as the new startup’s office location, according to filings with the local regulator.

The former Twitter India head moved to the U.S. as Senior Director, Revenue Strategy and Operations with focus on ‘New Market Entry’ in August this year. His departure from India came at a time when he as well as Twitter were facing unprecedented heat in the South Asian market from New Delhi. Maheshwari was personally named in police cases in at least two Indian states — Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — earlier this year over complaints that Twitter was allegedly hurting sentiments of people in India.



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SnapLogic raises $165M at a $1B valuation to help enterprises integrate and automate their disparate apps and data

As more enterprises sign on to the trend of digital transformation and bringing more of their legacy work into the modern era of work, a company called SnapLogic, which has built a platform to integrate those apps and data, and to automate some of the activities that use them, has raised a big round of growth funding. The company has raised $165 million, money that it will be using to continue expanding its product — specifically the AI that underpins how it platform works — and for business development.

The company has confirmed that the funding was made at a $1 billion valuation. Sixth Street Growth led the round, and it isn’t disclosing other investors. Previous backers include Arrowroot Capital (which led a previous $72 million round), Golub Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Vitruvian (which also led a previous round), Capital One, Ignition Partners, Microsoft and a number of others. The company has now raised $373 million to date.

The new valuation is a big hike for San Mateo-based SnapLogic, which had an estimated valuation of just over $300 million in 2019 when it last raised money (based on PitchBook estimates).

That’s no surprise, however, when you consider the area of the market it’s playing in, its customer base, and size. It caters to larger businesses that rely heavily on data services already, IT and tech giants and other major enterprises that include Adobe, Aramark, Drax, Emirates, Qualtrics, Magellan Health, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Workday — “thousands” of organizations in all, it says, in total processing some 2.7 trillion customer documents monthly across some 3.1 million “pipelines.”

Competing against the likes of Workato (which raised money earlier this year), Tray.io, Mulesoft and others, SnapLogic originally made its name initially as a company that helped businesses bring together and use data across disparate apps — an area that proved to be incredibly compelling for enterprises that had adopted a number of applications and architectures across multiple clouds, containers, data warehouses, and on-premise data centers over the years; and were now sitting on a trove of data across all of these that they needed to figure out how to balance and use in better ways.

That has more recently given over to a big push for automation, the logic being that AI and other tools can actually do some of the more mundane and repetitive work using those applications and data once they have been brought together on a single platform. Indeed, SnapLogic today provides not just the tech to integrate and manage apps and data from one place, but also a range of automation features that can be applied to those assets.

Indeed, providing both integration and automation from a single platform — and thus making procurement easier and costs presumably more competitive — has been one of the drivers of growth for SnapLogic, the company says.

“The enterprise automation market is booming, and our latest funding is further validation of our growing momentum and product leadership in that space,” said Gaurav Dhillon, CEO of SnapLogic, in a statement. “Unlike point-to-point players, our focus on the enterprise will unlock the power of applications, data, and APIs. In the post-pandemic era, our customers will use AI and automation to revolutionize their hybrid workforces. With SnapLogic, hybrid- and multi-cloud enterprises can ensure their massive investments in public and private clouds, SaaS, cloud data warehousing, and APIs will pay off.”

However, this area of IT is not a guaranteed homerun. The chief revenue officer of Salesforce, which owns Mulesoft, admitted recently that the company was going through a “rough patch” partly due to staff turnover, and partly due to slowing sales growth. That could partly be a result of competition, but partly also that the rush of companies into big IT digital transformation projects may be entering a slightly less exuberant, more practical bedding-in period.

Investors are not deterred by this when assessing the bigger opportunity and what they see as underlying trends that will keep companies like SnapLogic growing their business.

“Modern enterprises are democratizing access to data and applications and empowering business teams to use low-code, self-service technologies to build the solutions they need to work better and faster,” said Michael McGinn, partner and co-head of Sixth Street Growth, in a statement. “SnapLogic’s seasoned management team, sound economic model, and sustainable growth plan put it in a great position to capitalize on the thriving enterprise automation sector and expanding hybrid workplace trends. We are pleased to lead this funding round and partner with SnapLogic to bring its market vision, unmatched platform, and robust partnerships to more enterprises around the world.”

Sixth Street is an interesting backer to have leading this round for SnapLogic. The firm has backed a number of scaled-up startups that have gone on to go public or seen big acquisition moves such as Airbnb, MDLIVE, Spotify, and Sprinklr. That raises the question of what SnapLogic might be considering for its longer-term future. We’ll hopefully be talking to Dhillon later and will update this post as and when we learn more.



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Gary Vaynerchuk, Mark Cuban back web3 project tool Thirdweb

Thirdweb, a software startup for web3 projects, closed on $5 million in funding from a group of high-profile business leaders, entrepreneurs and creators, including Gary Vaynerchuk and Mark Cuban.

The company launched its free tools three months ago for developers to build, launch and manage their web3 projects without writing any lines of code. Thirdweb was created by Social Chain founder Steven Bartlett and Furquan Rydhan, who was founding CTO of Bebo and AppLovin.

Thirdweb, with offices in London and San Francisco, enables the addition of features, including NFTs, social tokens and currencies, marketplaces for buying and selling tokens and NFT loot boxes and drops, in a few clicks.

Thirdweb-co-founders-Steven-Bartlett-and-Furqan-Rydhan

Thirdweb co-founders Steven Bartlett and Furqan Rydhan. Image Credits: Thirdweb

Bartlett told TechCrunch that he had been intrigued by web3 and cryptocurrency and followed the space for over four years. When Bartlett met Rydhan, who said he was an early investor in crypto, they clicked over web3.

“We knew that builders would want to build in this space and that they would need a tool,” Rydhan said. “We started with a base set of ideas, and over the course of a year, built out Thirdweb and now have hundreds of customers integrating SDKs. Like the way Stripe made it easy to plug in, our code is similar, but we wrote it to give to everyone.”

They’ve been working with the early adopters on features, some of whom have been using Thirdweb for over a year. They also say companies like Nike, Disney, Bumble and Meta are already itching to begin building apps and products, like blockchain games, NFT platforms, DAOs and creator projects, for the metaverse, web3 and NFT spaces.

While it’s still early, the company just crossed over its 500th unique project built using its tools. Some of the immediate use cases have been with art, but now Bartlett and Rydhan are seeing more complex web3 apps being built and gated communities that want to create a space.

Thirdweb’s goal is to get to over 1,000 developers, teams and companies using the tools, and Rydhan said the company is “well on our way to doing that.”

The new capital will be used to hire both on the technical and growth teams and will focus on marketing and video assets to educate users on its tools. Thirdweb will continue to be free to use until royalties and fees are programmed into the sales of NFTs that are launched. At that time, the company will take 5% of the royalties of secondary sales, which means the company’s compensation is in direct proportion to the success of its customers, the co-founders said.

Web3 is happening and NFTs are here for the rest of our collective lives,” Vaynerchuk said via email. “Look at what happened from 1995 to 2000 on the ‘internet’ and use that history lesson to deploy how much will be ‘fixed’ in web3 over the next half decade. I’m excited to see Thirdweb accelerate this shift. Fifteen years ago, no one believed that the world would be full of social media creators and artists. Web3 is now giving them the opportunity to own their creations and get a fair share of the profits, and I think that’s something you don’t want to miss. I believe in this space, I believe in this team, I believe in their vision, I believe in the opportunity and I believe in their execution.”



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LiveKit co-founder believes the metaverse needs open infrastructure

When the global pandemic hit, Russell d’Sa was running product at Medium and recognized early on that with everyone working from home, the company’s culture was impacted, affecting a lot of the interaction between employees.

“What disappeared was the collegial conversations, the drinks on Friday evenings or making coffee together,” he told TechCrunch. “So much about becoming friends at work underpins how you ultimately collaborate.”

When Clubhouse was launched in its alpha form last year, it was discussed as being a new form of participatory media “that would change everything,” d’Sa said, and he wanted something like that for his work colleagues.

He dug into how the app was being powered by Agora and began developing a desktop app for his idea. He launched it and almost immediately accrued a 1,300-company waitlist. D’Sa ultimately shelved the app, but found that companies were “desperate in this new environment to try anything.”

In fact, one large social media company approached him about using his app for its 1,000-person company, but was concerned about security using Agora. He began looking at alternatives, but found that many were focused on conferencing and didn’t provide for the flexibility for native mobile.

That’s how LiveKit was born. D’Sa and his team, which includes co-founder David Zhao, developed a free, open source infrastructure for building and scaling real-time audio and video experiences, aka WebRTC, in applications.

It launched in July, and today the company announced $7 million in seed funding that includes backing from Redpoint Ventures and a group of individual investors, including Justin Kan, Robin Chan and Elad Gil.

Only five months old, the tool did trend on GitHub, going from zero to almost 2,000 stars, d’Sa said. It is also proving product market fit, especially as more talk revolved around the metaverse.

“COVID changed the world to where we are living online, even going to weddings over the internet,” he added. “We are already living in the metaverse and have been for over two years.”

He believes the conference call is not the future and that virtual and augmented reality will make calls feel more like real life. However, the challenge is how to move the data around quickly over the internet and have an infrastructure that works for cameras, microphones and 3D objects.

Initial use cases for LiveKit’s live audio and video experiences have been cameras at events, but a drone company is even using the technology. As the company saw more adoption, including over 100 projects utilizing LiveKit, d’Sa decided to go after venture capital backing to scale the team, which grew from three to 15 since the launch.

The company isn’t generating revenue right now, but they will be as new tools come online, like services offered beyond the baseline features, including analytics, telemetry, spam and abuse monitoring, transcription, translations or voice and face features.

Next up, the LiveKit team will be focused on technology development so the tools are more reliable, flexible and accessible to developers and the kinds of use cases they are building.

“The goal is to figure out a way to work, even with a bad network,” d’Sa said. “We talk to companies big and small, and the largest companies want massive scale to make million-person events all interactive.”



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Sunday, December 12, 2021

Toyota is going to make you pay to start your car with your key fob

Car Logos
Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Toyota is charging drivers for the convenience of using their key fobs to remotely start their cars. According to a report from The Drive, Toyota models 2018 or newer will need a subscription in order for the key fob to support remote start functionality.

As The Drive notes, buyers are given the option to choose from an array of Connected Services when purchasing a new Toyota, and one of those services — called Remote Connect — just so happens to include the ability to remotely start your car with your key fob.

Buyers are offered a free trial of Remote Connect, but the length of that trial depends on the audio package that’s included with the...

Continue reading…



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German Bionic debuts a new exoskeleton with upper- and lower-body assistance

Late last year, German Bionic announced a $20 million Series A round led — in part — by Samsung Catalyst Fund. It was a curious alliance, g...