Dyson launches a vacuum with better battery, a desk lamp and a personal air purifier

Dyson’s got a very specific way of doing things. The British company makes super-high-quality products for a world where price isn’t an option. Using their devices is a bit like driving a sports car for the first time. You’ve got no idea why someone would pay that much money for something until you actually try them out.

Fittingly, it offered a few handfuls of reporters a chance to try out a trio of new products at a closed-door event this week. As the company noted, it doesn’t do much traditional advertising, so it relies on word of mouth and reviews to get the word out. As such, it was really intent on walking us through the thinking and development process behind each.

The new releases include two new product lines and an update to one of the company’s better-known products. The Cyclone V11 is an upgrade to last year’s V10 cordless vacuum. I tried the V10 out for a bit and was suitably impressed with its power (hence the sports car analogies) — impressed enough to want to keep using, mind, but not enough to recommend paying $400/$500.

Last year’s model does a good job cleaning up on various surfaces — even pet hair, which can be a real pain in the ass. It cleans quickly, and even has a satisfying kickback to it when you pull the trigger. The battery, on the other hand, is downright abysmal, which is something the V11 claims to fix.

The new model features a trio of different modes, including a battery-saving Econo and an auto feature that adjusts power as you switch surfaces. The battery itself is also larger and more robust, so you should be able to get ~40 minutes of use on a charge if you play your cards right. There’s also a new built-in display on the tank that tells you how much life is left and helps fix common problems with the stick vac.

The Cool Me personal air purifier basically adapts the company’s purification system into a smaller form factor (one that looks a bit humanoid). It looks to be a solid option for small rooms or places where you just want the thing pointed straight at you, like a desk or bed side. It’s quiet, but makes enough of a white noise whirr to lull you to sleep.

The direction of the airflow is adjusted manually — which seems like an odd choice. You’ll probably want to make sure you wash your hands before fiddling with a thing designed to blow directly into your face.

The Lightcycle, meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from a Dyson desk lamp. It’s big. Like, too big to sit on my home desktop. But it’s fancy as hell, with a fully adjustable arm and white balance that adjusts based on time of day and other settings. Here’s more from Dyson:

Local daylight tracking offers several benefits, but if a light loses its brightness or color temperature over time, its ability to track daylight would be diminished. Dyson engineers addressed LED overheating Heat Pipe technology. A vacuum-sealed copper tube draws heat away. Inside, a drop of water evaporates, dissipating heat along the pipe as it condenses, before returning to the LEDs by capillary action. It provides a non-stop, energy-free cooling cycle. This means that brightness and light quality is maintained for 60 years. 

As for the pricing on all of this? It’s pretty steep, as you’d expect. The vacuum starts at $600, the air purifier runs $350 and the light goes for between $600 and $900.

Peloton hit with $150 million music licensing suit

Streaming video is the key to Peloton’s success. But like any good spin class, it’s the soundtrack that really does the heavy lifting. A new suit filed by The National Music Publishers’ Association alleges that that the wild successful exercise startup used north of 1,000 songs in its classes without the proper licensing.

The suit features a laundry list of publishers: Downtown Music Publishing, Big Deal Music, Reservoir, Round Hill, Royalty Network, Pulse Music Publishing and TRO Essex Music Group. While the list of musicians is a who’s who of Top 40 musicians:  Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Shawn Mendes, Ed Sheeran, Wiz Khalifa, Thomas Rhett, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Florida Georgia Line, Drake and Gwen Stefani, for starters.

The plaintiffs are seeking more than $150 million in damages over the improper use of songs.

“Unfortunately, instead of recognizing the integral role of songwriters to its company, Peloton has built its business by using their work without their permission or fair compensation for years,” President & CEO David Israelite said in a statement. “It is frankly unimaginable that a company of this size and sophistication would think it could exploit music in this way without the proper licenses for this long, and we look forward to getting music creators what they deserve.”

The association is quick to note that Peloton managed to pull in a $4 billion valuation last year, not a great look if the publishing claims turn out to be accurate.

We’ve reached out to Peloton for comment on the suit.

Amazon updates the $90 Kindle with a front light

Cost has always been a big part of the Kindle line’s appeal at the low end. Amazon’s very good at undercutting the competition, while still managing to provide a workhorse e-reader in the process. Of course, paying $90 for the device comes with a number of cut corners, not the least of which has been the device’s stubborn refusal to adopt the front-lighting found on the rest of the line.

Amazon’s just amended that oversight with the latest version of the standard Kindle. The device now features an adjustable front light, coupled with a capacitive touch 167 PPI display. That price includes Special Offers (i.e. those screen saver ads the company has been serving up for most of the life of the product).

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The device will slot below the prier Kindle Paperwhite, which features a higher res (300 PPI) screen, a flush design and waterproofing, starting at $130. The highest end Oasis, meanwhile, rounds things out, starting at $230.

The line will be getting a simple new feature that marks books as read across devices, along with additional recommendations based on reading history. Those features will be arriving on existing models as an over the air update.

The new Kindle is up for preorder starting today and will start shipping April 10. It’s available in either black or white. 

Kickstarter CEO Perry Chen steps down

Kickstarter CEO Perry Chen issued an open letter on the site’s blog today, noting that he will be stepping down from his role. The executive served as one of three cofounders for the service, launching the site in 2009, with Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler. He served as CEO for Kickstarter’s first five years and returned to the role two years back.

He notes in his post that he will stay on board with the service as chairman of the board, focusing “on high-level and long-term company needs.” Kickstarter will be promoting its Head of Design and Product Aziz Hasan as interim CEO, as Chen steps away from day to day operations.

“When I returned as CEO in 2017, I initially intended to spend about six months working to set up a long-term foundation to ensure Kickstarter remained aligned with its mission, and to set the next leader up for success,” Chen writes. “Those months quickly became two years dedicated to developing a better way to deliver on the core aspects of our service through a robust operating system, a strong product, and the team we have assembled at Kickstarter today.”

This key change in management comes as the company’s staff announced plans to unionize. Kickstarter employees are teaming with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153.

The staff notes in a statement,

Kickstarter United is proud to start the process of unionizing to safeguard and enrich Kickstarter’s charter commitments to creativity, equity, and a positive impact on society. We trust in the democratic process and are confident that the leadership of Kickstarter stands with us in that effort.

Pandora switches up its classic listening experience with Modes

If you’ve ever tried Pandora, you know the basic deal. The service offers a more passive form of music discovery than other streaming services, encouraging users to let algorithms do most of the heavy lifting, as radio stations are generated based on thumbs up and down.

Today, the company puts a new spin on the stalwart service, offering a half-dozen distinct “Modes.” Standard Pandora is still the core here (and there’s always the “My Station” mode for those who want to stick with Pandora Classic), but each offers a different way to interact with the stations.

Here’s the break down, per Pandora,

  1. My Station: The classic station experience you know and love.

  2. Crowd Faves: You’ll hear the most thumbed-up songs by other listeners within that station

  3. Deep Cuts: You’ll go deeper into the catalog of that station artist/genre.

  4. Discovery: You’ll hear more artists who don’t usually play on that station.

  5. Newly Released: You’ll hear the newest releases from that station artist/genre.

  6. Artist Only: You’ll hear only songs by that station artist.

As ever, the thumbs up and thumbs down icons serve as the basis of the customized curation. That limited interaction helps each of the stations figure out where to go, within the above outlined parameters.

The feature, which launches today, is designed to encourage users to “‘lea[n] in’ to the experience instead of just ‘leaning back,’” according to the company.

Of course, the move can just add easily been seen as a response to a changing music landscape. Believe it or not, it’s been 19 years since the company was founded, and these last several have seen a big shift toward streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Modes is an interesting attempt to have it both ways, serving Pandora’s loyal base of just below 70 million users, while addressing increased interest in customizing the user experience.

Facebook settles ACLU job advertisement discrimination suit

Facebook and the ACLU issued a joint statement this morning, noting that they have settled a class action job discrimination suit. The ACLU filed the suit in September, along with Outten & Golden LLC and the Communications Workers of America, alleging that Facebook allowed employers to target ads based on categories like race, national origin, age and gender.

The initial charges were filed on behalf of female workers who alleged they were not served up employment opportunities based on gender. Obviously all of that’s against all sort of federal, state and local laws, including, notably, section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Today’s announcement finds Facebook implementing “sweeping changes” to its advertising platform in order to address these substantial concerns. The company outlined a laundry list of “far-reaching changes and steps,” including the development of a separate ad portal to handle topics like housing, employment and credit (HEC) for Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

Targeting based on gender, age and race will not be allowed within the confines of the new system. Ditto for the company’s Lookalike Audience tool, which is similarly designed to target customers based on things like gender, age, religious views and the like.

“Civil rights leaders and experts – including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Laura Murphy, the highly respected civil rights leader who is overseeing the Facebook civil rights audit – have also raised valid concerns about this issue,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post tied to the announcement. “We take their concerns seriously and, as part of our civil rights audit, engaged the noted civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax to review our ads tools and help us understand what more we could do to guard against misuse.”

In addition to the above portal, Facebook will be creating a one-stop site where users can search amongst all job listings, independent of how ads are served up. The company has also promised to offer up “educational materials to advertisers about these new anti-discrimination measures. Facebook will also be meeting regularly with the suit’s plaintiffs to assure that it is continuing to meet all of the parameters of the settlement.

“As the internet — and platforms like Facebook — play an increasing role in connecting us all to information related to economic opportunities, it’s crucial that micro-targeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination,” ACLU senior staff attorney Galen Sherwin said in the joint statement. “We are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”

Further details of the settlement haven’t been disclosed by either party, but the update is clearly a bit of a consolatory move from a company that’s landed itself on the wrong side of a large lawsuit. Even so, it ought to be regarded as a positive outcome for a problematic product offering.

Apple upgrades the iMac line with boosted processors and graphics

For a company hosting a big event next week, Apple’s sure got a lot of news bubbling up these days. It kicked off the week by unveiling upgrades to the iPad line, and now just revealed a handful of upgrades to its bedrock iMac line.

The perennial favorite all-in-one is getting some key upgrades that will narrow the gap between the line and the high-end iMac Pro. The key additions are 9th gen Intel processors and Radeon Pro Vega graphics. The new models are priced the same and look identical to their predecessor — both good things. The two standard models shake out thusly:

21.5-inch: The 8th-gen quad-core is being joined by a six-core option, which the company says is capable of of delivering 60 percent faster performance. The new models also get the Radeon Pro Vega, which brings a boost of up to 80 percent faster graphics than their predecessor. The 4K desktop starts at $1,299.

27-inch: The larger model is now available with a 9th get Intel processor, sporting either six- or eight-cores. The Radeon Pro Vega will be hitting both of those models, as well. The 5K system starts at $1,799.

Both systems are replacing older models, hitting Apple’s site and stores starting today. Not ground, up refreshes by any stretch, but enough keep to keep the long-lived line up to date with the latest AOI offerings — and continue to make the case as a workhorse device for creative pros and hobbyist gamers. Those looking to take the next step should keep the eyes on the iMac Pro — though that desktop’s specs are staying put for the time being.

 

Moby’s new album is exclusive to the Calm meditation app

Album exclusives are nothing new in the age of Tidal, of course. But Moby’s latest is taking a kind of circuitous route to the world’s mobile devices. The electronic artist has released his latest, Long Ambients 2, as an exclusive through the Calm meditation app.

The album dropped over the weekend in celebration of World Sleep Day — which we fittingly appeared to have slept on. It’s a sequel to 2016’s fittingly titled Long Ambients 1: Calm . Sleep. This time out, there are six ambient tracks each running ~37 minutes.

“I originally made these songs for myself because I couldn’t find this type of music anywhere,” the musician and tea entrepreneur said in a release issued with the news. “Long Ambients 2 was designed to help me sleep and to help other people find calm and maybe get a good night’s sleep. I hope to share it with other people who have sleep issues or battle anxiety or have a hard time calming themselves down.”

Calm certainly has the money to through around. Last month it announced an $88 million Series B, freshly minting its unicorn status. At the time, it noted that the funding would go toward an international push and an investment in content. The mobile deal marks an interestingly high profile version of the latter.

MySpace may have lost more than a decade’s worth of user music

It’s not as if the internet needed another cautionary tale about backing up data, but for many artists, this news is heartbreaking nonetheless. MySpace has issued a tersely worded message noting that a huge amount of user uploaded music has been lost during a server migration.

The once dominant social network posted a note on its site reading, “As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from MySpace. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Users have been reporting issues with music uploaded between 2003 and 2015 for around a year now. We’ve reached out to MySpace for additional insight into the issue — and whether what could well be millions of tracks are indeed permanently lost in the digital ether. Honestly though, things don’t look too good for MySpace or music uploaders.

Some are understandably skeptical of the whole situation. Others are suggesting this be seen as a cautionary tale for those relying on more contemporary services to host their art. For many, however, it’s a huge segment of formative internet years seemingly wiped away like a sand castle in the tide.

MySpace was, of course, a major internet presence in the mid-aughts. The company was purchased by NewsCorp for $580 million in 2005, becoming the most visited site in the States around the same time. Six years later, it was sold for a mere $35 million, having since been eclipsed by Facebook.

In recent years, MySpace has attempted to pivot to a music-first site, with middling results. Nothing gold can stay, as the saying goes — and for now, at least, that appears to include the volumes of music once hosted on its servers.

These are the robots that help you get your Amazon packages on time

Months before the hard-fought battle for its second global headquarters in Queens, Amazon planted a massive, 855,000-square-foot flag in Staten Island. The $100 million JFK8 fulfillment center opened last fall, after an “on the spot” hiring spree, aimed at employing an eventual 2,250 people.

The new factory smell still permeated the air when we visited the space in February. Things were shiny and new, but still humming. It’s a 24-hour process designed to meet the standards of rapid package delivery the company has — for better and worse — set for the entire e-commerce world.

JFK8 stands as a kind of church to the world of early 21st century capitalism, and wherever you happen to land on the politics of Amazon, it’s an impressive sight to behold, as packages zip by on complex highway systems of conveyor belts, en route to next-day deliveries.

The space also offers a compelling glimpse into the factories of the future, where humans and robots work hand in hand, so to speak. The company currently has around 100,000 robotic systems deployed across more than 25 fulfillment centers, a number that it says has helped the company store an additional 40 percent of inventory in its fulfillment centers.

Those on display at the Staten Island facility run the gamut, from the ship sorters that whiz across conveyor belts booting packages into their proper chutes to giant palletizer robotic arms, developed in conjunction with Japanese automation giant, Fanuc.

All are working to the same end, with Amazon’s own in-house robots forming the system’s core. Up a few flights, robots zoom around the floor in a tightly controlled space, like giant-sized Roombas in closely choreographed movements.

The mobile robots were the heart of the company’s $775 million 2012 acquisition of Kiva, a Massachusetts-based startup it would rename Amazon Robotics three years later. The Kiva name still appears in some of the legacy signage, including labels that appear around the perimeter of the robot’s enclosed space, but Amazon was quick to incorporate what was at the time its second-largest acquisition.

“I think by the time Amazon looked at us, they were quite interested in the technology that we had developed and acquired us because they were interested in taking them into the fulfillment centers as we do today,” Scott Dresser, Amazon Robotics’ director of Software, Systems and Solutions tells TechCrunch. “It is the core storage system in a fulfillment center. It houses all of the inventory.”

The army of robots are walled in by fences that bring to mind nothing more than indoor batting cases. Around the edges, Amazon employees work at pick-and-stow stations, working alongside the robots to determine how best to store inventory on the shelving pods and how items will be shipped together.

Dresser quickly rejects the premise that robots will outright replace their human co-workers in the short term, noting that each has a separate, but complementary skill set.

“Associates and people in our builds are really good at finding where to put products in storage shelving,” he says. “Systems are not good at doing that. We’re able to leverage the things that people are good for and leverage the things that systems are good for. We see that pattern playing out in a lot of different applications. We certainly see that being an augmentation to what people are doing and helping them be as efficient as possible with what they’re doing.”

Floor safety is an increasing concern. A recent story about an exploding bear mace canister that sent 24 employees to the hospital at a Robbinsville Township, New Jersey warehouse has once again brought the issue to top of mind. While the incident was initially reported to involve an Amazon robot, the company denies that any were involved.

The fencing around the robots is designed specifically to keep associates out of harms way — an increasingly important concern as large machinery becomes an everyday part of life at these sorts of factories. Human employees are generally not allowed in this enclosed space for reasons of safety and efficiency, but an imperfect system requires the occasional interaction. Things fall out of pods, robots break down.

It’s for this reason the company introduced the Robotic Safety Vest. The bright orange mesh vest includes a belt containing a variety of sensors that add a few pounds to the employee’s get up.

“It complements the technology that’s in the robotic drive system,” says Dresser. “That vest is detectable by the robot. There’s a system that knows the associate is nearby and based on that signal.”

An employee demonstrates the vest, flicking a button, opening the fence and walking onto the floor. Robots at a distance slow down, while ones in the immediate vicinity stop altogether. It’s another added level of safety. If the bear mace incident showed anything, it’s how quickly news of robotics-related accidents spread, whether or not an actual robot was ultimately involved.

As more people buy more products online, these armies of robotics will no doubt play an increasingly central role in meeting that demand.